Wanted: The Protestant Work Ethic

Ever so often, there comes a point when one has to, more or less, ‘take stock’ of one’s life and makes some decisions as to what one wants to do and where does one go with their life.  This should also apply with the existence of any nation. I do not mean that all life within a nation must be put on pause or be totally halted to make a decision but that there must be some degree of ongoing evaluation and re-evaluation to see if the country is on the right track and any adjustments/changes be made accordingly.

Recently, Standard and Poor’s lowered Jamaica’s credit rating and there’s been a hue and cry about it. It did not escape some folks that the news of this came out on August 6th, Independence Day, and that the timing could not have been worse. For others, it was the fact that Jamaica is making strides to get its economic house in order and/or that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has made credit available to the island, even if there will be some strings attached. For others, it’s a case of ‘I told you so’ and, by extension, a way to make the present government look bad and inept so that their party’s chances of regaining control of the levers of power are enhanced. Whatever the reason(s) and/or justification(s), the decision by S&P has served to notify Jamaica that business as usual cannot continue and that more than simple speeches and exhortations will be needed to get the island out of this economic rut it has seemingly been stuck in for the better part of almost 40 years.

Over the last few years, there have been editorials and columns in the two major Jamaican newspapers excoriating, pleading and encouraging the leadership to take and adopt measures to fix, remedy and/or otherwise address/attend to the problems affecting and afflicting the island. We’ve heard and read where the PM, whether it was PJ Patterson, Portia Simpson-Miller, or if it’s Bruce Golding, promising to do right by the Jamaican people and get Jamaica on a more sounder economic footing. We have also heard and read where the Jamaican people are being asked to do their part to help, more often than not by folks from civic organizations and newspaper editorials and columnists than from government officials, or so it seems.

When all is said and done, however, what this global recession and its after-effects have done is to sound a clarion call that things in Jamaica must change and that some of these changes will be rather wrenching.

For sometime now, whether it was via letters to the editor or in the occasional piece I submitted to this publication, I have been calling for a reduction of the public sector workforce and, by extension, a reduction in the size of government. I was doing this since PJ was PM and I’ve continued doing this now that Bruce is in charge.

It’s nice to see editorials in The Gleaner advocating this measure. I realise that in challenging economic times there is a somewhat inverse relationship between the spending priorities of a central government and the general public. One wants the government to spend in order to stimulate demand and jobs while the tendency among the public is to conserve as much of their money as possible to help weather the rough times.  Therefore, monetary and fiscal policies have to be reviewed and addressed to confront the present reality.

The problem in Jamaica is not so much the fact that the government should not spend but it is to spend wisely. Spending money on increasing the number of constituencies to 63 does not help nor is spending to create more ministries and agencies. Having this government’s equivalent of the SESP, the CDF, does not help, not when parish councils are starved of money for their functions. Having an army and police whose functions/roles now are getting more blurred and intertwined as crime rages on is ridiculous. The phoney excuses offered for not merging the army and police into a single crime-fighting and law enforcement entity are just those – phoney.

The failure of this present administration to really and truly level with the populace as to the real extent of the problems and to articulate a vision for Jamaica’s future boggles the mind. The hypocrisy of the PNP and the fact that its leadership ranks has become something akin to the GOP today in the US is laughable if it weren’t so tragic. One gets the distinct impression that both Norman and Michael Manley must be turning over in their graves at the thought of what their beloved party has become.

The idea of living within one’s means and not be a broke-ass society living large when you don’t have enough money to sustain such a lifestyle must be made explicitly clear. If the anecdotal evidence from across the US is to be believed, this economic recovery will be unlike no other recent recovery after a downturn. The US savings rate is trending up and the conspicuous consumption and profligate spending habits of Americans are not likely to manifest themselves when that economy turns around. For a good many Americans, paying off/down debt and trying to ‘keep their heads above water’ is now taking precedence over most other considerations. All this has potentially adverse implications for the Jamaican economy in terms of tourism and exports to the US, it’s biggest market.

The problems Jamaica faces can be addressed in a serious and objective manner but only when those in leadership decide that that is what they want to do rather than worry about how long they’ll be able to stay in office. Part of being a leader is being able to articulate a vision and selling it to those you’re leading and get folks to buy into it. One can say that it also means making some easy decisions but it’s even more about making the tough decisions.

John F. Kennedy said that the US chose to send a man to the moon and return him safely to earth not because it’s easy but because it’s hard.  The times might be different but making, executing and sticking with the tough decisions should be no less resolute. One end result could be more independence for Jamaica.

As the recent Gleaner editorials have been saying, it’s time for Bruce Golding to become the ‘mobiliser-in-chief’ and to be bold and decisive. For the wider Jamaican society it’s time to stop trying to mirror American spending habits (i.e. the profligate kind) and, instead, embrace something akin to the Protestant Work Ethic but without the religiosity. After all, most of the growing economies today have applied some version of this concept and it has helped them and is helping them. Seeing how much Jamaica likes to ‘follow fashion’ this is one to follow.

     

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