Notes From a Native Son: Unless We Create an Equal Society We Will Have Serious Social Problems

Hal Austin

Hal Austin

Lawyers and public commentators in Barbados have now discovered the concept of human rights, but missing from public political and economic discourse is any reference to inequality, the moral foundation of a fair and just society. The nearest we come to any mention of inequality in public space is the flawed reference to so-called free education, which disciples of the late Errol Barrow hold as the mark of his great contribution to post-war Barbados. But, after dominating public discussions since the Black Power era and the student rebellion of the 1960s, both Left and Right have returned to look at the relevance of equality in modern society. Some people have even intimated that in the post-Obama world the battle over equality has been won and we should move on. It is disingenuous. Even someone as radical as Roberto Mangabeira Unger, the Harvard professor and former minister of strategic affairs in Brazil, has called on progressives to abandon equality and replace it with something called deep freedom.

The posing of equality against freedom and human rights is a false dichotomy. What do we mean by freedom? Freedom from what? What do we mean by human rights? The idea of ‘freedom’ is a vacuous philosophical concept that has no grounding in the day-to-day lives of people living in a liberal democracy, despite its imperfections. A minority in control of an oppressive police force or military can understandably talk of freedoms, but that is a misinterpretation of the illegal behaviour of a powerful institution. A good example of this is the stop-and-frisk in New York or its equivalent stop and search in Britain, which has replaced the old Sus law, under the 1824 Vagrancy Act, introduced to control begging by deformed soldiers who had returned from the Napoleanic Warts. But the concept of equality has a firmer philosophical meaning, since it does not mean equality of outcomes, but of opportunities. It is also superior to the concept of human rights since embodied in equality are all the rights under the portmanteau term human rights.

It also goes much deeper since it must be embedded in the very everyday thought of the society, as the declaration after the French Revolution of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. Even in the gangster capitalism of Russia we see this disparity in wealth. In this nation of kleptomaniacs, 35 per cent of the nation’s wealth is in the hands of 110 people (See the Guardian October 9, 2013). Only when a society sees equality as a right, as a natural as their right to citizenship, would it have any popular meaning and form the very foundation of all our decision-making by the state.

Housing and Wealth:
In real terms equality can only be measured by the opportunities given to all young people, to fail or succeed under their own steam. However, if obstacles are put in their way, from the cradle to the grave, then that society is not fair and just. Some organisations have done great work on the study of inequality, covered under the umbrella of poverty. The Sutton Trust has done so particularly in regards to educational opportunities since the quality of education a young man or women receives often determines the opportunities they will get in adulthood. According to Sutton Trust, in the UK, despite making up only seven per cent of the school population, 35 per cent of members of parliament went to elite private schools; 51 per cent of doctors; 54 per cent of leading journalists; and, 70 per cent of high court judges. These figures will replicate themselves in Barbados if we were to replace British elite private schools with our former First Grade and Second Grade schools. Education leads to opportunities and in every Western society it is the norm for a university graduate to have a higher income than a non-graduate. In simple terms, a sound education has been the passport for upward social mobility in most societies. This imbalance in the distribution of education is also reflected in the kind of jobs, salaries, homes and other material possessions people obtain in adult life. Sometimes the reality is smothered in official obfuscation and statistical fog; for example, the figures for youth unemployment do not reflect the reality since we know that the wealthy and well-connected know how to get their children in jobs.

On the other hand, I know of graduates of UWI that have been unemployed for nearly a year after coming out of university. Why does UWI not produce figures on how long it takes for graduates to find jobs? Throughout the Western world housing, the biggest investment for the average person, has been the vehicle used by ordinary working people to accumulate wealth, especially in a political environment in which there is no inheritance or death taxation as a form of re-distribution. Instead, for perverse reasons or economic ignorance, Barbadian governments of both colours have used ordinary taxpayers to subsidise the super-rich who have colonised the West coast of the island in the hopeless belief that they make a bigger contribution to the nation’s development than they really do. We do not seem to factor in when analysing tax burdens, the many services that the super-rich obtain disproportionately to the demands they make on the system. In many instances, they buy residential homes through commercial companies, which give them huge advantages; that should be outlawed.

It is with the objective of redistributing wealth that we should be concentrating carefully on how we spend our national education budget: on important but unpopular undergraduate disciplines, more post-graduate research, more post-doctoral research, more teaching and research jobs. In this way the rising tide will lift all the boats in the harbour, and with it the nation as a centre of excellence and enterprise.

