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**

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Starving To Death

I bristle a lot when I read the newspapers in Barbados. Let me limit my spikiness today to matters on the economy. I am not surprised that people do not have a good grasp of certain realities of the economic problems facing this small island. That is, in part, because those who are charged with reporting and discussing them seem unable, or unwilling, to give information that can help that understanding. Let me call that 'context' and 'analysis'. I do not expect that of politicians, because they have a range of agendas that dictate the massaging of information, and misunderstanding by the public. So, the media has to hold politicians and others to a high degree of scrutiny. That is what is so severely lacking. There does not need to be much 'context' and 'analysis', but without it, most people have no idea where to turn and surely cannot draw any conclusion other than that stated on the printed page. Let me focus on some very recent reports.

When I opened Monday's papers, I saw the front page headline of Barbados Advocate Business Monday, 'Minister: Barbados Tourism Rebounding'. The piece noted that Minister Sealy said visitor arrivals from the UK registered an increase during May, but that "we are still down overall in the UK market" (though the US and Canadian markets were "climbing nicely"). The piece was almost all about what the Minister said. Not one word was written about what the Minister said could mean if one looked at other information: nothing about the UK, Canadian, or US economic situation; nothing about what is happening to travel from those countries and what that may imply for tourist destinations like Barbados; nothing else of relevance for context and analysis. If the press or parts of it are accused of being merely a mouthpiece for government or some political party, then it is rightly because of reports such as this.

Many can, and will, take issue with statistics, or facts, or information, but do not let that stop the press from feeding them to us. So, let me just throw in a few salient pieces. On the same day as we read about 'tourism rebounding', the UK Guardian flags how UK travellers are shunning foreign holidays, with visits abroad in 2009 declining by 15%, the greatest decline on record (since they began in the 1970s). That is at least context. We can all analyse what it may mean for any expected rebound. Since the new British government took office, concern has been expressed about how its efforts to address deep budgetary problems could tip the UK back into recession. Last week, I was taken aback to read a New York Times editorial that criticized that UK's recent (June) budget under the headline Britain's Budget Pain, with comments such as 'the needlessly draconian emergency budget', 'the misguided nature of this budget', and 'the coalition’s budget aims to cut too much too soon, in pursuit of a pointless structural budget surplus by 2015'. That, at least, would tell you that some see the UK as headed into a further economic tail spin and would make you ask how this may affect Barbados. Top it off with remarks from Mr. Adam Posen, a member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, saying that he sees a risk of renewed recession in the UK, in part because of looming fiscal austerity and problems in the euro zone, and your rosy glow should have dimmed.

On page 3 of the same Barbados Advocate Business Monday, I also saw comments attributed to fellow economist, Anthony Johnson, under the headline 'Recovery of pound sterling should bode well for Barbados'. The article talked about sterling's 'rally' to now trade at close to B$3 (following its move to just over the US$1.50 mark). The article flagged that Barbados depends heavily on British long-stay tourists (40% of overall), and also for exports and imports. But my concern was to read nothing about how the exchange rate--the central point of the article--had changed. Were the readers supposed to have all of the recent historical context in their heads? Were they supposed to have recalled that the pound fell from a high of US$ 2.1o (B$ 4.20) in November 2007 to a low of about US$ 1.35 (B$ 2.70) in January 2009--a fall of some 35-35%? Were they supposed to recall that sterling rallied well (up 25%) from that 2009 low to US$1.70 (B$3.40) in the middle of 2009, before falling again to the US$1.40-1.50 area that is being cited as a rally? To me, sterling is now not far from the recent lows, and I would not say that that bodes well for Barbados. But what do I know?

Barbados is supposed to have a highly literate and well-educated population. If that is the case, why is it not fed a diet of material that would put all of that literacy and education to good use?


Troy said...

The sad reality Dennis is that the press teams that report on economic matters, whether statements by the Central Bank, ministers or even comments from economists, are not sufficiently knowledgeable in the discipline to ask more discerning questions or undertake more critical analyses. On such matters, the reporters are hardly more than scribes. So it is easy to suggest that they are mouthpieces for a party etc.

Dennis Jones said...

Troy, you may be correct about lack of knowledge, but that does not stop the press teams either seeking expertise elsewhere (I have been approached, on occasion, to help explain something), or at least doing some simple background positioning of a piece, before going to print (it only took me 10 minutes to find the information I cited). But the apparent lack of such things speaks also to editorial ability and attitudes, and a contentedness about the published product.

Anonymous said...

Truth is Dennis comparing currencies still even when placed in historical context still hides a lot of the real truths. For one thing the true value of the US dollar today as compared to 2007. The pound rising and falling in comparison to a currency that is consistently and rapidly losing value does not help much does it..!?

Anonymous said...

I think I got the jest of the article. Our journalistic piece tend to lack further investigation of what is being stated.

One would think that with the presence of the internet, pulling information would make the job of journalism a lot easier. Instead we are treated to these "fast food" stories using up ink and paper.