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Who's to blame for Jamaica's economy?

Published:Friday | August 17, 2012 | 8:00 AM

Ken Jones, Contributor

With a level head, Ian Boyne has provided us with an excellent exposition ('Now for an economic Bolt',
Sunday Gleaner, August 12, 2012) that reveals Jamaica's economic stagnation at a time when other countries, some much smaller and with fewer resources, have managed to overcome varied disasters to experience growth and prosperity.

The article describes our miserable performance over the past 40 years: "There has been no country which has been such a consistent economic failure over such a long period as Jamaica." It ascribes this condition to disastrous economic management; and it says "our political and economic elite have failed us".

However, it falls short of identifying the administrations and the policies that caused or contributed to the dilemma. Instead, Ian declares: "It makes no sense for one political party to argue that under its administration or administrations, there was better economic performance."

Whether or not the political parties should engage in argument about performance, the fact is that this is the very point that we should be seriously considering. It makes sense to argue about who and what may have caused the woes we have been suffering these 40 years in the economic wilderness.

We have been more of a failure in making choices between those who come seeking to play the role of our economic managers. This, more than anything else, is responsible for our economic stagnation.

Perspicacity vs partisanship

Glib tongues are wont to say we are a sensible electorate, even though it is plain to see that on the whole, Jamaican voters tend to consider personalities above policies and party interest above the national interest. In growing numbers, they are marking the ballot according to who can bribe them with bigger bags of pelf or promises. The deleterious effect of this is clear for the thinking person to discern. But too many prefer to gloss it over and to confuse perspicacity with partisanship.

Let the record speak. The first 10 years of Independence was marked by average economic growth of more than six per cent. Not every social ill was addressed in that short span, but the resources needed to do so were being accumulated.

Despite this, Jamaican voters were easily persuaded that an urgent change was necessary; so we changed course.

In November 1974, at a political rally, the leader of the country declared, "The capitalist system is the system that brought slavery to Jamaica. Under capitalism, we supported 300 years of colonialism and no way shall capitalism continue in Jamaica. Socialism is running Jamaica now!"

Four years later, the economy was in shambles. The country had run out of foreign exchange, production was down, the value of our money slipped badly, among other social ills. Who could argue that the economy was better managed by the previous administration!

Fluctuating growth

The leader of the socialist government that caused the economic disaster that still troubles us today wrote an article explaining: "The fact is that we all seriously miscalculated the capacity of the State to intervene effectively. Despite the enormous sincerity we brought to the task, our nationalist and statist approach didn't work ... ."

In 1980, Jamaican voters, faced with privation and an increasing number of sufferers, changed course back to the system they had rejected in 1972. The economy soon began to grow again, albeit by small increments. Stability was returning, and to the discerning, the repaired economy was about to take off. It was at this point that the voters determined that the very managers who had wrecked the economy should be put back in charge, because they were now talking capitalism and agreeing that the private sector should be the engine of growth.

The change around the end of 1989 and the new managers put their imprint on what followed for the next 18 years. While the world economy was growing, Jamaica lagged behind with less than one per cent average growth.

What has happened since 2007 is of vintage too recent to be recalled here. Suffice it to say that the managers of the economy between 2007 and 2011 were just getting some growth when the voters returned to what they had rejected just four years earlier.

We might find that it is not just the political and economic elite that has failed, but the voters themselves as well.

Ken Jones is a communication specialist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and kensjones2002@yahoo.com.