Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 12th 2013 Contents B10
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, December 12, 2013
"This is a third world country," I hear trinis say.
When I disagree---pointing to the thousands of
SUVs, huge oil drilling industry, foreign invest-
ment, US-style shopping malls, golf courses, the
speed at which urban roads are paved (putting
Britain s local councils to shame), free education,
subsidised energy bills, water, fuel, medicine---the
response is usually, "Well, they tell us we re still
a third world country." They, meaning the inter-
national community, IMF or the World Bank.
I wonder whether it will comfort Trinis to hear
UK Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty this
week describe the UK as a developing country too?
Perhaps a sense of Schadenfreude that the old colo-
nial master is on his knees while money floods
through this once enslaved colony?
Direct comparisons between the quality of life
and cost of living in real terms between the UK and
T&T is difficult. There are indexes to refer to. GDP,
average income the poverty index etc but statistics
can be used to prove or disprove ideas.
While salaries are lower here, the cost of living
is much cheaper (consumer prices including rent
are 45 per cent lower than the UK).
The CIA World Factbook says 17 per cent of the
T&T population lives below the poverty line com-
pared to 14 per cent of the UK population. That s
pretty close for a supposed third world country vs
a global superpower.
What does a "developing country" mean in reality?
The term third world is outdated, coined during
the Cold War when America and Europe were clas-
sified as First World, the communist Soviet Bloc as
Second World and Africa, Asia, South America as
Third World. Propaganda used to suggest capitalism
was the preferred socio-economic system.
I ve been to developing countries in West Africa
and the Middle East. The infrastructure, employment
rates and modernised facets of T&T life are incom-
parable to those in Ghana or Syria. You don t walk
into public bathrooms in those countries and find
motion-sensor sink taps, auto flushing toilets and
sanitised bathrooms. In Syria, you feel thankful the
toilet is a w/c not a hole in the ground. Millions
of people live in tiny shacks with tin roofs, social
housing is non existent. Beggars on the streets
numerous, many in need of medical help.
Here, even those living in HDC working apparently
low paid jobs in retail or, ahem, journalism, fly back
and forth from New York or Miami like taking the
Some say Trinis can t afford these luxuries (cars,
air travel etc) and that they live in debt. The UK
is one of the world s debt capitals. We live in our
overdrafts and by month end we re lucky if our
bank accounts are only -£1,000. We stack up debt
on credit cards and pay it back in tiny amounts.
Renting a room in London costs £600-700
($6,000-7,000) a month. My tiny studio flat com-
mands rent of £1,040 a month ($10,400). Quite
obscene. Here I share a beautiful apartment in Cas-
cade for a quarter of that price.
Filling a car with petrol in England costs £60-
80 ($600-800). Here it costs $120. UK gas and
electricity bills average £110 ($1,100) a month. Here
in T&T that would keep you going for three months.
Education is free here and T&T has one of the
highest literacy rates in the world, sending dozens
of scholarship winners to overseas universities every
year. The Public Health Service is not without its
problems but British hospitals and standards of care
are just as much of a lottery; overstretched and
under resourced the NHS is on the point of collapse.
Patients go into hospital for routine operations and
die from contracting hospital-borne diseases like
MRSA because hospitals are unclean. There are
countless NHS horror stories.
Leaving aside the extremes of poverty and wealth,
eg Beetham Gardens (which may be marginally
materially worse off than a Glasgow tenement hous-
ing project) and Lady
Chancellor Rd (which
might be slightly less rich
than Kensington &
Chelsea) the average work-
ing class or middle class
triniis, in my opinion, at
least on a par with the
equivalent in Britain, if not
Trinidad is often described as a banana
republic, relying solely on one product s
exportation for economic
stability and with profits
going to those in power.
Chakrabortty says of
Britain, "Even banana
republics have cash: it
just ends up in the hands
of a very few people,"
then explains how the UK
is no different.
One is of course aware that the money
in T&T (thanks to the black gold oozing
from the ground) is finite and one hopes
the government is putting lots away for
the bust times not frittering it away during
boom. If England and T&T are on a par
then what s left to decide is whether both
are "developed" or "developing", first world
or third. Let s cut our losses and say we re
both second world. Fair s fair.
Second world problems ...the average working
class or middle class
triniis, in my opinion,
at least on a par with
the equivalent in
Britain, if not better off.
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