When the economic road seems too dizzying

The former Soviet leader, the Marxist Vladimir Lenin, is believed to have said that “there are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen”.

The founder of Leninism was famous for using strong imagery to defend the Bolshevik revolution that ended tsarism.

“We awakened the faith of the millions upon millions of workers of all countries in their own strength and kindled the fires of enthusiasm in them. Everywhere we issued the call for a world workers’ revolution,” he wrote in his March 1918 essay, The Chief Task of Our Day.

For Barbadians, it would seem that not just a decade, but a century of miseries descended upon the country this week – the early hours of this morning to be precise – with the force of an out of control asteroid.

Ignoring the advice of manufacturers, business people, social workers, the weak, the lame, the blind, and even their own inner voices, Government imposed one of the most austere budgets on Barbadians which virtually everyone agrees will send the cost of living skyrocketing.

The sheer rise in the National Social Responsibility Levy – a 500 per cent increase in simple terms and in real terms a rise from two per cent to ten per cent – is enough to cause despair among an already struggling population.

The determination to make a financial adjustment of $542 million over nine months is enough to crush spirits, shatter the faith of thousands of workers and 200,000 Barbadians, and douse the fires of enthusiasm in them.

No wonder former Prime Minister and respected economist Owen Arthur called it overkill.

The measures approved by those elected to improve our lives, including a two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions and increases to the excise levies on petrol, run the risk of sending the hopes of many a working Barbadian “breaking down and collapsing with a terrible grinding crash”, to quote Lenin, and could very well lead to indescribable suffering with no guarantee of any gain if the pain ever ends.

“There are some whose heads grow dizzy, some who are seized by despair, some who seek salvation from the at times too bitter reality in fine-sounding and alluring phrases,” Lenin wrote.

This could easily describe Dr David Estwick and Donville Inniss, two Cabinet ministers who wept and moaned and ground their teeth in despair and in the name of their constituents who they complained would suffer as a result of the Budget and in defence of whom they swore they would stand, only to vote to do all they had condemned.

Somehow it felt like men who had lectured classrooms about the dangers of fire before deliberately setting the blaze in a brazen case or arson.

We cannot ignore the fact that the country is in economic turmoil and something must be done to turn things round.

But could it be that the road taken will lead us to somewhere we rather not go?

For years we were told that the next tax would be the last tax and the economy would improve. Yet, with each failed measure, new taxes were imposed and the tough times got tougher.

Dr Estwick had warned again and again that it was virtually impossible to tax our way out of a recession, yet when it came down to a vote, he helped to give it one more try.

So now that the die has been cast, the repercussions are left to be seen.

The pain may be unbearable, but every Barbadian wants the measures to work, because if they do our country will be the better for it.

Yet we cannot ignore the pain, because it is real.

Already the measures have had their first victim, as key manufacturers have withdrawn from the Barbados Manufacturers’ Exhibition (BMEX).

Let’s hope this is not the beginning of things to come.

In taking a critical look at “Mother Russia”, Lenin wrote: “Thou art wretched, thou art abundant; Thou art mighty, thou art impotent.”

Abundance is probably the last word Barbadians would use to describe the current conditions, and many may be feeling this is the time of impotence. However, now is the time to stiffen our resolve and bring out the best in it.    

It is our duty.

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