Growth mission: 'Puddin' cyaan bake without fire'
Prime Minister Andrew Holness addressing Parliament for the 2023/24 Debate. (Photo: Karl Mclarty)

Some among us, for reasons that should be obvious even to the slightly discerning, are busy spreading a false narrative that economic growth is an abstract matter, the preserve of individuals like economists and the so-called 'big man'. This kind of oratory betrays our national interests and should be democratically repudiated at every opportunity.

Two weeks ago the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) reported gross domestic product (GDP) of 3.8 per cent for the quarter ended December 2022, as compared with the same quarter of the previous year. This bit of good news — good for all Jamaicans — was official confirmation that we had achieved pre-COVID-19 levels of economic output in 2022.

So soon as this positive information was released, some who are heavily invested in the spread of ignorance and/or, worse, to suit their narrow interests, took to social media to bellow that it was of no moment and/or consequence to the 'small man'.

The recent and frequent use of this 'strategy' is a default position of those who do not get it that one of their Achilles heels is a feeble track record with respect to the management of Jamaica's economy.

Economic growth matters

Here are some consequential facts which affect the lives and livelihoods of all Jamaicans irrespective of religion, political affiliation, economic standing, and/or social category.

The local saying, "Puddin' cyaan bake without fire," is applicable here. It means one cannot achieve desirable/particular results without first satisfying specific preconditions.

The fact is, without economic growth there are fewer tax receipts. There are poorer public services and lower and/or stunted remuneration for, especially, public sector workers, plus higher, much higher taxes for everyone — whether gainfully employed or not.

Lack of economic growth means greater hardships and reduction in the standards of living for everyone.

"But, Higgins, come now, when there is no economic growth the 'big man' does not feel it," some will shout. This is not true. Sure, lack of economic growth does bite into the lives and livelihoods of the 'big man' in far less obvious ways than those who are less economically secured, and especially the most vulnerable among us. But consider this: It is not in the interest of the sensible 'big man' to see Jamaica turned into an economic wasteland. On the contrary, it is in the interest of all, whether they live uptown, round town, or downtown, for there to be increased economic growth, since this more often than not translates into folks having more disposable income.

Without economic growth all Jamaicans are poorer, weaker, and less respected. I previously pointed out in this space that we are only just beginning to shed the ignominious label of 'Poor Man of the Caribbean'.

There was a time when Jamaicans, Guyanese, and Haitians were routinely targeted at regional airports for 'special attention'. Today, Guyanese and Jamaicans face fewer hassles at regional ports of entry. Some will doubtless say this is because of improvements in regional relations. This is true. It is also true that improved and improving economic conditions in Jamaica and Guyana are genuine reasons for sunnier receptions at hitherto gloomy regional ports.

I have visited several Caribbean neighbours. I know what I am talking about. I also know people who travel in this region frequently. They tell me that torrid experiences of the past are far less common now.

Those who spew claptrap that economic growth is of little value to the 'small man' are involved in a deliberate game of deception. Economic growth doesn't just count for something; it counts for "a whole heap", as we say in local parlance.

Ponder this, Jamaica's net international reserves (NIR) climbed to a historic high of US$4.15 billion at the end of last month, this after increasing by US$221 million in March and by US$66 million in February. The previously highest monthly close was in December 2021, when the NIR was US$4 billion.

The historic increases in the NIR are, in the main, due to a revival of our tourism sector, a considerable surge in remittances, and the reopening of the Jamalco Alumina operations in Clarendon.

This is great news for the 'small man' and 'big man' alike. Why? In a nutshell we have the money to pay for more than 22 weeks of imports. This is an international benchmark for a healthy NIR. Without economic growth our NIR would not be growing. A healthy NIR helps us to service our debt and meet other obligations in a timely manner. This increases respect for Jamaica globally. All of us benefit from this positive.

Di bad ole days

There was a time in this country when we had to literally borrow from the proverbial Peter to pay Paul.

There was a time when the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) reserves were so meagre some suppliers would wait far out at sea and demand that we show them the money before they offloaded their cargo.

There was a time when capital flight was 'common assault', as we say in the streets, unemployment rocketed as if powered by jet fuel, GDP plummeted, and inflation took off like a runaway train. I am talking about the 1970s and the 90s.

No, well-thinking Jamaican wants a return of those bad ole days. Some among us, for reasons that are quite obvious to those who are not hostages of wilful blindness, hanker for us to choose paths that are certain to lead to a repeat of near catastrophic failures. We must resist them with every sinew.

I have lived in this country all my life but for times when I have travelled for various reasons. I know there are some among us who want us to choose the absolute worst of available options providing that their narrow objectives are realised. There are, indeed, some of us who would not shed a tear if Jamaica were turned into rubble, providing that they are kings of the ruins.

