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**

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Human Development

Bajans are cock-a-hoop this week with the news that the Human Development Index puts Barbados in 1st place amongst developing countries (see link for country details), putting meat on the bones of high school enrollment (89%), high life expectancy (nearly 77 years) and very good levels of average income (US$ 17,300). Of the 177 countries covered, the nearest island countries in the region are The Bahamas (49th), Cuba (51st), St. Kitts & Nevis (54th), Antigua & Barbuda (57th), and Trinidad (59th), with Jamaica very low (101st). Singapore with which Barbados is often compared comes in a few places higher at 25th; Mauritius is down at 65th.

So how does it feel to be nearly developed? Barbados is a whisker ahead of the Czech Republic (32nd). Germany is a puff away at 22nd. If you have travelled you will know that there is a world of difference between most of the acknowledged developed countries and Barbados. But this little country deserves a lot of applause for making the most of what little it has. If there is an area where Barbados' position belies reality it's how life is lived. I may not express it well but the notion I have is that Barbados is still like a village or at best a small town when compared to how life is lived in a major developed country. Somehow, Barbados has retained a lot of the gentility that comes with much less developed countries where people have not become so rich and satisfied that they have forgotten that people are more important than things. So, in Barbados buses will just stop and let off or pick up passengers; similarly people will stop their cars to let others cross or just have a quick chat. I know that I have flagged before that some of this is changing, but for the moment it is still much in evidence.

There is no doubt in my mind that the absolute and relative smallness of Caribbean countries has been a great benefit. In a sense, if you cant get it to work on these little islands then you really cant do anything. Where I have doubts about the state of Barbados' development is in its ability to deliver public services, though I would admit that my experience is limited and largely anecdotal, and distinguishing between superficial and real progress. Size is not a help when delivering some services: having one of something is not much use. If Queen Elizabeth Hospital were to be damaged by fire I suspect that the country would face a health care crisis very quickly. Having a fleet of new swish police cars is not convincing evidence of control over crime. When the system is pushed it creaks--and one should see that this is a feature of the private sector too: the inability of the phone network to deal with the call volumes that arose after the earthquake should prompt a quick review of voice-carrying capacity. (My experience during that period was that internet services were fine but there would have been far fewer people near a computer at the time.) A visit to the airport any afternoon will tell you that the system cannot cope with the volume of international flight arrivals that appear to be clustered into a tight time period: I have been there many times in the last few months and the average time to get luggage is running at around an hour. Road congestion and traffic accidents have increased dramatically, worsened by modern day pressures to do everything by car, by what seems like interminable road expansion works and some very bizarre road designs that are literal bottlenecks which generate congestion.

So part of Barbados' push to be really nearer to Germany in lifestyle rather than in some statistical measure is to have good capacity and high quality over a wider range of services. That will be a huge challenge for a small island economy, and the reality may be that such capacity only makes economic sense if provided for a larger population as would be represented by several countries in the subregion.

Bajans may tend to be complacent or arrogant about what they have achieved after some 40 years of independence, but they need to retain some modesty. They may want to puff up their chests and claim that the rest of the region needs to bend and praise them. Attitudes need to change: some would say that a sense of excellence needs to be recaptured. It is only a short step from mediocrity to failure. An economy based on a fragile and somewhat fickle demand, as is the case with tourism, is no guarantee of long-term success. Factors outside the country's control can easily derail progress, whether it is the weakness of the US dollar, or rapidly rising oil prices, or natural disasters.

I will wish Barbados success, and smile as it celebrates its 41st anniversary of independence and realizes that life begins at 40.


zanne said...

Dennis, my understanding regarding the cell phone failure following the earthquake was that call volume was just too high. In Barbados' defense I will say that I was in NYC on 9/11 and the same phenomenon occurred. Also just before we left NY I witnessed the most recent steam explosion that left a gaping hole as wide as 2nd Avenue. NYC has an extremely fragile infrastructure from the water supply right down to the subway system. I really believe that continual maintenance of infrastructure is an afterthought in many countries developing or not.

Dennis Jones said...

It is not a real defence. As appered in today's Advocate "It certainly is a wake up call for us to upgrade all of our emergency plans -- from our homes, schools, businesses and even at the level of emergency services and Government -- so that persons would not be running around scared and possibly putting themselves in danger, in the event that something like this happens again." There is a lesson; this was a real test not a drill, and it is important for us tp know what he system tolerances are, including finding out if the overload was a surprise or expected.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. So true!

BarbadosInFocus / PictureInFocus said...

Whatever the ills are in Barbados now is closely related to the small country’s success. I marvel at the insane number of vehicles on the roads; cell phones are like the scourge of enemies bearing down on Sparta; and the madness of all things now listed in astronomical US dollars, especially the land.

There has to be an end somewhere. Let us hope it peters out to some smooth liking.

Happy Independence to a wonderful small country, my sweet Barbados…