It came to my attention last month that our government was planning to postpone, once again, the hosting of the Caribbean Festival of Arts, if it had not yet done so. Announcements to that effect would be made very soon, I was told. The fact that such announcements have not yet been made may make this post obsolete. I rather doubt it, however.It should be no surprise to anyone at all that I think this is a terrible idea. It's not just because I would like to write for a living and make that living in the country in which I grew up. It's also because it's flying in the face of what international agencies focussed on development economics suggest is the place of culture in that development.For those of us who don't know, or who haven't noticed, the world has changed. As I write, indeed, at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, the US President is opening the door for negotiations with Cuba, which, as we all know, is the only viable competitor for The Bahamas' prosperity in the Caribbean region. In fact, it's possible to argue that the only reason The Bahamas has maintained its supreme position in the region has been because the fifty-year long US embargo of Cuba, has coincided with the latest Bahamian boom. But now, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is visiting Cuba, and the Obama administration is making very clear noises that the embargo will soon be lifted.At the same time, for the first time in almost twenty years, the Bahamian government's plan for prosperity -- foreign investment, foreign investment, foreign investment -- is not bearing fruit. Why not? The reasons are various. Perhaps the biggest is the reason Barack Obama himself gave for changing the way the USA has done business for the past generation or so -- that trickle-down economics, or the spreading of the wealth accumulated by the rich and mighty -- does not work. It no longer works in the USA, which is the greatest nation in the world; and it has not worked in The Bahamas as an engine of development for a country that has not yet invested in itself. Oh, it has done well in providing a couple of decades' worth of get-rich-quick money for a smattering of people. But as we are noticing, where the sharing of wealth is dependent on the goodwill of the greedy, little gets shared. And so our current "wealth" is almost wholly dependent on the goodwill of the foreign investor, who is interested in the people of this nation only as workers -- as block-layers, lifeguards, toilet-cleaners, cooks, drivers, or middle managers who have no ability to affect or shape company policy.It is not foreign investment that economists and development agencies are suggesting is the engine of economic development in the 21st century; it's culture. If you don't believe me, go and look it up. Culture is no longer regarded as peripheral to development. It has been recognized as a viable, resilient, sustainable and renewable source of economic gain. A quick look at any international economic arrangement negotiated since 2002 will illustrate this truth. International agencies everywhere, from the European Union to the Organization of American States to the United Nations to the World Trade Organization, are recognizing the place of culture on the economic agenda.But here, in The Bahamas, for a generation and a half -- the entire time since Independence -- our national policies have been shaped by a group of men and a handful of women whose actions and behaviour cumulatively suggest that they would rather erase Bahamian culture than invest in it.Despite our so-called prosperity, we are the only Caribbean nation that cannot demonstrate our government's pride in what makes us us. Part of this is because Government policy since 1992 has focussed on conning foreign investors to put in infrastructure that (we are told) the government cannot afford. The result? Despite soaring tourist arrivals (and, presumably, soaring demand for authentic Bahamian cultural products), the cultural industries are in effective decline. Those foreign investors in whom we've placed our trust? They don't care whose culture visitors consume, as long as the profits flow to into their coffers. What we should have learned by now is that no people -- or their representatives -- can depend on someone else to develop their own cultural resources. We have to do that job for ourselves.But we don't. The recurrent budget allotted by our goverment to culture, despite all the fussing about a so-called Ministry of Culture and the appointment of Ministers of State, only crossed the $2 million line in the 2008-2009 budget year. The government agency charged with the development of Bahamian culture is not a Ministry, nor is it a Department; it is a Division, which means that even that $2 million is not administered by anybody in that Division. (It isn't administered by the Minister, either, for anyone who remains fooled into thinking that this may be so.) The Chief Financial Officer in any government agency is the Permanent Secretary, or the Director of any Department that has a budget head; and the Cultural Affairs Division is so far away from having a budget head that it would be laughable if it were not so frightening. That $2 million is inscribed in a single line item under whatever budget head the Division is attached to (Office of the Prime Minister (Head 14) one year, Education (Head 38) the next, Youth, Sports and Culture (Head 47) the next). And that $2 million is expected to support festivals throughout The Bahamas, maintain a "national theatre" (which is so far from being either thing that it demonstrates the depth of the contempt that our governments have for us) run a National Arts Festival, finance sundry cultural events throughout the year, and run the $1.5 million festival of Junkanoo.Stand this up against the over $91 million we allot to the Ministry of Tourism, much of which is spent outside The Bahamas. I was once told, laughingly, by a senior official in that Ministry that the budget I was given to work with (that was back in 2004, when the budget was maybe $1.2 million, give or take) was what Tourism managers were given to make mistakes with. We can afford Miss Universe, which will benefit Atlantis; but we cannot, it appears, afford CARIFESTA, which will benefit us all.But it is not Miss Universe, which is a cultural brand developed elsewhere, with economic returns for the owners of the brand that will develop the Bahamian economy.According to international agencies and economists the world around, it is our culture.This is why the planned postponement of CARIFESTA, if it is indeed so planned (and if it isn't, the lack of any progress towards the hosting of that festival in 2010 indicates that a decision has already been made, if not announced), is the terrible idea that it is.I have yet to be convinced that Miss Universe will benefit the Bahamian economy substantially, other than in the collection of departure taxes, which will be funnelled into agencies that spend their monies outside the nation anyway. I am sure it will keep the Kerzners happy. I know, however, that I and mine will certainly not benefit in any way from Miss Universe; nor, I imagine, will most other people in the cultural industries, unless their name be Ronnie Butler or K.B. and unless they be set to open for whatever international giant that comes to perform. I do not think that food vendors or writers or poets or improv performers or even the broad Junkanoo community will benefit in any substantial way from Miss Universe, not to mention the car rental agencies, the restaurants and watering holes on the Bahamian side of the bridge, the small hotels and guest houses, the vast majority of taxi drivers and the tour bus companies not sanctioned by Atlantis, the street cleaners, the road-repairers, the marching bands, the graphic designers, the t-shirt makers, or the film community.These are the people who will benefit from CARIFESTA, however, which is unsuited to be housed at Atlantis, that most inauthentic institution, that theme park for the unsuspecting, which only resides among us, but is not of us. The influx of visitors, and the type of visitors that will make up that influx, will be interested in us, who we are, what we do, and will spend money on what is most Bahamian, will not be conned into overspending on what is fictional at best.And yet (I'm told) our leaders believe that to host the Festival will be a waste of money in the end.I know this much. Economic evidence from around the world exists which proves our leaders wrong. And common sense suggests it too. Our development will not happen at the hands of foreigners; it is in our own hands, and the hands of the governments we elect to lead us. We can read the reports for ourselves, and accept the idea that culture is the economic sector in which to invest for nations that are still developing; or we can share the delusions of our politicians, which confuse the grandeur of the monstrosities the foreign investors build (and usually protect behind gates and bridges and visitor passes) with development of a nation and of a people. We need to make up our own minds. From here on in, it's up to us.
