WHAT MATTERS MOST: Threat of social decay looms
The current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government has distinguished itself as the worst in the country’s history.
It has succeeded in laying the foundation for eroding the hard-fought gains of Barbados’ post-colonial state. A child born since 2008 will not have access to universal education, health care and other social services of the quality enjoyed by previous generations.
The undisputed reality is ironic for a Government that put the society above the economy.
Between 1937 and 1966, the period of decolonisation, the preconditions for an economic system to be led by an emerging middle class took root. At the heart of the emergence was the recognition by progressive governments that equal opportunity for all formed the basis of social development even though economic resources would hardly be equitably distributed.
During the same period of decolonisation, changes to the process of parliamentary democracy paved the way for a new political class to be born out of the emerging class. As with all successful transitions, the skills sets had to be made available to the emerging class. This was done very effectively through the avenue of education.
The parallel developments of a political class and a middle class gave birth to a new confidence among the working class who became involved in party politics in the hope that the future of all classes could be inextricably linked. It is believed that Barbados made this link better than most countries.
In addition to these burgeoning class relationships, it was recognised that the labour unions had a very practical role to play in fighting for better wages, improved working conditions, more structured collective bargaining and self-governance among others. It is therefore not surprising that labour parties across the region had their genesis in labour unions.
In the face of changing labour relationships, a major concern emerged with respect to the marriage that had to take place with the capital class. The owners of capital, especially foreign capital, always appeared to be a necessary yet unwelcome component, in some quarters, of the evelopment process.
When assessed purely in terms of a raw number, the benefit of the new relationship between labour and capital in the post-colonial state reached its zenith when Barbados achieved its lowest ever unemployment rate of 6.7 per cent in 2007. There is no doubt that the country’s stable industrial relations environment played an ongoing significant part in the achievement.
It is against this background that the poor economic performance of the DLP Government is obvious, but so too is the breakdown in the relationships between the labour, capital and political classes. Apart from the economic fallout, there is an even bigger threat of social decay on the horizon.
In our system of governance, the political class is charged with the responsibility of getting the best out of the other two classes through the use of effective public policy that respects continuous constitutional government, a free and impartial judicial system, and a fair and open news media. It is impossible to conclude that the best has come out of labour and capital, except if measured by the excessive taxation extracted from them to support a wayward set of public policies.
The major source of the policy breakdown may be traced to the Government’s preference for an unorthodox method of fiscal stimulus that saw households and businesses having to carry the burden of adjustment. From as early as 2008, excessive taxation was used to improve the country’s fiscal position; the latter got progressively worse finally reaching crisis level in 2010/11. In contrast, the increased current spending of Government was justified on the grounds of not sending home one public servant; however in excess of 3 000 public servants would eventually be sacrificed.
Having failed to outline a clear strategy for temporary challenges to Barbados’ economic growth and social development, the Government opted to put political considerations ahead of the country’s economic circumstances and stability. In short, the Government abandoned its responsibility for getting the best out of labour and capital in pursuit of satisfying its narrow self-interests. As a result, workers lost hope and jobs; the employed lost motivation and income and businesses lost confidence and profit; while the Government, narrowly defined, gained at the expense of the country.
It is remarkable that in the last six years, the gains so well planned for and studiously earned in the earlier stages of our post-colonial state are in danger of being totally reversed, given the intent and outcome of recent Government policies.
Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy.