What motivated a few people to start a "free market think tank" in the Bahamas? Quite simply, the aftermath of negative economic growth during the 1980s. The Bahamian economy by 1990 had slowed from a high rate of economic growth, around 7.5 percent in the 1960s and 70s, to a minus-growth rate by the end of the 80s. The hopes for improved living standards had not materialized as promised by the post-independence government, the Progressive Liberal Party.
The explanation is straightforward-free markets and less government were yet to be recognized as essential factors for economic growth and prosperity. Economics as such were not part of polite discussion-politics dominated. It is not surprising that the socialist ideology of the mother country, Great Britain, at the time was expressed in the adolescent "emerging" Bahamas, which became responsible in 1973 for national security and public policy initiatives after its independence.
Free-market ideas seemed "radical" in the 1990s as government was expected to solve social and economic problems. It continued to expand to fulfill this mandate. Law was enacted and current law "updated," giving power to government ministers that had not previously existed. They included minimum wage laws, labor legislation, increased licensing of trades and services, all of which were alleged to provide a better quality of life for "working Bahamians."
There seemed no limit to what could be identified as "bad" policy.
In 1995, the Nassau Institute was founded "to see the Bahamas become the first small, developed, sovereign country in the region, recognized as a model for the world." With a vision that appeared to be counter-intuitive to the philosophy of the times, the Nassau Institute faced a large challenge in getting our ideas printed and the organization funded. We kept overhead expenses to a minimum and all revenue from our fundraising appeals went into producing a quarterly publication countering various policy initiatives that would take away more individual freedom.
The Atlas Economic Research Foundation was and still is an important connection for the Nassau Institute, with support both intellectual and, in the earlier days, financial. Atlas's connections to other free-market think tanks has made it possible for two all day symposiums in Nassau-"The Global Challenge and the Need for Reform" (April 3, 2004) and "Taking Small Nations to Greatness: Free Trade, Security, and Education" (June 9, 2006).
Alex Chafuen, President of Atlas with Joan Thompson, President of the Nassau Institute at the June 9, 2006 conference in The Bahamas.
Our experience as a start-up libertarian institute has shown that laying the groundwork for the ideas is critical. Persuading the public to take a different philosophical position, from the socialist to the capitalist, takes time. However, with each year and so many organizations refuting socialism around the world, the timeframe for change will be shorter than it was ten years ago in the Bahamas.
The directors and supporters of the Nassau Institute are most grateful for the support and encouragement of everyone at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. They made June 9 an important and memorable day for the history and development of libertarian principles in the Bahamas.