Sun | Mar 26, 2017

A duty to reject political spin, speak truth to power

Published:Friday | September 5, 2014 | 9:00 AM

Aubyn Hill, Financial Gleaner COLUMNIST

In the 19the century, the Victorian and Scottish philosopher and writer called economics 'the dismal science' because of the late 18th-century commentary of the Reverend Thomas Malthus.

Malthus said that the relentless growth of the world's population, as predicted, would lead to widespread misery and even starvation as the world's food supplies failed to grow in tandem with its population.

It was in his Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question tract, published in 1849, that Carlyle argued for the reintroduction of slavery as a means to regulate the labour market in the West Indies.

In comparison with the 'gay science' - as it was called then - of writing verse and songs, Carlyle coined the 'dismal science' phrase in part to reflect Malthus' lugubrious disposition.

Economics, according to Carlyle, was dismal in "'finding the secret of this universe in 'supply and demand', and reducing the duty of human governors to that of letting men alone. Instead, the 'idle black man in the West Indies' should be compelled to work as he was fit, and to do the maker's will who had constructed him."

Well, no less a personality than John Stuart Mill, who has been called 'the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the 19th Century', attacked Carlyle's view (not the man) as "making a virtue of toil itself, stunting the development of the weak, and committing the 'vulgar error of inputting every difference which he finds among human beings to an original difference of nature'."

Mill's famous 'On Liberty' discloses his belief in a liberty in which the freedom of the individual is justified in opposition to the unlimited control of the State.

BALANCING SPIN, PROPAGANDA

This past week, the Observer newspaper, in its editorial on Thursday, cautioned me about being unhappy with "anything positive about economic performance".

That caution was occasioned because I had the temerity to interpret the governor of the Bank of Jamaica's claim that the "Jamaican economy is showing unprecedented resilience to inflationary shocks" with this observation: "That resilience that he (the governor) talks about, translate that into absolutely no growth, or translate that into saying that growth in the economy is so weak and money is so tight among ordinary spenders, their disposable income is so non-existent that there is nothing they can use to trigger inflation".

I was duly chastised by the editorial writer of that respected competitor newspaper, and it was made clear that the writer would accept the governor's word over mine. Not a problem; exercise free choice. But was the editorial directing readers as to whom they should believe?

The concern the whole matter raised in my mind is the thought that an authority figure, who is an employee of the State, is given a free pass, a 'bly' by members of the 'fourth estate' - the press - which is supposed to be guardians of the people against the State, and keeping officials from taking too much power onto themselves.

The BOJ governor is clearly one of the most benign of the lot and he stays on a narrow path and is often far better informed than most of the rest. However, the concept that officials are right, or even generally right, and must not be questioned, is a terribly wrong one in a democracy.

JAMAICA'S 'BLY' CULTURE

A couple years after I came back to Jamaica early in the new century, I noticed the great deference Jamaicans extended to top politicians and prominent leaders of government and a few business institutions.

It was not the fawning kind of obeisance that was prevalent in the Middle East and even parts of Asia, but it was, and is, far more than is given to similar leaders in countries which are our major trading partners and whose democratic systems we copy and try to emulate.

We have been selective in our copying. We have not copied the kind of accountability that makes our political and economic leaders place the economic and social well-being of Jamaicans at the centre of their policies.

Economic growth and reliance on one's efforts to better oneself have been replaced by too much borrowing, a pervasive sense of entitlement among all strata of Jamaicans, a state which has commandeered the commanding heights of the economy and used that power to perpetuate political machinery - but has produced little or no economic growth - and in the process handed too much-power to a certain group of politicians to the loss of the population.

An important part of our future development is that those of us who have a Jamaica-first, rather than a partisan-political-party-first approach, must stand ready to interpret and question the relentless political spin that our government and its officials spew continually at us.

Aubyn Hill is the CEO of Corporate Strategies Ltd and Chairman of the Opposition Leader's Economic Advisory Council.Email: writerhill@gmail.comTwitter: @HillAubyn