In Winston Saunders' quartet of plays, The Nehemiah Chronicles, the main character, an old man who has remained in his neighbourhood throughout a number of decades, talks to an invisible reporter about the rise in crime around him and how he feels unsafe in the home where he once was secure. In the past he's always known his neighbours. He disciplined their children, and helped to raise a society of youngsters who respected authority and one another, and who made sensible contributions to their country and countrymen.He blames the current state of the nation on the growth of the sudivision, where fences and walls and back gardens have replaced front porches and shared yards, where the entire population leaves their houses standing empty during the day, and where at night no one knows the people who live next door.In the suburbs, he says, crime flourishes because nobody knows or cares enough about one another to prevent or stop it. People can be burgled or attacked or murdered in the home next door or across the street without the knowledge of those nearby. In the inner city -- in the ghetto, Over the Hill, or in what was once the neighbourhood, people can be burgled or attacked or murdered in the home next door without the interference of those nearby, because all the connections that once existed have been broken.And he has a point.The neighbourhood -- that locale which is a citizen's larger home, where you can go next door or across the street to borrow a cup of rice or sugar, where you can share child care and walk to the shop and remind yourself of the humanity of strangers -- is dying in Nassau. It is not coincidental, I believe, that violence against other people is prevalent. We don't know one another, and our upbringing in subdivisions behind walls and windows, has taught us to suspect other people, not respect them. We no longer know how to talk to strangers, much less how to behave.There are lots of thoughts about why this is. But I'm going to suggest that one of the root issues is a question of town planning. We appear to believe that urban development must follow a certain path, that when a neighbourhood ages and people begin to die off, what must follow is the conversion of that space into commercial properties.Our town planning appears to follow this model, and implements without question the idea of commercial rezoning in older urban neighbourhoods. All too often the wishes of the residents of those areas are overlooked or ignored; perhaps the assumption is that in the long run it is good for them, as they can sell their properties at commercial prices and everyone ultimately benefits.There's something to be said for this approach. It has its short-term advantages. Most of these accrue to individual businessmen and real estate agencies, many of whom come from outside the area. As properties change hands, speculators and businessmen snap them up at residential prices, and resell them or develop them as commercial properties, sometimes exploiting the changing nature of the neighbourhood to get the most value from their dollar -- using residential offsets for commercial properties, for instance. The profits they make are enviable.But they are individual profits, and the long-term result is not so glorious. Those of us who live in changing neighbourhoods all too often find the safety and integrity and character of our areas being threatened by impersonal businesses, whose entire existence is to maximize the profits of their owners, and not to contribute to the life of the community. As this commercial development spreads, residents who have been able to live good lives at reasonable prices are forced to move out.This again is good for developers, who can create more and more subdivisions further and further away from our business centres where prices are high, facades are sophisticated, behind walls and fences and, nowadays, gates, where buyers pay a high price for privacy. It's not so good for those us who have become the victims of commerce. And in the long run, it's not so good for the economy of us all.Because we haven't considered the downsides. In the first place, many of the newer subdivisions are bereft of commercial activity, which means that for even the simplest need one must get into one's car and drive to the nearest shop or series of shops. This costs money and creates traffic and makes the entire population unhealthier, more stressed-out, more car-bound. In the second, the privacy for which we have paid so much is often overwhelming, and provides very little real security at all. In the neighbourhood we have neighbours to watch out for us and our property; in the subdivisions we must rely on burglar bars and alarm systems and our faith in God, and in the gated communities we pay money to a private security company to do what our neighbours did for free.In the USA and Canada, where this trend happened forty years ago, they have learned the lesson we are about to ignore right now. The "redevelopment" of neighbourhoods into commercial "centres" doesn't work. By moving the residents out of the neighbourhood, the cost of living goes up for everyone concerned -- the businesses included. Residents are also customers, and they will gravitate to those businesses that are the closest to their homes. Business follows people, not the other way round; and so the cost of doing business is similarly affected. Security, transportation, advertising -- all these costs escalate, the result of moving people away from neighbourhoods when zoning is exclusive.In North America, the new trend is towards mixed zoning. In short, they're recreating neighbourhoods. In The Bahamas, where we have the opportunity to rescue the ones that still exist, residents must be given equal footing with developers. Town Planning must make it a policy to consider the needs and wishes of the neighbourhood before approving any new development that will affect the character and the quality of life in the area. We should get to choose which businesses we want to allow next door. That way, we will strengthen the sustainability of business, increase our quality of life, and help control the cost of basic living.
Some useful links:New Urbanism (WikiPedia article)Defining Elements of New UrbanismNew Urbanism webpageThe cost of urban sprawl
I'm sitting in Starbucks, listening to a jazz rendition of "Sponger Money". I must admit it sounds good. And it feels good to hear an international take on a Bahamian song. But I'm also wondering a couple of things.The first one is what the thing is called. Is it called "Sponger Money" on the label, or does it have a different title -- Spanish, maybe, or something unrelated in English?The second one is who the song is said to be by. Now I don't know the answer to that one, as I have not done the research necessary to find out who wrote it. I can hazard a guess -- perhaps it was Charles Lofthouse, who wrote several songs in the first part of the twentieth century. More likely, it was an anonymous person, maybe a man on a sponge boat, or a woman clipping sponges on the wharf. I do know of at least one person who arranged the song: my father, E. Clement Bethel.The third one (correct, this is a Bahamian "couple"), intimately connected to the first two, is who's getting the royalties for the song.Now I know (as well as one can know these things) that the song is Bahamian. It makes sense, after all; sponging was a major Bahamian industry for the better part of a century, from the mid 1800s to the late 1930s, and the song tells the story of the industry. The version I know was the one we used to sing when I was growing up:Sponger money never done, we got sponger moneySponger money is a lotta fun, we got sponger moneyLaugh gal laughLaugh gal laughLaugh gal laughWe got sponger moneyBut the question I have to ask is this. Even though the song is Bahamian, what Bahamian is getting the revenue from the song?It's a serious question, and one that I have to ask, given the kind of debate that followed the postponement of The Bahamas' hosting of CARIFESTA from 2008 to 2012. That debate, and the general dismissal of culture in general (and, by extension, of our culture in particular) made me realize that most of us -- from the man and woman in the street to the politicians in the highest offices -- are missing the point when it comes to cultural discussions. It made me realize, once again, that our society is locked into a mentality that is jammed firmly into the third quarter of the twentieth century, and that will hinder us not only from developing in the 21st century global economy, but also from maintaining our current economic position as the economic leader in the Caribbean.It's a mentality that is regressive on a number of fronts. In the first place, it continues to imagine -- despite ample evidence to the contrary -- that culture is dispensable, something that you do in your spare time if you can afford it, but not something that has any right to exist on its own. This is the mentality that has led to the removal of music, dance and art programmes from primary schools, permitted adults to regard creative activities as optional, not central, elements in children's development, allowed teachers to divorce the use of language from thought itself, and criminalized self-expression. It's also the mentality that suggests that the enjoyment of life is a waste of time, and that having a unique perspective on the world is sin.It's a mentality, in short, that creates a fertile breeding ground for negative activity. By stifling the ability of people to respond creatively to their environment -- whether that environment is pleasant or difficult -- it leaves them with only the option of a negative response. When you have no room to contemplate or create, you will fight.And so our attitude towards culture is hurting us in several ways. On the one hand, it's rendering us less competitive on the economic front. While we continue to invest in things that became obsolete twenty years ago -- in sun, sand and sea, in gambling, in resort-based tourism, in cruise ship arrivals -- our neighbours are diversifying their tourist economies and creating experiences for their visitors and their citizens alike that will bring the same people back again and again.On the other hand, our dismissal of things cultural is hurting us socially. Not only does it mean that the vacuum that is "Bahamian" society of the 2000s has left us vulnerable to invasions from north and south alike; but it also encourages the development of a criminal sub-culture. Young people who have no sense of self, no outlet for their frustration, and no way of affirming their existence in a country that ignores them will inevitably resort to violence and anti-social behaviour.And this should be no surprise to us. After all, Langston Hughes, the great African-American poet, put it in fairly simple terms. What happens to the dream deferred? he asked.Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?Or fester like a sore--And then run?Does it stink like rotten meat?Or crust and sugar over--like a syrupy sweet?Maybe it just sags --like a heavy load.Or does it explode?
