The ‘dismal science’, to which I am a fully-paid-up member has many failings. One of them is to focus on what we call ‘macro’ issues, such as ‘growth’, or ‘inflation’, or ‘productivity’, which are measured by the data that try to cover all of the activity within a country (or geographic space). When it comes to policy, we try to craft actions or incentives to move people to do things better than before. All of that is really to get us to a point where we are more competitive than others who want to play in the same sandpit. But, we sometimes miss out on the ‘micro’, individual stuff, to which most things boil down. Well, it doesn’t take rocket science to understand that we are all different and many of us don’t respond the same way to incentives. How that difference plays out is a complex set of considerations at the best of times, and, even more, difficult when Christmas cake and sorrel and sherry are constantly placed in front of the face and the lobes inside the skull are just focused on more “Yes, please, Grandma!”
Well, it doesn’t take rocket science to understand that we are all different and many of us don’t respond the same way to incentives. How that difference plays out is a complex set of considerations at the best of times, and, even more difficult when Christmas cake and sorrel and sherry are constantly placed in front of the face and the lobes inside the skull are just focused on more “Yes, please, Grandma!” One thing is clear from all that focus on macro, people don’t get what they need to do to make it happen.
Jamaica has its own set of economic troubles and dealing with them is harder, given our set of peculiar behaviours. If I were not in holiday mode, I would go off on a treatise about why talking about the exchange rate is less meaningful than some other policies, like getting people to understand at the personal level what production, service, and productivity mean. (For those not familiar with that trick, it’s what Donald Trump does by saying “I wouldn’t kill…”; it raises the prospect without having to say that you would engage in the act, and is well understood by listeners as meant to reflect your true underlying feelings.)
Sitting by a beach in another Caricom country, that is supposedly doing better than Jamaica, however, gives me the privilege of seeing what they do and what we do and wondering how they are ‘better off’ than us. But, before doing that, I’ll just note that we can fix more of our ‘wrong’ economic situation by taking responsibility for our own actions, at all times. We can fix more economic problems by ‘just doing our jobs’ rather than wondering if the exchange rate is going to move by a few cents today.
Back to comparative economics.
My wife (a native of this little place we will call home for a few days) seemed dismayed when we arrived at our lodgings in the early evening to find the security guard at the front gate fast asleep–head rocked back, and mouth gaping. Wag, that I am, I yelled “Boo!” He did not budge. I pressed the car horn, and he stirred. He then pressed the button to lift the barrier and let us in. Much head-shaking from us and a moment for two economists to ponder. Moments later, I headed to the front desk to get our keys and collect my golf bag, which had been left earlier. Hello! The receptionist was also fast asleep. Now, given that this was Sunday, at 7.30pm, I could see that post-prandial torpor after the usual heavy Sunday lunch was endemic. I called out; my man stayed fast asleep, head lolling over onto his shoulder. I snapped his picture, remembering how once I had found our security guard asleep and he’d tried to convince me that we was awake but just resting his eyes. I called out again; he roused: “I know how this looks…” he started. I put up my hand and said: “Stop! Just acknowledge what was real and let’s move on.” He wouldn’t have it: “I’d spent a long time dealing with some technical issues…” I shook my head: “You. Were. Asleep!” He tried one more denial. As the three denial thing is well-rooted in our spirit, I let him talk. He gave us directions to our rooms, and then proceeded to follow my wife as she drove, while I walked: “I really want to apologize for what you thought you saw back there…” I turned back to look at him and gave him a short lecture on accountability. “But, I wasn’t sleeping…” I shook my head and walked to our rooms.
We have many problems with what others call ‘work ethic’. We have some old baggage that doesn’t help, with our slave background, and the whole confusion between service and servitude. But, as my wife said, “When you’re on the man’s job, you need to do the man’s work.”
Some of us have gotten spoiled and confused by what we see around us and not well-understood that few people have become wealthy or even comfortable in life without hard work, even blood, sweat, and tears. It’s odd, given that many of us have near relatives who live their lives by these tenets, as farmers. But, though it’s not the general route, many are tempted by ‘get rich quick’ options. In Jamaica, we’ve taken this to extremes with our love of ‘schemes’ to take money out of others’ pockets. In other islands or territories, we see that people have locked into ‘gambling’ as their preferred route. Where we are, the annual givie aways by the gambling companies is well underway for Christmas as a few houses are handed over to ‘winners’.
Driving home last night, the biggest number of cars we saw, parked or idling, was for the drive through for fast food outlets. The next largest number was for the ‘web cafes’, which are fronts for ‘numbers’ rackets: if you feel lucky, get onto Island Luck. To me, it’s no surprise that, in Jamaica, Supreme Ventures has become a ‘successful’ business–with net profits up nearly 50%. In the books of economists, this would feature as a significant contributor to growth. What the economic activity is would tax many a good mind, but, we’ve plenty of days of holiday for that.
But, working to get along in life has become illusive.
Perhaps, one of the New Year resolutions that our region should make–and keep–is for every single one of us to try working hard and seriously the whole year, through. If you think you need a ‘czar’ to oversee that venture, knock yourself out!