Horace Levy | The real alternative
Jamaica has long faced, in different guises, the same difficult choice. In 1977 and 1980, it was democratic socialism vs capitalism. At the time of the 2016 election, it was framed in terms of the failure to get growth in the economy. Just last year, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Madame Lagarde confessed that she herself was puzzled. Right now, five years, going on six, of IMF medicine and the patient is still sickly. What gives?
Opposition Spokesman on Finance Mark Golding has framed the issue as growth for whom: for the business wealthy, or, more inclusively, for the middle and working classes as well. Truly, the issue must cut across the party divide. Golding appealed for bipartisanship, as also has party leader Peter Phillips, in calling for an end to the 'two Jamaicas'. Andrew Holness, in a way, crossed the divide, barging into domains previously neglected by the JLP and dominated by the PNP - house building and local government.
Essentially, the issue now is how long to stick to the IMF road, and how much of the IMF medicine to swallow. No politician is willing to say this today in Jamaica, of course. The IMF road has proved beneficial as far as it went. And too many have swallowed the PR that the IMF has changed since its bad old days. We are hooked on the IMF the way we were hooked on debt before.
But the challenging question remains: Without abandoning fiscal discipline, is there not space, has the time not come, to untighten somewhat the belt around middle- and working-class waists? The practical arguments for it are strong:
- Address our human capital need (Densil Williams, Sunday Gleaner, March 11, 2018) to meet 21st-century demands by reversing the current pause, even backsliding, in our health and education facilities.
- Stimulate the higher consumption that will build business bottom lines.
- Facilitate the community economies that will undermine criminality.
- Forge the strong bipartisan consensus needed for those sacrifices that have still to continue.
Let's get something straight. The IMF mission is to get us to pay back our debts, to themselves, in the first place. In the process, Jamaica learns to stop living off other people, and that's a big plus.
But the IMF was never meant to help Jamaica grow, the big brother sweet talk notwithstanding. That's FOR US to find a way to do. And certainly, the IMF model of growth is not the kind that embraces a sincere belief in the input of small and medium business, the creativity of our artists, the contribution of our farmers. Their neo-liberal route is something else altogether.
So the sooner we combine a strict financial regime with the inclusive growth that Jamaicans want, the sooner politicians will be carrying out their mission and winning back trust. We can do it if we want to.