The same week euphoria, ecstasy and Boltmania drenched the island, Western Union had to close all its outlets in Montego Bay, presumably because of our lotto scam corruption, and the same week it was announced our secondary-school students did poorly in their English and math exams.
While last Thursday every office, factory, shop, yard and any space housing humans in Jamaica was overwhelmed with jubilation over the 1-2-3 in London, gas prices had also played high that very day; unemployment is at a 10-year high; and it was revealed that our net international reserves (NIR) had declined yet again.
We couldn't have asked for a better birthday present last week as we celebrated our 50th; no better constellation of forces or arrangement of circumstances. Everything went superlatively well. What a week!
If we could only translate some of that awesome, awe-inspiring sporting prowess into the economy. In other words, move on to the economic bolt! I don't dignify that asinine view that we have achieved nothing in our 50 years. But we have to admit we have done disastrously in economic management. We have been spectacular in sports and music, but we have been equally spectacular in our economic failures.
For the past 40 years, our gross domestic product (GDP) has had an annual growth rate of 0.9 per cent. Our productivity has declined on an annual basis by 1.3 per cent for 30 years. This spectacular failure cannot be covered by any amount of success in track and field. Usain St Leo Bolt cannot compensate for our national economic failure. It takes more than being a saint and a sprint sensation to do that.
The Global Competitiveness Report has us at the very bottom of the league in terms of macroeconomic growth. I was thinking a lot about this recently and pondering the fact that we have performed so monstrously over the last 40 years, asking the questions, "What really has been wrong? Why can't we get it together, economically?"
AHEAD ON TRACK, BEHIND OFF TRACK
I was doing some cross-country comparisons and seeing how other countries which were notorious economic laggards have gone past us. There has been no country which has been such a consistent economic failure over such a long period as Jamaica. It was very sobering to stare at the bare, cold facts. Facts are, indeed, stubborn things. But it makes no sense hiding from them in the blaze of Olympic glory.
I don't mean to rain on the grand parade or to interfere one bit with our exuberant and quite justifiable celebration. We need something to celebrate. Let's celebrate and have a good time!
Let's plan the big, incomparable welcome-home party for our athletes as a "grateful nation". But spare a few minutes to consider some facts, as we contemplate our next 50 years. Do you know that between 2003 and 2007, the average GDP growth of developing countries almost doubled from 3.6% in the previous two decades to 7.2%, and that almost no nation was left behind? Do you know that in 2007, for example, as many as 114 countries - up from about 50 the previous two decades - grew at more than 5%?
Do you know that countries with civil wars costing millions of lives have recovered to grow impressively, while Jamaica continues to be left behind? Rwanda, where one of the most dastardly genocides took place nearly two decades ago, is now one of the fastest-growing countries of the world, clocking eight per cent a year.
If you had a choice between seeing Usain further dazzle the world at nine seconds flat and Jamaica growing by five per cent, which would you prefer? We would both, of course. But if I were forced to make a choice, I would prefer to see more poor people from Sherwood Content, other parts of western Jamaica and Waterhouse get a chance to eat a good dinner than glory in our sprint prowess. Now, some nations have it both ways - the United States and China ended at the top of the medal table and they are economic superpowers.
I believe we can be both a cultural and economic giant. Let us not limit ourselves. We are more than minstrels, as Rex Nettleford often reminded us. We must show the world in our next 50 years that we can sing, dance and run track and field, as well as run an efficient and successful economy. Let us show the world that we can not only make strides on the track but that we can make stellar economic strides - equally dazzling as Bolt's and Shelly-Ann's.
Ethiopia, which suffered disastrous droughts and civil wars since our Independence, is now growing at 8% and is one of the fastest-growing countries not just in Africa but in the world. That backwater Asian country, Laos, is growing at 7.9%. Niger, which most people would not even hear about except for its links with terrorism, is growing at 8.5%. Angola is at 9.9%. War-torn Iraq is at 10.9%. Afghanistan is at 7.2%. Vietnam is now growing at 6.3%, and Sri Lanka, which was racked by ethnic violence and a prolonged civil war is teeming at 6.3% and has single-digit inflation rate. What is wrong with Jamaica? What curse are we under?