I have an uncle who was once Bishop of Nassau, The Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. When I was a child, he was Father Eldon, priest of West End, Grand Bahama. I never saw him. He came to Nassau on one or two occasions a year only, because he was living and working and teaching and building in the West End community. He left West End to be made Bishop in 1972, and what he did from there Anglicans other than myself will be able to say better.The point is this. West End, Grand Bahama, was the first place outside of Nassau I heard of as a child, because my uncle lived there. And he loved it with a passion others reserve for the places their navel strings are buried.I had the opportunity to go to West End for the first time at the end of the 1980s, where I visited a school friend from Freeport and where we drove out to the settlements that had been part of my imagination since I could think for myself, Eight Mile Rock and West End. The drive, as many drives in Grand Bahama were and remained until the flooding of that island during the hurricanes, was long and wooded: pines and their companion palms (mostly the favoured silvertop, the best material for our straw industry) for miles and miles and miles. It wasnâ€™t the most auspicious or beautiful scenery, but it was ours. Not mine, specifically, but Bahamian, Grand Bahamian, and â€“ by extension â€“ my uncleâ€™s.All that land. Just waiting to be developed.Well, development has come to West End. Itâ€™s developed every tree away from the South Side of the settlement, and, Iâ€™m told, itâ€™s hungering for more.Now lest it seem that Iâ€™m standing in the way of Progress, let me step back a moment. (In truth, I actually donâ€™t believe in Progress; but thatâ€™s another story, for a later date.) Iâ€™m not going to say that developments shouldnâ€™t take place, that they shouldnâ€™t happen; they do, and they should indeed. Iâ€™m not even going to say that clear-cutting of trees is wrong and shouldnâ€™t take place; some things ought to be evident. What I am going to say is that if we believe that we can hand off our responsibility to determine what form that development should take place, we are making a fundamental mistake.And thereâ€™s more. The development in West End is not only foreign investment, itâ€™s an investment that the people who are most affected have the least involvement in. While we can celebrate and publicize the size and the magnitude of the project, we need to consider very carefully the impact of the investment on the nearest community. The entire south side of a deeply-rooted settlement with a richer history than Freeport itself is going to be turned into second homes for non-Bahamians â€“ for people for whom the richness of West Endâ€™s history will have very little relevance indeed. Like the ancient Freed African settlement of Delaporte or the fragmentation of the Fox Hill Creek, in five yearsâ€™ time West End may become the bedroom community for people who may be hired as servants and gardeners for the super-wealthy and the over-privileged.And really, the problem doesnâ€™t lie with the developers. Itâ€™s easy to blame them, because they are often interlopers, foreign, and rich. But really, itâ€™s our problem. If we are going to pursue an economic policy that relies on external investment to take care of some of our infrastructural and employment needs, we have to understand both the benefits and the challenges of that policy. We have to look beyond the material and the economic, and understand the full implications of the thing.For instance, we need to recognize that while The Bahamas is economically sound all by itself (foreign investment or no, The Bahamas has been, and remained the third richest independent nation in the entire Western Hemisphere in purely economic terms; our per capita GDP places us ahead of every other country in the region except Canada and the USA), our quality of life is nowhere near so illustrious. We live in a high-crime society where many of our fellow-citizens feel displaced and unimportant, and consider that they have nothing to lose by responding violently to minor actions. We pay too much for basic necessities, our cities are congested (while Freeport may be an exception, Marsh Harbourâ€™s traffic is growing, and George Town is laid out in such a way that its increased population has already placed challenges on the settlement that have yet to be resolved), we have no sensible means of dealing with waste, our environment is both beautiful but ecologically fragile, and our cultural identity is insecure.While unchecked foreign investment may yield high dividends to the Government in real and imagined financial gains, it does little to address the problems listed above. In fact, it exacerbates every one of them â€” with the possible exception of the traffic problem (which is solved in several cases, such as the West End case, by the application for, and approval of, the building of alternative ports of entry, thereby creating colonial-style enclaves of non-Bahamians in our very midst).And I am not so sure that I believe in half the dreams that are presented, in maps or publications or ads. We live in a global economy, after all, and we must not be carried away by the idea that Bahamian real estate is irresistible in its own right. We are simply an extension of an America land boom, which is rife with speculation and which is selling ideas and concepts, not development. Our desire for quick fixes is likely to end in more disappointment than achievement in the long run.What am I calling for here? A clarification and a firming up of the policy that governs our foreign investments. While it may have been wise a decade ago to invite all and sundry to consider The Bahamas as a good place to do business, we are no longer in a position to have to offer the kinds of concessions that brought the investors back. Foreign investment cannot remain an end in itself. Now that we are on the map, we need to remember what can only be the real purpose of that investment â€” the development, advancement and integrity of the Bahamian nation and its people.