Analysis and Conclusion:
For those who have an interest in socio-legal issues, it will not pass unnoticed that we have drifted from civil rights, sex equality, race relations, do disability rights, to diversity now to human rights. In so doing, at least in the former colonies, there is very little discussion of wealth re-distribution. Inequality of wealth is one of the dirty little secrets that Barbadian politicians and public intellectuals do not like to discuss. It is one of the national myths that we pretend do not exist; in reality not only does it exist, but it is chronic and getting worse as the economic crisis prolongs. What certainly does not help is the lack of sound empirical evidence on household wealth in Barbados. The Inland Revenue sits on a mountain of data about tax returns, the land tax office similarly sits on big data, the mortgage lenders sits on lots of good financial information, although that does not include cash buyers and the central bank is almost irresponsible in the way it gathers and publishes information. It is only if the society is well informed that people will be able to discuss these pressing issues with confidence. The price of ignorance is being kept in the dark.

In truth, the life-cycle earnings of the vast majority of people would not even allow them enough to save for a reasonable retirement. It is a result of the in-built bias in liberal democracies, which starts the moment a child is born: children are graded from infant school, implicit in that grading is separating the sheep from the goat, those earmarked to succeed and those who will make up the unskilled. However, the real division is made at secondary examination level, with most examining bodies have a pre-determined percentage of passes and failures. All these obstacles combine to prevent the vast majority of poor children from accessing opportunity. Poverty also impacts on health with poor people having shorter lives.

Finally, we know from the disgraceful way in which Mr Barrack has been treated by this government that not all public sector creditors are equal; it is almost impossible to think that this or any other government would treat Kyffin Simpson, Jada, COW Williams or Bizzy Williams with the same contempt. To a certain extent we must put the blame for this firmly at the door of Mr Barrack and his legal and financial advisers. For, as I have suggested in the past, he should take the legal battle outside the Barbados jurisdiction by selling the debt to a hedge fund or distress debt fund, and be prepared to take a hit. For example, if the original debt was Bds$50m, and the accumulating interest has added a further $30m, then sell the entire debt for Bds$50. As Argentina, Antigua and others have found out, distress financiers will take them through the courts, in New York or elsewhere, inflicting further damage on the credit ratings of the nation. Of course, there is a way out of all this: give Mr Barrack a draw down facility at the central bank of a maximum of Bds$250000 a week, that will allow him to pay his bills and run his business without any real pain to the economy.

The economic crisis was a moment for Barbados to re-think the constitutional independence settlement and re-frame the social compact between the state and citizens. In a society in which equality is at the very heart of the social compact, it is important that all policy decisions focus on providing fair and equal opportunities and that the entire nation buys in to the notion of objective outcomes. Unless there is a revolution, and Barbadians are too conservative to even consider such radical developments, the only peaceful way of changing the socio-economic dynamic is through the mechanism of wealth re-distribution.

(For a more sophisticated discussion see: The Politics of Equality: An Introduction, Jason Myers, Zed Books.)

16 thoughts on “Notes From a Native Son: Unless We Create an Equal Society We Will Have Serious Social Problems

  1. I am sure that you do not mean that inequality is “the moral foundation of a fair and just society”!!!!!!

  2. In his column piece in yesterday’s Nation newspaper, Mr Clyde Mascoll made two very fundamental errors.

    1) In believing that inflation exists – when it clearly does not exist;


    2) in believing that money is exchanged.

    These are very, very fundamental errors of thinking and fact that Mascoll has indeed made.

    Where ( 1) is concerned, there is no objective reality about inflation, or for that matter, about deflation, as that so-called prices – which are the conceptual bases upon which inflation/deflation are founded, fallaciously – have existences only in the mind consciousnesses of the relevant individuals themselves.

    Where (2) is concerned, money, when ever it does represent income, payments or transfers, or debts of those kinds, can never ever, though, be equal to the commodities being passed on in ownership or lease or rent in the market place, hence there being no exchange taking place.

    The fact that money and commodities are passed from many individuals to other individuals (transactions) does not imply exchange – as that, in the exchange of goods in a barter system (and it is impossible too to exchange goods with services, and services with services) , there is no revenue gained, no cost incurred in the same transaction, but, in money representing remunerations in money, varter, and goods and services systems, there is only a relationship between money and revenues gained and costs incurred in the transactional process, and not between the commodities passed on (or services used) by the parties to those transactions.

    So, in a barter system it was/is not possible to deal with nominal remunerations and their costs.

    What this means therefore is that, even with the false dishonest juxtaposing by some so-called economists and others of money with exchange of goods, there are only two main purposes of money:

    1) As a means of providing for remunerations (and the costs to them) that will guarantee for the paying for the use of money, and

    2) As a means of providing for the measuring of actual remunerations.

    Therefore, what the facts of these things absolutely show is the absolute negation of the misguided misconceived notions of prices being in objective real existence; which, as is seen by the PDC, cannot be materialized by anyone, cannot be passed on by anyone, cannot be moved by anyone; and therefore cannot be seen to be materialized by anyone, cannot therefore be passed on by anyone, cannot therefore be seen to be moved by anyone, etc.

