Recently there has been a lot of loose talk about a Barbadian social model, about a specific Barbadian roadmap to prosperity.  Admittedly, most of this has come from active politicians, and they can easily be dismissed as having an interest in fabricating a ghost of a social model to hide serious failings in their policy making. But ordinary people, no matter which political party they support or none, should be much more careful.

A social or development model speaks to the very heart of the nation, its core values, its collective aspirations, the things that make the nation feel at ease with itself.  It cannot be painted on from the outside, copied from the successes of some other nation or culture, or learned from a book or at some great seminar by a world-renown scholar.

It comes from within, from the emotions and qualities that drive the entire nation on, reflecting who they are and how they see themselves.  In framing a development model for a small island-state, the architects must take in to consideration the social, economic and cultural values of that state. It is not one-dimensional, just economic.

In the case of Barbados, the authors of a national development plan must proceed from the position of defining Barbadian-ness and, having done so, use the building blocks of that national identity to frame the proposed development plan. Most Barbadians – even the new Barbadians – have an idea of what it means to be Barbadian, from the food and social nuances, to the expressed values such as education, in particular qualifications, and a belief in God.

Barbadians are fundamentally Christians, despite the intellectual contradiction of so-called secular Christianity, but it is too equally tolerant other religions and faiths.  Values are important as they go right to the heart of what the Americans call “being American”. However, national identity also has a legal meaning as defined under the various citizenship and nationality law.

For example, place of birth gives automatic citizenship to some people in the UK and Barbados, while the children of undocumented parents do not obtain citizenship in some nations, including Israel and the US.  Again, in some jurisdictions children obtain citizenship through parental links or naturalisation. Other people obtain a right of residence, which may give them a right to vote, certainly to be taxed on income. Some nations, such as the US, also impose income tax on their citizens no matter where they live and work in the world, along with a  right to vote (US and Australia, Guyana abandoned this policy over a decade ago).

On the other hand, some jurisdictions do not oblige their nationals to pay income tax if resident abroad and they certainly cannot take part in local general elections. Being domicile is a key factor in tax liability and in taking part in the election process in most countries. Some jurisdictions strip their nationals of their citizenship under certain conditions and send them into exile,  even if that national was born in the jurisdiction. Aristide of Haiti is a good example.

What ever the framework, it is generally accepted in legal theory that the first duty of any state is to protect its citizens. This is broadly interpreted to mean, in collective terms, defending the nation against physical attack from enemies, be there other states or political terrorists, but can sometimes be described in vague terms such as treason or the ‘national interest’, which basically means whatever the executive wants it to mean.

In individual terms, it means providing consular support for citizens in need of support while abroad and, controversially, providing human rights at home. In every jurisdiction the national interest has at its very top matters of espionage, which in some nations, such as the UK, remains the only capital offence.  However, in a small island-state, where there are racial, ethnic, religious and language differences, recognising these differences is important constitutionally to maintain social harmony. So, even if not expressed in legal terms, espionage – or disloyalty to the state – should in itself be a ground for removing a foreigner with a legal right of residence; it should also be a legitimate right to withdraw citizenship form a naturalised citizen.

Equally, given the importance of diversity in a plural society, any naturalised citizen who foments racial, ethnic or religious strife the state should have a right to treat such behaviour as a serious criminal offence, subject to a long period of imprisonment, or even subject to an automatic loss of residency or citizenship. In Israel remaining a Jewish state is a constitutional priority.

The granting of residency or citizenship is a contract between the state and the individual: we will allow you to live in our country and have all the benefits of someone born here and you in turn will have to behave in a generally acceptable way. The wider questions are raised when we try to add to that general ideal of citizenship and well-being: economic growth, education, health, housing, law and order etc. These are all additional social improvements on the part of the state to improve the lives and well-being of citizens.


Since November 1966, we have failed to shape a politics of continuity, a national narrative of who we are as a people, what we want to achieve and how best to achieve that objective. There is a noticeable absence of a politics or scholarship which reflects the enthusiasm and desire of constitutional independence or, equally, which should have flowed from that independence.

Since the basic argument pre-independence was that we were being limited by our colonial masters and not being allowed to fulfil our true potential, then full self-government should have removed those shackles. True, it has for a number of people, some may even say the majority, but there is too sizeable a group of people left behind, including a huge number of young people, born after independence, who have been betrayed by the governing elite.

