Editorial, Amandala

A lot of Americans feel that the federal government has gotten too large and powerful in the United States. This is an age-old issue in the U.S., because they are organized in so-called states, 50 of them, and there was this critical time when those states which wanted to maintain slavery after the federal government had decided to abolish it, actually broke away from the so-called Union and began a bloody civil war in 1861.

On the individual level, right-wing minded Americans feel that the federal government interferes too much with their personal rights, taxes them too much for federal welfare programs, for instance.

On the other hand, you will find that those Americans who support the Democratic Party feel that in many cases it is only the federal government which is protecting them from predator capitalists, robber barons, and special interest groups like the Wall Street cartel. At least, that's what the Democrats thought they were electing Barack Obama to do in 2008. There is a question which more and more Americans are asking: whether Barack has protected the American people enough, or whether he has sacrificed Main Street to Wall Street.

In any case, we wanted to look at our Belizean situation in the light of the debate which is going on in American politics. Before self-government in Belize, there was a British colonial government, and colonialism was only a step removed from slavery. So then, we got this self-government in 1964, and the local politicians of the People's United Party were so popular, they fell in love with themselves, and they decided to rule by Cabinet instead of by Parliament. Essentially, they undermined the constitution. And, they became national heroes.

Well, time went by, and the PUP government kept getting more and more powerful, and more and more arrogant. Their big propaganda weapon was the monopoly government radio station, which was in the business of spewing political propaganda day and night. When the Belizean people finally replaced the PUP with the Opposition UDP, did we get any humility in government, or reduction of its power? No, the temptation to rule by Cabinet instead of by Parliament, as the PUP had done, proved too great, and soon the UDP was just like the PUP - big government PUDP.

Big government in Belize began this social security business as soon as we became independent in 1981. At the time, Amandala was a 12-year-old newspaper business which was finally coming out of the woods. 1981 was the year this newspaper reached the top of the industry totem pole. This settlement/colony/country had existed without social security for centuries. In our small communities, workers had used all kinds of wiles to ingratiate themselves with their employers, such as having their employers stand godfather/godmother for their children. When wiles didn't work that well, workers used different kinds of leverage to pressure their employers when they thought he or she was being unfair. Before social security in 1981, our society really didn't have homeless people: it seemed as if everyone was being taken care of in a reasonably satisfactory fashion. At least, that is how it seemed.

We never liked social security, because we feared, right from the beginning, that what would happen would be exactly what has happened. The government has accumulated hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars which they don't really know what to do with, so every now and then the PUDP politicians do foolishness with money which, pre-1981, would have been out there working in the hustling, efficient private sector.

Now, we understand that everybody else in the world had social security programs, so we in Belize had to establish that too. We couldn't be different from everybody else, although this settlement in the Bay had always been just that - different. When we raised a modest voice of protest back then that big government would be taking away resources from the private sector, the politicians argued that the social security was now necessary because Belize was seeing an increasing number of foreign employers who were taking advantage of Belizean workers. The argument was basically spurious, or at least it has been proven so, the reason being that foreign employers in Belize haven't been hiring Belizeans for the thirty years of independence: they have been hiring other foreigners. Straight like that.

Our position here is the same as it was in 1981. The inefficient and corrupt government, which was already too big back then, has gotten much bigger with their stockpiles of social security money. Every now and then, the ruling politicians can't help themselves, so they interfere with the money. This was money which belonged in the private sector, which generated it in the first place. But, just like the foolish change of school holidays from April/May to July/August in 1964, social security is here to stay. It's one of the reasons why some Belizean politicians spend millions to get a $90,000 a year job. Perks, baby, perks. Perks and power.