Fri | Dec 15, 2017

Daniel Thwaites | Prosperity Gospel

Published:Sunday | October 29, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The campaign for South East St Mary has elicited a number of extraordinary statements, pictures, and campaign pronouncements. One that struck my ear was the assurance that the people of SE St Mary are buying into the "vision of prosperity". This, of course, harkened back to the last general election campaign, the 1.5 promise, Audley's assurance that he has done all the maths, and Desmond's unforgettable "Prrrassssssperity".

These delicate memories, in turn, bring up a host of matters worthy of reflection, especially if those old demons are being resurrected for the current campaign.

To my mind, the most fascinating aspect of the last campaign and it's surviving mantra is the brilliant borrowing from the religious televangelists and the projection of those themes on to our politics. The Prosperity Gospel is practised by a variety of hucksters, tricksters, and snake-oil salesmen, and it's successful adoption by a political party in Jamaica is a matter of some moment.

The Prosperity Gospel basically holds that the Good Lord promises to his believers material wealth and success. It is the idea that by belief in the Word, and ordering one's steps in its ways, you will magically arrive at a full belly, mansion in the hills (Beverly Hills, of course), a pretty wife and successful children, and if one believes hard enough, perhaps a fat SUV (not suffering from 'bad gas'), or two, in the driveway.

One key characteristic of the Prosperity Gospel is that it is unfalsifiable. If the believer doesn't achieve the promised prosperity, that's obviously because they didn't believe fervently enough. It's the followers and the acolytes - the hapless mules - who are to blame if the rubbish proves itself to be rubbish.

It is difficult for me to give the Prosperity Gospel a fair hearing because I find it so detestable. But I'm quite prepared to accept that my mind has been poisoned by more orthodox approaches to religion.

Earlier this month, The Gleaner gave us this headline, 'New data reveal that Jamaica's economy contracted in first quarter of fiscal year'. Here, the headline says it all. But in terms of preparing a toxic cocktail, pair that delight with the PIOJ's report, looking at the 1.5 million election promise, stating that:

"Analysis undertaken suggests that the wealthiest deciles who are formally employed will benefit the most and those who are informally employed will be negatively impacted the most."

In other words, the poor will get poorer and the most vulnerable will be made more vulnerable.

In my mind, Audley is still sharpening that pencil on the numbers that he and Andrew had run showing that the 1.5 would benefit the country. Meanwhile, there is something that's growing - metastasising - and that's crime. These things are not unconnected.

It is well known that as the tax burden is pushed downwards, 'pressure buss pipe'. When the poor get poorer, the pressure builds. Did the policymakers consider beyond the splendid econometrics that indicated a shift to indirect taxation is a good idea that it puts pressure on the crime situation?

As 'Prrrrasssssperity' wends its way through the economy and the society, we're seeing the effects. But like with the theological variety, it is impervious to facts.

So how does this connect with SE St Mary? It turns that Desmond was among the most honest politicians when he promised "Prrraaasssssperity", because if you look carefully at it, there's a massive "rassssssss" in the middle of it, and with 1,300 murders and counting, we know that he wasn't lying.

Unfortunately, in the current contest, Desmond is to be found saying that his release of funds to do bush clearing in SE St Mary is "NOT vote-buying", sort of like when Richard Nixon said, "I am NOT a crook!" Oh, my God! More bushing! Bushing and road-patching. Jamaica has to figure out a way of doing better, because the incentives for whoever is in charge of state resources to abuse them in this way has no check.

I'm told that the animal population of SE St Mary is escalating dangerously with the importation of goats, chickens, and even cows. The people's cement needs are being met. Ply board, fertiliser, blocks, new street lights, and straight up cash payments are all in the mix. This is by no means the speciality of the governing party alone, but this time around with the high stakes, it is especially garish and unvarnished.

Meanwhile, I'm amazed that in such a hot contest, the people will be deprived of a debate between the candidates. From all indications, both parties have candidates they're proud to present to the people, so the electorate should hear them address the continuance of this impoverishing "Praasssssperity".

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.