Jamaica and the lazy bug gene? More thoughts on a state of malaise: We are expedient

This is thinking on the go.

Jamaicans, generalizing again, love expediency. You see that played out everyday and in many ways. But, it’s also a way to survive the last of action and good decisions.

At its extreme, it’s at the core of much of our crime problem. The impatience of waiting to be able and equipped to obtain things legally leads some to take that by force. That extreme case can result in murder, related to the direct attempt to grab assets that do not belong or the indirect attempt through control of space (‘turf’) and activities (often a form extortion). That is no excuse for brutal crime, just an attempt to distill what is going on. That is expedience writ large.

We see it through our so-called ‘robot taxis’, where people do not want to go through formal processes to become legal taxi operators, so just go ahead and ply their trade. In typical Jamaican fashion, people validate that decision to operate illegally by using the illegal operator, so validating his/her decision as it starts to be a revenue stream. Before long, the illegal operation is well-established and those who use it are dependents and those who operate it have depended on its income to survive, to some degree. Taking it away would mean ‘pain’ and is so resisted or avoided–take your pick–by policy makers.

Expediency governs many of the decisions we see taken at the political level. I say that because, as is common in many countries, decisions are often reactive rather than proactive: policy comes after. Take a recent case of emergency funding given to tertiary level students, who were in danger of losing their rights to take exams because the were delinquent with fees. hard though it may be or seem, unfunded actions should not be rescued by government bail-outs. We can have a long discussion about what it means to reach tertiary level education and if it should be free, but the current situation is, my friends, what prevails, and it was the situation that was engaged. Now, if eyes and minds were not focused on the implications, well, sorry.

Expediency often means ‘passing the buck’, often to another set of people who are not directly involved now (call them taxpayers, much of the time), or may be burden in the future.

The issue I’m wrestling with, hence my question mark, is whether Jamaicans are lazy (i.e. unwilling to do certain things) or incapable (i.e. have never really developed the necessary faculties; which could stem from laziness). It would require a lot of detailed analysis of people and their motivations.

This morning, I saw the expediency in full force, as I walked 5 kilometers home, after dropping off my cousin’s car at a mechanic. As I walked, I noted the state of the sidewalk. In many places, it was non-existent, or partial, with concrete mixed with dirt, and so was very uneven. I thought of a person with visual or physical disabilities.

No uneven sidewalk, just no sidewalk. So, makeshift path… Jack’s Hill Road
Garbage in the road is the norm when you have no regular waste management

This was worse than an assault course. This was on a stretch of road lined with thriving businesses, not some burnout part of the city–Constant Spring Road, one of our main thoroughfares. But, this was one side of the road. On the other side, the paving was more even. Had anyone thought that this needed regularizing?

I ambled along and noted how some paved areas had light poles taking up a good part of the pathway–again, hazards. I looked at pieces of piping jutting out of the sidewalk, from repairs that had been done or work in progress. We don’t afford ourselves the luxury seen in places like London or New York, of cordoning off parts of the sidewalk where work is in progress and putting up signs that the pathway is defective and where pedestrians should walk. We just expect people to ‘make do’. Expedient!

What I also noticed was how little space was given to accommodate foot traffic, which is heavy much of the time, suggesting that the development of the area has happened in a haphazard fashion, and was more like road in existence, space given over to buildings, and pavement left as a residual. Planning? What a funny thought!

Now is not the time to get too deeply into our well-known expedient problem–squatter communities, and all the impostions of unplanned mass urban settlements. But, you only have to imagine a few hundred thousand people going anywhere and deciding they will live where they way, irrespective of any consequences. Think it over and ask yourself, why you would let that happen. Then realize that much of Jamaica’s urban space has been ‘shaped’ by this over the past 50 years. Did I hear you mutter the word ‘chaos’? Did you also mutter ‘dire social consquences’? Hmm!

I’ve commented before about one of our most common sights of expediency–the roadside vendor.

Roadside vending, especially of fresh produce is a national feature
The benefits of fresh food outweigh the need to observe rules?

In the early morning, these informal sellers are in full-force, selling fruit, vegetables, drinks etc. Like the illegal taxis, these are necessities provided to people, so have taken on ‘acceptability’ under ‘ends justify means’ kind of logic. Its burdensome to deal with the plethora of such sellers. Efforts to do so are often half-hearted, for obvious reasons. People are conflicted about taking away the livelihood of the ‘little man/woman’. Whatever the moral and economic arguments for leaving them alone, we have to understand the situation we create by leaving them alone. Again, though, we see the impact of behaviour that reacts to rules that bind…or, clearly, do not bind.

All the dots are not yet in place. Keeping my thoughts going.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)