Tue | Aug 22, 2017

M. Durand | Prosperity for whom?

Published:Friday | January 27, 2017 | 1:12 AM

Now that the responsibility for economic growth has been divested to the Economic Growth Council (ECG), the governance model that this creation of the Holness Government has presented raises questions about the relationship between the business and political classes in Jamaica.

The establishment of the council, which comprises 10 considerably wealthy businessmen and women, appears to have been the brainchild of its vice-chairman, Nigel Clarke. It is no secret that Clarke is a brilliant man who means Jamaica well, but the EGC, while, prima facie, representing a possible solution to the long-standing problem of low growth in Jamaica and Government's seeming ineptitude to bring about a change, is a subtle but potent expression of plutocracy in its infancy. 

This is how it usually begins. A small minority of the wealthiest citizens, who perhaps because of their success in business, feel that they are best placed to take control and run the country. The argument is that they have built massive wealth for themselves through their businesses and as such will be able to do the same for the country.

This elite, now fully embodied in the membership of the EGC, is able to sway politicians and get them to implement their ideas which, because they are coming from supposedly successful people, seem to be credible. The fact that Nigel Clarke is a Rhodes Scholar with a doctorate in mathematics appears to have granted him philosopher king-like status in the Holness administration. After all, the man is bright and rich, so why not let him run things? Why not hand over the reins of economic policymaking to him and his rich friends?

We would be good to take note, however, that the recent election of Donald Trump as president of the United States was shaped by the very same thinking that gave birth to the EGC - businessmen are better at running things than politicians. While this may be true, we ought to be mindful of the inequality that so easily evolves when political power is ceded to the owners of capital. 

ELITE CONSOLIDATING POWER

The EGC is a classic case of the business elite consolidating power through their influence with the political elite. The fact that none of the people's representatives are on the council speaks volumes.

The concept of plutocracy is usually advocated by the wealthy classes of a society in an indirect or surreptitious fashion, and in this regard the EGC has come about as some sort of goodwill offering of the business elite who say they will be working for free in the interest of the country.

But having been well accustomed to poverty, Jamaicans know that nothing in this life is free. While they may not be taking home a pay cheque for their work on the council, having a hold on the levers of Government is a prize in and of itself for these plutocrats.

Then there is Michael Lee-Chin, the billionaire chairman of the EGC, in whose hands the fate of the economy has been placed. Lee-Chin has spent his life enriching himself by exploiting business opportunities, as any smart businessman should. What then is to stop him and his fellow council members from acting in their own self-interest when investment opportunities arise?

Now that the economy is showing signs of growth, there is a real concern that this growth, if sustained, will not be equitable. Prosperity may yet be achieved, but given the high levels of inequality in Jamaica, one has to ask prosperity for whom?

- Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com