    The amount of money in circulation and the prevailing real actual cost of use of money will principally determine the amount of remuneration individuals will get – and not for any goods and services rendered – at any given time, and – contrary to how Mascoll thinks some times – not by any amount of goods or services, any mythical prices, etc, either.


  3. Or for the middle class, tax them into obscurity and then tell them they have to pay for their children education, and for their medical needs, as the President of NUPW suggest; which most of them do anyway, and the majority go abroad for their medical needs, Maybe some one with a little more intelligence than Mr. Maloney can whisper in his ear don’t be a jack ass, because Barbados is made up of Middle class citizens, that is what free education did for us & a good health care system; until now when this present administration have almost destroy them both.

  4. Some people seem to think that inequality rest solely on economic grounds. But true equality cannot be realized, unless there is an equal distribution of laws, opportunities, and conditions available to every citizen in the Barbadian society.

  5. Again, in his column piece in Thursday’s Nation newspaper, Mr Clyde Mascoll was reported as saying that “there is very little or no effect of monetary policy on INFLATION, which is for the most part imported, except when fiscal policy triggers domestic INFLATION as happened in 2011”.

    On top of the fact that – as we have previously said on here many times before – INFLATION/DEFLATION do not exist, there is a fundamental error of deduction – on Mascoll’s part – in the just cited portion of his last published column offering.

    For, a careful analysis by the PDC of that cited portion would show that if Mascoll was reported correctly, it would mean that he is, et al, either clumsily misassimilating for the effects of monetary policy with the effects of fiscal policy in 2011 in impacting on non-existent inflation, or falsely conveying the impression that they sometimes naturally go together when he is analysing for the non-existent circumstances of this non-existence called inflation, “as is happened in 2011”.

    What Mascoll is essentially unstudiedly saying there, is that, there is little or no effect of monetary policy on INFLATION except when fiscal policy triggers domestic inflation (as happened in 2011). Makes sense??

    But, and greatly aside from the intellectual quagmire that Mascoll finds himself, in respect of the false ill constructed statement, generally the facts are such that fiscal policy ALWAYS conflicts/seriously conflicts with monetary policy in the local peripheral financial sector – a sub facet of the market system in Barbados ( hardly conflict between them when government and the core financial system operate in tandem with each other)

    Also, they essentially produce multi-farious ever divergent opposite effects on the parallel trajectories as it relates to individual business use of money (locally), and government’s use of it at times, and its access to it at times, in a context where various forces are competing for use of relatively the same amount of money.

    For the evidence is there that the core of fiscal policy of DLP/BLP governments in Barbados – evil wicked TAXATION – is along with the core of monetary policy of DLP/BLP governments/financial institutions here too – evil wicked Interest Rates, and giving to certain financial institutions money saying it represents money debt to them – tearing apart this country.

    Mascoll also makes a flagrant fundamental error when – in thinking that this non-existent inflation is substantially imported – he does not refer to the fact that there is not even a local/external money basis even for such hocus pocus of imported inflation.

    The basis of this depraved notion of imported inflation lies in the mythical ideological psychology of some people.

    What there is, though, is the real actual cost of use of foreign money by the relevant Barbadians in relationship to the conducting of their respective foreign/ local transactions.

    The basis of such is the use by locals of foreign money

    It is these and other cardinal propositions that help to confirm that inflation does NOT exist.


  6. I endorse your article Hal, but I think we need to go even further at theoretical levels to seek solutions to our pressing problems. I am a big fan of Roberto Unger, who you quoted. He has long drawn attention to the bankruptcy of the social sciences and their tendency to reduce the contestants within society as the market v the state. Both have failed us miserably. We need look no further than our own backyards to see the evidence.

  7. I agree with Hal that education is one of the most important keys to raising people out of poverty. Not that it should be “free” but at a era so able costs.

    I cringe, however, every time it hear the income redistribution debate. Focus on giving people opportunity and removing barriers, and the ones who want success will go after it. Just because someone is wealthy does not mean their wealth or part of it should be taken from them and given to those lower on the economic ladder. Some of whom really do not deserve it.

    Hal seems to mention Cow often, remember he started driving one dump truck with a high school education. Yes as a white man in that time he had more access to capital than a similar black man, but that is my point about removing barriers and not getting into a BS social system of taxing the crap out of the “rich” . Defining what income level is rich is always a challenge.

  8. COW had it rough too, CIBC turned him down for a loan & his father-in-law Carson Walcott had to go to the bank and vouch for him to get the loan. In those it was rough for people both black & white to get a bank loan.

  9. Wealth distribution seems like the honorable thing to do! It has the markings of the Hebrew Scriptures written all over it.

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