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Tell the PNP: Old ways bring back old problems!

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, October 20, 2019

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One does not get angry with one's head and therefore use one's cap to cover one's buttocks. — Yoruba proverb, Nigeria

While addressing the recent West Jamaica Conference of Seventh-Day Adventist Churches' Western Leadership Conference in Montego Bay, St James, Dr Peter Phillips, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and president of the People's National Party (PNP) said, among other things: “The cultural experience of the plantation system is alive in Jamaica even though nearly two centuries have elapsed since the abolition of slavery and almost 60 years after the nation gaining political independence.” Phillips was only partially right! He spoke of a malady seen by most of us. Those who don't, in all likelihood, are intellectual and/or historical ostriches.

I part company with Phillips on two levels, though, firstly, in his prescription to remedy the problem. Dr Phillips and the PNP want a return to the mass redistribution of resources, minus equal evidence of plans for increased production. Secondly, he is conveniently ignorant of the role of bad government policies. Why?

Dr Phillips needs to understand that the outdated policies of what we commonly refer to as the 'left' in politics will not advance inclusive growth. We tried them in the 70s. They failed miserably.

In 1972 former Prime Minister Michael Manley promised that democratic socialism would deliver a better Jamaica for all Jamaicans. Sounds familiar? That is what Dr Phillips is promising if the PNP were to take back Jamaica House.

These statistics on growth from the Planning Institute of Jamaica speak to how Manley turned Jamaica into an economic dust bowl: 1970 (11.9 per cent); 1971 (3.0 per cent); 1972 (9.1 per cent); 1973 (1.3 per cent); 1974 (-3.9 per cent); 1975 (-0.3 per cent); 1976 (-6.5 per cent); 1977 (-2.4 per cent); 1978 (0.6 per cent); 1979 (-1.8 per cent); 1980 (-5.7 per cent).

While oil crises in the 1970s and a downturn in bauxite sales were important negatives to Jamaica's balance of payment problems, the weight of the redistribution policies was the death knell to our economic growth.

The Manley Administration was obsessed with the redistribution of income, not its creation. His social policies and programmes, though well-intentioned, were not cost-effective and/or sustainable without a thriving economy.

Those who did not agree with Manley and his attempts to take control of 'the commanding heights of the economy' were instructed to take one of the five flights a day to Miami, Florida, in the USA. Over 20,000 professionals left Jamaica.

Between 1974 and 1979, Jamaica experienced negative growth in gross domestic product (GDP). Our economy came to a screeching halt during the Manley years.

Former Prime Minister P J Patterson, our longest-serving, pursued similarly disastrous policies as did Manley in the 70s. The PNP's 18 1/2 years in power between 1989 and 2007 left Jamaicans poorer. We are still recovering from that extremely traumatic period.

These statistics speak volumes: 1989 (7.0 per cent); 1990 (6.3 per cent); 1991 (0.5 per cent); 1992 (2.7 per cent); 1993 (2.2 per cent); 1994 (1.9 per cent); 1995 (2.5 per cent); 1996 (-0.2 per cent); 1997 (-1.6 per cent); 1998 (-1.0 per cent); 1999 (1.0 per cent); 2000 (0.9 per cent); 2001 (1.3 per cent); 2002 (1.0 per cent); 2003 (3.5 per cent); 2004 (1.4 per cent); 2005 (1.1 per cent); 2006 (3.0 per cent); 2007 (1.4 per cent). [NB: The years 1972 and 1990 were momentum years of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administrations of former prime ministers Hugh Lawson Shearer and Edward Seaga.]

Our black entrepreneurial class was almost disseminated in the 90s by the suicidal high interest rate policies of the Patterson Administration and Dr Omar Davies, who I believe remains our worst finance minister to date.

Figures by the Planning Institute of Jamaica show that in 1971 the Jamaican economy grew by almost 12 per cent in that one single year; this is equivalent to the cumulative growth under former Finance Minister Dr Omar Davies' entire 14 years as minister of finance between 1993 and 2007.

All these companies — and this is an abbreviated list — capsized while the PNP held office in the 90s: Mutual Life, a company that operated locally for over 100 years; Goodyear tyre company; West Indies Glass; Homelectrix; Workers' Bank; Raymar's Furniture; Charley's Windsor House; Thermo Plastics; Berec Batteries; Century National Bank; Crown Eagle Insurance; Crown Eagle Insurance Commercial Bank; Island Life Insurance Company; American Life Insurance Company; Eagle Merchant Bank; Ecotrends; Times Store, another company that operated in Jamaica for just over 100 years; and Things Jamaican, which had its location turned into a detention centre by the PNP.

Add to those another 45,000 small and medium-sized businesses that went under during the 1990s.

The PNP and economic growth, worse inclusive growth, are mutually incompatible. Every time the PNP forms the administration the economy screams in great pain.

Their most recent turn at bat was characterised by four long years of inhumane austerity, phenomenal ineptitude, rampant corruption, and mounting crime and violence.

Only in the 1960s and the mid-1980s did our economy register noteworthy growth. During those two periods we had, on average, six per cent growth. But, even then, the growth was not inclusive.

Unsurprisingly, there was tremendous social dissonance and dislocation in the 60s, which resulted in massive strikes and social fallout reminiscent of the period between 1978 and 1980.

The later part of the 1980s — and this is when economic growth averaged six per cent — was similarly characterised by dispossession and social fallouts among the majority. There are huge lessons here.

I believe Jamaica has squandered some of her best opportunities to occupy the position of the consummate leader of inclusive economic growth in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The Economist, on July 21, 2012, raises a similar observation, and adumbrates the following: “The Jamaican economy should by right be booming. The island is just a 90-minute flight away from the United States, the world's biggest market, with which it shares a language. It is on the shipping route to the Panama Canal, and has a spacious natural harbour in Kingston. It is politically stable, without the ethnic tensions that have riven other Caribbean nations.”

