In my last two columns, I pointed out that Jamaica now finds itself in an increasingly small group of countries left behind, while most of the Third World, after decades of relative backwardness, have started growing so fast they are starting to catch up to the rich countries.
Moreover, despite all the explanations we have piled up to blame our stagnation on external forces, from slavery to colonialism to neo-imperialism, other countries which once made the same claims have since decided to leave us behind and jump on the growth train. We're the ones who chose to stay behind, lonely and complaining about the bad service of a punctual train when it was we who turned up late.
Our efforts to engineer growth from above have failed where others have succeeded. South Korea, Taiwan and many others used state-led growth to transform themselves. Whatever its social achievements, Jamaica's 1970s experiment with state-led growth was an economic catastrophe. Our experiments with industrial policy since have been unremarkable. Yet Jamaica, like these countries, had a skilled bureaucracy with the capacity to manage growth. It wasn't the lack of capacity which caused our failures.
One of the things which comparative study has revealed is that countries in which there was strong consensus within the leadership were able to repress incomes and, thereby, raise investment during their 'sowing' phase. Now they're reaping their bountiful harvests.
The laggards were characterised by deep divisions, in which case leaders distributed the benefits of growth - including future growth, via debt - in order to build and retain support. Sound familiar?
'Motty' Perkins used to say Jamaica created its own tribes. But the country also inherited severe class and racial divisions from its plantation past. Slavery is far from irrelevant to our current travails. Nonetheless, other countries which inherited similar divisions from their past, like Malaysia or Mauritius, found creative solutions which overcame the cleavages.
In contrast, Jamaica's political and intellectual leaders were seemingly smitten with a Manichaean world view in which one group's rise necessitated another's fall. Politics thus became a zero-sum game. A self-fulfilling prophecy resulted as the consequent economic stagnation turned politics into a genuinely zero-sum game over increasingly scarce benefits (as P.J. Patterson once ruefully characterised our politics).
Now, after decades of this, we find ourselves in a syndrome in which most everyone looks out for himself or herself. Some blame this selfishness on neoliberalism, but as far as I can tell, the origins go back further than that - further, even, than budding entrepreneurs being told to hop on the next flight to Miami (which, sadly, many of them ended up doing). Rare, today, is the Jamaican politician looking beyond the next election.
Will the recent social partnership change this? We all hope so, certainly. But I, for one, will - to mix Jamaican metaphors - hope with one eye. I've been here before. When I was running the Caribbean Policy Research Policy Institute, the think tank involved itself in an earlier social partnership initiative, which ran into the usual caginess of politicians and union leaders reluctant to commit to anything that might turn to a rival's advantage.
This partnership has progressed further than the last initiative. But while one of my eyes will be closed to visualise the new Jamaica that might result, the other will remain open, watching to see how fully the politicians commit to it.
And if I see them gearing up to reap the fruit before it has ripened, simply because the next election is due, I will know that we are still stuck with leaders who think that trying to jump a free ride on the caboose constitutes a development policy.
John Rapley, a political economist at the University of Cambridge, is currently on a visiting professorship at Queen's University in Canada. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.