Friday, August 06, 2010

Crime's enormous economic curse

Last week I was horrified, like every other well-thinking Jamaican, to see the video tape of the killing of a Jamaican citizen with no apparent justification. The act was committed by members of an organisation that has sworn to "serve and protect" the same citizens whom have been accusing them of brutality for decades. The irony is that the police force, which has been trained to investigate and solve crimes, has been unable for decades to properly investigate and solve accusations of extra-judicial killings. At the very least that smacks of incompetence by an organisation trained to do just that.

Is it any wonder then, if the police cannot deal with the disorganisation within their ranks, that they have been unable to deal with the crime monster that has torn this nation apart? In my experience, however, there are some very good and hard-working policemen and women, and I am sorry that they have to be tainted by this sort of incident.

I am even more disgusted by the barbarism of some of the citizens gathered around, who were cheering on the police, and even some of those from whom I have heard comments from in the media and on places like FaceBook, who say that the "alleged" murderer deserved what he got. What these people fail to understand is that societies and organisation have to live by rules in order to develop and thrive.

While an organisation is small, it is easy for the leadership to be involved in every decision taken and to control that decision to his/her liking, but if it is to grow then strict rules must be established and stern sanctions imposed for breaking those rules. This has been Jamaica's problem: our desire not to be "shackled" by rules and consequences. I believe that this is at the root of our crime problem and that there is a tremendous economic opportunity from our crime challenge. The opportunity lies not in perpetuating the crime monster but in recognising the gains that can come from dealing with it effectively.

The World Bank has stated in the past that crime robs us of about four per cent of GDP. And this is obvious for even the blind to see. Let's take the example of what happened in Buckfield recently. Think about the effect this one incident has had on the confidence and action of overseas and local investors. Why would someone want to invest in a country where the basic concept of human rights is abused by the very same people who are sworn to protect it? If this basic rule is not kept, then what about the more complex ones like commercial cases in court? Think about the devastating effect on the productivity of the workforce from lower-income communities who live in fear of the police. Think about the future scientist growing up whose only thoughts are focused on a chance to leave Jamaica and establish his profession in another country. Think about the real estate value that is locked away in crime-ridden communities.

Now think about the accumulated effect of all this negative behaviour on Jamaica's economy. What our leaders have failed to understand since independence is that at the basic level economies grow because of the behaviour patterns of the smallest denominator in a country: the citizen/consumer/worker/investor - whatever you want to call them. Economics is a social science focusing on behaviour. Not about the fiscal and monetary policies governments and bureaucrats dream up. And the economic evidence in Jamaica shows that we have got it wrong since independence 48 years ago.

Therefore (and I want the leaders to follow my logic), if economies react to the behaviour of individuals, then wouldn't it seem logical that the best way to make economies grow is to positively influence the behaviour of the market players? If we create an environment where people feel good about investing and spending, then it follows that the economy will grow and governments could garner more revenue without imposing more taxes. But regrettably we do not think that way and it is our failure to do so that has led us to where we are today, after 48 years of disgraceful treatment of our citizens.

This is the way enlightened countries like the US (where we all desperately want to go to) develop their economies. If the US did not have this philosophy, then "dog nyam we supper" when it comes to the global economy, because some of the policies in Europe are surely not helping.

What are the opportunities?
So what opportunities can we garner from solving this crime problem? By way of analogy, if you are responsible for rearing a recalcitrant child, do you beat him into submission or do you try to reason with him no matter how frustrating that task might be? You might even have to impose sanctions. If your answer is the former, then you represent the leadership that Jamaica has seen since independence. If your answer is the latter, then you are fitted for leadership in the US.

The point is that Jamaica has for decades tried to control crime by using a big stick, which simply creates behaviour that stymies the development of our economy and society. So if we continue beating that child (Jamaican citizens), then we should not be surprised when he turns to a life of crime and wants to be a criminal instead of a scientist, doctor, or any other progressive professional.

If we are to quell the crime monster and reap the tremendous economic benefits from doing so, then the continued policy of physical assault against the citizen must change. Policing must be geared towards encouraging good behaviour rather than beating into submission those who are alleged to commit crimes. That is for the courts to decide and why we have a constitution and every time we breach it we disrespect our founding fathers.

So solving crime has more to do with instilling discipline than using force. And while force is necessary sometimes, it is only warranted when it prevents a greater evil from being committed. The focus should be on things like (1) greater community policing - working with children specifically in communities; (2) ensuring that the police have respect for the citizens and their RIGHT to contest the accusation of any police member; (3) dealing with the flagrant traffic violations that occur every day (cameras could be used to catch those who violate traffic laws and tickets sent to the registered owner of the vehicle); (4) similarly charging persons who litter and destroy the environment, or those who violate building codes; and (5) dealing with environmental noise, from dances or churches, at any time of the day. Our current laws assume one shift and weekday work only, which encourages that to play out.

Finally I would like to add that we need to equip our policemen and women for efficiency. I am always appalled that in this day and age (where we spend billions of dollars on roads and other such things) that we have police still taking notes in books, instead of equipping our police personnel with computers, which should be attached to databases. Policemen and women asked to do proper investigative jobs should have the latest technology - computers, digital cameras and recorders, postpaid cellphones, etc. If cost is the explanation for not providing these essential tools to the police, then we truly do not understand the economic benefits of reducing crime.


Glenn Smith said...

You gave a nice too do list. These are all valid points.

The government has no money... But it could...

is widely accepted that the results of crime, poverty, and the lack of education are the primary reasons for Jamaica’s shortfalls. Further examination reveals that these ill “effects” are in fact, the symptoms, not the root "cause” for many of Jamaica’s declines.

While it is necessary to treat these symptoms, the cause purged, thwarts and prevents further systemic ill-effects.

To expose the root cause of Jamaica's shortfalls, gather a few of the symptoms: crime/poverty/lack of education, and duly accept them as “underperformances and poor outcomes” in law enforcement, standard of living, and education. Then, simplify these categories to extract the root cause, thusly:

Underperformance is doing less than expected; a deficit in quality ways.
A poor outcome is a reduction in standard; from a higher level in quality to a lower rank; a loss in a quality metric or standard; towards poorer quality effect; an absence of quality.
The prognosis: Deficits in quality values or metrics bring-in Jamaican shortfalls. Shortages in law enforcement, standard of living and education infers deficiency's to "identify and add-in" leveraging "quality" values. Greater values mandated into policies, procedures, standards and regulations squeezes out poor quality, boosts performances and outcomes, putting Jamaica on a fast-track for meaningful change.

In conclusion: When aspiring to higher principles or standards of construction any compliance towards “higher quality” is an avenue for superior national architecture. Stressing continuous quality is a means elevate one's country to world-class notoriety. Deficits in quality debase Jamaica to “diminishing returns.” We may choose to intervene incrementally, or strategically provide the absolute and proven "Total Quality Management" (TQM) approach to encompass the dynamic solution for Jamaica.


Glenn Smith said...

sorry ....I missed a word ...I meant to say: It is widely accepted...

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