Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Ian Boyne | What the Budget Debate missed

Published:Sunday | April 9, 2017 | 4:00 AMIan Boyne

You are a young, ambitious person in search of prosperity. You studied hard and sacrificed a lot for your degree. You want to leave your parents' home and start one of your own. But you have been hit with a double whammy: increased rental or home-ownership costs because of a spike in property taxes and fuel prices, which could worsen with rising global tensions.

You won't benefit from any social assistance programme for you are not classified as poor. Yet you have increased electricity and health costs.

What would inspire you to stay in Jamaica under this IMF austerity programme when you, as a skilled Jamaican, can gain prosperity quicker by migrating? What was said in the recent Budget Debate that would motivate you to stay here and delay your prosperity ?

You are a teacher or a nurse in our overcrowded schools and hospitals. Underpaid and overworked. People from overseas are recruiting you. What was said in the recent Budget Debate that would make you resist that lucrative offer now in the hope of a brighter, better Jamaica?

You are a marginalised youth in western Jamaica. You get an opportunity to become rich overnight through lotto scamming; to be able to wash your SUV with champagne and to light your spliff with $5,000, bills and buy your palatial mansion in short order.

What would inspire you to get involved in the HOPE Programme, which the prime minister announced in his Budget speech for at-risk youth, giving them a few thousand dollars to do honest, productive work? Why choose those values over get rich now?

 

LEGS PROGRAMME

 

The prime minister talked laudably about his LEGS programme. He says that he wants young people to be Learning, Earning, Giving, and Saving. Good values those, Prime Minister. But in a culture that emphasises pleasure (not boring learning), getting something for nothing (not earning), consumption (not saving), and every-man-for-himself (not giving), you are swimming against the cultural tide, Prime Minister.

In his Budget speech, the prime minister noted that there were approximately 130,000 unattached youth in Jamaica. And "a significant proportion of them have no structure, order, or guidance in their life. Many of them would not be in institutions long enough to develop character and good citizenship, positive attitudes, and skills to assist then in negotiating the challenges of life". Good point. So what was said in the Budget speech that would have inspired these youth to rise from their social lethargy?

A Budget speech is not a sermon, but there can be no call to action to advance economic growth no hope of achieving any 'five in four' economic growth if people are not inspired to commit to something larger than narrow self-interest. The prime minister says of many young people: "We see them on the street corners every day when we are going to work, and we see them at the same place when we are coming home ... . Some get lured into crime and other dangerous activities, while others get pregnant or get into relationships of convenience."

But what will prevent a young man, desperately desiring prosperity and in a great rush for it, not to get involved in crime, where he can certainly get wealth quicker than by working $15,000 a week for his honest bread? But honesty is not the highest value in our culture.

There are many young people who laugh at their parents who spent their lives working but having nothing but a good name. The parents feel good and moral that they 'worked hard' for their honest bread. The youth laugh at them for working but still taking bus and living in working-class neighbourhoods. They want flashy cars and bling with little effort. Real rich, as Tanto Blacks says.

So what will keep a 15-year-old child whom some grey-back man finds desirable from keeping that man because he can pay her school fees, give her money to buy what she wants, and help support her home? What will prevent some mothers from farming out their children to well-heeled men who will support them; not the wutless boy dem pon the corner who only want to use dem gyal pickney and don't have nothing to let off?

What will make these mothers not pimp out their girls? Only that little-spoken-of thing called values. But our politicians are afraid to sound like preachers, so they don't address these things meaningfully.

The prime minister has spoken out strongly against sexual grooming and has spoken of toughening laws to deal with that. But laws are not enough. Our culture has to change. Culture change involves values and attitudes, and the political class is uncomfortable about talking values in any sustained, focused, and systematic way.

P.J. Patterson, to his eternal credit, was one politician who understood the centrality of this issue of values and attitudes and sought to do something about it, though, lamentably, he never sustained it. In 1994, he launched a major values and attitudes programme.

He said in his speech then: "I am firmly convinced that we should develop a national strategy and programme of action to promote an attitudinal change and social renewal. This is the surest way (and perhaps the only way) to improve in the short run, and in the longer term, maintain the quality of life for all Jamaicans.

 

VALUES AND ATTITUDES

 

I recently was honoured to give the Ted Dwyer Lecture at the EXED Community College. I spoke on the subject 'Values and Attitudes: The Elephant in the Room". I chided the political class for marginalising this issue with its narrow, myopic emphasis on economics, not realising that economic development has to stand on a foundation of strong social capital. A successful politician is seen as one with strong technocratic, managerial skills, with his grasp of larger sociological and philosophical issues seen as peripheral. What short-sightedness!

Drawing on scholarship, everyday life, and popular culture, including dancehall and hip hop, I spoke to a standing-room-only crowd (during Champs!) about how central values and attitudes are and was surprised that a large room full of young people gave a standing ovation. What I said resonated.

The late Professor Carl Stone saw this problem clearly in 1992. In a paper he published that year, 'Values, Norms and Personality Development in Jamaica', he said, "The dominance of money as the single most important currency of influence, power, and status and the decline of respectability as a status-defining factor have promoted increased and rampant corruption both in Government and in the private sector corporate worked."

You can't get rid of corruption and high crime with money being the most important value in the society. You can't get rid of child sexual abuse without tackling our culture, Prime Minister. Laws and systems will help. But culture change is most enduring. Tax evasion, corruption in the police force, corruption in politics, the promotion of negative dancehall all have to do with the primacy of money. Building a society of meritocracy directly conflicts with that money-over-all culture, Prime Minister.

"Rampant individualism has replaced and weakened the strong bonds and community ties of the past," Stone wrote. That's worse now with our youth's addiction to American pop culture through social media. Sacrifice and postponement of gratification are not in the vocabulary of this generation. Dr Lucien Jones gave an insightful GraceKennedy Foundation lecture in 1995 where he said, "The minds of those who are held captive by the philosophy of materialism must be transformed. They see their salvation in the elevation of their status, more money, increasing possessions and power over others." He talked about "the rise of self-interest at the expense of the common interest".

Nobody is willing to work with any austerity programme to build a low-debt economy. People want their gratification now. They want their foreign production.

The politicians need to realise that their economic goals can't be achieved without a cultural shift. Notions about sacrificing for the common good, taking hard economic decisions today for a better tomorrow, is speaking Greek to the Jamaican people. Like the Greek spoken in the Budget speeches that left people without inspiration and that fire in their stomachs for a broader vision beyond self-interest.

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.