Sustainable poverty, entrepreneurs, land and possessions

Franklin Johnston

Friday, June 15, 2012    

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Poverty should be a crime against humanity and some of our leaders should be punished. Still, our future is not in looking back so we press on and pray Cabinet will grasp the nettle. Peter must make his intentions clear as we need to see the shape of a new Jamaica. We need a dream. We never have, but all nations can prosper. They may not have arable lands or mineral resources but they have people. Educate us and we do the rest. Portia must take some risks. Our true crisis is not debt but sustainable poverty. It is killing our spirit. We have equilibrium poverty. A negative point around which our nation hovers. Our attitude, lifestyle and aspiration are moulded by the deficits and we hurt. Success is built by people who are impatient with pain, complacency never led a revolution. Some time ago, I heard a little boy on TV say of his bad conduct, "Is because we poor." This was a dagger to my heart. Do something, Miss P, our very culture is being reshaped by poverty. Will USA chicken back be more cultural than Canada's salt fish? Local crocodile steak, anyone? Nuff said!

Entrepreneurship is the buzzword, but culture is the key to peoples' inventiveness, and climate is a factor. Climate determined homes, clothes, work, recreation, mindset. Sun-belt people have not matched the innovation of snow-belt guys. Our best entrepreneurs are from snow-belt cultures or have mixed heritage. In the motherland, as here, we were blessed with climate and our survival was easy. Even now people visit from the snow belt to "laze" in our sun, sea and sand and we go to the snow belt to work. We had succulent fruits, we foraged daily and needed no surpluses - nature's food every day. Today we are needy, but to store food it is not our culture. Rich nations are those whose people faced extreme forces of nature to survive. Why? Snow and ice made them plan - shelter; grow, process and store food to last the eight months of winter. We never needed this. This is not our culture.

For snow-belt people, survival depend on stored food. The Lord and his troops protected the clan. Who grew their food? Enemies are tenacious, snow is implacable so they pay, coerce or enslave others; in the four months they grow food or they die. Industrial slavery and invention started with men who needed surplus to survive. The sun belt was and is low productivity. We work a few days, make enough, disappear, then turn up to work again next Monday. This is our culture. In four months snow-belt people grow grain, meat, milk and have surplus. In 12 months we can't grow enough to feed ourselves. Racial theories of work and enterprise are flawed as migrants from the sun belt develop work ethic and work rate equal to snow birds. We hold our own in the diaspora, but why won't we work to prosper Jamaica? Our lot is sustainable poverty. Endemic intergenerational poverty, in equilibrium, stasis, inert, and accommodate to the sub-standard. Miss P, we must "break up this folly ground" and we can do it. We need revolution. We have the brains, but does Cabinet have the will?

Those who compare us to Greece are wrong. Greece has nothing in common with us but a number - 150 per cent debt to GDP. They lived well up to 2008 and still have top-class welfare. We had or have none of this! They revolt as they have a lot to lose; we have nothing to lose. We are downpressed by poverty brought on us by politicians. We are "upside down". Imagine, the rich who lost big money are vocal, angry and the poor are submissive. Failed bankers and "Finsac-type" capitalists who lost a pile are revolutionaries. Good for them. Could this happen in Europe? Never! London burning and the poor are gelded! Greece was rich, now they suffer, but are not poor. We were poor, are poor and may continue so. Unless we act!

Snow-belt people create surplus, take holidays, have time to innovate for work and fun; invented cerebral in-door games; chamber music, modulated instruments play inside cold walls. What about sun-belt people? We were different. Climate impacts culture big time!

Africa's slavery was domestic because there was no climactic or land use imperative for industrial slavery. People foraged, had transient crops; when soil was spent, they did not innovate, they moved to new land. Snow-belt people could not move the cave which was home, so it was for life - solid walls, roof, place for fire inside. They had to innovate.

Land and possessions are a problem. Pressure to acquire is a symptom of poverty. Poverty grows as we create no surplus. (In rich nations people want use not ownership, as this has liabilities; they lease - TV, car, etc.) Once the Empire left we needed surplus. Debt or surplus can help us. For 50 years we chose debt rather than work to pay our way by our own surplus. Poor people value possessions because of insecurity, not poverty per se. The poor in the UK, given housing by the socialist state, were shocked at "jus cum" Jamaicans buying houses. Our buying a house was insecurity not entrepreneurship. Our people have adjusted - no more insecurity, so few buy now. We still buy here to assuage insecurity. Land has little value to snow-belt poor; it can only be used four months and you pay tax. Land to sun-belt people is prestige, not production. The diaspora and many ghetto people have idle land in the country. Mindless land distribution is flawed policy. Jamaica's future is not in land fragmentation, but consolidation for production in coops or otherwise. Land is finite and by 2350 all land may be private, in postage stamp sizes, producing nothing. Our land policy is not in our children's best interest. Good politics, bad economics. God help us!

People are not disempowered because they don't have land; they want land because they are disempowered. If we prosper, our house and land pressures will disappear. Politicians confuse cause and effect, disease and symptom. They impoverished us, made us insecure and now give away our patrimony to quell it. Our mixed culture citizens and FDI create and drive growth. Let's support them, entice more local money into production, our workforce to public projects, and break sustainable poverty. In snow-belt culture none expects me to open my family stores in winter to feed their family when he did not produce all summer. Cabinet needs a vision for culture change using education, regulation and fiscal policy. Miss P, we have the brains to do it. The Chinese built assets using massive labour projects. We need to put people to work on major agriculture and infrastructure and we will see and our children will be proud of our work. Make the hard decision, Miss P. Stay conscious, my friend!

Trinidad's oil wealth is evident in the massive, gleaming NAPA Arts centre - iconic. Where is the legacy structure of our bauxite and alumina industry? What do we have to show? What museums? Stadia? Grandpa, they say we had alumina, is it true? My child, we blew it all!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education.





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