Ian Boyne | Missing link in prosperity plan
There was a sternness etched on his face and defiance in his voice as he spoke in the Budget Debate. "We will not allow crime to detail economic growth," the prime minister swore. It was an acknowledgment that with all the laudable plans that he would announce and be applauded for in that speech, crime could erode it all.
Yet, what is the vision he has outlined in his first 100 days that can galvanise "youth and youth" in western Jamaica - who are obsessed with prosperity but not willing to work for it - to stop scamming their way to prosperity? Crime is down marginally overall, but has shot up significantly
in the west, where young people know they can get to build mansions, drive fancy cars, and buy out any bar through lotto scamming.
What is it in the prime minister's prosperity gospel that can pull these marginalised youth away from that type of activity into working honestly to step up inna life? Why should they have to work hard to gain prosperity when they can gain it easily? It's Jamaica. They don't have to get caught. You can get away with murder in Jamaica. And if you say, well, they could be killed by cronies gone mad, I answer: If these youth don't put much value on life, why do you think that is a deterrent?
I don't think we begin to understand the magnitude of the social problems we face. For most of the elite, our problems are largely economic or political. Some would throw in the constitutional. But those are not our overarching problems. Our overarching problems are cultural and social. After you have addressed all the economic, political, and constitutional issues, if you don't find a way to fix our social-capital deficits, solutions will elude us. Indeed, sustainably addressing economic, political, and constitutional issues is dependent on dealing with the social capital (or values) issue.
A country in which people are being killed over domino games because garbage is placed near people's gates and because some ackees fall on a man's housetop is not the kind of country where economic growth and prosperity is sustainable. If we can't resolve simple conflicts and disagree-ments, how, in this globalised era, are we to develop the strategic partnerships, alliances, and business deals necessary to create wealth?
We think all crime is committed by seasoned gangsters, marauding gunmen, and professional shottas, yet a great percentage of our murders comes from domestic disputes. Look how many murder-suicides we have had. Then many people come on television saying how shocked they were that this good, quiet, respectable person could do such a thing. Not surprising if people don't learn to manage their emotions, handle provocation, disrespect and 'bunning'.
One of the best strategies for fighting crime announced by the prime minister in his Budget presentation is placing domestic violence coordinators in police stations to follow up on cases of domestic disputes. But more than this is needed. We need a national campaign to inculcate the value of self-control and emotional mastery. People need to learn to take dissing and embarrassment. They have to know there is dignity in walking away, in controlling anger, and in returning a soft word for a harsh one. This is not Sunday school piety. It is a way of protecting the prime minister's prosperity plan.
But there has to be a national vision, a set of ideas and ideals around which the nation can rally. It can't just be material prosperity. For if our values don't exceed the material, how can we build an ethical society? I am not talking religion here - for there can be ethics without religion - though I believe religion provides a firmer ontological basis for morality. I am speaking purely pragmatically. If you don't give people anything beyond the material, then notions about good citizenship, sacrifice, the national good are absolutely worthless and meaningless.
The prime minister missed an excellent opportunity to outline a broad philosophical vision for the nation during his Budget presentation. His presentation was rightly lauded, but he could have used that occasion to elaborate on some of the points he made in his excellent, first-rate inaugural address. Some of those technical points he addressed could well have been left for his ministers in the Sectoral Debate, while he dealt with a broader, more inspiring vision for the nation. His inaugural sets out an exciting set of ideas, which he could have filled out in his Budget presentation.
The prime minister, in his inaugural, bemoaned that while Jamaicans have a sense of entitlement to good service from their country, "this is not being balanced with a duty of giving back".
He then went on to say, "We have to be more active in promoting civic responsibility, voluntarism, and giving back, particularly among our youth."
The prime minister needs to speak more about this. This can't be through any peripheral programme, but has to be part of a national campaign to re-energise our people, particularly our youth.
I was talking to a middle-class professional on Tuesday and he told me how many of his peers were thinking of migrating because of the crime and how much more they could earn abroad. They have skills. They are marketable.
If prosperity and stepping up inna life is all they want - if that is the only motivation unhinged from patriotism or a larger national vision - why should they stay here when they can step up higher and have greater prosperity in North America, Europe, or The Gulf? Why stay here? For what cause? Socialism, nationalism, Black Power might be dead, but we need some form of ideology - some set of values beyond material prosperity.
We all can't build mansions, and if that is all that is turning us on, many will elect to go abroad, for they can quicker find their dream house money there. There has to be some motivation beyond material prosperity if we are going to keep people here. Some can work assiduously to build their dream houses here, but why stress out yourself when you can achieve that more easily somewhere else? Or why do it honestly here when you can engage in corrupt activities and get rich quick?
The prime minister, in his inaugural, said: "We must teach our children that there is no wealth without work and no success without sacrifice." Really, Mr Prime Minister? Our children see people every day who have wealth without working or making any sacrifices. That's why crime is so high in western Jamaica and why we can't get it down.
FIX SOCIAL-CAPITAL BASE
The prime minister went on to say that "we must remove the belief from the psyche of our children that the only way they can step up in life is not by how hard they work, but by who they know". But they see that every day, too - people who have political connections getting favours and jobs for which they are not qualified. We have to change the culture. Having the best economic plans and the hardest-working special ambassadors will not help us if we have a defective social-capital base.
Our values are dysfunctional. I have heard the prime minister expound on his philosophy of work - which he calls LEGS - work by learning, earning, giving, and saving. Well, Sir, most Jamaicans are not much into that giving and saving part. In fact, most are only interested in the earning part. Most are consumption-now people. They don't have a culture of postponing gratification. That is why the plea to use the extra money in July to pay down on a house, save, and buy locally is likely to fall on deaf ears. That money will be used to fund foreign consumption.
The prime minister lectured men in his inaugural to "take care of their children" and advised that "every family member must do their part by being personally ... responsible". Mr Holness, in the next 100 days, must find a way to craft a coherent, inspiring philosophical vision for the country beyond material prosperity. Indeed, his being able to achieve economic growth and material prosperity is dependent on that larger vision. He ignores that to his own peril.