For many poorer Bahamians, incomes and prospects continue to worsen.
The Bahamian middle class is under enormous pressure and threat. The fallout from the Great Recession continues with a new normal of largely stagnant wages and significantly less disposable income.
While the fortunes of many of the wealthy in the West and here at home are rebounding, many in the middle class have lost or are losing hopes and dreams along with homes, small businesses and life savings.
The expanding gulf between the wealthy and middle class is growing with income inequality lass families have typically had to juggle bills. But the new normal after the Great Recession makes the juggling more difficult, more anxiety-ridden.
The result is an increasingly complex sort of lottery for many Bahamians who now have an even more difficult time deciding what portion of what bills they can afford to pay down at a given time.
The juggling involves electricity and other utility bills, school fees, small business expenses, mortgages, groceries, health care and other expenses.
With jobs being lost, by one or more income provider in a household, many more families are at the financial brink with little funds in checking accounts and near maxed-out credit cards with ballooning interest payments.
During the 2012 general election the FNM, led by Hubert Ingraham, offered a variety of proposals in response to what promised to be a slog toward more vibrant economic growth amidst a dramatically changed economic environment post 2008.
Ingraham promised what he thought the country could afford given fiscal constraints and revenue prospects.
Conversely, many of the economic and social proposals offered by Perry Christie and the PLP were significantly more expensive than those of the FNM, which did not seek to outbid the PLP’s more expansive promises.
Thousands of hurting poorer, lower middle income and higher middle income individuals voted for the PLP based on four specific proposals the party repeatedly and solemnly promised.
Many families bargained that the PLP’s compendium of promises represented a middle class rescue package. Instead, more of the middle class have plunged deeper into debt with seeming little relief on the horizon.
Employment, housing and home ownership, education and health care are critical in terms of economic security and survival for the middle class.
The PLP promised a quick 10,000 jobs. The unemployment rate went up higher than during the Great Recession.
The PLP promised to double the national investment in education. The education budget was cut.
The PLP promised quick action in implementing National Health Insurance. Instead, yet another study is on the way, with many families a health care crisis away from bankruptcy, and the PLP offering additional excuses.
Famously, the PLP promised an expansive mortgage relief plan. That plan died a quick death, despite the budgeting of $10 million for relief and repeated assurances of help.
As famously, Christie intervened to assist his upper middle income and chronically tax delinquent VAT Coordinator with mortgage relief, despite having abandoned the vast majority of those he promised to help who were on the verge of losing their homes.
Christie beat his chest in self-praise of what he did for his VAT Coordinator, cheered on by a Greek chorus of ministers including the Minister of Works and the Minister of Agriculture.
When the chest-thumping and cheering dies down, scores of homeowners will still be without the aid and comfort the PLP promised and certainly nowhere as near a priority as are select friends of the prime minister.
Correspondingly, in two and a half years, the Christie administration has failed to build a single home.
Christie campaigned as a leader of compassion and empathy. He has largely governed with callousness and indifference. With Bahamians losing homes, Christie has waxed about an official residence for the prime minister, and of the need for a prime ministerial coat of arms.
He seems to be living in a parallel universe. Meanwhile, the question of government revenue tells a tale.
With the middle class and many businesses struggling, the PLP initially proposed a 15 percent VAT rate on various goods and services, though that rate now seems negotiable.
The Christie administration’s handling of VAT is a monumental disaster. Uncertainty on the tax proposal is damaging business confidence and investment prospects, with the disastrous roll-out or non-roll-out likely affecting the broader economy.
Recall Christie’s all things to all people pandering on VAT with the bizarre statement on the division within his government on the tax between the prime minister and the minister of finance.
With the middle class struggling the Christie administration’s likely improbable timeline for a VAT roll-out, unclear regulations, unready tax collection system, and the initial rate of taxation seemed a perfect storm likely to damage various businesses with the prospect for job losses in certain sectors.
Christie has been a thoroughly incompetent prime minister. But it is his and the PLP’s sell-out of the poor and middle class that is chilling and revealing.
Life involves a natural and social lottery. The lotteries of life involve chance, luck and happenstance.
In the natural lottery our genetic make-up is critical. Some are born with a greater predisposition of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Mychal “Sweet Bells” Thompson was certainly a hardworking athlete. But his genes made a difference.
The genetic lottery can mean all the difference as to whether one typically enjoys a sunny disposition or suffers from chronic depression. From general health to the distribution of talents, the natural lottery is highly influential though not necessarily fully determinative.
The social lottery involves the circumstances of birth from income levels to the cultural and religious heritage into which one is born.
Being born into a higher income family does make one naturally more intellectually gifted than being born into a lower income family. Yet circumstance quite often determines economic prospects and educational attainment.
Political and economic debates have raged for centuries over the state’s role in balancing or negating the effects of the natural and social lotteries of life.
For progressives, government plays a critical role in addressing the inequality involved in life’s lotteries, especially on matters such as ensuring access to education, health care and a variety of social goods.
Public action can go a long way in terms of equality of access if not equality of outcome. Which raises the question of gaming lotteries. A lottery is unlike other businesses. It is based exclusively on chance and luck.
Walk into a grocery store, spend $20 dollars and you come out with that amount of groceries. Walk into a web shop or play $20 online and you come away with a “hope” which is more often than not dashed.
You usually come away with nothing or next to nothing, rarely winning that pot of gold at the end of an ever elusive payout at the end of an imaginary rainbow.
In playing numbers most people lose substantially more than they gain. Lotteries often prey on fear and hope, superstition and randomness. It involves the ultimate irrational exuberance. Still, lotteries can transform certain human traits into certain common goods and gain.
A public or national lottery is typically designed to expand opportunity and equality for citizens. They ensure a greater common good than do private lotteries which overwhelmingly concern the narrow interests and greed of a few, with little by way of return to the mass of citizens.
Because of the nature of lotteries, in most civilized societies they are largely government-owned and for a reason. These societies utilize lotteries to help rebalance the lotteries of life which leave fellow-citizens in need of help from the state.
Accordingly throughout the US, the UK and many other countries lottery profits are used overwhelmingly to fund public goods such as education rather than to primarily enrich already bulging private coffers.
National lotteries are decidedly more consistent with the demands of social justice than are privately-owned lotteries.
The Christie administration now seems on the verge of regulating or legalizing a system that will transfer millions upon millions more into the hands of a few at the expense of thousands of poor and middle class Bahamians.
If it does so it will be one of the worst betrayals of the Bahamian people in an independent Bahamas, a moral disgrace, an affront to social justice, another sell-out to moneyed interests and a grave insult to the poor by a party that no longer deserves the names progressive or liberal.