We Got Rich Folks, We Got Poor Folks

The sixth of eight observations on a recent Caribbean cruise.

In my own mind, I’m not rich: I work for a living, I make trade-offs, I watch my budget.  But the Caribbean islands make me feel as uncomfortably rich as I did while studying Spanish in Guatemala 10 years ago.  If there are just Rich Folks and Poor Folks in this world, I’m sure not Poor Folks, but the Caribbean is full of them.

Thousands of years ago, humans moved out of Africa to inhabit almost all terra firma—any scrap of land where they could at least scratch out a living.  The calculation of where you could have an acceptable living changed as hunter-gatherers morphed into farmers.  Then came the industrial revolution and the equation changed again.  Now the information age is upon us.   

‘What works’ changes, but what doesn’t change is that there is always a calculation to be made, balancing the necessities/desirables of life against the capacity of the place to provide them.  So what capacity does the Caribbean have: what sources of income does it offer?  As one Guatemalan tutor asked me rhetorically: What can we make that you will buy?  Can islands with populations under 200,000 sustain national governments?  Can poor countries subject to periodic or even routine devastation by hurricanes afford to rebuild modern infrastructure, again and again?  Can small-scale agriculture and tourism provide opportunities for their kids?

I can’t presume to make the calculation for them, of course, nor do I need to.  The folks who live there have it in hand: at least, the relatively Rich Folks do.  Curacao, for example, is home to one of the oldest synagogues in the Americas.  The Spanish handout explains the dwindling population of Sephardic Jews on the island—from a high of roughly 1,200 to fewer than 400 today.  Why?  The answer is unflinching: the kids leave for an education and they don’t come back.  The Poor Folks, perhaps, have a different story.

Note:  The structure of the first seven of these eight observations was inspired by Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar.

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4 Comments

  1. Teach them to fish…….no wait…I guess that hasn’t worked so well over the years. Let’s try sharing some or tools. The world credit union system has introduced micro lending in many under developed parts of the world to better empower locals to improve their economic life. Just think if every world business took up more corporate social responsibility measures. I think we would be in a better place. So how do I make a difference? I watch where I spend my money and support companies that are starting to get “Triple Bottom Line”
    g

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Gary – I guess that’s the Big Question – How can we make a positive difference? Doing something/anything is a great place to start; acting within the limits of our knowledge and experience is a great place to get to. So much previous development effort seems to have exacerbated rather than solved problems, and Big Fixes have been almost always Wrong, it seems to me. The older I get, the more I favour the slow, careful approach – unlike all those other old people out there, who go for wild and crazy interventions!

  2. Dave J

    Hi Isabel
    It is time for Canada to annex several Caribbean Islands. By that I mean they would become part of Canada with full citizenship privileges etc. The islands would benefit from the better education, healthcare available to Canadians. The young people on the islands would be able to access the opportunities available to all Canadians. The islands would also benefit from the economies of scale of a bigger country etc. The wealthy and retired folks could access the islands for holiday fun and for retirement living for at least part of the year. They would replace favourite locales such as Palm Springs, Palm Beach and Phoenix. Because of this connection travel between the islands and Canada would be much more common and hence would become less expensive. The islands would specialize in tourism almost exclusively. The people who live and work on the islands would be there because they prefer to be employed in the tourism industry and wish to live there not simply because they were born there.
    This could be win-win for Canada and the selected islands.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Dave – Interesting. On the cruise, we talked about the failed effort by Turks & Caicos to join Canada several years ago. We were unanimous in thinking it was a lack of vision that prevented it from happening. Imagine having a Canadian outpost/territory/province in a truly warm place (and one with great birds, too). You’ve got my vote!

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