Sun | Jan 29, 2023

Who will break the iron pot?

Published:Friday | February 26, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Basil Fletcher, Contributor

Some years ago, the leadership of the People's Republic of China came to the conclusion that if the Chinese society was to join the industrialised world, the 'iron pot' of traditional approaches, of collective thinking, the culture of the collective, would have to be broken.

The correctness of this call to 'break the iron pot' can be best seen in the state of the traditional aboriginal communities in Australia, communities of people who have done the same things the same way for no less than 5,000 years. The result of this unbroken and unmodified chain of cultural traditions has created a people who are ill-prepared to meet the challenges of the modern world, unable to meet the needs of its people in a radically changed socio-economic environment.

Jamaica, up until the late 1950s and early 1960s, was an advanced society compared with many of the countries in central and eastern Europe, and years ahead in development when compared with the countries of Asia. Yet, over the last 50 years, Jamaica, rather than joining the ranks of the developed countries, has been fighting tooth and nail to maintain its position among the middle-income countries.

Real per capita GDP has been on the decline for decades, advances made in increased life expectancy has been offset by social fragmentation, increasing levels of crime and violence and accelerated urban decline. The question therefore is: Why have the fortunes of Jamaica declined while those of Slovakia, Latvia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and others increased?

Life objectives

Over the decades, the ordinary Jamaican pursued one of two life objectives, expressed in the following statements: (1) "I do not want to be wealthy, I want to be able to live and take care of my needs"; or (2) "I do not want to be rich, I just want to be comfortable". Thanks to increasing productivity in the growing of grain in the United States and elsewhere, thanks to the increasing levels of productivity in animal husbandry and agro-processing in the United States and elsewhere, thanks to the increasing levels of efficiency and productivity in the manufacture of motor vehicles and other manufactured goods in Japan, the United States, Korea and elsewhere, Jamaicans in the main have been able to take care of themselves and in many cases to be comfortable even with declining real incomes and decreasing productivity.

The fact that the Jamaican people have been net beneficiaries of the international system and increasing international productivity of capital (Down with imperialism!), neither the country, nor the people nor its leadership, has been forced to break the iron pot. In fact, rather than seeking to break the iron pot, the entire urban system appears to be geared towards the preservation and protection of the 'iron pot', with the isolation and social marginalisation of anyone with questionable intentions who try to get near to the 'blessed iron pot'.

Costs to society

The preservation and protection of the 'iron pot', however, has come at significant social and economic costs to the society as a whole and the urban system in particular. At the national level, one is thinking of a country with negative savings and very low domestic capital formation, with results in high interest rates, high levels of unemployment, negative trade balance, corruption and drug smuggling as means of overcoming the scarcity of loan capital and as means of personal wealth creation.

At the urban level, one is speaking of infrastructure decay, the abandonment of communities by the state and social services, increasing numbers of squatter communities, a trauma care dominated health system, ungovernable schools, a moribund justice system, gangsterism and the multiplications of gangs.

The country, having entered into a new relationship with the International Monetary Fund, has planted the seeds of hope - that interest rates will finally decline; that the state will cease crowding out the private sector; that the Jamaican dollar will remain stable and that the country will be able to access new sources of funds in the form of grants and low interest loans.

What, however, the country and its people have failed to understand and come to terms with is the fact that if the 'iron pot' is not broken, all the funds and money in the world means nothing, we will be back to square one in a jiffy. The socio-economic history of Nigeria shows this most clearly. Hence the basic question remains: 'Who will break the iron pot?'

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