There's a lot of talk these days about free trade, market forces, and so on. Even I've talked about it. How can we not? The world is changing, has changed, and unless we change with it, we'll be left behind.Half a century ago, when colonies were becoming countries and the world's leaders were no longer exclusively of European descent, becoming a nation was the most important step you could take. Gaining a voice on the world stage, being able to apply for membership to international bodies, being able to create and express one's sovereignty -- these were the things people fought for, these were what nations celebrated.Half a century ago, though, the greatest forces were not economic, but ideological. The world was divided into two major groups. On the one side were the communist countries; on the other, the so-called "free" world.Now these titles come loaded. Many people who don't know any better tend to assume that communism embodies all that is evil: totalitarian government, atheism, state-controlled production. By the same token, they assume that the opposite of communism is democracy, rule by the people, and that democracy incorporates freedoms of every kind -- of speech, of religion, and of the markets.But it's not as simple as that. The communist ideal is fundamentally democratic; the democracy practised by the Soviets in Russia was not hugely different from the Electoral College system that elects American presidents. Nor was totalitarianism a necessary condition for communism, although the fact that most communist states were established by revolution meant that totalitarianism was often the result.No. The true difference between the communist world and the "free" one was not ideology; it was economics. The proper opposite of communism is not democracy; it is capitalism. Communism was Marx and Engels' answer to the capitalist ideas outlined by Adam Smith and others.You see, communism claims that the labourer is the owner of his or her labour, and that he or she ought to have some control over saying what that labour is worth. (If that sounds very much like union talk, it should; almost all early trade unionists were Marxist). Capitalism, on the other hand, proposes that the person who puts up the capital sets the price. Capitalism, moreover, proposes several fundamental rules that have governed global economic theory for centuries. They are as follows: one, prices are affected by supply and demand; the shorter the supply, the more the demand, and the higher the prices. And two, if given the chance, the market will regulate itself.It's these last two assumptions on which the ideology of free trade in this era of globalization rests.Free trade, we are told, is the hope of the future. If and when barriers to trade are removed, the best products will flourish, prices fall, poverty will diminish, and national borders will no longer be barriers to human interchange. Competition, not regulation, ensures consumer choice and quality control. The freer the markets, the greater the choice for the consumer; and the more powerful and happy the world will become. And in order to create the environment in which free trade can flourish, governments must enact fewer controls.Now there is some truth in all of this economic Darwinism. There is little doubt that in many cases, increased competition means more choices for consumers. There is also little doubt that increased competition brings about lower prices. However, there are a few things missing from this scenario for my liking.In the first place, there can be no such thing as a free market when a minority controls the infrastructure on which the market rests. To put it in more concrete terms: say there's a market that takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in a building downtown. Vendors can come freely to the market and trade. The ones who will be successful will be those who have balanced supply and demand with their own pricing. The competition between them all will regulate what those prices should be. Fine. But they all have to pay for the space in the market that they take up. In this way, the owner of the space is taking less risk than they are, but is assured of an income every time they come, even when they don't make any money. Now when the owner is also a competitor, that gives him or her an extra edge. Compare that to the hardware and software -- the technology, the computers, the telephones, the satellites and the programmes -- that enable the global market to exist. If your economy is not a producer, of these items, you have begun at a disadvantage, and your trade can't be free.On another level, too, neither supply nor demand is random. Despite economists' dearest wishes, politics (the exercise and balance of power) cannot be removed from economic transactions. Take the example of Venezuelan oil. In a truly free market, the supplier with the best prices and the most favourable deal ought to be able to negotiate directly with consumers. Trouble is, there are two categories of players in the oil scenario. One category consists of economic entities -- the oil conglomerates, most of them multinational with a strong US base. The other consists of political entities -- regional governments. Once again, if the market is truly free, both categories should have equal access to the supply. However, the political category is subject to political pressure in a way that conglomerates are not.And then, there's the issue of demand. Free trade advocates speak as though demand is the result of human action, not of design. But this is not entirely true. Suppliers don't leave the purchasing of their products up to bare chance. Instead, they invest sizeable portions of their operating capital on the creation of demand -- a practice more commonly known as advertising. Demand can thus be manipulated to benefit suppliers. Once more, those people most able to flood the market with ads are those who are more likely to succeed.When we talk about free trade, then, it's important to keep all the issues in mind. It's important not to be fooled by the rhetoric of the power-brokers in the marketplace and believe everything they say. To me, the concept of "free trade" is akin to the concept of equality in Orwell's Animal Farm. All trade is free; but some trade is freer than others.
It's a hallmark of every political campaign, no matter what the party, no matter what the time, that the next government is Going To Create Jobs. It's been a hallmark of campaigns ever since the Company Vote was removed in time for the 1967 election (it was still around in 1962, Universal Suffrage notwithstanding; it was a benefit of the 1964 Constitution, which made Roland Symonette our first Premier. History is important.) When you've got One (Wo)Man, One Vote, it appears to be imperative to getting elected.Well, fine. I'm not going to argue with that. I'm not a politician, after all. I don't have to please all the people all of the time (thank the good Lord above).But.It seems to me that the Creation of Jobs, this thing that every government or prospective government seems to imagine that it's bound by divine decree to do, could be a little better thought out.You see, the country has changed a bit since 1967, when jobs first leapt to the head of the campaign agenda. In 1967, the majority of the people were both underemployed and undereducated. The two went hand in hand, on the basis that it was cruel to train people to fill positions that were unavailable to them. Thirty years ago, it was easy to Create Jobs. All that had to be done was remove the barriers to the jobs that already existed, and create opportunities for more. Black Bahamians, once relegated to being teachers and nurses and servants, civil and otherwise, could suddenly move into jobs such as lawyers and doctors and bankers and accountants.But there was an educational gap to be bridged. While those of us who were born into a free Bahamas could aspire to become doctors and lawyers and the like, our parents and older siblings were recipients of a relatively rudimentary education. They, too, had to be employed; after all, they had to help us get our educations. And so opening of a great job market in tourism and construction that enabled the generation before ours to earn the kind of money that would sow the seeds of the new middle class.So it was understandable in 1968 and 1972 and even in 1977 that the Creation of Jobs focussed on the creation of employment that offered relatively good pay for relatively low educations. Today, however, we live in a considerably different world. The generations educated on the tourist and the builder's dollar are the first generations to be raised in middle classes. It is our children for whom jobs in 2005 are to be provided.Yet although the society has changed, our governments' philosophy on jobs has not. The Creation of Jobs still implies jobs in construction, in the tourist industry, and in (Lord help us) the not-so-civil service.There's a major problem with this. It's that middle class parents raise middle class children. The aspirations of these children go far beyond construction, the tourist industry, or even the civil Service. And yet Job Creation seems to continue to run in the rut it's dug for itself over the transitional first thirty years of our independence.Now it's perfectly true that there's very little need for the government to invest in the creation of jobs in middle class professions. After all, there are more than enough doctors, lawyers, accountants and bankers to go around, especially in New Providence. And there's the very good argument that it's not the responsibility of any government to create jobs for its people.But let's just look at our society a minute. We've got thousands of students graduating from high school, when thirty years ago most people had only a grammar school education. We've got a slate of professions, most of them middle-class stepping stones to upperclassdom, that are full to bursting with people in my generation and the generations that follow. We've got a nation full of people who regard working in construction or government or hotels as something to fall back upon when one's dreams don't work out. And we've got the generosity of foreign investors, creating thousands of jobs in these fall-back areas. Our Job Creation plans create jobs all right; but more and more, the people who're being hired are immigrants, legal and otherwise.And we've got no creative or intellectual industries to speak of at all.This is very odd, considering the fact that, according to recent economic research in the Caribbean and Latin American region, the most stable economic sector is the cultural sector. Film, television, music production, fashion, the literary arts, publishing, crafts, the visual arts, the performing arts, the media, the folkloric and historic arts, the festival arts â€” these are the areas that not only remain stable in times of economic downturn, but that sometimes even grow during recessions. The cultural sector accounts for at least 7% of the total revenue of the USA (Hollywood, the television networks, the cable networks and Broadway are included; if one were to count fashion, architecture, and the advertising arts, the figure might go up). In Barbados, the cultural sector is responsible for generating an economic turnover of almost $50 million US every year, and employs thousands of small craftsmen, artists, calypsonians and the like.But wait. We're the ones with five million tourist arrivals a year. Why are we still talking about Jobs as though only construction and the hotel industry count?It's time, I believe, to shift the paradigm when it comes to Job Creation. It's time a government realized that the model we've been using is benefiting immigrants, whether they be the legal ones we welcome with open arms and label Foreign Investors, or the illegal ones we repudiate while making use of their cheap labour, more than it's benefiting us. It's time we started investing in the kinds of industries our middle-class children will want to work in, and stop recycling the models of our past.
