Friday, December 31, 2010

2011: The year of what?

WE come to the end of another year, when it is accepted that we reflect on what happened in 2010, and make resolutions and forecasts about what we want for 2011. From my own perspective I don't see anything special about a new year, as going from one year to another is really just like going from one day to the next. The only difference is that instead of measuring in days or months, the measurement is done in years. For if we were to look at how much of the new year resolutions we have achieved as a country or individual, what would be the success rate, 10 per cent, 40 per cent, zero per cent, or even negative.

The truth, however, is that the world is made up of cycles, whether it is in our daily living or even patterns one can find on the stock market. So our world is always predictable, and human beings feel comfortable with it being that way. We cannot deal with the unknown and so are usually slaves of our own fear, and therefore continue to practice what we are used to. Stepping outside of our norm, into the unknown, is something that psychologically we find uncomfortable. This is why most people need leaders, and this is why we never truly recognise our heroes until they are dead. Most people cannot deal with the thought of change, and so don't like to entertain out-of-the- box thinking.

But change we must have if we are to move forward. After all, what is being touted as the greatest "game-changer" for 2010 — the JDX — was a break from the downward cycle of debt, which if not done would have surely led to debt default. We also remember however that persons did not accept at first the need for this change, proving my point that generally people are not comfortable with change, even when it is clear that the current path is unsustainable.

Heroes like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Marcus Garvey, Mahatma Gandhi, and other such, also preached change. But the reaction of the society was that these individuals were outcasts and everything was done to shut them down. Today, however, those persons are revered in the same society that sought to silence them, primarily because most persons in the society now feel comfortable because their teachings are the accepted culture.

And this need for comfort and acceptance will continue as long as people are alive, because most people are followers, and will always be comfortable only with what they know. And in many instances it is because they lack the ability to do the proper analysis to understand what the future holds. Whether you call it financial analysis, prophecy, or being psychic, it all boils down to an attempt to project what is in store for the future.

The Chinese, for example, try to predict generally what will happen in the coming year through their calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle. They assign twelve animals to each year over a twelve-year cycle. So next year will be the year of the rabbit, as we step out of the year of the tiger. The rabbit is supposed to be affiliated with success. So will we see success in 2011 according to the Chinese calendar, or is a better explanation that in every year there is always success and failure, and so these projections shape our perception rather than being accurate explanations? In other words, is it that what happens to us in our future is determined by our belief of what will happen rather than the accuracy of any prediction? Put another way, are we the creators of our own destiny? And if this is so then isn't the fact that we do nothing about reshaping our future, because of fear of the unknown, what causes us to remain stagnant. This is a lesson for the country and us individually.

Therefore, if even some of that logic is correct, then Jamaica needs to define what type of year 2011 will be. The year of growth, development, more debt, or better education. What will 2011 be the year of? It is only through properly analysing what is possible, and wanting that to happen why something will happen. This is why accountants do budget forecasts, and it is usually the company that sticks to the fundamentals of the projections that achieves the plan. So the CEO who sets out on his own path, thinking that he can make up for the plan later, will only find himself and the company in difficulty come the end of the year, and have to make more resolutions for the next year.

One reason, of course, for plans not being realised is that they are too unrealistic, such as a smoker of 20 years, saying on December 31 that he/she will stop smoking on January 1. Similarly in the past as a country we make grand predictions about GDP growth of four per cent or six per cent, which in the context of the Jamaican economy is totally unrealistic. But guess what, it sounds good and most people are willing to just accept that feel-good prediction rather than face the reality of what the real outcome will be. And so when there are some among us that make more accurate and realistic, but less feel-good predictions, they are seen as negative and labelled outcasts. Sort of reminds us of the Marcus Garveys of the world. And when their predictions come up correct in the most part it is ignored because ego does not allow us to accept, when we are incorrect.

All of the above was said to show that progress depends on human behaviour, and what we do and do not accept. The growth of companies depends on how employees behave, and the growth of countries depends on how the citizens behave. Investments depend on how markets behave, or how society behaves (crime).

And so as we move into 2011, it is important for us to understand that economic and social development is not a factor of being able to only attract overseas investors or creating a macroeconomic environment that is stable. This has been our mantra from as far as I can remember, with what result. An average growth of one per cent per annum. If we look at societies that have achieved any semblance of development, even the much-touted Singapore or Ireland — or are the Irish touts still sure about it — at the root of their development have been consensus and a deep respect for human development.

It therefore means that 2011 must be the year of a focus on a better society. This simply means a society where the Jamaican citizen is put at the heart of development, as I can assure you that there will be no economic development without proper social development. We must move away from our rich history of human rights abuses, a societal indiscipline, and culture of tearing down each other, if we are to move forward. I always find it amazing that the same people who went to school, or grew up together, are always so willing to tear down each other because of ideology.

It is only through consensus and respect that we will develop as a country. I always maintain that economics is nothing more than the result of human behaviour. Therefore if we want to encourage the economy in the right direction, we must first encourage the right behaviour.

So for me, the personality of 2010 was the average Jamaican for all he had to endure, and 2011 should be the year of the Jamaican.

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