by Peter Laurie
RECENT REPORTS on the state of the world's politics and economies present Barbadians with a paradox.
The United Nations Index of Human Development rates Barbados as the leading developing country, placing it 30th out of 177 countries surveyed.
Freedom House, the United State-based human rights group, gives Barbados a perfect score in political rights and civil liberties, putting it in their small category of free societies. But the Cato Institute's Economic Freedom Of The World Report gives Barbados a 6.1 out of a possible 10 when it comes to "economic freedom", putting it at 78th in the world.
What's going on here?
The paradox is that Barbados shows up well on human development and political and civil liberties for precisely the same reason it shows up badly on "economic freedom"': government intervention in the marketplace.
The Cato Institute is a right-wing organisation whose fundamental ideology is that, regardless of the outcome, the least government is the best government, perfectly illustrated by the American free market guru, Grover Norquist's boast that, "my goal is to get government down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
For the ideologues of the right, market efficiency trumps everything, even if the society falls apart.
Both the ideological right and left are intellectually bankrupt.
The ideological left became bankrupt with the collapse of communism, and the right with the collapse of Thatcherism and Reaganomics. Many of their adherents fled to the shelters of religious and racial fundamentalism, and to the intellectual equivalent of suicide bombing: post-modernism. Oh, I forgot - the International Monetary Fund.
Of course the true believers still cling to the wreckage fantasising about the perfect socialist state or the perfect free market.
There is a major exception: the ideological right is not only alive and well in the United States, it governs in an unholy alliance of radical free marketers, bigoted fundamentalist Christians and neo-conservative warmongers.
They have succeeded in transferring wealth from the poor to the rich while racking up record deficits, pillaging the environment, weakening national government, destroying diversity and tolerance, and taking the country into an immoral, disastrous and costly war in Iraq. Not to mention undermining international cooperation at every opportunity.
Sadly, it took the tragic catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina to expose the incompetence and immorality of the ideological right in America.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are caught in the centre trying to make sense of what is going on. Reality, alas, is messy.
In forging centrist policies for what might be broadly called liberal social democracy, we've got to accept two stubborn facts: capitalism is the only game in town; but the market, if left to itself, will invariably produce social inequity, economic instability and a poor quality of life.
The truth is that now only a few diehard souls believe in either the unalloyed beneficence of the state or the magic of the marketplace. Both state and market are necessary for any civilised society; both are instruments of frightening power; and both have to be regulated, made transparent and held accountable if the greatest good of the greatest number is to prevail in a humane society.
More important, both have to be brought into a proper relationship to each other. What we need to do is further explore, both theoretically and practically, how good governance, both in the public and private sectors, can be expanded and deepened, so that the common good is enhanced.
There are many options. Some will be more suitable to some societies than others. So there is no use being dogmatic about it.
Barbados has long been in the forefront of this quest for the middle ground. Our society is a practical experiment in centrist political ideas.
May it ever be so.