Fowl Play in the Bahamas

Socialists always say you have to break a few eggs if you're going to make an omelette. But all of them?


The Bahamas are a small group of islands off the coast of Florida. For three centuries they were a British colony that had grown wealthy as a banking and tourism center. In 1973, however, the Bahamas became an independent nation. Since then the socialist government of Prime Minister Lynden Pindling has done its best to destroy the nation's prosperity. The egg industry is a case in point.

Until 1975 the Hatchet Bay poultry plantation on Eleuthera Island supplied approximately 60 percent of the Bahamas' eggs, as well as milk and other poultry products. This 2,500-acre farm, which had been owned by Americans for 40 years, was not an especially profitable operation but managed to turn a coin nevertheless. Over the decade prior to 1975 its total profits added up to only $200,000.

In 1975 the government decided to buy Hatchet Bay for $3 million, borrowed from private banks. The motive, apparently, was to make some money for the government, although doubts about the probability of this outcome were widespread.

Trouble resulted almost immediately. A political hack with no experience in agriculture or the egg business was named manager of Hatchet Bay because of his long-time support for the ruling Progressive Liberal Party. Within a year the existing foreign management staff had been dismissed. Soon there were reports of thousands of chickens dying from disease and overcrowding. To correct the situation 20,000 chicks were imported from Florida. But management had failed to obtain the proper customs clearance, so the chicks had to stay aboard the aircraft in the hot sun for over five hours until matters were cleared up. This delay led to the death of thousands of the chicks from suffocation—and a loss of $24,000. At this time Hatchet Bay's outstanding debts amounted to more than $500,000, and its suppliers began to cut off credit.

In May 1977 Hatchet Bay opened a new poultry processing plant. During opening-day ceremonies Prime Minister Pindling called Hatchet Bay "the greatest success story in the history of Bahamian agriculture." Ironically, the plant had to close a few days later when Hatchet Bay's chickens had all died. By now the company was unable to raise funds for importing more chicks from Florida.

By mid-1977, the Bahamas, which had previously been self-sufficient in egg production, had an acute egg shortage. Poultry was also in short supply. Foreign imports could not make up the difference because there is a tariff of 60 cents on each dozen eggs imported. The result is that hotels catering to tourists snap up all available eggs, leaving almost none for the general populace.

In spite of this failure the Progressive Liberal Party won reelection in August 1977 but promised a new program to correct management problems and revitalize the Hatchet Bay facilities. The general manager was dismissed, but all else remained unchanged. As of 1978, eggs were still in short supply, as were chickens. Feed shortages combined with continued poor management had resulted in the deaths of 27,000 more chickens and the loss of more than $500,000 over a one-year period.

Since the government continues to refuse to lower the tariffs or price controls on eggs, the people have resorted to ingenuity to get eggs. It was discovered that a loophole in the law excluded jumbo-sized eggs from price controls, but with tariffs and transportation costs from the United States, a dozen of such eggs must sell for $1.69. This compares to 70-80 cents for such eggs in the United States.

It is now expected that at least $1 million more must be invested in Hatchet Bay to get it back on its feet. Debts continue to mount, and interest on the debt is estimated to be as much as $300,000 per year at present. Meanwhile, the government is negotiating with an American firm to run Hatchet Bay.

So much for today's object lesson on socialism in practice.

Bruce Bartlett is a Washington-based writer and political consultant, with previous contributions to various magazines and newspapers, including REASON.