We must rise above pettiness

Dr Raulston Nembhard

Saturday, September 01, 2012    

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One of the obvious constraints of writing an opinion column is space. Readers from time to time require a more elaborate discussion of points made in a piece but this is not often possible, given the constraint aforementioned and the ever present "threat" of the editor's scalpel. Even where there may be some editorial generosity, the editor himself is under other constraints such as other articles to be published and certainly advertising space. You do not have the leverage to write a dissertation or an essay, and so are not able to undertake the fulsome research or discussion that an article may demand.

I raise this matter against the background of my last piece ("Dr Phillips: Truth and boldness necessary for economic revival") and some interesting questions raised by readers regarding aspects of it. One reader was particularly concerned about my critique of Democratic Socialism and its contribution to what I described as the decimation of the Jamaican economy under the PNP. No one has to take my word for it. The interested reader only has to comb through the archives of the Planning Institute of Jamaica to get relevant statistics on what happened to the economy in the period of the 1970s, the decades of the 1980s and 1990s and more than six years in the 2000s under PNP rule. Grandiose socialist rhetoric trumped cogent economic analysis. The truth is that no real wealth was created in the economy, and as such the economy registered years of negative growth, a situation to which we seem destined to return in this new PNP dispensation.

There are those who are inclined to see extraneous forces such as the CIA as being responsible for the destabilisation of the economy towards the end of PNP rule in 1980, but to my knowledge no empirical evidence has been adduced to support this claim. I would grant that in the run-up to the elections, it was clear that America had more than a passing interest in seeing the back of the Manley regime. But to my knowledge there is no conclusive evidence that they engineered a destabilisation of the economy. Anecdotal references all by themselves do not prove this.

The JLP should derive very little comfort from this. While the economy picked up under Eddie Seaga and started to record growth in the 1980s, the people felt alienated from the process. They were not made to feel that they were real stakeholders in building the economy. Seaga concentrated economic power in the hands of a few and when the austerity measures he had to impose began to bite, he was seen as a villain. Many were surprised that, with the economy growing, voters would have put the JLP out to pasture in 1989. Yet this is exactly what happened, the arrogance of the ruling party being blamed for the loss at the polls. Fast-forward to December 29, 2011, and the same norm prevailed: a growing economy albeit anaemic in the context of a global recessionary environment, but a lack of consultation with the people in making them feel that they mattered. The claim of arrogance again punctuated the air. It takes more than an appreciation of the intricacies of economic management to grow a country out of poverty. What Manley lacked in economic competence he amply made up for in his genuine love for the poor and the visceral compassion that he was able to exude to them. What the JLP lack in social competence and the ability to help people to know that they feel their pain, they make up for in technical, economic competence. The challenge is therefore clear to both parties: take the people into your confidence; be open and transparent to them, for it is their business that you have been given temporary responsibility to transact.

Emphasis is on "temporary", for the people have grown weary of empty promises and are likely to throw out a government that fails to perform, even after a first term. We have seen this with the JLP, and the PNP should not rest on its laurels that this will not happen to them four years hence. The people are crying out for good, transparent and open governance, not the kind of secrecy that tends to surround the way our politicians would want to conduct our business. Most important, the cry is for respect, for each person to be made to feel that he or she is an indispensable component in the drive to build a transformative society.

The contributors to the SALISES conference which Dr Phillips addressed were long on rhetoric but short on specific, implementable solutions that could start us even creakily on the road to building a just and sustainable society. The time for us to do this is not our friend in this regard. Vilifying so-called harbingers of doom because they do not share your particular viewpoint is not the answer. We must rise above pettiness and realise that each one of us is just one link, albeit an important link, in a vast chain of human enterprise, innovation and thrift.

Dr Raulston Nembhard





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