Friday, February 27, 2015

Indiscipline and lawlessness promote social inequality


LAST week I spoke about the lack of proper parenting skills being Jamaica's fundamental problem -- and the root cause of almost every challenge we face.

The reality, however, is that much of this parenting crisis comes from a lack of discipline and order in the society, in many instances promoted by people who should know better. In other words, many of our leaders, especially policymakers, are aware of the unethical and sometimes illegal social issues we face, but do little to address them. And so in many ways, ignoring these issues means that we are complicit in the consequences.

Just last week, Gary "Butch" Hendrickson commented on something I had really not reflected on before. Butch indicated that the violation of the Noise Abatement Act was actually one of the primary causes of social inequality.

At first I didn't understand what he meant, but he went on to explain that when a child in a depressed community has to deal with music being played at loud decibels way into wee hours, that child loses a good night's sleep and is not properly prepared for school the next day. In addition, the child has to get up early and hustle on public transportation to go to school, often without the benefit of a proper breakfast.

Contrast this to a child from a middle- or upper-income family, who may live away from night noises, or whose family can insulate him from them so he can get a good night's rest and wake up refreshed and ready to learn. In addition, that child can sleep longer because he will be driven to school and will also receive proper nourishment before leaving home.

In both cases, each child is born with the same physical and mental capacity, but because of different circumstances there will more than likely be different results. The child from the inner city may rise up against the odds, but will have to do so under more challenging conditions.

It is also important to point out that apart from lack of sleep and proper nutrition, the child from the lower-income family also faces the challenge of a daily assault on our less-than- adequate and often abusive transportation system. Not only must this child wake up one or two hours earlier, but must also fight with the disorganised system, and be pushed around and sometimes shouted at by transport operators who want to maximise their earnings in the midst of the indiscipline on our roads. We can also talk about the physical danger they face with the poor driving practices of many transport operators.

This lack of order also extends to our crime problem, as the child from the inner city is confronted more directly with many of the crimes being committed and interfaces directly with the outcome of crimes -- even if not committed against him. Again, the child from the middle or upper class is insulated from many of these crimes.

Many children today face issues of abuse -- physical (including sexual) and mental. This occurs at all levels of society, creating social inequality by giving the abused child a greater reason to fail in life.

This is one of my pet peeves, as for the life of me I cannot understand why the child authorities and court system find it so difficult to come to grips with child abuse. This should be the priority of the justice system as our failure to adequately address child abuse just creates more criminal deviants in the future. Nor can I understand our failure to hold accountable those parents who take to the streets to sell or beg with their young children at their side. This is in plain sight, but nothing is done about it.

I have personally reported (around twice) a woman I see on Sundays at a gas station seated with two or three young children begging for money and food. One of the children (a young lady) seems to have grown up and is now begging as well. Still nothing is done about it

So after reflecting on what Butch said, it came home to me. In just that one comment he said a whole lot about why many families face generational poverty and failure, and why there is a divide between income classes as it relates to probability for success.

In other words, our failure to impose discipline and structure on our society has promoted the persistence of social inequality, which in turn is at the heart of our labour productivity and ultimate economic issues. No passing of any IMF test or even a proper growth agenda can solve this problem sustainably.

If we are to solve this, we must first consider it a national crisis and it must be dealt with as such by the authorities.

Just as we have a major focus on murders, we must give the same attention to indiscipline and lawlessness. For example, the stop lights in Kingston are now are like Coronation Market with window wipers, vendors, peddlers, pedestrians crossing at will, and people just seeming to be hanging out. This seems like a low-hanging fruit. If the stop lights are cleaned up, that would be such a big boost to the perception of order -- instead of ignoring it and creating an industry that we soon say we can't get rid of because it is creating a livelihood for persons.

We must also get serious about imposing the Noise Abatement Act, and understand the social inequality and injustice we promote when we allow people to disturb others with noise (not just music) any time of the day. We must also get serious about prosecuting child abuse cases, and also issue harsh penalties to adults (and parents especially) who know about child abuse and do nothing about it.

We must also support the JUTC in its effort to clean up the transport system and not allow preaching, eating, playing music, or any other disturbance to passengers. Personally, I would like to see a proper school bus system. And we must deal with undisciplined drivers and other users of the roads -- such as pedestrians who ignore traffic signs, cyclists who ride on the wrong side of the road, or people who illegally park on Knutsford Boulevard (sometimes while in the car) in plain view of police.

This is not about passing new legislation, as that is already in place. It is about the will to enforce it and to realise that our culture of giving a man a "bligh" does nothing more than create indiscipline and lawlessness, which affects negatively the same man we don't want to "fight against". It is only when we start to do this that we can provide equal opportunities to all for true social and economic development. Each of us has some responsibility.

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?