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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Why are Caribbean states so small?

Why are Caribbean states so small?

- TWC's pseudo-analysis

The Caribbean islands were once among the richest territories in the world as a result of the lucrative sugar and spice plantations that were grown here and worked on intensively by African slaves. The wealth made here created an entire new rich class called the plutocracy who often spend long periods of the year in their "mother countries" such as the UK or France. It was also this wealth that first fired the Industrial Revolution that transformed the world.

With wealth came status and political status. The Age of Enlightenment brought to the New World ideas of self-governance and local autonomy. Legislative councils were formed on each of these wealthy islands where local laws were debated and made. Of course, such privileges were the exclusive domain of the White colonial landed aristocracy. The vast majority of the population were slaves and had no freedom to speak of at all. Nevertheless, the creation of separate legislative and governing institutions inspired the idea of separateness and individuality in these islands, even though the islands were tiny and had small populations.

By the 19th century, the islands began to slide into decline due to two factors: 1) the lack of economies of scale meant that the Caribbean could no longer compete with the huge and more efficient farmlands and plantations set up across much larger countries such as the US and Brazil; 2) the abolition of slavery destroyed the economic foundations of many inefficient plantations which had relied solely on the low cost of using slave labour.

Theoretically, economic decline should mean the realization of economic in-viability of small island administrations and thus call for their unification, but local prejudices and power interests had become very entrenched after several hundred years of existence. The local aristocracy was naturally opposed to any dilution of their power, even though unification could potentially benefit everybody through economies of scale.

After WWII, the British set up the West Indian Federation to prepare the islands for independence as a unified polity. However, larger provinces of the federation, such as Jamaica and Trinidad were reluctant to subsidise the much smaller islands, and ultimately, the federation collapsed in less than 4 years when the larger provinces seceded from the federation. Most other islands have since become independent states and only small ones such as Montserrat and British Virgin Islands remain British dependencies. Thus the existence of micro-states in the Caribbean.


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