Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Economics 101

Bajans are getting some lessons in economics and the impression I get is that it's not to the liking of many. I am not going to push deeply into any of the subjects, just touch upon some things that seem to be causing ire.

Many ordinary Bajans do not understand the process that would allow outsiders to not get preference over locals. I use those terms deliberately, because I don't want "outsiders" to be seen a foreigners. On a very popular call-in program today, Down to Brass Tacks, a caller was irate that those from a particular neighbourhood did not seem to be able to get preference for their children to go to the local primary school. She cited the fact that most of the pupils came from families who lived outside the neighbourhood. I can see that in a system where children are not selected based on tests that the principle of residence would probably be most relevant. However, schools could be using many criteria. I did not hear if someone from the Ministry of Education called to defend the policy. But the principle of "locals first" is one Bajans bring forward often. (The absence of good official explanations is also a part of many problems people have in understanding what is going on.)

Another case in the same vein relates to work on a new Four Seasons hotel resort, which has just broken ground (see picture). Reports indicate that 100 Chinese workers have been contracted to work on this development (see article in The Nation). Quickly, questions are being asked why these jobs have to be given to Chinese construction workers, and why is it that so many construction jobs seem to be taken by Guyanese, Jamaicans, other Caribbeans, but not Bajans. Official reports continue to indicate that Barbados is at near full employment [the Central Bank of Barbados Economic and Financial Statistics for April 2007 reported that the unemployment rate is now around 7 3/4%], and there are a significant number of major construction projects underway, so the need to continue to find labour from outside is not really surprising. Considerations about institutional rigidities in the Barbadian labour market, such as unionisation of workers, are also relevant. But perhaps the local feeling is that "boys on the block" who do not have work deserve the jobs, whether or not they are really properly qualified.

One of the hosts of this call-in program pointed out earlier in the week, in the context of issues to do with vendors, that what drives many decisions is quality and price. What Bajans may have to accept is that they are not competing well on either. What is also apparent from some of the reactions is that "competition" is not something that is well understood here, or the feeling is that the competition is rigged. People express suspicion about outcomes that do not immediately appear to favour Bajans (remember irate comments about the contract for the CWC closing ceremony spectacular, which went to a Trini company). The fact that the Chinese construction workers could well be providing the best quality at a particular price may never get into the argument: presumably Four Seasons feels that its reputation for high quality accommodation is not going to suffer.

I should hasten to add that one of the characteristics of opinion-making in Barbados is that there are some whose "voices" are very loud or frequently heard, but it's not clear for whom these voices really speak. So, what I am hearing as "concerns" may be merely a vocal minority, or someone pushing a hidden agenda.

However, there is two bigger issues for Barbados. First, as a Caribbean nation, "locals first" makes no sense in the context of a Caribbean Single Market Economy. The resistance to outsiders cannot sit well with the notion of integration of markets. Second, whatever people may feel about China, its dominant role in world economic developments is a fact, but is sometimes not seen for what it really is: an ability to be the major player in almost every area of supply or demand.

1 comment:

marginal said...

excellent article, I particularly like the point about the opinion shapers. So much of public comment in Barbados comes from the same people. Any given day on the call in programme you will hear the same voices again and again. If you read Barbados Free Press and examine the comments you will see that about 75% come from "regulars" on the blog. The dangers of this are obvious. In the recent past there was much vocal agitation for moving Barbados to a full republican status with standing room only town hall meetings, and much vocal comment. It turns out it was the same people at all the meetings. When an unbiassed quantitative study was done it showed that the vast number of Bajans were either indifferent or opposed to going to a republic, it quickly faded from the public scene.

Welcome to life in Barbados.