If the USA is the land of opportunity, then Jamaica is the land of opportunism. I am often struck by the fact that Jamaicans act with good economics rationale in many situations; they are really creatures of incentives. Driven by the urge to be selfish, people act in a way that gives them what they want, and really do not anticipate negative consequences, in part, because they rarely come into play. I will cite just a few random things that I saw this morning.
Man pilfers ackees from branches overhanging the road in an uptown neighbourhood. Stoops on sidewalk, and pegs the ackee fruit, throwing the pods over a wall into a gully. Many would see this as simple theft. In many respects, it is, but it’s also about survival. I was driving, so did not get the chance to discuss the action with the man, and though I thought of yelling “Stop, thief!” from my car window, I did not. Either the man (or someone in his household) was hungry and he saw the possibility for breakfast. Or, he was in need of money and saw the opportunity to obtain goods for sale, which he could obtain at zero cost, so maximising the profit potential. Jamaica has no social safety net that sits under most of the population: it’s every man, Jack, for himself, most times. So, what should one do if hungry or in need of income. Those in comfortable situations will start to talk about obeying laws, and morals, and conscience, but none of that matters when your belly is rumbling. Of course, the man may be a good-for-nothing low down thief, in which case all the lah-di-dah about laws, etc. is wasted. He possibly thinks the owners ‘can afford’ to lose a few ackees. The environmental issues of his garbage disposal are lost on him.
Two lanes of traffic are possible on a stretch of road. In the morning rush, as the road heads to a traffic light, there is an additional lane for those who wish to turn right. There is congestion, and a driver wanting to turn right, crosses into the lane for oncoming traffic, hoping to get to the turn lane before he meets another car. Quite sensible, from the view point that he need no wait in line to do what he wants to do. However, he meets and on coming car–driven by me–which blocks his progress. Fortunately, I know the road, so had not been driving so fast as to collide. The corner where we met is not blind, so he probably thought he could make his manoeuvre without problem, but he was wrong. Up until the meeting of the two cars, he could have assumed that his actions were going to endanger no one. A lot of accidents in Jamaica happen because of similar manoeuvres: doing the wrong thing on the road and misjudging the possible outcomes.
I go to a gas station to fill up my car: the indicator says 5km range left, and I have to go out later. The station also has an automatic banking machine (ABM). Whenever I’ve been to the station to use the ABM, I see a sign warning ‘out of service’, or I try to use the machine and get a message ‘out of service’. This should be fixed, or the machine taken out of commission. The staff at the station tell me that the malfunctions have been reported repeatedly, yet, here we are. Fortunately, I do not need cash to pay as I can use the same bank’s debit card, and I can go on my way. But, why has the bank not dealt with the problem? It has a good reputation for caring about its customers and the community in general. How many people waste their time stopping to try to get cash and go away dissatisfied? If the bank monitored the machine with a closed circuit TV, they could see the stream of customers, either walking away without trying to extract cash, or walking away having tried and failed. The bank suffers little every day, thought it is losing fees from the withdrawals not made, so most of the pain is borne by its customers, most of whom I suspect just bear it and go on without the cash they need or do as I did and pay with the card. Is inertia driving this process or negligence? I’ll check.