Monday, August 15, 2016

The problem with Jamaica’s hustler mentality

The last Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring report, showed that Jamaicans are one of the most entrepreneurial in the region. It, however, goes on to state that even though this is the case, most business startups happen out of necessity. In other words, most Jamaican businesses start because people are trying to fill a gap, for example because of loss of employment.

So, as a friend of mine said, most Jamaicans are “doing a business” and are not “in business”. What this basically means is that many of us are really just trying to earn money through “hustling”.

This is not only restricted to business startups, but it seems as if Jamaica has a culture of “hustling”. So the youngsters who start off selling or wiping the car glass, is doing it for a hustle. Or the politician, or public sector worker, who engages in corrupt practices thinks it is ok because they are just doing a “hustle”. Or the university student who applies for a job and when you ask them what their career goal is they say they don’t know yet but just want the job as something to do and make a money.

What is even more frightening, is the Jamaican culture, and our governance, supports the “hustler mentality”. When for example, I posted on social media that we need to get the men and boys removed from the stoplights, who are harassing drivers, the response from some persons is that they are just trying to make a living and what else will the government do for them. Those in authority also refuse to do anything about the situation, and we even have formal government programmes that promise job creation through mass employment. These are nothing more than programmes that give people a fish rather than teach them to fish. That is nothing more than an election promise of a “hustle”.

So it seems that in every sphere of Jamaican life, everything is a just a hustle. The persons who sets up a business, which he/she has no previous experience in, to benefit from his political party being in power; the student with no career path but just want “any” job that they can make some money; the boy who grows up on the street hustling every day to make a dollar; and the authorities who support the hustling by refusing to address the children on the street, or turns a blind eye to informal settlements.

Because of this hustler mentality we have created today a huge problem of a large informal economy, numerous informal settlements, and a set of persons who are unable to create any value for themselves, because they have for example grown up learning how to sell on the streets or wipe car glasses.

Effectively, the lack of action by the authorities, and the support of this “hustler” mentality has ended up creating greater poverty. This is because governance has been about giving someone a fish rather than teaching them how to fish. So we have a significant part of our people today who rely on hand outs from either government or others to survive, because we have failed to teach them how to create their own value. And the persons/businesses who are serious about creating value for all are scared away by bureaucracy or taxes that always seem to extract more out of the productive and give it to those who are less productive.

In other words, we have created more and more poverty amongst the Jamaican people.

The spin-off of that, of course, is crime, lack of law and order, and declining productivity and compensation. And as productivity and compensation decreases, political expediency means that we need to promise more handouts, which lead to greater poverty, as the only way the government can get more to give is through loans (which the IMF agreement has restricted) and/or taxing the productive more, which results in the productive becoming unproductive, thereby leading to even more stringent tax measures in the current IMF environment.

The problem we face now is that because of the IMF measurements, government must ensure fiscal discipline. But doing so means also that less money is available for handouts to those who have been taught to “beg” for a fish rather than learn how to fish. The dilemma is that increasing taxes will reduce investments, so the only practical option now is for the compensation levels to match productivity levels. The result being that “real incomes” will decline, as generally we have been seeing declining labour productivity since the 1970s.

And not much can be done to address that situation also, as any attempts for government or the private sector to address the productivity issues are met with stern resistance from our labour laws, which don’t care much for productivity. We can’t do much to improve productivity by improved processes and execution also, because the inefficient government bureaucracy, which includes the procurement rules, ensure that any implementation of private sector investments or greater public sector efficiency is held to ransom.

Examples include the building approval process or I know of investments (hundreds of US$ millions) waiting to happen but because of public sector bureaucracy we delay thousands of jobs, and GDP growth. Even when we talk about people losing their lives on the roads there is no urgency as the new Road Traffic Act may more than likely not be passed until 2017. And when you speak about trying to prevent road carnage by bringing discipline and accountability to the private taxis and buses, you hear that you are trying to stop their “hustling”.

One of the major challenges we face today is that Jamaicans are so dependent on “hustling” to make a money, that any attempt to bring order to the society is going to be faced with strong opposition and can result in hardship for many Jamaicans. This has not been by accident, however, as the government policies over the years have ensured that we find ourselves in this position today.

This is going to be one of the most difficult things to change in Jamaica, but unless we start to reverse it then we will sink further. The economy will grow of course, but the problem is that participation in that growth will be minimal, and the majority of persons can end up being left out.