Friday, September 16, 2016

Government policy’s role in development

Two Saturdays ago, as I drove through Spanish Town, I thought to myself that the disorder I was seeing was nothing but the result of how we have governed ourselves over the years.

Obvious illegal vending was intertwined with cars trying to make it through the intersection before the other car ahead of them; pedestrians were competing for road space with the cars and walked across the road as they pleased. In addition, garbage from some of the vendors littered the streets, and the narrow space between the front of some buildings and the street was just not wide enough to absorb the flow of pedestrians going through the town.

In other words, it was pure chaos.

I then thought to myself, if this is the type of environment that we leave persons to exist in, then what sort of behaviour do we expect from them? I went even further into thought, and reflected on the fact that many of these people grew up in these very same conditions, and in some communities violence was either at the door- step or had entered the house.

Just around that time the entire Jamaica was saddened by the drive-by killing of a two-year-old, only to be followed days later by the killing of a six-month-old. My mind reflected on my own children and I wondered what, possibly, could those two children have done to meet such a horrific death at that age. More telling was what could have happened to those adults who killed those children, to have changed them from innocent youngsters into barbarians.

My mind then went further to think about what causes non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes, etc, and the fact that these NCDs are caused by the environment we create for ourselves. So if, for example, we consume a diet high in processed foods, with no exercise, then there is an increased probability of getting diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
So isn’t human behaviour and, by extension, economic and social development, not also a result of the environment we create? In other words, the innocent child that grows up in an environment of chaos, loud music, lack of proper garbage disposal, violence, and surrounded by music that speaks to the disrespect of women and the promotion of gun violence; isn’t he going to grow up to practise what he knows?

If he grows up understanding violence as the best tool of negotiation, because he might have seen his father or brother being killed by a gunman or the police; or if he grows up with his parents (who at that age he thinks know best) placing a greater emphasis on the latest dancehall fashion over his school fee, or even allows him at his young age to go to the dance or drink alcohol; or if he grows up thinking that the open lot across the road is for dumping garbage, do we expect that he will grow up to be a very productive citizen that will contribute in any significant way to GDP growth?

And if we create an environment where this young man represents a significant number of people in the country, then what do we expect will be the effect on GDP growth, indiscipline and crime?

Would the result be declining labour productivity since 1972, GDP growth averaging 0.8 per cent for the last 40 years, and/or lack of order and high crime rates?

The problem with that young man, of course, is lack of proper parental guidance, as parents have the primary responsibility to provide a proper learning environment for their children. But those parents may also have grown up under the same circumstances, and so are really just victims like their son.

So shouldn’t it ultimately be the responsibility of Government to keep the rules and order in place to ensure that parents and private citizens practise certain behaviours to foster long-term development?

What then happens when the Government, from in the 1970s, starts to tell people that “don’t you worry about a thing” because Government will ensure that your child’s school fee is paid and you never have to pay another cent for hospital fees, even though the country is broke and can’t afford it?

Or what happens when politicians, because they see votes, encourage squatter settlements and do not come down on persons who steal electricity? Instead the people vent their anger on companies like JPS who can’t even collect the money for street lights from Government.

What happens when politicians support music blaring at all hours of night into the morning, depriving working people of sleep, and express surprise when labour productivity is low? Or when we expect that crime will be solved by the police but don’t give them the resources to fight crime, or they are faced with a justice system that places a stop on the speedy resolution of trials?
What do we expect when our fiscal policy over decades is to borrow money, or tax productivity to transfer the wealth to lower productivity areas, and when it doesn’t work we borrow and tax more, expecting a different result, or we create a culture where success is seen as the big man oppressing the poor man, because we love the poor?

As a result, we see GDP growth averaging 0.8 per cent over 40 years, labour productivity declining from 1972, and general indiscipline and crime.

The problem we have is that Government policy over the years has been the catalyst that has created impoverishment of the people and the country. It is not one set of people who have caused hardship on the other. We got political Independence in 1962 and can no longer blame our colonial masters. In other words, where we are today is a direct result of policy creating an inhibiting environment. We reap what we sow, or what policies we put in place.