Reginald Budhan, Guest Columnist
Even though there appears to be no universally accepted definition as to what is a failed state, a state is said to have failed when it is unable to discharge some of the basic responsibilities of a sovereign government.
Philosophically, a government must discharge responsibilities which individuals cannot do for themselves through the market in an efficient and effective manner. Originally, the most basic responsibility of a government was the protection of its citizens from external threats and internally protecting the weak from the strong.
As society evolves, the basic responsibilities of the State widen to include monopoly on things such as some road infrastructure, making collective decisions, enactment and enforcement of laws, interfacing with other countries, etc.
In order to discharge these functions, the state needs money, which it collects from its citizens in the form of taxes based on ability to pay. When the state is unable to exercise monopoly and collect enough taxes and/or is unable to borrow to discharge its functions, this could be a sign that the state is failing.
In the case of Jamaica, the State certainly has no challenge to its monopoly in the various socio-economic spheres. Jamaica has one of the finest examples of a legal and administrative infrastructure in the world. This is not surprising, as the government has benefited from some of the brightest brains locally and from the multilateral and bilateral community.
Jamaica is even a best practice in some fields such as housing, health care, etc. Jamaica has a very stable democracy where the losing party respects the will of the majority. Jamaica is also very much a brand-name country with an enviable international profile for its size in the field of international representation, relationship with other countries, sports, music, tourism, etc.
If Jamaica is a failed state, or near-failed state, it is in three inter-related areas:
With adequate amount of taxes, any Jamaican government would be able to provide all the services that citizens demand. In fact, to me, "GOVERNMENT = TAXES". No taxes, no government! So, if you want to have government, pay taxes!
Government gets taxes from citizens. That is the only true source of revenue. Note that a loan is not revenue. It is taxes to be collected. Government does not get enough taxes because some individuals and companies evade paying taxes while a large proportion do not qualify to pay. The inadequate amount of taxes over the years and a demanding electorate force succeeding governments to overborrow, and that is why the debt to GDP is close to 150 per cent.
Companies are required to pay taxes only when they make a profit. Companies only make a profit when they are competitive and profitable.
Unprofitability of Businesses
One of the most important challenges facing the country is the unprofitability of businesses because of their lack of international competitiveness. Today, countries do not compete based on the muscle of its people or natural-resource endowment. Countries compete based on the development of the brains of its people through intensive education and training over several years. Jamaica's low level of education is reflected in its labour productivity, which has been declining for the past 30 years while that of our trading partners has been increasing.
No country with this kind of labour productivity record has any place in today's modern, highly sophisticated and globalised world. For example, research by the Jamaica Productivity Centre shows that it takes between five and six Jamaicans to do what one Trinidadian does! That is because while the Jamaicans are using manual labour or obsolete machines in the production system, the Trinidadians are using modern machines and robots! If you are unhappy with Trinidad as an example, use Singapore, Japan, Barbados, Cayman Islands, The Bahamas and the little Turks and Casco Islands. They all have higher per-capita income than us and little or no natural resources.
So if education is the basis for high labour productivity and international competitiveness, why is the educational level of Jamaica so low? Many of us will rush to blame the teachers. However, all our teachers have to meet the same minimum requirements to enter universities and teachers' colleges; they all get the same teaching and they all get the same pay, irrespective of the school at which they work. The quality of academic qualifications of teachers is no doubt a random distribution across the schools.
Inferior Genetic Make-up
So if the problem is not so much with the teachers, it could be that the genetic make-up of the Jamaicans is just inferior. But a random distribution of Jamaican brains does excellently locally and abroad. I will bet my last dollar that the students that go to the brand-name schools such as Campion and Immaculate have no super intellectual potential at birth from those which attend the so-called failing schools.
The vast majority of children that excel academically come from homes where the parents place a high value on education and important civil values such as respect, selflessness, honesty, discipline, obedience and hard work. It is the quality of socialisation of children in civil values when they are young that will determine success in the academics.
If you doubt this, assume that a teacher teaches the same lesson to Class A and Class B which are characterised as follows:
Class A students:
Class B students:
Assume that the teacher gives a test at the end of the lesson to each class. Which class will do better on the test? Your answer should convince you why intensive socialisation in civil values is critical to an educated nation.
Providing high-quality education to children with the wrong civil values is like casting pearls before swine. They cannot appreciate it and cannot absorb it.
Parents are the first teachers. They are responsible to socialise their children in the values of a civil society. Socialisation in civil values is what differentiates man from beast. It is the most basic and fundamental level of education. It is like the operating system of a computer.
It is the responsibility of the homes to adequately socialise their children in civil values that is the root cause of Jamaica's dilemma today. Many homes have failed their children in this basic responsibility.
It is the homes or parents that have failed, not the State. Contrary to popular opinion, it is parents who pass exams and not students! Understanding the problem is 50 per cent of the solution. If we understand the problem, we will know where to focus our priorities and energies.
Jamaican homes have failed in their most basic responsibility of socialising children in the fundamentals of a modern, civil society which is anchored in good core values. This is the root cause of our sorrows!
Socialisation in civil values and good attitudes => good behaviour => educated nation => internationally competitive and profitable businesses => taxes and employment => good public services and high quality of life
Since the homes have failed in the proper socialisation of children, and all children must go through the school system, by default, the school must assume the responsibility of socialisation of children in civil values of respect, honesty, discipline, hard-working, obedience, etc.
This is the most basic form of education. It is more basic than A, B, C and 1, 2, 3 and is a prerequisite for education. Meanwhile, the society must demand greater levels of responsibility from parents in the training and education of their children.
Parenting is an awesome responsibility if we are to have a highly educated nation that is going to be able to compete with other countries.
Reginald Budhan is a former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.