AT the time of writing the polls have not opened as yet. But whoever forms the next Government will still be faced with the global and local economic challenges in 2012.
Globally we can look forward to the following:
* Much weaker Europe, and an overall weak global economy;
* Oil prices I expect to continue their upward trend;
* Inflationary pressures, as governments seek to avert economic downturn by expanding money supply; and
* Consumer spending to see some recovery but remain relatively weak when compared to pre-recession levels.
Locally, I expect that these global factors will have an impact, at least in terms of limiting our earnings potential. The truth, however, is that much of what happens to Jamaica in 2012 is going to depend on the policies we pursue.
One of the things that we must start to understand is what drives economies. In other words, as I said last week, the first question that should have been posed to the candidates in the recent debates was, what is your explanation of the problem? It is a simple question, but the truth is, unless we understand the problem then we can never find the appropriate solution, and I think that this is what has escaped us for years, if not decades.
I do not think that we have an understanding of what our real issues are. Our inability to define the real problem Jamaica faces has caused us not to grow this economy in any meaningful way since 1990.
I have long said that economies are nothing more than the behavioural interaction of people, as they go about their business of satisfying everyday needs and wants. It is important to understand the link between Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs and economics.
As people satisfy more and more of their basic needs, they move towards economic activity that leads to self-actualisation. And the price of self-actualisation is higher than the price of basic needs. So it stands to reason that the more satisfied people are, the higher the value of expenditure, which will lead to greater economic expansion.
This is illustrated by countries like the US, where as more and more persons become wealthy they start demanding products that cost more. This means that manufacturers of goods and services can increase revenues, and also more business opportunities become available. The trick to this expansion is that it must be done from earnings and not from debt, as the US found out in 2008, and this is what contributed to our problem. Otherwise, the whole house of cards will come falling down.
It is this lack of focus on the consumer that has been at the heart of Jamaica's failure to achieve sustainable economic growth. An examination of our policies over the years will reveal that we have focused on the fiscal accounts or growth without earnings. In other words, the central focus of government policy has been either growing consumption with debt or taxing Jamaicans every year to stabilise the fiscal accounts.
The fact is that this approach will not work, and it is important that going into 2012, whoever forms the Government understands this. Moody's has indicated that the policies of the Government must continue in 2012 if we are to maintain their rating, and we could see improvement if we continue the policies. While Moody's is generally correct, there has been a missing ingredient in our policy that is working against greater economic success. This is what has always been missing from as early as independence.
We have failed to recognise the importance of the consumer to the economy and so have failed to realise the sustainable growth that we need. We have praised economies such as Singapore and the US, and have held them out as models that we need to emulate. But what we have failed to understand about what makes these countries great is that their primary development focus is centred on protecting the individual rights of citizens (from other citizens and the state) and ensuring that everyone has access to the same opportunities. This is, fundamentally, all we need to strive for, and the rest will follow.
If we ensure that (i) citizens' rights are protected, (ii) everyone has the best opportunity to succeed (which includes access to education and health), and (iii) discipline and structure are enforced, then I guarantee that the economy will see unprecedented growth and development, as persons move from the lower rung of Mazlow's Hierarchy to the top.
If this is done, then the market will drive greater innovation and value.
However, as I have long argued, in a stagnant environment just coming out of a long recession, the market needs a push. This is where Keynesian policies must be pursued, and is why the IMF agreement was pro-cyclical. This is why stimulus projects (whether you call it JDIP or JEEP) are important, and necessary. What we must ensure is that they have the necessary parliamentary oversight for transparency, but even more important, I think they must provide the maximum benefit to the economy. My preference is a focus on infrastructure and renewable energy projects, for the maximum benefit to be derived.
It is important that people have meaningful jobs. Jamaica's unemployment numbers from even in the 1960s reveal the lack of focus on full employment as a government policy.
So as we go into 2012, with a newly formed Government, we need to try a new approach. We need to put the individual rights and opportunities of the people at the centre of our policies. We must focus on employment opportunities as a part of that.
We will never achieve the development we want without this, because if people are always concerned with justice and red tape, then there is no room for innovation and they will remain at the bottom of Mazlow's Hierarchy, which is where underdeveloped economies find themselves.
After 50 years it is finally time for us to break away from the colonial structures that seek to protect state against subjects and truly make the citizen the primary focus of our democracy.