Thursday, April 18, 2024

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Falsity revealed

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During the last election campaign in Barbados, in more than one article I expressed concern that there was a heavy dose of “falsity” to the debates around which the respective parties were building their cases for election to office.
I was concerned that at a rare “crossroads” moment, when the opportunity should have been taken on the way forward through an honest exposure by both parties of their concrete responses to the challenges confronting the country, instead of laying out sincerely thought through and well intentioned development programmes, the election appeared to be following the least noble path of intellectual dishonesty.  
This included the deliberate erection of a privatization “straw man” and the conscious invention of unrealistic fears surrounding the reversal of long-standing social measures such as free bus rides for the elderly in a context where none of the political parties have ever shown an inclination to erode such measures and have all shown a historical commitment to their continuation. It also included an argument against “stimulus” as too heavy a burden that could place the foreign exchange position of the country in jeopardy.
At the time, my description of these debates as “false” was based on the assertion that none of these positions around which much hot air was expended bore any resemblance to concrete reality.  Further, whatever differences existed between the two parties, none of these differences can actually be found in the hardened positions around privatization, the maintenance of social protection measures, and the protection of foreign reserves, as was conveyed in the language of the election.
Thus, my description of these debates as “false” was meant to warn the well meaning voices, particularly the economists who had given the privatization and the public spending “stimulus versus austerity” debate a life of its own, that whilst they might have been involved in an honest discussion about the future options of the state, the politicians were, as expected, merely using the debate to opportunistically create space to advance their self-interested positions.  
In short, the positions held during the election were not to be taken seriously, since the evidence did not suggest that the politicians sincerely believed in the positions which they were advancing during the campaign.
Alas, so argued, so revealed. It did not take more than the first major meeting of the new Parliament – the Estimates debate – to reveal just how little seriousness should have been attached to the positions taken by the respective parties during the election. Thus today, with the election over, in typical Orwellian “doublespeak”, a $600 million stimulus package has been announced by the very forces that had earlier preached austerity, whilst there has been no change in the objective conditions.
The political scientists performed their public duties by calling for the economic debate to be unpacked politically.
Economists, rescue yourselves!
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.

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