I had the pleasure recently to be in the presence of LeRoy Clarke, a Trinidadian artist, one of the greatest in the Caribbean, who visited The Bahamas for the first time this month. It was a pleasure and it was a challenge. His reaction to our nation was complex; not always flattering, often irreverent, always provocative, but also, and fundamentally, true. Much of what he said struck me. What struck me most was this: he believes that we live in a very dangerous country indeed.The thing is, he's not talking about physical danger, about crime or violence or poverty or lesbian gangs. No. He's talking about a completely different kind of danger, the danger that comes to people who live in an illusion and believe that what they see is real. It's a danger of the spirit, a poverty of the soul.And he has a point.He was talking about the fact that we may be rich, but we live increasingly in a country that is not ours.Now let's not make any mistakes now. Trinidad is not a poor country. Trinidad is doing very well indeed. It should be; it's an oil-producing nation, and crude oil prices are rising. And there's something very interesting about the intellectuals it produces. They think for themselves. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that oil is something that you can touch, watch come out of the ground, barrel and sell. Perhaps there's something fulfilling about being able to see the results of your work, at being able to quantify what makes your money. Perhaps when there's something pretty solid about the money you make you're better able to see yourself.Perhaps the ephemeral nature of what we do, the seemingly intangible quality of the things we peddle, makes us blinder to who we are and what we achieve. Our focus is not on something tangible, after all. We are selling our land, our climate, our shores, and our selves. We are the commodity here, not oil. And this is where the danger lies.You see, there's plenty of money to be earned in what we have. The richest people in the world will pay dearly for a little access to the beauty and romance of our country. But the exchange of land and climate, shores and selves for money is not the same kind of exchange as that of oil for cash. Oil is something quantifiable, and can be separated from the Trinidadian people themselves. If and when the Lake of Pitch is used up, if and when the offshore oil is all mined, the Trinidadian people, their personhood and their culture, will remain intact. It is their economy, and not their fundamental identity, that depends upon this exchange.In our case, though, the money we earn is inextricably linked to the sale of the things most central to our selves. We may not understand our fundamental relation to our land, we may be unconscious of our inextricable connection to the sea, we may not be able to quantify our integration into our climate, and we may not recognize the fundamental truth that was very clear to Mr. Clarke, that tourism is in effect a selling of the self; but that is where the danger lies.It's possible, of course, for us to argue that the difference between Trinidad and us is superficial. After all, the oil that makes them rich may be owned by the Trinidadian government, but the companies that extract and sell the oil are more than likely to be multinational conglomerates, and anything purporting to be local in the oil business is almost certainly their affiliate. In other words, the raw material may be all Trinidadian, but the finished product may not. LeRoy Clarke notwithstanding, Trinidad may be faced with the same danger as we are.It's possible, but the argument doesn't hold too much water. Oh, it's true that the power structure of the world is skewed so that profits flow from the south to the north, that countries outside of Europe and North America are generally sources of raw material and cheap labour, while the bulk of wealth-generation remains in the hands of those people who have had it since Columbus set sail. But think of it this way.Even if Trinidad and The Bahamas are similarly placed in the global power scheme -- on the periphery, not at the centre, in positions that require the permission or the strength or the capital or the influence of others in order for our full potential to be realized, there's one difference between us that should make us aware.Their money comes from something they can see, measure, and thus control. It comes from something that is part of their land, but outside part of their being. Oil is something one can observe and comprehend, and what's more, it's something that is not as stable as was once imagined. Trinidadians know, far better than we do, how fragile prosperity can be, because boom can be followed by bust quickly, and a reliance on oil can be challenged by a switch to other forms of energy, such as LNG.Ours, though, comes from something we hardly realize we have. Everything that we sell we take very much for granted; land and ocean and beachfront and culture are woven into the fabric of our being, something of which we are hardly conscious, and will not notice we have lost until too late. It's not visible, it's not measurable, but it's marketable. And we're wonderful salesmen, perhaps too much so. And we won't realize what we've lost until we're living -- as Clarke observed, in the shadow of the big house that's owned by the people from across the sea.You see, when we occupy a space that isn't ours, or worse yet, a space that was ours but isn't any more, but think we are bettering ourselves, we are lying to ourselves and we are stealing from our children. And therein lies the danger.
