I wonder if Jamaica has something about its economic structure that would repay further study. Is it worth looking more closely at its forms of homo economicus?
To the extent that we understand what value means, it is clear that certain bodies of Jamaican economic life understand how to put value on what they do. Everything has a price, I learned in undergraduate economics. One breed of economic man in Jamaica makes sure you know it, as far as services go: the golf caddy. I learnt this a few months ago. Now, I am seeing it in wider context.
The Jamaican caddy usually works as a self-employed person.
He or she always works with cash transactions. He or she will do many things for the golfer. He or she will expect (not demand) payment for all the he/she does. Example: bag carrying is offered at a basic fee–let’s call that J$2000. That service covers cleaning clubs, finding balls, offering advice on choice of clubs, offering advice on tendency of ball on putting greens. That’s a good price for many important parts of a golfer’s game. However, the caddy may have to do more.
He or she may need to run or walk back to retrieve club covers for his/her employer of the day. It seems that this is included in the basic price.
The caddy, however, expects additional payment if any of the services are offered and taken by players other than the prime employer. I have learned to avoid all contact with a caddy whom I have not employed. “Boss, you owe me a 10 bills,” does not need to come near my ear.
A friend and I played a round yesterday afternoon; she’d not played in a while-over a year, I think. We had a great time. At some stage, she forgot a club. The group playing behind us came by and indicated that one of the caddies had found her club. It was returned to the lady. She was happy, as she was just in need of the particular club. She went off to play her shot. “Mr. Dennis, is usually a drink fi di caddy fi fin’ a club,” a caddy I knew whispered in my ear. I told him I would mention it to the lady.
Later in our round another caddy came up to me and said “Barssy! A fi yu club dis? Yu kno’ some o’ dem wudda kup tek it an’ keep it,” I took the club. I understood the comment, and let the man have J$100. (I’m not sure what he drinks, but in Jamaica that’s enough for a hefty snifter or a beer.)
We finished our round and I mentioned to my lady friend what I’d been told before. She was visibly taken aback. “In Canada, people would just return a club and that would be it,” she said. I took people to mean other golfers, and that would be my expectation, too. But, amateur golfers are not playing to get paid. She went in search of the caddy, and funnily he was already in search of her. They met. They spoke. She paid. Happy couple.
Jamaica is full of people who know how to extract payment for many things for which no payment is made in other countries, or for which payment is regulated in other ways in other countries. Sometimes, we see that as extortion. Sometimes, we see it as ‘making a living’. Kind words don’t fill hungry bellies.