Social development is just as important as economic development — in fact more important. Social development and economic development are mutually reinforcing; they are complementary. This perspective should not be surprising coming from an economist.
It’s not a unique perspective, though admittedly not as widely appreciated in the profession as it should be. The discipline of development economics is dedicated to effecting policies and programmes to ensure that the spoils of economic growth and prosperity are distributed as equitably as possible, and resound to the well being of people. It recognises that economic growth and higher corporate profits and incomes are simply means to an end. Indeed, people ought to be at the centre of economic development.
The desire for a growing economy is born out of the quest to improve the quality of life and living. We are social beings with social needs as well as material needs, but it’s the satisfaction of our social needs that yields the greatest contentment.
The pursuit of economic growth and prosperity is ultimately about improving the standard of living and quality of life of as many people as possible. It’s about creating the conditions for the population to realize its aspirations.
It’s about creating an environment that gives everyone a legitimate shot at satisfying his or her needs and achieving her or her goals. It’s about creating the infrastructure, institutions and systems that give impetus to the type of self determination that recognizes that we are all in it together.
Businesses thrive when households thrive (when employees are well compensated for their productivity). Households thrive when business is booming and governments thrive when corporations and households thrive. There is a contribution for all of us to make.
Barbados underwent transformative development between the 1950 and 1990. During the unprecedented period (1994 to 2007) of sustained economic growth, Barbados’ infrastructure was modernised, the level of structural unemployment was dramatically reduced and there was significant income growth.
However, notable social, institutional and systemic development languished in the wake of material aggrandisement. Barbadian society eroded and continues to do so. The social ship is sinking as traditional values and morality are sacrificed on the altar of secular humanism and the pursuit of pleasure and self gratification with little regard to our neighbours.
An identity crisis looms. The cracks in Barbados’ economic foundation are beginning to reveal the nation’s structural shortcomings. The present economic decline which the country has been struggling to overcome has only exacerbated those cracks, but those cracks were years in the making.
Social neglect and the failure to replace old systems with 21st century systems, methods and approaches which are fit for purpose are some of the root causes. Judging from the rhetoric, post 2008 DLP administrations seem to be cognisant of the weaknesses outlined earlier but to date, nothing transformative has been forthcoming.
Barbadians and their leadership need to determine what they would like the country to look like in 10, 20, 30 years. They should begin by establishing what type of community they want Barbados to become. What should characterise Barbadian civilization? Once the destination is agreed upon and resolutely pursued, important aspects of the country’s social development, which continue to be ignored, are likely to take on sharper focus.
Due to the inextricable link between economic and social development, the viability of Barbados will not only depend on economic imperatives but also on conserving our natural environment, fostering community spirit, propagating civic responsibility and genuine patriotism, as well as reducing crime and anti-social behaviour. Social consciousness, collective responsibility and individual actualisation are also germane to a healthy, striving civilisation.
Some persistent ills that are yearning for remedies are noise pollution, indiscriminate dumping, littering, child abuse, domestic abuse, elder abuse and neglect, and the breakdown of nuclear and extended families. Others include unreliable transportation dominated by miscreant owners and operators, illegal drug abuse, alcohol abuse, licentiousness, crass conduct, individualism and materialism.
In a nod to the value of family life, NIS surpluses could be utilised to extend maternity leave and introduce paternity leave. Disincentives could also be created to discourage the abuse of sick leave. The creation of recreational spaces and green spaces as well as the rigorous promotion of healthy lifestyles would also be worthy objectives.
Education and health care are both economic and social goods. Quality health care and a world-class education result in unmatched social and economic returns. This explains why governments around the world invest a disproportionate amount of public finances in educating their people and guaranteeing access to good health care.
Although Barbados also allocates most of its budget to health and education, returns are diminishing. It’s time to reach for new frontiers in education and health care, mindful that achievement rests on the optimal reallocation of existing resources or an unexpected windfall.
* Carlos R. Forte is a Commonwealth Scholar and Barbadian economist with local and international experience. C.R.Forte@gmail.com