We best walk wide of those who have made Faustian bargains. Among other things, I believe such pacts, deaden one's conscience, cause one to adopt the insidious position that any mean justifies any end, and excludes truth as the raison d'etre of daily actions. When truth is removed as a central guard rail of human action, the lust for absolute power replaces it. We have seen the supremely deleterious effects of that kind of decline and degradation locally and internationally, in recent times — think Donald J Trump, the former president of the United States — for example.

But there is something else, the bad ole days were dominated by a particularly pernicious and self-serving ideology of people who sported a veneer of brotherly love but neglected fostering an economy to pay for that action. Love is a verb.

We would do well not to fall for their bait and switch, again.

An economy in the gutter does not help anybody. As former Prime Minister Edward Seaga famously said "It takes cash to care."

Economic growth is key

In his recent budget debate presentation Prime Minister Andrew Holness discussed several major infrastructure projects that were at an advanced stage of completion, and many soon to start.

Those who are trying to 'samfie' folks that there is little and/or no connection between economic growth and the life of the 'small man' need to explain whether the small man is a beneficiary of 'no new taxes' for six straight budget cycles.

Over the last seven years Jamaica has not had runaway inflation that was commonplace in the 70s and 90s. Over the last 10 years Jamaica has tamed precipitous devaluation which wreaked havoc in the 90s.

It is because of growth in the economy why the Holness Administration was able to build several modern police stations and is able refurbish dozens of others.

Without economic growth the billions poured into the upgrading of our national security apparatus over the last five years, for example, would not have been possible.

Consider this: 'All major crimes down for the first quarter of 2023'

Two Tuesdays ago the Commissioner of Police Major Antony Anderson also told the country at a press conference that, "Murder were down by 21. Shootings were down by 13 per cent. Rapes were down by 47 per cent. Robberies were down by 32 per cent and break-ins were down by 11 per cent."

There is a direct correlation between economic growth and these improvements.

Those who do not suffer with convenient amnesia would, doubtless, remember the massive increase in budgetary allocation to the Ministry of National Security in recent years. I recall the hails of complaints which emanated from some quarters at the magnitude of the increases.

Today some of those same belly-achers are disingenuously claiming credit for the recent reductions in major crimes. The reductions are not lucky accidents. We are beginning to see the results of the considerable and sustained investments in national security since 2017. The 'small man' is the primary beneficiary. Those who cannot understand that need to examine themselves under a modern electronic microscope.

The fact is the 'small man' does not live in gated communities. He cannot afford to hire a private security company, and most do not have a licensed firearm and/or a pack of pit bulls to help defend person and property.

Those who are preaching that the 'small man' is not benefiting from economic growth would have been made terribly upset last Tuesday. Why?

According to the latest World Economic Outlook, published last Tuesday by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Jamaican economy is forecast to grow by 2.2 per cent in 2023. The projected 2.2 per cent growth outturn for Jamaica remains above the forecast growth rate of 1.6 per cent for countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region. This is below the 2.8 per cent average expected expansion of the global economy, reported the IMF. Going forward, the IMF said it expects Jamaica's growth rate to register at 2 per cent for 2024. I suspect this good news for Jamaica is causing some to make frequent trips to the bathroom.

Activist State

In the early 1980s, the late Ronald Reagan, president of the United States of America, one of two world leaders who spearheaded neo-liberalism, famously remarked that: "Government is not the solution to our problem, Government is the problem." Father Time has shown that Reagan and the late prime minister of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher were not only wrong, but 'dead wrong', as we say in local parlance.

Government is back. Many moons ago I said in this space, but it bears repeating, an activist State does not mean the State is responsible for citizens' every itch and scratch. It is not the function of an activist State to sing, "Rock-a-bye, baby" to its newborns and "In the sweet by and by" on the occasions of its dearly departed. No State can or will ever be effective in the role of a superman. National leaders that have tried to be all things to all men are discarded on the scrap heap of history, and those who are still foolishly attempting to walk on water and turn water into wine are now on political life support.

I have noted in this space before, but it also bears repeating, the State exists to do for its citizens what the citizens cannot effectively and efficiently, individually, do for him/herself. The activist State is not a socialist or a communist utopia, where manner falls from the sky while folks sip milk and honey. I have long argued in this space, too, that left to some the so-called invisible hand of the market will almost always clap in one direction.

For these and related reasons responsible governments cannot yield to the pressures of those who preach that neo-liberalism is the solution to all our problems. We cannot kowtow either to those who advocate that we must redistribute what has not been produced. We have seen that movie before.

The way forward is, clearly, sustained economic growth, debt reduction, alongside opportunity creation and distribution, social justice improvements, and the strengthening of the rule of law.

"Puddin' cyaan bake without fire," those who say otherwise are charlatans.

Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) reported gross domestic product (GDP) of 3.8 per cent for the quarter ended December 2022, as compared with the same quarter of the previous year.
Jamaica's net international reserves (NIR) climbed to a historic high of US$4.15 billion at the end of last month.
Garfield Higgins

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