This tiny group, a fusion of a business, professional and political elite, has left a vast vacuum which needs to be filled. There is an absence of steely realism, a determination to face the tough challenges of self-rule. The weak-willed professional classes have taken the easy route – a public-sector job, a pension and a reasonably good quality lifestyle, what some erroneously call a ‘first world’ lifestyle.

They have failed to provide the leadership their expensive education and their parents’ and grandparents’ generations expected, hoped, they would provide. Rather, they have opted to release their frustrations on the less fortunate: high unemployment, demands for tougher prison sentences, rude and obnoxious to the working classes, anything but confront the people who actually pull the economic strings. By any measure the Barbadian professional class has failed.

Another manifestation of our collective post-independence failure is a resistance to formulate a social dialogue which defines our core values and explores those we hold dear. But liberal democratic market capitalism is not the right model for developing small economies since embedded in this model are the seeds of its own self-destruction.

A good example of this is the mad rush by Western financiers to invest in China and the other Asian economies because of their low labour cost, a direct result of centuries of exploitation. However, if these financiers believe the short-term fix of higher dividends will continue for ever, they are only fooling themselves.

A powerful China or India or Indonesia, all undemocratic, most militaristic and brutal, certainly racist, will redraw global geopolitical lines in a way not seen since Genghis Khan and the big losers in this new world order will be people of African descent. We are now experiencing this is Zimbabwe where the Chinese are unleashing terrible violence on local workers.

Economic Growth:

In the perverse narrative which dominates development economics, economic growth at its very heart, but it is important to look at the dominant post-Second World War strategies adopted by some nations, from substitutional economies widely used in Latin American, to low-cost export-led economies favoured by Asian economies.

We can no longer assume that the developed nations, mainly Europe and North America, know best, that they are the repositories of all economic and financial wisdoms. We must look at the values of our societies, determine if gross domestic product is the only – or even the main – measure of progress and collectively agree, taking in to consideration the guardianship of our environment, what are the limits to growth.

In framing a new developmental model, we must engage people at every level of society, from bottom to top, young and old, men and women, black and white. All ideas are welcome and none barred. This is an issue, national well-being, which has preoccupied some of the noblest minds the world has ever seen over the last 2,000 years: Confucius, Plato, Gautama Buddha, Jeremy Bentham, and others.

Whatever the conclusion, a development model must make allowances for culture as well as economics, for religion as well as humanism, for common courtesies as well as frailties.

In our society, cricket must have a place, as well as road tennis and netball; but also there must be room for lawn tennis, golf, basketball, football, rugby, fishing, literature, art, sailing, kite making and flying, athletics and bodybuilding, participating and watching. It must be a development model based around the idea of Barbadian-ness and not an imported ideology from some society which most of us have never seen or never want to visit.

It must be a model based on our wants and desires, the way we see ourselves both collectively and individually, of what we are and what we want to be. It must be a mirror that all of us, every man, woman and child, could look at and see the best of Barbados as a society being reflected back to us.

Some may even say we need to return to the Enlightenment and the rise of the supremacy of science to find a new base for our values. However we do it and whatever course the debate takes, it must be borne of our ideas and passions.


This is not a blueprint, but as it states in the headline, a preamble for a national debate which it is now up to ordinary people to take forward. It is more urgent now because the economic failure by the generation that has taken full advantage of ‘free’ education and of the best the University of the West Indies has had to offer, is just one example of the inability of constitutional independence to deliver on its promises.

There must be other metrics: how be behave towards each other; how we treat the elderly and disabled; the way we relate to our children, the next generation; the building of a civic society – all these and more must be measures of our prosperity, our civility, our culture.

Despite the rhetoric, there is no Caribbean social model, no Barbadian social model, nor even a village social model. The major problem with ruling elite in micro-states is that they consider access to information as a weapon of authority and this is rooted in the vulgar cliché that knowledge is power. It is, in an atomised, dysfunctional, selfish way. A progressive society must share knowledge, lift all its people together, sing from the same song sheet. That is the challenge.

About the Author

Hal Austin
Hal Austin -

Barbados-born Hal Austin is Senior Editor with the highly respected Financial Times in London.