Sun | Jul 21, 2019

Mark Ricketts | Democratic socialism is PNP’s problem

Published:Sunday | June 30, 2019 | 12:22 AM
Peter Bunting, challenger for the post of president of the People’s National Party.
Dr Peter Phillips gestures to the audience during the launch of his ‘One PNP’ campaign on Thursday, June 27.
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Campaigning in St Thomas, Peter Bunting, who has challenged President Peter Phillips for the party’s leadership, was like a man possessed.

He was fired up with language, posture, and untamed energy, reminiscent of Michael Manley in the seventies. Comrade Bunting, member of parliament and former PNP general secretary, was doing the rounds to win delegates.

But leadership will not make a difference, whichever Peter wins. The problem with the PNP is not the messenger, but the message – that of democratic socialism.

Moreover, Bunting’s impatience and vaulting ambition are divisive.

Socialists talk a nice language of large-scale central planning to streamline the means of production, worker participation, and governments taking from the rich to give to the poor, thereby creating a more egalitarian society.

But, as evident in developing countries such as Zimbabwe and Venezuela, bureaucracies multiply, cronyism rules, productivity declines, fiscal management is excused, inflation accelerates, the national debt explodes, growth stalls, and the masses get shafted as a shrinking national pie leaves them with less and less.

Some African and Latin American countries, e.g., Rwanda, Chile, Botswana, Mauritius, Uganda, Kenya, have avoided socialism, or turned the pages, in their drive to increase per-capita income).

Yet, Comrade Phillips, on assuming party presidency, declared, “I will not apologise for embracing democratic socialism, which still has its place in the 21st century.”

Phillips, Bunting and many comrades, entrapped by the socialist ideology, lack a vision that is expansive, engaging, enlightening, vibrant, and relevant to today’s economy. They parade the same old themes of yesteryear: mobilisation, volunteerism, social goods, land reform, community development, cooperatives. Nothing that facilitates a real breakout of the economy.

They hate bigness, the plantation, large corporations, profits, and wealth creation, and they make no distinction between business leaders and the impact they have in driving an economy. They think a leader is a leader is a leader, or a manager is a manager is a manager. That is not so.

There are not that many people who are geniuses in conceiving extremely bold, daring, and innovative ideas, implementing and marketing them, and sustaining consumer interest. That’s why there are few Mark Zuckerbergs, Bill Gateses, Jeff Bezoses, Mexico’s Carlos Slims, Chinese Jack Mas, Jamaica-born Jason Marses, Kenyan Peter Mungas, and the Sudan-born Mo Ibrahims.

Identifying a few business gurus locally, it would have been great if Jamaica had a dozen or more Butch Stewarts, Michael Lee-Chins, Josef Bogdanoviches, and William Mahfoods.

Many of these people creating wealth are first-generation achievers and they are super brilliant at what they do in a vein similar to Beethoven, Mozart, and Marley in music, or Usain Bolt in athletics, or Messi in scoring goals.

With socialism not having much success in developing countries, and having failed in Jamaica, Phillips is finding it hard to secure a groundswell of support for his ideas, or even to articulate policies, which are transformational and growth-inducing.

Socialism, as an ideology, simply can’t cut it in Jamaica. Jamaica took the wrong road after independence. A plethora of garrisons; patronage and the politics of facilitation (nearly a third of our population squat); socialism; cronyism; poor governance in central government and state-run enterprises have led to massive devaluation, gargantuan debt, low productivity, and anaemic growth.

Phillips, Bunting and other Comrades must understand that the party is bereft of coherent, relevant, and market-driven policy measures to stimulate growth, and that’s why an intelligent, rising star in the party, Damion Crawford, campaigning in a PNP stronghold, with a majority advantage of 2,200 votes, can advance a silly idea of giving a goat to every family in the constituency.

In an age of market specialisation, disruptive technologies, competitive advantage, corporate conglomerates, globalisation, Crawford, if not suffocated by socialist dogma, would have offered more enterprising solutions.

STUCK IN A TIME WARP

Phillips and the party are still stuck in a time warp of yesterday’s thinking. That is why an RJRGLEANER Don Anderson poll reveals Phillips’ negative was more than three times worse (51% to 15%) than Holness’, and the PM’s positive rating was four times that of Phillips’ (48% to 12%).

But Phillips’ problem is Bunting’s problem. It is a mindset. They are trapped by socialist dogma, which hates competition, although competition drives innovation. The PNP Glossary of Terms states, “Democratic socialism emphasises cooperation rather than competition, and service rather than self-interest. Its ultimate objective is the building of a classless society by removing the element of entrenched economic privilege which is the basis of class divisions.”

Nice, fancy language, ideal for a utopian society where nobody resides but has no relevance in a Jamaica that needs to revolutionalise its education, offset its research-infrastructural deficit, grow at least three per cent a year to modernise its institutions, and increase productivity because employment growth is not driving a corresponding increase in GDP.

Apart from Bunting being as similarly immersed as Phillips in an unimaginative, socialist agenda, what is off-putting is Bunting’s challenge to Phillips, so soon after Phillips assumed the presidency and so close to the next general election.

Bunting is convinced Phillips is going to lose that election because he has not implemented a single transformational initiative and there has been a decline in the party’s electoral competitiveness.

If Bunting’s assertions are correct, why not bide his time till after the general election, then when Phillips loses and resigns, Bunting could take charge with overwhelming support from the party, having established his selflessness.

Furthermore, Phillips recently offered Bunting the position of campaign director. Had he taken it, this would have benefited the party in organisation and marketing, and would consolidate Bunting’s standing in a subsequent leadership contests.

Instead, Bunting has heightened factionalism in the party by mounting a challenge. If Phillips beats Bunting in September, but loses the general election, he will have no upside, but he will have an excuse, (IBF) ‘It’s Bunting’s Fault.’

If Bunting wins in September, he had better win the general election, otherwise a loss would give him no upside, and no excuse.

Bunting, like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, might contemplate:

But in these cases,

We still have judgement here; that we but teach.

Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return.

To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice.

Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice.

To our own lips.

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author and lecturer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.