Ian Boyne | It's not the economy, stupid!
That awful, ugly fracas between the principal and the female student at Cumberland High School is only the latest indication of our social crisis. The Ardenne case of the teacher fondling his student. Then there was the incident of the 11-year old who killed the 14-year-old. And last week's Sunday Gleaner story of the alarming and growing number of child sexual abuse cases in Jamaica.
Just recently, our attention was riveted on the spate of female killings by male lovers. The galloping murder rate in general; the normalisation of corruption at all levels; the carnage on our roads; decreasing trust between citizens and public institutions, and the mainstreaming of crudeness all indicate our low social capital. But our politicians believe that once we fix the economy, these problems will naturally wither away.
African freedom fighter Kwame Nkrumah said famously, at the height of the African independence struggle, paraphrasing the Gospel of Matthew: "Seek ye first the political kingdom and all these things shall be added to you," stressing the primacy of decolonisation in African development.
Our political leaders in the two major parties merely substitute the word 'economic' for 'political', believing that "It's the economy, stupid!" Once we attract enough BPO, tourism, and logistics-centred jobs to Jamaica and get our macroeconomic fundamentals right, we are well on our way to the kingdom. It is poverty and social deprivation that breed our social crisis, so once we follow our IMF programme diligently, attracting investments and jobs, we will see change in values and attitudes.
Once people have proper housing, you won't have the levels of carnal abuse. Once young people have jobs, there will be no incentive for crime. Once our girls are in school, they won't get pregnant early. And so on. And there is no denying, in fact, that poverty and underdevelopment do drive social maladies. But the view that simply fixing the economy will fix our social crisis is appallingly naive.
Indeed, the social crisis acts as a serious brake on our economic development. The Gleaner had a most insightful editorial recently (March 23) titled 'Towards education based on values'. The editorial says of a 40-minute session with students, a Jamaican teacher "spends up to 16 minutes attempting to establish order, maintain silence, enforce discipline, or attending to personal or administrative concerns. That's 40 per cent of lesson time."
The Gleaner then contrasts that with Singapore, where teaching and learning take place 90 per cent of the time. "It should be no surprise that outcomes differ in Jamaican schools," The Gleaner observes. "Put differently, the inadequacy of early socialisation at home and in communities leaves tens of thousands of young people lacking appropriate values and attitudes for school life and to absorb education. Our schools have, in short, become the principal institutions of wholesome value transmission - a task for which they are unprepared. The uncomfortable fact is that the social deficit of even a few students often ambushes overall progress in schools."
And education, even our narrowly focused politicians would readily concede, is key to economic growth. But economic growth can't be sustainable if only a few elite schools are producing excellence.
The Gleaner editorial writer continues with his incisiveness: "Apart from a measly $17-million allocation to respond to crisis situations caused by poor behaviour, the rest of the $96 billion (in the education budget) implicitly assumes that parents will provide work-ready pupils to be taught and that teachers already have appropriate resources to effectively deal with the antisocial traits of those assigned to them. Both assumptions are palpably untrue."
But our economistic politicians continue to believe that our salvation lies in merely fixing the economy. I wish every politician would read Don Robotham's 1998 GraceKennedy Foundation Lecture, 'Vision and Voluntarism'. They might not be into reading, but I suggest that one lecture, available online.
Robotham noted the political class's frequent exhortations about economic growth.
But he says poignantly: "The question, therefore, to be answered sooner rather than later, would be, 'Why should I put out an effort to increase the living standards of Jamaicans as opposed to those of myself and my immediate circle of family and friends?" He went on to note that "the economic goals, therefore, presuppose that the moral goals have been articulated and have taken root ... . There is thus no escaping the challenge of trying to formulate this positive vision of Jamaica in moral terms." But this is what our political class is reluctant to do, encased in their economistic prison.
Robotham was clear as to what our fundamental problem was. Nothing has changed then except that our crisis has worsened. "There is no longer any clear vision of what Jamaica is or should be. There is no rationale behind the term 'Jamaican' that expresses any sense of common purpose. This is the fundamental problem."
I suggest that if there is any justification for a Jamaica 55 celebration that we focus on mobilising our people around some common vision or rebuilding patriotism and nationalism. We can't just do that through song and dance. We are more than minstrels, as Rex Nettleford liked to remind us.
Robotham has more to tell us: "The fundamental issue, therefore, is, how do we strengthen the moral bonds of Jamaican society? How do we re-establish this positive vision of Jamaica that once existed? How can we recover and display a sense of regard for one another and an interest in the well-being of our fellow citizens? In the name of what ideals and focusing on what goals can this be done?"
There is no better time than at this Easter season, where the notion of sacrifice and selflessness is primary, to do this national reflection.
As Robotham told us almost 20 years ago: "We are witnessing a fundamental shift in the values of the Jamaican people, and one critical aspect of this shift is an abandonment of altruistic attitudes and the replacement of them by a narrow individualism based on a shallow understanding of what a market economy necessitates. Every man and woman for himself and herself seems to be the slogan that is expressed in all departments of Jamaican life. From how we behave on the roads in the minibus, at sports events, at the workplace, in our national affairs and how we behave in our families and among our friends."
Michael Manley, Eddie Seaga, and P.J. Patterson understood that it was not just the economy that must receive attention if we are to have holistic development. They all understood the importance of culture, broadly conceived. There is an excellent UWI Department of Government 115-page thesis (2006) by Sandra Melissa Nicola Grey titled Social Capital and Development: A Case Study of the Jamaican Values and Attitudes Campaign , which quotes Seaga giving some pointed observations on the issue.
Patterson said at the launch of his pivotal Values and Attitudes Campaign in 1994 that "the Government has a basic responsibility to help the country reach its full potential, in the process encouraging standards and values that would make everyone proud of their country and its heritage and endow them with self-confidence". These intangibles are extremely important to economic development.
I have spent a lot of time studying the Asian Tigers and their economic miracles, as I have also studied China's rise. Culture has been crucial in their remarkable economic transformation. It's not just the market prescriptions that are responsible for their growth. Other countries have used those same IMF-dictated strategies with disastrous results. It's the culture, stupid!
The Far East has used its Confucian cultural values of cooperation, trust, strong family bonds, national confidence, and postponement of gratification to build their economies. They were able to manage consumption levels because they have a long-range vision and a view of their own cultural superiority. You don't have to tell the average Japanese to buy Japanese. The Americans had a hard time selling them cars and other consumer goods.
Here, we are addicted to foreign goods. Lucien Jones, in his GraceKennedy Foundation lecture, talked of those "held captive by the culture that elevates the importance of foreign imports ...". I plead with our political leaders, "Give us vision, lest we perish."