Dr Johnson certainly turns a few good phrases – like referring to the tourism industry as the “plantation”, and suggesting that successive governments have used it to control Bahamians.
He makes the point, repeatedly, that farming and fishing are the ways to broaden our economy from the twin pillars of tourism and banking.
But over the years taxpayers have built fish houses and packing houses, while farmers have received public subsidies, all of little or no avail.
There may well be a crisis in paradise, but it’s more than likely because of too much politics and government, not a lack thereof.
Can farming or fishing help broaden the economy? Of course. Fishing is already the third pillar, so farming could probably be the fourth. Should they be subsidised with taxpayer dollars? Absolutely not.
In any event, no amount of sweet-talking by politicians or grant money from the taxpayers will make that happen. Unless and until entrepreneurs decide they can make money at it, there’s little hope of success.
In 2002 The Nassau Institute released a newspaper supplement in response to the labour laws that were being implemented at the time, and it started out by listing six main components of the “Jamaican Road to Prosperity”.
The points were:
- Government controls economic decisions.
- Politics overshadows business and economic efficiency in government decisions.
- Government refuses to take advice or consult.
- Business costs rise in the midst of economic downturn.
- More red tape and government interference in business.
- Higher taxes and expanding government bureaucracy
It went on:
Over the years this approach has led Jamaica into a spiralling cycle of corruption, poverty and violence; with that country moving from one crisis to another. In almost every international economic rating system, Jamaica is sadly regarded as a “basket-case”.
Seems like The Bahamas is already travelling this road doesn’t it?
Dr. Johnson should be applauded for making the effort to write this book. It’s a good thing for people to present their views to the public, whether we agree or not, and many Bahamians should be able to agree with him on several points.
- The country’s debt is far too high. Something must be done immediately to ameliorate this. And not by higher taxes or devaluation.
- The education system is a mess.
- The continuing citizenship dilemma of the many stateless children here of Haitian descent must be resolved.
- The Bahamas does not need to join the Caribbean Single Market and Economy.
- Local government should be implemented on New Providence as soon as possible.
- A third political party might eventually bring positive changes.
- Comprehensive health care is a fiscal accident waiting to happen.
- An ombudsman might be an interesting enhancement to governance and help keep government in check.
Dr Johnson points to the government for the failure of the Bahamian pineapple industry, but I do not think that is justified. The net result was that we just could not compete with the scale and competitiveness of pineapple producers in other markets. But why a local market could not remain in some shape or form should be of interest to every Bahamian.
If, as Dr Johnson submits, the PLP was involved in a conspiracy to kill farming in this country in the 1960s and 1970s, why has farming not developed subsequently? Surely the FNM and most recent PLP government did not have a policy to prevent it? Could this point to a lack of initiative?
In my view the country does not need a larger tax base using transaction and income taxes, as Dr. Johnson submits. More revenue will no doubt cause more over spending by the government. The history of Parliament’s profligacy that he records so thoroughly in the pages of his book confirms this. The problem here is too much spending, not to little tax revenue.
He also suggests a conspiracy to dumb people down by destroying the education system and induce out islanders to move to New Providence to work as “slaves” in the tourist “plantation”. Surely there has been a comparative advantage for The Bahamas over the years in the tourism business? And without a doubt, the hotel industry has helped our economy and people tremendously.
A grand conspiracy to bring investors here for the purpose of keeping Bahamians “in bondage” as hotel workers is hard to grasp. There is no chain forcing people to work in the hotel industry. They can start a farm or go fishing can’t they?
Is there really a conspiracy afoot in education as Dr. Johnson submits as well?
Did government screw up the education system? For sure. But again, it is difficult to believe that this was deliberate.
Dr. Johnson cites some constitutional changes that might or might not fix the problems he describes, but the largest leap is to create a republic. On the surface, a system more like the United States may be enticing, but what is it about us that our present constitutional framework cannot work?
He also spends a lot of time with his personal concern that our judicial system may have little choice but to allow same sex marriage, and he is convinced that this would be a terrible thing.
But it’s not like homosexuality has suddenly appeared in our community. It’s a fact of nature that people must get used to. Do these life partners deserve some formal way to create a union, if you will, should they so desire? Do homosexuals face similar problems to those faced by the many stateless children he refers to?
Treating either group as being less than human is not good public policy. And why should government be involved in the marriage process anyway?
The final question that he seems to go to great lengths with is the Quieting of Titles Act. He complains that Bahamians who lived on generation property at the time of Independence should have been granted proper title to their land.
While title to land helps with prosperity, as Hernando de Soto pointed out in his treatise The Mystery of Capital, the accusation that a system designed to help sort out generation property issues was actually a conspiracy to steal land just does not fit!
Some dishonest people may have manipulated the system over the years, but that seems easy enough to rectify.
Rather than identifying vast conspiracies, Dr. Johnson is pointing out some inherent weaknesses and flaws that we have grown into after relying on government to fix all our problems for us.
Maybe those people that believe farming is the answer should start a few farms?
Perhaps those people living on generation land should use the Quieting Titles Act to get their title?
Dr Johnson should be commended for his effort, but it is difficult to accept his argument that so many of the country’s problems are the result of a grand conspiracy.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but in my view his proposed solutions should not rely so heavily on the government. Dr Johnson seems to be suggesting that the actions of governments over the years have created our “crisis” in the first place. To offer up more of the same to solve the country’s problems is unfortunate.
Bahamians are not stupid. Maybe we are just lacking initiative. But The Bahamas did not become the envy of the Caribbean by relying on grand conspiracy theories. The real question is, how can the country best go about promoting economic growth and wealth creation?
Economic freedom is the answer, not more words on a new constitution, or more tired government intervention.
Bahamians must come to the conclusion that individual effort, not political manipulation, is the answer to our troubles.