IMF: Real or imagined enemy?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

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IN his most recent book, Inventing the Enemy, Mr Umberto Eco, Italian savant and prolific author, poses the question - does a society or country need to have an enemy?

By his own reckoning: "Having an enemy is important to not only define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth...So when there is no enemy, we have to invent one."

For our part, Jamaica's early history of slavery and colonialism — Spanish and English — was a situation in which there were clearly savage divisions in the society and the majority of the population recognised a tangible enemy in the slave-owner and the colonial power ruling the country. There was an enemy and no need to invent one. Rebelling against the colonial enemy helped to unify a class-divided society, gave a mission to the political process, helped to ignite nationalism, and contributed to the formation of what is Jamaican, although the elite remained anglophile for a long time after political independence.

The self definition of who we are as a nation or people is made easier by who we are not and who we are against. The enemy of necessity must be defined to have all the qualities we despise and those we are not. Naturally, we hated the Nazi as the antithesis of freedom which, as former slaves, we valued above all else. Sir Alexander Bustamante's "We are with the West" statement was as simplistically tactical as it was imbibing the anti-Communism of the period. Communists were against Christianity, individual freedom and private property.

The enemy in Jamaica was always been blamed for the failures of the country as manifested in growing and persistent poverty. So by the 1970s, along with much of the Third World, the cause of all our problems was the global system of capitalism. This was a perspective which was a key tenet of the People's National Party (PNP) world view. World capitalism was the cause of economic dependency, imperialist exploitation of our bauxite and the impoverishment of the working class. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) of the 1980s reinvented an old enemy, citing socialism -- local and Cuban — as one and the same and the real enemy.

Who the enemy is and who is responsible for our impoverishment and falling behind the rest of the developing countries has always been external. One of these perennial enemies has been the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This perceived enemy unifies the country and was one of the few things that even Messrs Michael Manley and Edward Seaga agreed on. The PNP and JLP have in common blaming the IMF for fiscal compression, cutting social programmes and emasculating our economic sovereignty.

Is the IMF the real problem or just an imagined enemy useful for avoiding an honest and critical examination of our own failings? Our economic situation over successive PNP and JLP administrations is in large measure the result of self-inflicted wounds as direct consequences of mismanagement and inept policies.

The real enemy of economic progress is not external, it is internal and until we as a country face that fact we will not begin the process of economic recovery. Let us stop inventing enemies including the IMF and as is written in Matthew 7:5 of the King James version of the Bible: "First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly."




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