Are Jamaicans prepared for 2009?
Published: Sunday | January 4, 2009
People have been clamouring for the Government to face reality and level with the people about the enormity of our economic and social challenges as a result of the global financial meltdown. There is consensus that things will be 'dread'. The prime minister says he is not frightened, but many Jamaicans are.
The prime minister has already announced as part of his 'stimulus package' that HEART/NTA will be providing training and orientation for displaced workers, and various commentators have been pronouncing on what needs to be done in preparation for the economic tsunami.
But how prepared are Jamaicans for this global economic slowdown, whose effects are not being fully seen yet? We are a tough, resilient and courageous people, Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller reminds us in her new year's message; but we have to face the stark fact that our excessively materialistic and over-consumptive mentality does nothing to prepare for this global economic downturn.
It's good to be ambitious, forward looking and not complacent about our present position. It's good that Jamaicans want to improve themselves and to 'strive' as we put it. There is nothing wrong in wanting to raise our standard of living or even to work hard to be able to afford certain luxuries.
However, when we adopt an outlook which says essentially that we are nothing and nobodies unless we can bling, when our self-worth and self-esteem are wrapped up in the size of our liquid assets, our homes, the value of our motor vehicles and with power and prestige, then we are courting psychological disaster. Not to mention our philosophical bankruptcy.
While previous generations of Jamaicans grew up on the folk wisdom that it is better to "stay on crooked and cut straight" (when 'crooked' did not mean what it means today!), and while we were told by foreparents that "you have to learn to creep before you can walk", our youths today believe that they are in a disastrous position if they don't own their own homes, cars and are pulling down a big salary one year after graduation from university.
Patrons at The Jamaica Pegasus New Year's Eve ball, New Kingston, on Wednesday, December 31, 2008.- Winston Sill / Freelance Photographer
plunging into various sexual escapades just to drown out his sorrows and to get a high? The problem with most commentators on the left and the right is that they have no viable answers to these poignant questions. They speak in broad macro-economic and political-economic terms, but they can't address the really significant issues at the micro level.
no practical answers
My friends on the Caribbean Dialogues forum are excellent in critiquing the ills of bourgeois society, and sometimes glib in proposing answers, but if hard questions are put to them they have no practical answer to Jamaica's crisis. At least, nothing that is workable now and outside their ideological pipe dream.
For Jamaica to successfully weather the economic storms on the horizon, we have to have a capitalist and working class which is creative, transformative, innovative, revolutionary and highly motivated. We all agree, both the left and the right, that we don't have that now in Jamaica. So how are we to move from here to there? Nobody can give a convincing answer outside of platitudes.
profound point by PM
Prime Minister Golding made a profound point in his new year's message. He admits quite openly and significantly that "our economic structure and strategies weren't able to cut it in the past".
The significance of this statement cannot be overestimated, especially coming from a leader of the conservative Jamaica Labour Party. As I have been preaching in these columns, the problem with the Jamaican economy is not just with our strategies employed to grow it, but with its very structure. The prime minister and I agree on this important point. But, the prime minister went on in his message to make an even more noteworthy admission. Not only has our economic structure and strategies been unable to 'cut it' in the past, but "they are even less likely to cut it in the future". Has this critical statement passed over the heads of our commentators and opinion leaders?
Golding went on to say, "We are going to have to make changes in several areas - the way government operates, the way the private sector operates, the way employers and unions operate, the way we approach the business of production efficiency competitiveness and marketing."
We often focus on the need to change how government operates and those on the right make a mantra out of that. But the Jamaican private sector, which I have criticised strongly in a recent column, has much to change.
wrong management attitudes
The sector is not as avant-garde and 'with it' as its members suppose. Jamaican management has a lot to learn about how to deal with employees and how to employ soft skills and emotional competencies efficiently.
Enlightened business people from Europe and America, and those trained in the best business schools there, would be surprised at some of our management approaches and attitudes in Jamaica. That will have to change.
We have made progress in some of the technical areas the prime minister mentioned - in marketing, efficiency, etc. We need to build on that. But what I am less sanguine about is what the prime minister went on to say. He opined that we have to make changes in "the sacrifices we are prepared to make to secure our future and how those sacrifices are to be shared among us".
But what will motivate ordinary workers and citizens to make those sacrifices? Do Jamaicans generally trust government officials, private-sector leaders and "society people" to take care of and advance their interests? Are they not cynical about those people? So what will make them hope that things will be different? What will inspire them to make sacrifices, to tighten their belts? And what sacrifices are our political, private-sector and civic leaders willing to make in this new era to show those on the margins that that they share their pain?
What is it in our modern culture - not talking now about our traditions and history - but our American-influenced hedonistic, materialistic culture; what is it in that culture which would motivate people to sacrifice, to care for others, to put the interests of others before their own?
We are horrified at the 19-year-old who left her child to suffer, while she went to Sting, but I am neither surprised nor alarmed. I am sorry.
That is not surprising given our narcissistic culture. It's been years now that mothers have been abandoning their children, not all the time in open lots, but abandoned them nonetheless for greener pastures while they seek their own interests. The phenomenon is the 'Barrel Children Syndrome'. We always act so shocked and horrified when certain things take place, yet careful thought would show that they are part of a wider phenomenon.
Our dancehall culture is one of self-absorption, narcissism and aggrandisement, which it shares with the dominant capitalist culture exported from America.
A people bred on this culture are not prepared for 2009 or any of the crises it will unfold. Marxists tend to underplay the superstructure vis-à-vis the economic base. Yes, there is a dialectical relationship. But our superstructure of values and norms exert a powerful influence on the economy.
JLP and PNP regimes are victims of this same culture and that is why our people continue to get frustrated and disillusioned even though they change parties, because our problems are more fundamental than the political parties lead us to believe.
Bruce Golding is at least on to something and my hope is that he will develop on that theme of a systemic change in our economic structure and strategies. But what will be even more challenging is to change our cultural orientation of greed, selfishness, bling, hedonism - which is at the root of our high levels of corruption, crime and social decay.
Our culture, in which 'the clash' between Kartel and Mavado is the highlight of the week and the subject of much glorification in the media, is a sick decadent culture, whatever our academics say. That performers like Kartel and Mavado who glorify violence are the heroes of the underclasses is frightening. And that these purveyors of filth, who curse each other's mother can be passed off as just providing entertainment for fans tell us how far down the road of decadence we have gone. Perhaps more worrying is that important sections of the intelligentsia see absolutely nothing wrong with this.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist who may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.