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**

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Time to reflect

I have really struggled the past few days to figure out about what I SHOULD write on this blog. There are always topics about which I COULD write, but I made a personal decision a few weeks ago to only write when I felt moved by something, whether personal or of wider social interest. So, why the difficulty in writing?

Part of the problem comes from a focus on other things, which means that developing a theme can be hard. I have decided to set aside a part of my short "working" day (basically, the mornings when children are not around at home, or some workman is not due to visit to deal with something) to do other things. One of these other things is to teach myself how to play the piano. So for the past five weeks I have conscientiously practised for an hour. At first, my hands hurt, but that has lessened, and it's satisfying for tunes to come from the piano, even if they are simple ditties like "London Bridge is Falling Down". Pieces that are more challenging are starting to sound right, but the challenge will always be to sustain this effort. My hope is that if thing continue to go well, I can at least help Rhian with her music whether she opts for piano, guitar, violin, or djembe drum. She's been funny, sitting at the piano and learning how to use her fingers on the keyboard. She "sings" along to her own version of some popular nursery rhymes!

I was also side-tracked a little by the Grand Slam tennis at Wimbledon, though the persistent rain meant that I really did not spend a lot of time watching matches. Also, I was damaged knee ligaments playing tennis and the pain and immobility that caused put my mind into another place. Thankfully, the damage is not as severe as I feared and I have to be patient about getting back into something vigorous like tennis. So, I have tried to do more swimming; not my favorite sport, but good to do. That has paid off too in other ways, with Rhian actually mastering how to swim while breathing rather than swimming underwater and holding her breath.

Another aspect has been that I decided to stand back from trying to write every day about things in Barbados, but continue to think about the issues unfolding here, and see if some of the topics and views going through my head were also shared by others who appear to be blogging often. With too many "voices" saying the same thing, there can be a tendency to not be heard. I have also spent more time thinking about some other subjects for my other blog, "Caribbean Comment".

As far as Barbados itself is concerned, most eyes have turned to the constantly unfolding saga that is the BS&T merger/take over. Many of the parties interested directly have now jumped into the media themselves, presumably to make their points better. Trading in the shares was suspended for the second time yesterday, after several trades led to "excessive" movement in the price; the Barbados Stock Exchange limits daily prices movements to 10 percent, and this was exceeded as the price of the shares moved from BS$5.50 to B$7.32 over several days. A local consortium has admitted that it bought two of the blocks of shares traded during this period, and the price movement is consistent with their indication of a willingness to buy BS&T shares at BS$7.50 each (see The Nation, July 12).

The more I look at Barbados, the more I am struck by a sense of parochialism, and "Caribbean" ways of doing things. We seem to see the world in what can be very odd terms, and we organize ourselves and resolve issues in a particular way. The BS&T saga is a case in point, where mergers and acquisitions are arriving in people's consciousness like a new invention. In my other blog, I have touched on how the process of eductating the population in the realities of development is a process that seems to have not taken place, which means that many developments that are part and parcel of certain kinds of economic progress have been left as the province of "experts" only.

Many comparisons are made with the paths taken by other countries of similar size, but I feel without sufficient real assessment or understanding that the outcomes for, say Singapore, reflect radically different approaches to economic and social development. I wont expand on that here, but just go back to a debate I heard on "Down to Brass Tacks" earlier this week. A caller stated that he thought that Barbados was overcrowded and his "evidence" was the long waits for hospital treatment, limitations in public transport, etc. The moderator, Tony Marshall, asked if the caller knew the size of Singapore; the caller did not. When it was pointed out that Singapore is about the same physical area as Barbados, but with a population of some 4-5 million, the caller went silent knowing that with the 280,000 or so who live on this island his view on overcrowding was nonsensical. The moderator posed questions about why Barbadians did not want to venture into high rise living. He also touched on the point that Barbadians need to think more about whether they are ready to change the way that they do things, e.g., accepting shift work systems.

The question scratched the surface of what should be a very interesting discussion, and they are not touching issues that are new for any country. Questions about work ethics, about social organization and development, about what kinds of investment are sought and attracted to a location, are part of a debate that should have occurred and be going on about "the vision" for a country. Economists are not the only group of thinkers who have good arguments on these subjects, though in this region they seem to have led the charge, especially when elevated to positions of power. (It's almost an insult for an MP to charge that another MP is "not an economist".) These questions are pare of an enormous discussion area, which touches not just about the Caribbean, but easily includes any country or region that is supposedly seeking to move from a state of absolute poverty and economic instability, to a position of greater wealth and economic progress. I am not setting out a thesis here and now. Some of these questions are coming out in Barbados in a piecemeal fashion now as various problem issues surface, but I wonder to what extent a real debate is going on. This is not easy territory on which to stand, and for politicians and those who have significant economic power it may be far too dangerous if one does not really have any grand vision to share.

No comments: