Time to get government out of the way? Too many Jamaicans have become disabled citizens

Jamaica has an awkward dependency on public sector provisions, as evidenced by solutions offered for its myriad problems, most of which start ‘if the government’. Sadly, MPs foster this notion that government is all-powerful and the source of all things significant in people’s lives every step of the way. This is a disabling, not enabling, environment; the anathema of what government ought to be about. A clear result of this cloying presence is that the private sector in all its forms (corporate, individual, or as NGOs) has become residual not a main driver in transforming society.

In economics, policy advisors are often concerned about the over-bearing impact of the government on some areas, especially in financial markets. So, economists talk about how government ‘crowds out’ other kinds of financial operators, especially when its financing needs are large, and markets are hard-pressed to do more than the ‘bidding’ of government, eg by buying government debt instead of private sector debt instruments.

In many areas, we see the government ‘sucking the air out’ of many actions where citizens ought to take the lead, with government setting a framework for action. 

This could make sense to many people, who see paying taxes as leading to a role for government in using that revenue. (For those who do not pay taxes, then government may well be the best means of getting much achieved, when one does not have many financial resources to use.) However, many also see government as wasteful of tax revenue so can be justifiably resentful of government spending to ‘solve’ problems. 

Government sometimes advises citizens to ‘take responsiblity’, but this is often a clear admission that government have failed to do much to resolve a problem and now wants to ‘pass the buck’.

It’s a funny symbiotic relationship: citizens are unaccustomed to acting in significant ways to develop solutions for the issues that  affect their lives, beyond invoking the help of nationally elected officials. (In many respects, national elected representatives have usurped the roles of municipal level officials.) They revert to government, or do nothing at all, calling for ‘justice’ or ‘action’ that they can effect themselves. 

This suits MPs, whose egos can be fed by the constant ‘needs’ that they satisfy. 

Add to this the partisanship and one can see the toxicity of the situation, because ‘government’ helps its own, and often ignores its opponents. 

Sadly, those Jamaicans who have grown up with the ‘nannying’ of government, especially in places where government matters, such as ‘garrison’ communities, know little else (beyond when ‘government’ is replaced by the heavy hand of criminal gangs.) These people remain wedded to the usefulness of representative politics, and are likely to vote for ‘people who will do things for them’.

Other Jamaicans, who do not really need government beyond its usual provision of public goods, such as utilities and items like security, have solidified their lessened need for government by withdrawing from representative politics. These groups have shown increasing self-suffiency in many of these areas, by moving away from public utilities, if possible, and also being major consumers of private ‘protective services’, instead of the police.

Jamaica’s ‘haves’ seem happy to need government less, up to a point. It’s ‘have nots’ often see little alternative. Two Jamaicas, again?

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. :)