The tide has turned. A week ago, there was rampant concern about the signing of the CSME. Now, we're all breathing easily again; we've been told the government will not sign on to the CSME before 2007.Pay close attention. No one's said a word about the WTO. And they should.The whole world, you see, has signed on to a doctrine of "free trade". It's a doctrine that states that the Market, and not nations, is the ultimate controller of business. Nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of the Market -- not national interest, not cultural imperatives, and certainly not the need to encourage local products. You see, by placing barriers up for any reason, you hinder the Market from doing its work. And the Market's work is to find the best price for every product, and to sell.The World Trade Organization sets the rules that govern free trade. Each country who wants to participate in the great global economy is obliged to sign the trade treaties laid down by the WTO. Here in The Bahamas, we're running behind, and we're rushing to catch up.Now here's the rub. The rules set in the WTO are, by and large, rules that were developed by, and work to the advantage of, the economic G8: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Most of them predate the actual period of globalization, and they are designed to allow the broadest scope for cheap labour, open markets, and high consumer demand for the products of these nations. Protectionism of any kind is anathema, and has been eroded over time.Take the West Indian banana industry, for instance. The small islands of the Eastern Caribbean were for years assured of a steady market for their bananas, because they were protected by the preferential trade agreements of the British Commonwealth. As a result of the Commonwealth agreements, the British market was closed to Central American bananas (those bananas grown by largely American companies like Chiquita and Dole), and even to the bananas produced in the French territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe.When Britain finally signed onto the European Common Market, this changed somewhat. The British market opened up to French bananas, and Europe began to trade with the Eastern Caribbean. Still, though, access to the European market for Dole and Chiquita was limited.Under WTO agreements, however, the preferential treatment given to Europe's former empire has to be removed. No market can be closed to any product. And now, with Chiquita and Dole finally finding a home in Europe, the banana industry of the Eastern Caribbean has died.What's insidious about WTO is that, unlike the CSME, nations don't have to change their legislation immediately when they sign on (although it's the rules of free trade that mandate that things like customs duties and other tariffs have to be removed). No. There's a clause in the WTO agreements that specifies "national treatment" for all. In other words, you can have as many rules as you like about who can do what in your country. The thing is, if a foreign company wants to come in and establish itself, you have to treat it exactly the same as you would treat a national company. In other words, you have to create a level playing field for the Market to work, and allow every foreigner the same advantages that you give to your own people.Now the good thing about the WTO is that when you sign on to it, you can apply for exceptions. The bad thing about these exceptions is that the treaty is huge, and the exceptions are niggly and very very detailed. The worst thing of all is that our very economic success in The Bahamas has made us badly prepared to negotiate any exceptions. Our habit of looking only at ourselves, or at the USA, has allowed us to develop many lawyers and economists who know how to make us or themselves richer, but the rules with which they work are outdated. We have very few professionals who are experts in the field of global commerce, which means that when we sign on to the WTO, we stand a very good chance of locking ourselves into all kinds of situations that will work to erode our economic edge.Consider this. The WTO governs trade not only in goods, but also in services. This means that everything -- banking, tourism, music, higher education -- is regarded as a tradable commodity and is therefore governed by WTO. This is something others have found out the hard way. In one situation, a trade minister signed onto the WTO without consulting all the economic sectors that would be affected, only to discover after the fact that the local university was negatively impacted by the treaty. The government, in an effort to support the regional institution, provided subsidies for students enrolled there. Under WTO, the principle of national treatment mandated that similar subsidies should be available for students enrolled in any international institution that had set up campuses in that country.One very good reason that I see for joining CSME in the long run (after looking at all the implications and working out what helps and what hurts us), is to avail ourselves of two things that membership in CARICOM will confer on The Bahamas: first, the right to seek exemptions from various clauses of WTO, some of which The Bahamas, with its high GNP and position as third richest nation in the hemisphere could not ordinarily access; and second, the ability to piggyback on the negotiating machinery, and use the work of the Caribbean experts who have been negotiating a place for the entire region in the WTO.After all, we have to be realistic. Our future is a global one. In this case, the worry about immigrants from the south is a fleeting one. Our real worry should be the immigrants from Japan, China, India and Israel who are already seeking to move to The Bahamas to establish businesses at the gateway of the greatest market in the world -- the USA.
It's not easy living in an archipelago. Oh, it's fun, to be sure. We have seven hundred islands, and lots of bright blue sea. It's great for promotion to visitors. But for governing, for developing -- well, it's one big headache. It's expensive, it's often wasteful, and it's ultimately frustrating. And no matter what we do, apparently, Family Islanders still pick up their georgie bundles and move to the city.Given this state of affairs, the idea of using foreign capital as a tool to assist in the development of the whole archipelago seems to be a good one. Weâ€™ve got lots of land going a-begging and not many people taking it up. What's more, much of it seems to be land that's not good for very much. But it has wonderful sea-views, balmy breezes, and beaches that rate among the best in the world.Enter foreign investment.It seems to be a great idea, by which the whole country can be developed with very little extra cost to the government at all. By creating second homes, colony villages, gated communities, resort developments, marinas, golf courses, fish farms, citrus farms, and so on around The Bahamas, we can create jobs quickly, and encourage some of the people currently overcrowding our very small capital island to move out to populate the land that is currently unused. It's a virtually pain-free means of developing remote areas of the archipelago without any real risk. Wonderful.Except.Except that the method's not that free of pain. And it's not that easy. And the returns -- well, the returns are not what we imagine them to be. Foreign investment is the oldest form of development known to the modern Caribbean, and most of us are still living with the legacy of the first wave of it. It works fine as a get-rich-quick scheme -- for the developers. For those of us who remain here, though, the price we pay in the long run for the development is terribly high.You see, we inhabit that part of the planet that was seized and settled by the original foreign investors -- otherwise know as European imperialists -- for their own economic purposes. Ever since the so-called "discovery" of the New World by Christopher Columbus, investments in this region are designed to benefit people far, far away.Consider Christopher Columbus' own words, penned over five hundred years ago, when he first set eyes on the Bahamian islands.This is so beautiful a place, as well as the neighbouring regions, that I know not in which course to proceed first; my eyes are never tired with viewing such delightful verdure, and of a species so new and dissimilar to that of our country, and I have no doubt there are trees and herbs here which would be of great value in Spain ... Here is no village, but farther within the island is one, where our Indians inform us we shall find the king, and that he has much gold. I shall penetrate so far as to reach the village and see or speak with the king, who, as they tell us, governs all these islands, and goes dressed, with a great deal of gold about him -- Christopher Columbus, 19 October 1492Those are the words of the first advertiser, the first promoter of tourism, the first scout for later foreign investors. Then, as now, The Bahamas was regarded as little more than a beautiful source of revenue -- for someone from far away. Columbus has no thought for the King and for his subjects beyond finding the source of their gold, and, after that, using the trees and herbs of the area to the benefit of Spain. What did he say? I could conquer the whole of them [the people] with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased. Nothing at all about making the people's lives better.I'm not so certain that Columbus and his Isabella and Ferdinand didn't set a precedent when it comes to foreign investment that is still prevalent today. After all, the welfare of our people, of our environment, of our way of life, of our culture -- in short, our very existence -- are unlikely to be at the forefront of any investor's minds. Why should they be? All an investor's seeking is a return on his or her investment -- the quicker and the bigger (generally) the better. If it's not at the forefront of our government's negotiations -- well, then, we get situations like Royal Oasis and the citrus plantations in in the wake of Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.Here's the thing. Why do we still rely so heavily on people to sail in from beyond the horizon to do our development for us? Why do we offer them our gold for the glass beads they give us back? The Lucayans knew no better. But we do.I agree that to expect the Government of The Bahamas to shoulder single-handedly the responsibility for developing the entire country is unreasonable. I agree, too, that injecting capital into remote areas of the archipelago is important. But surely there's as much to gain, or more, from encouraging Bahamians to participate in that process. Why don't we start giving Bahamians the same kinds of concessions we give foreigners to invest in Family Island development?We are a small nation perched on the edge of a great one. When you look at The Bahamas from space, our islands look like beads scattered from the paw of some great beast. But they're ours, and they're all we've got. We need to be super-careful what we do with them. Because if we're not -- well, we can just ask the Lucayans what they think.Listen to this article online.
