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After December Comes January: A Cautionary Reflection
Patrick Martin, MD
December 14, 2016
Legend has it that Kittitians and Nevisians must have a good Christmas. Never mind the trials and tribulations of the rest of the year; we scratch and save for the ham, turkey, curtains and bubbly.
The background to the legend is Massa allowing his plantation serfs a one-day vacation per year on Boxing Day. Thus for generations, anticipation and excitement surrounding Christmas are deeply ingrained in the national psyche.
Boxing Day’s orgy of merriment has morphed into Christmas Festivities and National Carnival. Some complain that the bacchanal obscures the true meaning of Christmas. Lest they forget, baby Jesus was born among resting animals “because there was no room in the inn”. Why were rooms sold out in Bethlehem? Maybe it was Black Friday, Vat-free Day or Carnival.
In our culture, Christmas and festivity are synonymous. When the sugar crop was good in the 1970s, workers received a bonus Bradshaw famously framed as “goat water”. In like manner, government, starting in the 1980s, has been moved (or pressured) to increase disposable income via an end-of-year “double salary” for public servants. This because heightened consumer spending in the domestic economy “lubricates” the engine of growth.
Such is the December shopping buzz that “jingle bells” carols, decorations and advertisements appear in September, the height of the hurricane season. “Early Bird Specials” plus VAT-free/reduced days compete with shopping pilgrimages to St. Maarten. Barrels of factory-adulterated “food” enjoy duty-free status.
Not to be outdone, Carnival is a six-week affair with several preludes to J’Ouvert having more roadblocks than a security operation. This year, with December 25th and January 1st being Sundays, there will be four holidays within seven weekday “working days”. Somewhere amidst the hype and the smoky haze of burnt chicken are church services and running the affairs of the smallest independent state in the Western Hemisphere. Nevertheless, a good Christmas augers well for electioneering.
After December comes January. The first week after Las’ Lap is always “hangover week” coupled with the onslaught of the flu imported via the snowbirds. Soon thereafter, bills become due but the statement from the ATM (if not stolen) may read “Insufficient Funds”. Some people literally have no answer to the “What’s in your wallet” question. Surviving until payday is like running a marathon at high noon in loose sand with army boots. By month’s end, the doctor may be calling with some test results. The King Mallet (now known as Hammer) did sing about Mr. Carnival being “the father of September babies”.
January, and the rest of 2017, can be less traumatic if December’s bonus and frolic are handled wisely. Current events suggest top priority should be given to investing in security.
There are several facets to security. The most obvious and pressing is security of the individual, family and private property. Criminal insurgents on both islands have upped the ante with daring break-ins and ambushes. Strengthening of personal security is prudent use of “the double”. Food Security is urgent because food insecurity is the reason why the Federation’s rates of diabetes, cancer and kidney failure that are unsustainably high. Part of the bonus could purchase a drip irrigation system for the home garden to produce more fresh food. Energy Security means less reliance on and spending for fossil fuel. While the geothermal machinations play-out, solar appliances and energy-efficient light bulbs yield reasonable return on investment in the short- to mid-term. Also highly recommended is the purchase of comprehensive medical insurance with air ambulance coverage. The government’s insurance cannot be all things to all people. A reasonable family plan costs less than a tattoo on private parts and monthly telephone top-ups. If the insurance can cover condoms, go for it.
2017 should be very interesting for at least two reasons. First, Trump and Putin seem to have an exceptionally warm relationship. Their coziness suggests a wall to contain, not Mexico, but China’s economic juggernaut. Trump and Putin have cabinets that are flush with military and oil interests. In the offing are more war against terror and higher prices for fossil fuel. Second, the NIA elections will be a referendum on relative strength of Team Unity.
So, let the good times roll and wisdom prevail. Best Wishes for a Blessed Christmas and a Healthy and Productive 2017.