Friday, January 01, 2010

What power, what glory?

AS we go into 2010 it would suit us to remember a song from one of Jamaica's greatest singers, Ernie Smith. He released "We de people/the power and the glory" in 1976, and these words ring true today more than any other time, as if he had some prophetic vision of what Jamaica would become under our political system. Or is it that the same culture existed then? I remember the state of emergency at the time but was too young to really appreciate all that was happening.

I also remember the 1980 election and the celebratory sounds of gunshots that rang out throughout Kingston when the sun started to go down. It was indeed a period of change in Jamaica that we never seemed to capitalise on, as many other countries have done, as we find ourselves back in the same quagmire of tribalism as in 1980. So for Jamaica it always seems like an everlasting state of deja vu.

Words ring true
Lines from Ernie Smith's song include the following:

* "As we fight one another fi the power and the glory, Jah kingdom goes to waste and every drop of blood we waste a fi wi own disgrace"

* "We the people want to know where we going...we have too far to go not to

really know just how we getting there and if we getting anywhere"

* "We have too much to change not to know the range of possibilities and changeabilities"

* "Can't build no foundation pon a if nor a but. Are we building a nation or are we building a hut? Can't build no dream on a fuss nor a fight"

These lines aptly describe how Jamaica has progressed over the years and the fight between the two political tribes, who seek the power and glory of a sinking ship, quite content with being the captain when it is at the bottom of the ocean.

Realising that the ship (Jamaica) will eventually sink to the depths of poverty and the point of no return if we continue, I have to ask, what power and glory is there in a damaged nation? What power and glory is there in seeing our people continually suffer? As far as I am concerned there is none, and we need to realise that when the Jamaican ship goes down the half with PNP or JLP won't stay afloat while the other half sinks. This is physics, as my son would say.

A lot of the blame must rest with our citizens, however, who would rather discuss their disgust on verandahs while showing hypocrisy in public. So one reader writes to chastise me for "insulting" the Jamaican people in my last column when I said that as usual they focus on the wrong issue regarding whether to tax the rich or the poor, when what really needs to be discussed is the effect of taxation on the country.

This is nothing but an escape from reality, which as a people we have perfected as illustrated by our ability to profile in the latest cars, clothes, and attending the most expensive events even while we are overdue on our credit cards or other loan payments. As I said to Bev Manley in November 2008, as a country we would not deal with the effects of the global financial crisis because politics would take precedence over the needed debate on how to move the country forward. So instead of planning how to chart the country's progress in 2009, our discussions focused on elections, nailing corrupt individuals, arguments about sexual orientations, and whether the government was meeting its timetables or not. Even now we refuse to focus on the real issues before us. It seems we have lost the capacity to do so, or could it be a deliberate strategy?

Inevitably, in our quest to victimise each other we end up hurting everyone who lives in Jamaica. There is no way the rich can get richer if poverty increases and there is no way the poor can improve if the rich are targeted.

Facing reality
So in response to the reader, the argument is not whether Jamaicans felt insulted or not; it is whether it is true or not, and on that I think I stand vindicated. In order to solve a problem we first need to admit we have one. And we are a country that prefers "suss" over facts.

This article really has nothing to do with economics, or numbers, with which people relate my columns. This is because, as I concluded in my book, the real problems Jamaica faces are social, as it is the accumulation of behaviour that determines what happens in an economy. We cannot debate the balance of payments or fiscal accounts without understanding the behaviour that causes the deficit in these numbers. Economics is about behaviour, and economic theory assumes that social behaviour is not in contradiction to development.

So as we go into 2010 we must realise that it is irrelevant what policies or taxes are put in place if we cannot address the issue of disunity. If anyone can identify a country that is as tribalistic in their politics as we are and has achieved economic and social development, then I am willing to learn, but frankly I can't recall any. What I see on CNN of these countries, on the contrary, is constant warfare between their citizens.

As an example, it is my view that what drives our high interest rates is the risk to investment that arises from our crime rate and bureaucracy. That is, investors are more concerned about uncertainty and risk in an economic environment when determining whether to invest, rather than the level of interest rates. Return on investments will always adjust to the cost of money in a predictable investment climate, and interest rates will eventually come down if this risk is removed.

So as a country we need to determine where we want to go, not where we want our political party to be in relation to the other political party. We need to fully understand that when the PNP side of the ship goes down the JLP side goes down with it also. When we understand this, then that will be the point at which we start to develop as a nation. The IMF agreement will not help if we fail to understand this basic concept of community and nationalism. And more importantly, we will never see economic or social development without it.

For 2009 my personality of the year is the Jamaican people for enduring the ravages of the global financial crisis and our own self-imposed destruction through our tribal politics, practised more by the followers than by the politicians.

I think I am getting to the point where I have to assess whether or not it makes sense to continue to contribute to economic commentary in Jamaica, as it does not seem to make a difference in the ever downward spiral Jamaica continues to face. Until then I have to ask, what power and what glory are we fighting for?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this piece, at least the truth was published. It is really unfortunate though that save an armed revolution, we cannot rid ourselves of the Politicians, Protectors (JCF & JDF) and Priests associated with the various criminals. By the way, guess who already have the guns.

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