Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Garth Rattray | On mickles and muckles

Published:Monday | December 4, 2017 | 12:00 AM

We've all heard the Jamaican phrase 'Every mickle makes a muckle'. It means that small things add up to a large amount. It's also an encouragement to be frugal, to save little by little in the expectation that it will add up to something big one day.

However, for most Jamaicans, saving is extremely difficult. With the exception of investment institutions that only accept relatively large deposits with varying attendant risks, the interest rates, service charges, and taxes on savings are so horrendous that anything gained falls way below the inflation rate.

In other words, given the exchange rate for the United States dollar (on which the cost of everything depends), given the inflation rate, given the extremely low interest being offered on savings, given the very wide 'spread' (between savings and loan interest rates), given the innumerable bank charges, and given the taxes on savings, money in regular banks depreciates the minute we try to save.

If you deposited J$100,000 one year ago and withdraw everything (the deposit amount and whatever minuscule interest it earns after taxes and bank charges) today, you will find that the money you get buys significantly less than it could last year.

In the not-too-distant past, many people could save enough to live off the interest. People could retire on their savings and use the bank interest to pay all their bills. Nowadays, the dream of living off your savings has become a terrifying nightmare. In other words, mickles don't make muckles any longer.

The 'mickles and muckles' proverb was dashed to bits when I learned that mickle and muckle are originally Scottish words and that 'mickle' means a large amount! Furthermore, 'muckle' is a variant of 'mickle' and means the very same thing. In fact, the phrase should be, 'Many a little makes a mickle', but things became lost and contorted in the translation. Not only does the Jamaican version make no sense when you get to know the real meaning of the words, it also makes no sense in today's local financial environment.

I believe that the main reason for the pervasive, everlasting and foreboding sense of desperation within the society at large is the realisation that the vast majority of people will never be able to survive into old age without significant help from somewhere or someone.

 

IMMENSE BURDEN

 

The Government does not have the wherewithal to assist us when we can no longer assist ourselves. The National Insurance Scheme is not strong enough to support anyone's needs by itself. It is not self-sustaining; in order to remain viable, it depends on monetary inflows from those who contribute. And, since we are living longer, the scheme is being burdened immensely.

The cost of living is so high that, for many, saving is nigh impossible, or minimal. Generally, substantive savings is not a reality. And, as was already pointed out, money in the bank depreciates. In reality, banks are only there for limited safekeeping and convenience.

Consequently, many youth live hard, careless, and fast lives because old age is a very ugly prospect for them. The thought of being weak, helpless, and destitute is scary. We cannot hold the police force responsible for reducing and solving our crime epidemic because crime is a multifaceted, social disease. Fear of having nothing is a large part of what's fanning the flames of crime. Additionally, the fear of getting old and helpless while impoverished overshadows the fear of the police, of imprisonment, and even of death.

Research has shown that people never get tired of amassing wealth. Social experiments prove that people can, and do, get (even temporarily) saturated when it comes to food, fun, recreational drugs, and sexual intercourse, but they never tire of getting more and more money. However, many are willing to satisfy themselves with enough money to live in comfort.

But without a functional and practical social safety net, citizens will be anxious to accumulate as much as they can for that rainy day. For some, this may be through honest work, but for others, they do this by criminal activities.

Our leaders need to seriously get something in place so that no citizen will have reason to fear being too old to work, infirm, or helpless.