Editorial | PNP finally speaks policy
The People’s National Party (PNP) and its leader, Mark Golding, may finally have appreciated that the best path for returning to government isn’t to hope that the current one implodes, or merely rant about its failures and mistakes – real or perceived.
For, as this newspaper more than once advised Mr Golding, Jamaicans need something more to vote for his party; that the PNP is offering potentially transformative programmes and policies. Or as Peter Phillips, his predecessor as the PNP president, framed it at the public session of the party’s annual conference on Sunday, the elections can’t merely be about changing one set of ministers for another.
After almost three years in the job, that message seems to be seeping through, judging by Mr Golding’s speech to the conference. His remarks were wide-ranging, but coherent. They suggested that the PNP has the embryo, or at least broad ideas, of a policy to move the economy beyond the confines of fiscal stability, to sustained growth and, perhaps, real development.
Importantly, these outlines appear not to be something just mouthed by the party leader, but largely settled positions between himself and his shadow finance minister, Julian Robinson.
They used similar language to describe Jamaica’s economic predicament – that it is trapped in a low-wage, low-technology, low-growth model – and proffered very much the same prescription for its extrication: a strong emphasis on education and training (including a focus on the early childhood and STEAM sectors), investment in research and innovation, and partnerships between the government, the private sector and education institutions to address the island’s problem of low productivity and shortage of skilled workers.
“The deficits in education and training leave us behind in the global workforce, as we are not attracting investments in high-paying, high-tech, value-added production of goods and services, which is key to wealth creation,” Golding said.
He added: “I am already in discussions with private-sector leaders to identify innovative solutions to these problems that meet their legitimate needs for workers, while ensuring that the country’s training capacity for our people is expanded and modernised.”
FUNDING THE POLICIES AND PROGRAMMES
On its face, Mr Golding and his party are proposing, in modified form, what not so long ago was a dirty concept in development economics: the idea of an industrial policy and the picking of winners, which was seen as an interference with the purity of markets.
These orthodoxies, however, are increasingly under stress, with challenges to them having acquired a new legitimacy in the bastion of the market economy, the United States, in the form of Bidenomics, President Joe Biden’s programme of public investment to help unlock private capital to create jobs and growth. It also has the advantage of promoting America’s geopolitical interests.
For instance, over a decade Mr Biden’s US$783 -billion Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will, among other things, steer nearly US$370 billion of government money to green technology innovation and training. It will cause things to be built in the United States to combat climate change, while at the same time driving the country into new technologies to help wean it off fossil fuels.
Additionally, the CHIPS Act allocates US$280 billion to help US firms innovate in the development and manufacture of semiconductors, as part of Mr Biden’s effort to ensure American independence in chips, and to outpace China as an economic and geopolitical rival.
Jamaica, however, is not the United States. It doesn’t have a lot of money sloshing around with which to readily fund the kind of undertakings proposed by Mr Golding, such as his promise to invest in “teacher training and compensation,” as well as in infrastructure and technology.
In other words, were Mr Golding’s party to form the government, either he would have to find new sources of cash to finance these and the several other programmes he has placed on the agenda, or make policy choices to fit existing resources. Which is where the PNP leader fell short in his presentation and must now address: how a PNP government would pay for its policies and programmes.
WILL REQUIRE PARTNERSHIP
Clearly, a decade of hard-won fiscal stability, which has helped to achieve record-low unemployment, mustn’t be compromised. Mr Robinson said it won’t.
Nonetheless, it can’t be ignored that Jamaica is still to enjoy robust growth (the projection is for between one per cent and three per cent this year) and labour and factor productivity continue to decline (by one per cent in 2022). This, over the long run, is untenable.
Against this backdrop, two things are clear: the capacity of low- and low-middle-income countries transitioning to high-wage, high-technology, and high-growth and developed status isn’t easy. And certainly not if they do the same things, without change. Very few have managed it.
But not being easy doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Achieving it, especially in the context of today’s global environment, insists on a deep and focused partnership, involving all sectors of the government, the private sector, labour and civil society – beyond the engagement that currently takes place in Jamaica.
Mark Golding has opened an opportunity for a new policy discussion and debate, which, hopefully, will be joined by the Government, private-sector leadership, trade unions and civil society interests.