Friday, February 20, 2015

Understanding Jamaica's fundamental problem

This year we will have the opportunity for a one and a half month debate on the revenue and expenditure estimates before the start of the fiscal year. This is very good governance practice and the minister must be commended for this initiative. No doubt over this period there will be much talk about the fiscal accounts and the economic programme. Specifically there will be talk about taxation and the macroeconomic targets such as inflation and the exchange rate.

Going out to Hellshire on Ash Wednesday though, I was reminded that the fiscal accounts, macroeconomic targets, economic activity, and crime are nothing more than the symtoms of the underlying challenge we face as a country. In fact I would go further to say that given the progress we are making on the economuc front, that if we stick to our guns then the mjor problem we will face in a few years time will not be the economy or fiscal accounts. In fact it is very possible that we wll see a much more competitive economy.

The fundamental problem we face as a country is on the social front, as based on my observations, the primary problem we will be that a significant part of our workforce will not be equipped for a competitive economy. So that even if we are to see growth upwards of 3 percent consistently, there is still a part of our population that will be marginalized. In our 52 year history, the only time that we had actually tried to address the social issues were really in the 1970s, under Manley, and even at that time it was not done with the purpose of sustainable inclusion in the economy for all but rather fixing certain social challenges faced coming our of colonialism.

I was reminded of this when i went out to Hellshire, as I think the people out there are a representation of the ordinary Jamaicans, inclusive esepcially of young Jamaicans. And this culture, although I saw it at Hellshire, does not only reside with the persons there but permeates even our work environment. So the truth is that we could possibly see economic growth with little or no inclusion of some of the population because many persons do ot possess either the skills, work ethics, or social behaviour required to compete internationally. And the end product or service consists significantly of labour or thought input, which reflect the underlying problem of our economic challenge. That of labour productivity.

When one thinks about the crimes being committed (gang related and domestic in particular) it sends us a lear message that something is wrong with our socialization process. And we must remember that economics is a social science and so what happens in an economy is highly dependent on the social skills and behaviour of the persons in the economy.

So while at Hellshire today I noticed a few things. These included (i) a man driving a bus load of people while smoking a ganja spliff; (ii) young men smoking ganja spliffs on the beach; (iii) young men with their shorts falling off exposing their underwear; (iv) women with children around them inappropriately dressed; and (v) the suggestive music being played with the young children subconciusly absorbing all the sexually explicit and violent lyrics.

The behaviour also reminded me of the conversations I have all the time with a fellow cyclist, Dr. Sandra Knight, about the significat number of child abuse cases perpetrated many times by the father who goes unpunished and the generational cases of child abuse in a single family. These of course continue primarily because no one is held accountable in the main.

This also reminds us of the 14 year old girl that was rcently killed and placed in a bag and admitted to by a businessman, but also found out that at 14 she was pregnant. This again brought home a stark reality that there has been no report of accountability for the parents of this 14 year old, which should have been reported in the investigations also. A facebook discussion on the matter also revealed another weakness as some women were saying that the mother should be held accountable and I had to remind them twice that both the mother and father should be held responsible, bringing home the fact that we are only too happy to absolve the fathers of the responsibility, even though I can say that today many many fathers are stepping up to the plate even more than many many mothers.

It seems to me therefore that none of the economic and fiscal challenges can be solved without first looking at the social fabric of our beloved country. It is certainly not unique to Jamaica, as even the great USA seems to have some significant deviant social behaviour, and we certainly don't need to adopt some of those types of behaviour. I am for example reminded that children can still freely express their religious beliefs and read the bible in schools in Jamaica, which was recently reported as a problem in a US school.

In other words if we are to truly make Jamaica the place of choice to live, raise families, work, and do business it is not only important that we focus on macroeconomic and quantittive targets, but even more critical that we address the societal behavioural issues, which I really hear no one speaking about. So children under the age of 16 continue to have children without the appropriate accountability in many instances, and a signifcant number of young men find themselves "digging out their palms on the street corner". I must say though that in all of this I do find some very hard working and focussed young persons, and they will do well based on their attitudes. But similarly there are many coming out of the universities with very poor work ethics and attitudes.

I think that in many instances that leadership is to be blamed for this and the most important leadership is that of parenting. This I think is the fundamental problem we face. We have taught our children to be many things but for around two generations now we have seen a significant decline in parenting skills. When I was growing up parents taught their children how to behave around other adults, use a fork and knife, respect for other children, and other social skills. This I think is the missing in our social fabric that contributes to our labour productivity issues that cause our economic challenges.

Who will bell the cat?

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