I saw the recession, Barbados

Barbados is in recession, we are told, but it’s a duck on water: it’s not apparent on the surface. It is not a case of a deep, dark recession, where people are putting everything in hock to make their daily bread. Now, Barbadians have a long history of not exposing their situations, either good or bad fortune. Have a good job? Don’t show it with a big flashy car; that beat-up jalopy is just dandy. Build that house, but keep its design modest: time was when you paid less tax if the house exterior was unpainted, so beware the bare concrete look. By contrast, Jamaicans love to be flash, even when they are facing a financial crash. But, all the talk of weak economic activity has some basis, I figured.

I wanted to explore some real life observations. I met or spoke to some friends, who are all in different circumstances, and I talked to some people I met along the way.

Here’s what some people told me, yesterday.

One friend had lost her job in a telecom company, after they outsourced service work. She tried doing some projects for a year or so, but has been looking for work the last three months. She’s one of the best people I ever met in customer service, so if she is true to form a job won’t be long coming. She has kids to raise, and they are great strains on the budget, usually. Will she find work? Her attitude is all positive, but is that bravado? We will see.

A lady working in a department store: My wages have not risen, but prices keep going up. She was grateful to still have a job, though, and was only just back from vacation, on island.

A friend who owns a small restaurant: We had 27 people in for breakfast, today. We were run off our feet. He and I played golf in the afternoon, once the restaurant had closed. We took the twilight special of two-for-one. Stretch those dollars. I know that he and his wife are going to leave Barbados in coming months, for the UK. Why? Cost of local health care. They’ll take a hit renting in England, but they will have NHS benefits. The other factor is that most close family members are in England.

Financial analyst friend: Have you seen the prices for Kadooment costumes?20140722-070809-25689917.jpgHow fitting (weak pun) that this featured as a cartoon in the Nation, today. He’s working as a regional consultant, and his plate seems full, but that hasn’t stopped him trying some income earning on the side. He wants to replace his car, but said he’ll settle for a paint job.

Restaurant owner and band member: We have been open three months and customers are coming, both locals and tourists, and we need locals, most of whom come for nearby offices. However, he did see lots of signs of an economy that can’t progress because it’s still locked into some old social divisions, that largely focus on race. The yacht club’s doors open for Barbados whites who are members, and for the blacks who work there. The beach is public access, so the exclusive entrance must give way to the many black bodies that can reach the white sand from other points and all mingle in the sea. A bit ludicrous? Maybe, but not trivial. Some people are stuck where they are placed, daring not to challenge the rejection. Some people are busily placing people where they feel they belong. That means a waste of talent. Would that persist if economic conditions were dire?

We get the signs of political struggle over a cake that is not expanding. The government has introduced recently a new solid waste tax. (Ironically, Australia just repealed its environmental taxes.) The opposition are going to walk the talk this coming weekend, if their leader, Mia Mottley’s, proposal gets support. However, the usual bun fight of so-called party MP partners is going on, as Kerry Simmonds says he won’t speak at the proposed event.

People say freely the government is a joke, and those saying so are not opposition partisans. They say the finance minister knows nothing. In combination, they are sinking the SS Bimshire.

The central bank governor has been singing a happy tune that all will be well, by and by, or will it be bye bye? 20140722-071408-26048848.jpg He, too, cannot worm his way out of criticism. Year-end will be an interesting time for reminiscences.

Economist turned into politics for Clyde Mascoll, now an opposition MP, and he’s saying that Barbados cannot avoid putting out its hands for IMF help. Unemployment at 20 percent, more borrowing and higher debt, smaller economy, foreign exchange problems all point this way. The government overspending is at the root of all of this, he contends.

The government has been bolstering the economy, for sure, sometime in partnership with the private sector. On the face of it, that’s resulted in some spruced up public buildings. Where the private sector has had to go it alone, say in some hotels, the signs of dilapidation are clear.

South coast hotel needing some TLC
I heard that the airport air bridges have been bought, but won’t yet be installed. Some officials think it’s good for tourism to have visitors experience that waft of hot air as they exit the plane.

Run down and seedy would be a good description of a too significant portion of hotels on the south coast.

Bank branch looking lopped off

Minted people on the west coast may still be helping that side out. Wasn’t that Robin van Persie who just ordered a burger?

The picture is complicated. Many Bajan businesses are run by Trindiad owners, so now a popular chain, formerly ‘Big B’, now spouts the name ‘Massy Stores’. Should that be ‘massa’? Who’s in charge of Neal and Massy marketing? Investors are there wanting to renovate property, but word is that they get caught up in red tape, but that may be pocket filling. What is being done to enhance the image of the island? Little things could go a long way. One person mentioned how appealing Bridgetown could become with a facelift of its waterfront, including making it a pleasant walking area that highlights the attractiveness of its historic buildings.

People are spending. Let’s not pretend, otherwise. Friday night at a very good south coast restaurant showed that fine dining seemed to be doing alright. The place was rammed, upstairs and down. Outside, many took the evening air along the boardwalk. I visited a friend whose husband is a tennis coach. The summer camp was full.i didn’t ask how gate numbers were, but parents had not tried saving money by parking kids at home. Maybe, savings came from bringing lunch instead of buying it. I went to watch a friend’s son play cricket. Admitted, Monday morning during July is not when I’d expect to see a big crowd, but two mums seemed sparce. Where were the other parents? Another friend also runs a tennis coaching business. Kids keep coming. Parents who can are still investing in their little one’s futures. Is it do, got others?

Unlike Jamaica, where poverty stares you in the face in many places, Barbadians who are poor are much less visible. Barbadians are not on the constant hustle, the way Jamaicans seem to be. No begging to see. No windscreen washers. But, you get boys sitting on the corner, looking around in areas where there’s nothing much to see. Barbados has its rough areas, where few tourists tread. The raggedy youths running up roads are not near the hotels.

Barbados is more hanging on than fallen over and struggling to get up. Well, that’s what the eyes see.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

3 thoughts on “I saw the recession, Barbados”

  1. A couple of corrections – that dilapidated “bank branch” has not been a bank branch for several years, and I and my family are members of the Yacht Club. That little bastion of apartheid has been breached. There are several people of colour who sail there, nowadays.

    However, the other comments are totally correct. We are deep in recession, trapped there with a government trying to tax its way out.


    1. Thanks, Kathy. I banked at that branch till I left Barbados in 2010. It’s dilapidated. Why Scotiabank let it get so after closing the branch is another story.


    2. I think citing ‘several’ sailing there makes the point well about the Yacht Club. Maybe, the saving aspect might be that only ‘several people of colour’ sail, though I know it’s more than that.

      Appreciate the observations a lot.


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