Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
At the turn of the century, when I served as Public Relations Officer at the Barbados Association of Retired Persons (BARP), at the 35th anniversary lecture sponsored by the National Insurance Department, at the Frank Collymore Hall, I got up and asked a question.
After a wide-ranging lecture by special guest Mr. Warren R. McGillvray, I took the microphone and, holding aloft Page 5 of The Nation newspaper of Tuesday, May 28, 2004, with the large headline “Baby boom call”, asked:
“Sir, our population, at one end, is ageing and dying; the birthrate, at the other end, is declining; couples are deciding they want only two, or one … or none. AIDS is on the rampage; gun violence has joined in; and there’s carnage on our roads. Against this backdrop, don’t you think that we’re going to need some more Barbadians?”
Not schooled in actuarial science, economics or any of the disciplines that attach themselves to this matter, I was surprised that no one seemed to consider that replenishing the population had to be one of the “options” the NIS has been putting before the Barbadian public these past several years.
I inquired: “Could it be that only (now deceased) Mr. Astor Marshall ‘the Cement Man’, of talk radio notoriety, and I, think that over the next 10, 20 or 30 years we will simply need more people to pay national insurance if others are to receive pensions in their retirement?
“Or are we the only ones bold enough to say, as ‘the Cement Man’ puts it, BREED MORE?”
Mr. McGillvray thanked me for the question, stopped short of admitting than he hadn’t thought about it that way, and warned me that it was not an easy proposition to sell. He politely went on to the next question; I got a muted round of applause from the audience, and sat down.
Of course, it’s not going to be easy. Hard decisions are never easy, either to make or to sell. Spain, for example, whose demographic situation the lecturer briefly mentioned, had already put in place measures to grow more people.
“If you plan to produce an adult in the year 2024,” I mused, “you will have to start tonight!”
So what was Spain doing back there in 2004? Offering the young population incentives. It said to every married couple, produce one baby and we’ll give you US$2,800; produce two and we’ll double that. Italy, too, had a population problem and again, as a governmental policy, decided that since it could not top-up in a hurry, it would encourage mass immigration.
I continued: “Now watch this: From where are these immigrants to come? From countries like ours that need the same human resources. Other countries are doing it more subtly. Haven’t we exported several teachers and nurses already? While no right-thinking person would try to stop another from seizing an opportunity to advance himself or herself, are not these the very people we need to build our poor countries? Now, Britain is coming down for some of our policemen, at a time when the Force is finding it difficult to recruit enough quality people.”
In that newspaper article, the minister of health was suggesting, as he addressed the 47th annual general meeting of the Barbados Family Planning Association, that “Barbadians are going to have to have more children”.
He observed: “The population is growing at a relatively slow pace of approximately 0.35 per cent per annum. This is generally considered to be too low since we are not producing at the same rate at which we continue to lose people through HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses.”
I again: “Let’s face it; the family planning message of the 50s and 60s has worked remarkably well. We now have to top-up the population if there are going to be enough productive people around in the next three decades.
“The minister’s hint must now develop into a string of policies, social and economic, designed to tackle this problem. And the job is not that of the Family Planning Association. If you ask me, they’ve done their job too well these past 40 years. The Government of Barbados must come up with creative tax incentives and other devices to deal with this situation.
“Our greatest drawback in Barbados is that we seem to be able to think only five years at a time; I’m talking about 20 and 30 years down the road. Even the prime minister, thinker that he is, did not factor this demographic reality into his wide-ranging budget speech last October 22.
“It’s simplistic, impracticable and unkind, in light of the same chronic diseases around us, to ask people to work until they are 70 and 75, and for my twenty-nine-year-old son to contribute more out of his monthly salary and get little or nothing thirty-six years later when he retires.
“The problem goes deeper than that. We have to produce more Barbadians. We have to produce more productive Barbadians.
“If we don’t, rest assured that others will do it for us, and the issue in 2042 may not be what to do with Lord Nelson, the new National Hero may well be the Mahatma.”
From his grave, the Cement Man must be saying: “I told you so!”
But he was not alone. Over the years, an education minister, Mr. Ronald Jones, in less brusque language than Mr. Marshall’s, has joined in.
Ambassador Dr. Clyde Mascoll did, too, seven years earlier!
Last month our first female prime minister, Ms. Mia Mottley, joined the choir. She asserts that we’re going to need about 80,000 more people. We’re sure to hear from her soon as she explains the how, the when and the where.
I agree with her “why” … over 20 years ago..
Carl Moore is a retired journalist, prolific letter writer and advocate for a quieter Barbados. This column was offered as a letter to the editor.