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Budgeting on our national character

Published:Tuesday | May 29, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Daniel Thwaites

After the gas riots of 1979, 1985 and 1999, which real Jamaican doesn't smell a little tyre-burning smoke around difficult budget times?

So I got to thinking about national character when reading Gwynne Dyer's informative piece in the May 17, 2012 Gleaner about how Tibetan monks are setting themselves ablaze to protest Chinese occupation. Some 22 incidents of 'self-immolation' have occurred in the past year. That's a lot of burning.

As a Jamaican, I find self-immolation difficult to understand. There is something non-violent about the practice, at least in the sense that it isn't directed towards other people. But it seems like passive-aggressive disorder taken to absurd lengths. Either that, or the Tibetans are just too polite. Instead of declaring jihad, they dramatically reduce themselves to a tidy little mound of ashes.

I can't help but contrast this approach to our own. When we Jamaicans get angry enough at the Government, we'll burn the country and our neighbour's house down, but we would never set our own selves on fire. Would we?

Then the very funny Tony Deyal spent last Saturday discussing American foibles and, in particular, how stupid they can appear. Don't be fooled. America is so powerful it naturally generates a lot of resentment, particularly from Europeans who have had their geopolitical influence wane. I suggest that we generally hesitate to describe as 'stupid' anyone (or any people) that lead and dominate in economics, the arts, sciences, and in politics and power.

Are we better than the dumb americans?

While we gleefully upbraid the Americans for supposed idiocy, I wonder how the same survey questions referenced by Deyal would be answered by Caribbean folk? What percentage of our people can find Iraq on the map, know about the Amazon, or believe that the sun revolves around the earth?

My suspicion is we are full of our own appalling ignorances and exotic beliefs. I don't particularly want to be the one to enumerate any of these. For one thing, I believe all these same things too.

I cherish and will not relinquish the belief Buju is innocent. So is Busy. Kartel is being framed. They're picking on Ele, Ninja Man and Mavado which is why they have legal troubles. The system is a fraud. Yadda-yadda-yadda. I believe it all.

I believe the Government should introduce massive developmental projects within a few months of any election, but I also believe that the contractor general should take his own sweet time.

It's Budget time. So I believe that, as a country, we can increase expenditure but not raise taxes or borrow more money. Again, I'm in the clear majority here. Of course, I believe the Government must live within its means. But I also believe that Government needs to spend more on health care, and on early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary education, and on sports, and security and justice and transportation and roads and infrastructure and welfare.

Everyone's dodging responsibility

I further believe that everyone should pay property taxes, except me. I believe tax revenues need to be increased, but I don't believe we should tax agriculture, mining, tourism or manufacturing. Nor should we increase the licensing fees for anything, because times are too hard already. We can't tax consumption, because that's regressive and will hurt the poor. No more taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. Times are hard: Beer isn't just for breakfast anymore!

Naturally, we can't tax income any more, because that's not private-sector friendly. Plus, I believe we shouldn't tax small businesses because they can't afford it. We shouldn't tax medium-size businesses because they are growing and should be encouraged. And we shouldn't tax large businesses either for fear they will go offshore.

Like every good Jamaican, I believe the children are the future, and not only because Whitney sang it. I also believe that it's better to pay our debts later and allow the children to mature into a country whose debt exceeds its GDP. If we can get the money to borrow, I believe we should borrow it and spend it. I believe we're spending it for the children. Really.

Come to think of it, I'm not exactly sure we're all that different from the Americans who order a quarter-pounder with cheese, French fries, and a diet coke. In fact, I'm not so sure we're that different from the Tibetan monks. It's just that they go in for the quick blaze inflicted on themselves, while we like the slow roast and we'd generally prefer to set the children on fire.

Daniel Thwaites is a partner of Thwaites, Lundgren & D'Arcy in Westchester and Bronx counties in New York. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.