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It’s not about freeness


FR LESLIE LETT

It’s not about freeness

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In recent times, the large number of cars on our roads, some of them very expensive, has amazingly been used to justify privatising public transportation and the already abolished free university education.

Both Mr Ryan Straughn and the Prime Minister seem to think that the basic entitlements of social democracy are somehow related to, even dependent upon, car ownership.     

The truth is that neither prosperity nor poverty is a reason to abandon social democracy. Sometimes we argue that we are too poor to afford it. At other times we argue that we are prosperous enough not to need it. However, we never discuss its importance to the kind of society we want to live in; that democracy is fundamentally social and not individualistic, and that it cannot be sustained simply by the periodical disaster-induced expression of solidarity.

We need to remind ourselves that there is serious poverty in Barbados and worse, that there is a widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”. It is this gap, more than poverty in itself, that accounts for many of our social problems.

Since the mid-1990s, the number of those living below the poverty line (of $5 503 per year) has been steadily growing. In 2010 it was 15.1 per cent of the population; today it is over 17 per cent of a population of 285 719 people. This is a lot of people and there are a great many more who do not share in the “prosperity” of our country. (Google ‘‘poverty in Barbados’’.)

Further, it has been calculated that the average income of the top ten per cent in Barbados is about 3.7 times larger than the average income of the entire population. Also, that “even though the average annual growth of Barbados since 1970 stood at 1.92 per cent, the average growth of income share for its top one and five per cent was 12 per cent and five per cent, respectively”! As one economist put it, this statistic “suggests a hollowing out of its middle class and a complete decimation of its poor in terms of income share” (see Nation News for May 18, 2017).

Those among us who have “made it” and are now among the “haves”, must be careful not to become a class of meritocratic elites who are so disconnected from their roots that they lose sight of the poor, and of these statistics. Isn’t talk about “maintaining our way of life” to be practically disconnected from the poor?  

It is easy for the “successful” to fall prey to a self-serving utilitarianism which, besides protecting their right to be happy at the expense of the poor, inevitably becomes a dark and thick cloak that blocks them from evaluating their own selfishness in light of the moral notions of social justice, human dignity and solidarity.

The basic entitlements of our social democracy (universal health care, free university education, subsidised transportation) are not about “freeness”. It never was and it isn’t now. They are about the type of society we used to have and we’ve now rejected.

These entitlements, unlike many of those given to rich hotel owners and others, are very fundamentally about social justice, equality of opportunity and the common good – the very values we desperately need today to bridge the dangerously widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”.

– FR LESLIE LETT

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