Forbes magazine once commented, among other things: “Jamaica's economy grew, on average, less than one per cent a year for the last three decades and many impediments remain to growth: a bloated public sector which crowds out spending on important projects; high crime and corruption; red tape; and a high debt-to-GDP ratio.” ( https://www.forbes.com/places/jamaica/)

Dr Phillips's comments at the West Jamaica Conference of Seventh-Day Adventist Churches' Western Leadership Conference in Montego Bay, St James, with regard the millstone effects of our history of colonialism and slavery, were perspicuous and timely. But Phillips neglected to mention that our long-standing social, economic and political problems are also rooted as much in our history; as they are rooted in deleterious politics and policies.

The PNP has managed the affairs of this country for 23 of the last 30 years, so it is easy to understand his deliberate omission. Former Prime Minister P J Patterson got it right when he described our politics as “a fight for scarce benefits and spoils carried on by hostile tribes that seem to be perpetually at war”. So, yes, I agree the cruel legacies of colonialism and slavery are hurting us, but since our political independence our politicians — the PNP much more so than the JLP — have mismanaged our resources, as well as stunted and stifled our true potentials as a people.

Again, The Economist of July 21, 2012 stated among other things: “Jamaica has reasons for its plodding growth of late. Tourism, which employs one in 10 islanders, has dipped with the world economy. And the market for bauxite and alumina, its main export goods, has been rockier than for other commodities.

“However, the country's economy was stagnant long before the credit crunch. In real terms, Jamaicans are no richer today than they were in the early 1970s. And most of the island's enduring problems, like its public finances, are home-made.”

If we are to grow our economy really fast as former United States President Barack Obama admonished when he visited here in April 2015, we need to understand that, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein.

New ambition

Jamaica has the potential to be the leader of the Caribbean and Latin America in almost every category of development.

The late legendary journalist Wilmot Perkins pointed out, “successive governments have never understood, the huge and untapped potentials of the Jamaican people and, therefore, do not know how to release it.” This is a major hindrance.

How might we begin to release this reservoir of untapped potentials?

I suggest we need a new ambition of the State. Instead of redistribution, we need to focus on regeneration.

On February 27, 2016, I wrote in this newspaper that the incoming JLP Administration should set up a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Rural Development. I have not changed from that view.

In many rural towns and districts a formal connecting bus service has not existed for near 30 years. With factors such as these being the reality of many there are direct implications for internal migration to urban centres, where existing infrastructure is already under significant pressure.

A national development plan for rural Jamaica that has specific timelines for implementation and matching resources are needed urgently. I believe such a plan should focus on these and other areas:

* dedicated incentives for the setting up of businesses in rural districts and towns;

* improvements in housing stocks;

* social isolation-mitigation strategies;

* increased training opportunities for folks working in agriculture and other industries; and

* high-speed broadband and cellular services.

These are things that we must do. I think we can.

Regeneration of rural agriculture, with modern technological inputs, for example, is critical to our food security.

Yes, yes, I know about vertical farming and such. I believe, however, that we need to first build on those abilities for which we already have the natural proclivities and basic infrastructural environment. Then, make a significant success of those and then quickly graduate onwards.

Last year, I recommended in this space that we should be planting fruit trees and that a very large public orchard should be planted in each parish. I hope that is part of the three million tree project. The planting of ornamental trees will provide great shade and will help us tackle climate change, but people need food to eat also. Why not kill two birds with one stone, as we say in local parlance.

The jury is in: Trickle-down economics, also called trickle-down theory, does not work. Status quo strategies of economics have been a miserable failure globally. Credible scholarship is replete with evidence of that fact.

The so-called 'invisible hand of the market', left to certain interests, will forever clap in one direction.

Market economics is not going to enable us to achieve inclusive growth. Antiquated methods of redistributive (the social democratic models), leftist politics, which is the prescription of Dr Phillips and the PNP will not achieve that objective either.

As I have pointed out in a previous article you cannot redistribute that which you have not produced. This common sense.

Far too many Jamaicans believe they do not have a stake in this country. This is not a unique phenomenon. For example, when Lew Kuan Yew started to re-fashion Singapore in the very early 1960s he and his team recognised that the absence of stakehood (my coinage) was one of their major challenges. They launched several prgrammes to foster social mobility and opportunities for all Singaporeans, primarily through rapid improvements in education, innovations and creating an environment, which became a magnet for investments from foreign conglomerates. I have written about the impact of education, innovations and external investments on Singapore's meteoric growth in previous articles.

Lee Kuan Yew recognised that in order to regenerate physical spaces individuals had to experience regeneration also. That is where provisions for housing factored critically in the social mobility equation.

Singapore has a system of capital endowment, not rental subsidies. Some have been lobbying hard for the latter to be implemented in Jamaica. Why, I wonder? Simply, once citizens meet certain criteria they are given a substantial grant to buy their own home.

Recent data show that close to 700,000 Jamaicans are living essentially as squatters. The vast majority of Jamaicans want to own their “own piece of ground”; here I am borrowing words from Miriam Makeba, South African singer, and anti-apartheid activist. We need to remodel the National Housing Trust to make this seismic change possible. The Singaporeans did it. I believe we can also.

Folks often ask why are so many Jamaicans prepared to obey the laws in America, etc, and work two and three jobs, I think it largely comes down to the absence of stakehood and related sustainable opportunities.

A State with a new ambition must tackle and overcome this problem. Time is not aplenty.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.


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