I had the pleasure of visiting Dominica not long ago. It is a beautiful island -- mountainous and forested, with the kind of loveliness Americans call pristine. As I flew in, I wondered why anyone would leave such a place.When I landed I began to understand why. Dominica is a beautiful place, but globalization has hit the Eastern Caribbean hard. The globalization of the past made them into monocultures, where the only crops grown were for export to feed the desires and needs of Europeans. The globalization of the present extended that relation of dependency; between sugar and bananas, the entire economy rests on the price of cash crops. And that price is set far, far away from Dominica.This is a dependency that we in The Bahamas don't know. Our economy is built on service industries, not on agriculture, and that fact has several positive side-effects. An agricultural community works beyond the centres of civilization. No sustained contact between the town and the country is needed; while the farmer or the peasant may have some familiarity with the town (that is where the market is, after all), townspeople are generally ignorant of the farmer's reality. And so the social exchange between them is limited. The farmer maintains a lifestyle that is substantially different from that of the urban person.A service economy, on the other hand, works in another way. It is founded on the contact between the service provider and the consumer. In our case, the consumer is invited into the host economy. The success of that service depends upon our becoming as much like the consumer and his or her society as possible. Our communications, our infrastructure, our laws must conform to the needs and expectations of our banking customers; in tourism, our accommodations and the training of our staff must do the same. A nation that depends upon service is a nation whose people are transformed into beings who are similar to the people they serve.Now there is a paradox here. Our service economy has made us rich. My visit to Dominica drove home to me that what we Bahamians take for granted here, what some of us even have the temerity to call "poverty" (as in "poor people") is in fact a kind of wealth. In material terms, our standard of living, indeed, places us on par with the USA -- if not with the richest Americans, at least with their servants.Because that is who we are.There is a danger, you see, in maintaining a service economy. The returns are greater than the returns from agriculture, particularly now that the source of wealth has shifted from the agricultural sector to the service sector. The problem is this. In order to serve, it seems, we have to lose our selves.This is not something that should surprise us; we have been here before. In the olden days, the people who toiled outside, who raised the crops and brought them to the central place of distribution, were called field slaves; house slaves were those who worked inside, who kept dirt off their hands and sun off their heads. Like the agricultural islands of the Caribbean, the field slaves were physically worse-off, sleeping in rough quarters, subject to aches and pains and hard, hard work. The house slaves' material lives were better. They wore prettier clothes, slept in nicer beds, and were cleaner and smoother than their brothers outside.But it was the field slaves who kept more of themselves.The house slaves, you see, living cheek-by-jowl with the masters, began to talk like them, dress like them, eat like them, and, eventually, think like them. And of course, because they were closer to the masters, they were more likely to be raped by them; the closer they lived, the more they became like them. In the end, they believed what the masters believed: that blackness was savagery and the only way to salvation was through being as whitely civilized as possible.I write this because in Dominica I witnessed what we can only imagine here: a cultural show involving children, adults and elders, and the children knew the elders' music and dances and songs as well as the elders did themselves. I watched a quadrille dance that was performed by schoolchildren no older than twelve with the same manners and attitudes as the Cat Island Mites; there were no extra steps, no flourishes. We were treated to a Masquerade performance that featured the characters that were common in the past, and kept the costumes and the music of the roots of Dominca's Carnival alive, even though modern Carnival has many Trinidadian elements. I visited a museum that has a living display -- men and women in traditional dress, using the artefacts that we have placed on display in the foyer of our archives. I walked through the complex inhabited by the Cultural Affairs Division, which housed, in addition to the offices, an art gallery, a museum, a gift shop, and an outdoor theatre, all in the surroundings of an old sugar mill. I learned that the reason that the young people all know the songs and the dances and the habits of their forefathers is because there are festivals all year round that enable them to learn those habits, to be grounded in them, so that by the time they grow up they are proud to be who they are.It's easy, of course, to look into the neighbour's yard and to envy what he has there. Our yard is the envy of all our neighbours, after all, some of whom are trying hard to get in. But it is just as easy to believe the lie that to be wealthy is to be free.It's a lie because wealth, material wealth, comes at a price. Our price is the selling of our selves. Our children are not proud of being Bahamian, and we must ask ourselves why that is. Our service economy makes us rich, but we must be careful that it does strip us of who we are; golden chains are still chains.There is no shame, you see, in poverty. On the contrary; it is the rich, the materially blessed, who ought to worry about shame. For nothing comes without a price; and for our material wealth we may have sold something that no one can retrieve -- our selves.
We all know the saying "There's no such thing as a free lunch". For some of us, it may be a rather cynical way of looking at the world. After all, what about things like altruism? Magnanimity? Salvation? If there's no such thing as a free lunch, well, there really ought to be.We anthropologists approach the saying from a rather different angle. The fundamental job of anthropology, you see, is to try and identify what is universal about the human race by examining its diversity. The anthropological study of economics is built around the idea of exchange, which we regard as a social as well as an economic transaction. And one of the few universal rules that anthropologists have discovered (it's right up there with rules like the universal incest taboo â€” all societies believe it's wrong to sleep with or marry close relatives â€” or the universal practice of marriage â€” which is a social and economic union between one or more males and one or more females) is the fundamental law of reciprocity.It's the law that says, well, basically, there's no such thing as a free lunch.You see, anthropologists regard exchange â€” the exchange of gifts, of goods, of services or of people â€” as being far more than simply the exchange of objects. Exchange, for anthropologists, is a social event. Simply put, economics is a marker of relations between people.Let me explain this with a few examples.1. A man sees a pair of shoes in a shoe store, fishes into his wallet, takes out some cash, hands it to the cashier, and walks away with the shoes in his hand.2. A homeowner hires an immigrant to weed the yard. The immigrant works all day in the hot sun, but when the time comes to be paid, the homeowner is nowhere to be found.3. A woman raises her children the best way she knows how. She works overtime, she puts them through school, she makes calls on their behalf, she struggles and struggles until they make successes of themselves.In each of the cases above, the exchange has a social component. In the first one, the social exchange is cut short. The man sees the shoes, picks them out (during which time he may or may not engage with the salesperson), pays for them (during which time he may or may not engage with the cashier), and leaves. The social exchange is neutral; the players involved in it are as indifferent as they can possibly be to one another.In the second, the social exchange is one-sided, uneven. A person is hired to do a job, but is never paid for that job. The relationship between the players is one of power and powerlessness; one person gets what he or she wants without paying for it.In the third, the social exchange is long-term. On the surface, it appears that the mother is giving far more than she is getting in return. However, what she is doing by investing her time, money and effort into raising her children is creating a social exchange that will last over time. Ideally, she will get some reward in the end, whether it be something as intangible as love and gratitude, or whether it be as concrete as her children's building her a house in which to live and taking over the paying of her bills.Exchange, you see, is far more complex than it would appear.So what does all of this mean on the ground?Well, think of it this way. The law of reciprocity covers three main kinds of exchanges, and these kinds of exchanges apply to different kinds of social contexts.Balanced reciprocity, where the value of the exchange is carefully calculated and paid for as soon as it takes place, is the kind of exchange that happens generally between acquaintances, or among strangers that we consider to be more or less equal to ourselves. It's the kind of exchange that happens every day in stores, in offices, at gas stations, and the fact that we fundamentally expect it to be basically a fair process is underscored by our outrage at the practice of price gouging.Negative reciprocity is where one person gets more out of the deal than the other. Usually it signals an unequal relationship. Stealing is the kind of negative reciprocity that occurs when one person, generally the thief, considers himself or herself to be situated in an inferior position from the victim; cheating is the kind of negative reciprocity that occurs when one person considers himself or herself superior to the victim.Generalized reciprocity best describes the kinds of exchanges families carry out with one another, and it's the kind of exchange on which societies are built. The practice of sacrificing our own desires for the welfare of other people, or the practice of giving without counting the cost fall into this category. In either case, what is more important than the gift itself is the creating of social relationships.So you see, lunch is never really free. Sometimes it's a rip-off; the giver has some food to off-load, and decides it's cheaper to give it away. Sometimes it's a bribe; the giver is looking for payback. Sometimes, it's a sacrifice. But it's never something that can be accepted and left behind.In this time of need and of giving, it's well worth remembering the anthropologist's law of reciprocity. In times like these, the only moral kind of giving is the kind we call generalized reciprocity, where the gifts are given as symbols of a social connection that exists and that is important. Let's give without expecting anything concrete in return â€” not favours, not votes, not thanks. Let's give very simply because we are all Bahamians, and when one hurts, we all hurt.
