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An interesting feature of good government is the extent to which the state encourages collective good behaviour. However, that behaviour needs a framework, which is usually codified as laws and regulations. The encouragement to hold onto the framework can happen through positive or negative. incentives, i.e. benefits or punishment. So, we may find that we are rewarded for following rules. Or, we incur personal or collective losses, such as facing fines for breaking laws.

Jamaica is interesting because the state has failed in this role for many years and in many areas. The current concerns about health issues, and the outbreak of chikungunya give good insights into that failure.

Citizens were never encouraged to maintain sanitary conditions, and never faced serious penalties for not doing so. The results are obvious: garbage is more present than absent. The state failed further by not fulfilling its function to help dispose of garbage on a regular basis. The reasons for that may have some legitimacy in that financial constraints limited buying and using equipment and people. But, it’s a weak justification, because it reflects a choice to use money for other non-essential purposes such as vehicles for officials.

Crime is another area where we see this failure in full light. Criminals are rarely caught and when caught are less often punished. So, the incentive to be law-abiding is low. Again, the state adds to our woes by itself having a significant portion of law enforcement officers who are themselves law breakers.

When the state machinery is corrupted, it’s hard for citizens to see sense in trying to hold onto the good behaviour framework.

All the burden shouldn’t fall on laws and regulations, though, as some moral code should also be in place to guide people in areas where you want people to act correctly, but cannot write down grow that should be. But, that moral code needs reinforcing by constant and consistent application, as with every citizen looking out for every citizen. At its simplest, we can imagine how an adult would show care for a child and help it navigate things too difficult to manage. So, any adult could help a child cross the road. The child, in turn, has learned that courtesy is expected and a simple “Thank you” would suffice to show that.

But, we can see the moral code has been whittled away. Using my simple example, we may see less willingness by adults to assist children, and fewer displays of simple courtesies. That has a downward spiral, where disregard for child safety is more common and children’s courtesy to adults is less common.

Another aspect to this social good behaviour is the extent that rule-makers create good rules and modify them as circumstances change. My mind goes quickly to how that doesn’t exist with what happens in some schools with dress codes. We can understand the desire to get children to understand the discipline of what is seen as good decorum. But, it’s hard to see this when it appears to move to extremes. So, the idea that modesty is imposed by girls having skirts no less than say 4 inches below the knee seems reasonable. But, for that to move arbitrarily to say 11 inches is bothersome. It’s more concerning because it’s not universally applied, suggesting that personal preference has guided more than some common sense, in the true meaning. Is that near tripling of length going to be associated with a three-fold improvement in anything? I suspect not. Further, a burden has been added to parents for dubious benefit.

Finally, our belief in fairness has to be bolstered all the time when the state expects us to behave well. That is eroded when we see the state and its officials getting away with things that other citizens cannot. That is the essence of the problem with letting corruption take hold. State officials should be seen to be sanctioned at least at the same rate as others. When this doesn’t happen, resentment and distrust of the state must increase. Jamaica would have been a very different place had more officials faced court and sanctions for their apparent transgressions. But, by reserving special treatment for itself, the state (officials and politicians) sold out.

None of the is beyond fixing. The chikungunya episode is giving an example of a fix can appear quickly. Politicians and corporations buy into the idea of national cleanliness and within days we get examples of good behaviour to follow. But, follow we must, not just the one-off for show. We also don’t need entities to show the way because each citizen should feel empowered to take the first step.