And it makes no sense for one political party to argue that under its administration or administrations, there was better economic performance. The stark fact is that as a people, for most of our Independence, we have been an abysmal failure, economically. We have been left in the dust on that track. And that is the track that can benefit the majority of our people.
CAN'T EAT CIRCUS
It's good, indeed great, that two billion people watched our stellar athletes, especially Legend Bolt, tear up the track in London. It's great that Jamaica is on everyone's lips now. I tell you, last week was a time of Jamaican pride. You couldn't help it.
But the reality is that we can't eat the circus. All those poor people in Half-Way Tree, Olympic Way, Waterhouse, Cashew Bush, etc. who were jumping up frantically had to try to hustle a food afterward. Boltmania can't feed them.
We have to find a way in our next 50 years to find something sustainable for all our people, not just some. It's good to take some out of Trench Town and make them into international musical superstars, and to take others from the bush of Trelawny and make them into trans-humans. Great that we let out a few poor people's children to 'step up inna life'. But we have to liberate far more, including more who can't run, sing or deejay.
On the very same day that Bolt would again shatteringly stamp his presence and prowess on the field, The Gleaner published a heart-rending, tear-jerking letter, 'Ambitious student pleads for help', which tells the story of a sixth-former abandoned by his parents, one of whom lives in a shack, the other barely eking out an existence in some tenement yard. The student, through charity and sheer determination, had gained eight CXCs with distinctions and credits. But he is now faced with being thrown out of school for he has no funds to go further.
The Gleaner saved him by publishing this letter, which drew attention from one prominent politician and others in media. That student is just one of many who have ambitions like Usain, Yohan, Warren and Shelly-Ann. Ambition, but no opportunity, for we have not grown an economy which can support them. And the economy is about to contract even further, at least in the short term. But, as Keynes said, in the long run, we are all dead!
We have one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world. One of the highest crime rates in the world. One of the highest levels of corruption in the world. We can't bury our heads on the track from all these facts. The fact is that while we made the world's only surviving superpower eat dust, we have been left behind in the economic race of life. Our political and economic elite has failed us.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
For the next 50 years, we have to set ourselves the goal of matching our cultural success. It is simply astounding what we have achieved in track and field and in music. Two books just this year came out looking at Bob Marley and The Wailers. Phenomenal stories. What those boys from the heart of one of our toughest inner cities have done is remarkable. We don't begin to understand the impact of Marley, Tosh and other of our musicians on the world. We only have a glimpse of how huge Usain Bolt is. Usain Bolt is larger than life. He is larger than this little planet. He is out of this world.
Jamaica is an undisputed cultural superpower. When I scrolled the medal table and saw how many big and imposing nations did not even get a bronze in any category; and saw how little Jamaica smashed and humiliated America of nearly 320 million people, you could not measure my pride.
When I watched that gripping, indescribably well-made One People documentary done by Justine Henzell and Zachary Harding, and saw again the impact of reggae and Jamaica on the world, my pride quotient shot through the roof. It's an oft-repeated cliché, but I have no better way of saying it: I am proud to be Jamaican.
But I would like more of my fellow Jamaicans to not only feel that pride; to not only revel in our sporting glory - remember the Reggae Boyz in 1998? - and our musical dominance, but I would like them to share in the economic spoils, too. We have to give the people more than entertainment and sports for our next 50. We can't just feed them on sports and music. They need more bread. We can't substitute religion as the opium of the people and give them sports and music.
We have a duty to future generations to give them an economy they can be proud of - to finally achieve Norman Manley's charge to post-Independence Jamaica.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.