Thursday, April 03, 2008

The loss of thought

While growing up, I have always heard people say that the younger generation does not solve problems as well as the older generation had. This is something I have found myself saying, as it seems that our ability to solve problems just keep getting worse with each passing year. On the other hand economies such as the US seem to be getting better at resolving issues, and a prime example of this is the way they have dealt with the current subprime crisis compared to the way in which Jamaica handled the 1990s financial crisis. I will not delve into this comparison, however, as I have exhausted this comparison at a lecture I did last week and have some amount of fatigue from that. But I use this as a real example to show the distinction between how we deal with problems versus the rest of the world.

Growth deficiency
And this is the reason why in 45 years (1962 to 2007) we were able to grow at only an accumulated 97.7% or an average of only 2.17% for each of those years. What is even more frightening is that 1962 to 1972 accounted for some 69% of that, so that over the last 35 years we have managed to grow an accumulated 28.7%, or an average of 0.82% each of those 35 years. When broken down into decades we see the following comparisons:

- 1962 to 1971 - 69.0%
- 1972 to 1981 - ( 9.0%)
- 1982 to 1991 - 18.5%
- 1992 to 2001 - 9.5%
- 2002 to 2007 - 9.7%

This if course is the underlying economic problem that Jamaica has, and there is a fundamental reason for this problem. But the reason is not to be found in numbers but rather in behaviour and more importantly the type of leadership that we have had at the helm of this country.

When one examines our leadership, and the statement that each generation thinks less, one would see that the statement is not entirely true. It is true that younger persons do read less and generally do not reason as well as their older counterparts but this has more to do I think with the leadership that has destroyed the learning institutions in this country. Just as we export goods the same way today as we did 30 years ago, it is the same way that we seek to teach children to learn the in the same way they did 30 years ago. And all of this in a world that has changed in a very revolutionary way.

If one examines the leadership in this country over the years then you will see that there was a fundamental change in the leadership structure coming out of the 1960s but since the 1970s until now we have fundamentally maintained the same leadership structure. Now we are seeing another round of fundamental change in our leadership structure over the past two years or so, and those that have been part of the structure that has caused our dismal growth record over the past 35 years need to stay away and allow the new leadership to take charge and delver to us what they could not.

This leadership problem of course has resulted significantly from the fact that over the years we have appointed persons to leadership positions based on their political allegiance rather than their ability to think and solve problems. And this is not only at the political level but also the administrative level. This attitude has resulted in a cadre of leadership that is unable to think past the length of their noses when taking decisions, so the long term effect of decisions are not carefully thought out. So while the decision may resolve the current situation, in the long term it creates havoc. Such was the effect of the decision surrounding the 1990s financial crisis.

Monopolistic threat
But more recently I see where the Broadcasting Commission seems to be falling into that category also. There are two decisions they have made that really seems very short sighted and leaves me no option but to question how well they think about what they are doing, as both seems to me to be a question of solving short term problems and to heck with the longer term effects.

The first has to do with the cavalier way with which they dismissed the question of a possible monopoly developing in the cable market. This has nothing to do with the acquisition of their latest kill, Entertainment Systems, but the very real possibility of a monopoly developing in that market. I myself am a customer of FLOW but would love the option to switch to any other competitor in the market place if I feel the need, especially as I believe that their customer service has been consistently deteriorating. The Broadcasting Commission seems to be forgetting the “not too far in the past” monopoly position of Cable and Wireless, that has constantly proven itself to be a very inflexible monolithic structure.

By the looks of the persons on the commission they do not seem young enough not to remember the days of the single land line and cellular service from Cable and Wireless where they held us Jamaicans to ransom by “phone point” and extracted every dollar they could from us. Thank God for Digicel that rode in and saved us from the Cable and Wireless monstrosity, even though their own customer service has deteriorated, demonstrating the need for constantly having new entrants.

Similarly if the commission does not carefully monitor the FLOW situation then we could end up with a situation where the smaller players are forced out of the market and we could end up in a JPS type relationship. But being the forward thinkers they are they seemed to have dismissed this matter where as in the US it would have been a matter of public debate led by the regulators, as the consumer is always given precedence to the preferences of the corporation.

Instead they have sought to focus on some comments made by a radio personality, which nothing is wrong with, but have recommended the drastic action of suspending the radio station’s licence. I can only conclude that they must be mixing up the two cases and really meant to take drastic action in the FLOW case and not the latter one, as it would seem to me that they have confused the long term effect of both. In the case of the radio station they are sending a clear signal to the market that they can suspend freedom of the press at any time they so desire.

When, for example, Imus made his racial comments on US television was their a call for the lock down of the television station or disciplinary matters against Imus. The commission needs to be careful about the solutions they recommend else they could end up losing more credibility than they already have.

On the other hand they must be wary of the monopolization of the cable industry. Already I do not believe that we have enough competition in the market, and we have seen the benefits of competition in the cellular market. This is a prime example of the lack of clear thinking that has affected our development and growth over the years and especially in the last 35, which has resulted from a leadership deficiency.


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