FTAA. WTO. Globalization. These are all words that we're becoming familiar with. But what do they mean?This week I had the fortune of attending a meeting of the OAS that looked at the economic implications of culture. Turns out that the world is suddenly waking up to the fact that culture has an economic existence. The trouble is, it's also a world that's embarking on adventures in free trade.What does this mean? Well, three things that are most relevant to us here in The Bahamas. The first is that culture is no longer considered a luxury that eats up money and gives back little in return, which is how most countries in the world have regarded it for many years. Rather, culture is regarded as an engine of economic development, a means for the eradication of poverty. And this view isn't coming from cultural practitioners alone; economists are also pointing this out.In Mexico, where the meeting took place, for instance, culture accounts for 6.7% of the Mexican GDP, which is a serious chunk of Mexico's economy, which focusses on manufacturing and industry as well as tourism. In Brazil, culture generates 6% of the GDP, and 5% of all jobs. In the USA, culture produces 7.75% of the GDP, and is responsible for 5.5% of jobs. Whether or not culture is valued or supported, it generates income for its country.The second is that, at the same time as countries are beginning to recognize the economic value of culture, its contribution to the wealth of a country, the principles of free trade are threatening to weaken local cultures. This is because at the moment, the principle of the free market includes cultural products. Under the WTO agreement, and under the FTAA which follows WTO principles in the main, countries do not have the right to pass trade laws that give preferential treatment to their own citizens.To bring it home, what that means is that (for example) if The Bahamas signs on to the FTAA or the WTO, it will not be legal for the government, or any Bahamian artists to place limits on, say, the importation of foreign music or musicians. Limiting foreign acts because they are foreign will not be an option. Bahamian musicians are already marginalized in their own country, a nation that welcomes more than 4.5 million tourists annually; only a select few are able to find work in their own professions. The implications of free trade in cultural goods and services are such that their ability to do so will be even further curtailed.The third is that free trade implies a sort of open season on Bahamian products in the marketplace. Unless we are very careful and vigilant, things that we consider fundamentally and uniquely Bahamian â€” which may also be things that could be profitable in a free market â€” are vulnerable to being patented or copyrighted by people outside of The Bahamas. In the worst case scenario, we Bahamians will have to make, use or sell those things that we consider traditionally ours; in the best case scenario, we will not be positioned to make money from them in the international arena.Take the example of the Trinidadian steel pan, traditionally handmade in Trinidad, and a sizeable industry. Not long ago a company in Germany or Japan obtained the patent for the mass-production of steel pans, thus earning the right â€” in the global market â€” to produce Trinidadian steel pans in factories and thereby to corner the European market. While Trinidadian panmakers may still benefit from their hand-made pans, they have no claim to the profits that are made off the factory-produced instruments whatsoever.In the Bahamas, we are very cavalier about our cultural products. From those consumers who say that there's no value in Bahamian music, choosing instead to invest their money in American hip-hop or Jamaican reggae, to the people who regard all of our indigenous cultural wealth, from Junkanoo techniques to the various styles of plait, we have a healthy disregard to the wealth at our fingertips. Young people are not interested in mastering the traditional ways of doing things, opting for the faster, the easier, the flashier; straw vendors prefer the fast turnaround, buying mass-produced bags from China instead of supporting local Bahamian straw-workers.But know this. While we may not be aware of the potential monetary value of Bahamian culture, be sure that Americans and others are. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves like the Trinidadian panmakers â€” our Junkanoo trademarked by an American, our drums mass-produced in Pennsylvania, our straw-work marketed out of Miami. And the money from these things will be lining the pockets of others, and not of ourselves.So we need to wake up. We need to recognize the economic value of our cultural products. We need to find ways of preparing for the free market by protecting what we have, trademarking and patenting and copyrighting what is ours. We need to become more active on the international scene, negotiating, with other countries, for the exemption of cultural products from the free market.We need to know who we are and what we're worth. And we need to take the steps to let the world know we know.
We are living in an exciting time.The government of The Bahamas is bruiting about some of the most radical ideas since the ideas of majority rule and independence. We're talking about land reform, for one thing, about the reconceptualization of the city of Nassau for another. Whole islands are being surveyed for long-term development plans. We are promised billions of dollars in investment, and there's some conservative excitement out there in the air. The Bahamas is poised on the brink of a wonderful future.There's only one small problem that I see: the Bahamian people are not talking about it.All the discussion is happening at a governmental level, between politicians and government officials and consultants. This is not to say that the government is not interested in broader discussion; given this government, that would be an absurd suggestion. No; what it is to say is that we, the population, are waiting for direction to discuss the ideas.Now this is a problem. We're talking about development here; and development, no matter what our past experience might be or what our education has taught us, is not something that should be imposed upon anybody from above or beyond.
To read more, buy the book!Amazon.com link
There's a lot of talk about globalization these days.We talk about it as though it's something new and potentially dangerous. Globalization is coming, we say, as though it's some kind of demonic force that is going to take us over. And we worry about the free movement of people, our ability to compete in the global job market, our ability to stand up and be counted when it comes to the global scene.We've got a problem.Because you see, there's at least one area in which we Bahamians (and all Caribbean people) can compete on a global scale.It's the area of culture.
To read more, buy the book!Amazon.com link