It’s clear to me that, implicitly, at least, the current Jamaican government had as part of its ‘strategy’ for dealing with crime, expected benefits from a faster-growing economy. Conventional wisdom is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ and that a fast-growing economy is more likely to absorb many people whose skill levels do not put them high on the list of those to be readily employed. This is important for those near the bottom of the labour force, who can command a shrinking number of jobs and usually get lower pay.

The problem with the strategy was several-fold. First, there is no guarantee that unskilled labour will be taken up in any great numbers nowadays because many technological changes make such labour less desired, either because productivity of other workers has risen, or the need for simple mechanical or physical operations has been reduced. This is a global trend. Second, many investors in Jamaica are leery of the quality of Jamaican labour: this reflects decades of declining labour productivity, so it’s just simple economic or financial sense to look for labour from other markets, or to invest elsewhere. Third, the base of the strategy was fragile: after decades of stagnant growth, the promise of faster growth (let’s go with #5in4) was tempting, but frankly not that realistic.

So, reality bit hard. Labour was needed at a much faster rate than before, which meant that the alternative opportunities that could have been expected to help tempt (especially) young men and women into the formal (or even informal) and legal economy were not appearing. Thus, the supply line of young, able-bodied people to add to the corps of criminals did not change much. Therefore, a rapid rise in violent crime was not surprising.

It was perfectly reasonable for the government to give itself time to see how the economy was faring after its tax cuts and promotion of a ‘new’ growth strategy. But, for me at least, it was clear that the economic strategy was not going to bring much faster growth because it lacked a lot of plain economic logic. I’ve commented before about the budgets and how I think they are more growth-negative than growth-positive. I’ve yet to see much to change that view. In addition, the things that seem to be affecting growth positively (eg in agriculture, it’s good weather) are not policy variables.

Yet. I’m still bewildered why it took nearly two years to realise that with a faltering economy something more direct needed to be tried with violent crime.

I’m not convinced that the recently declared public state of emergency is indeed the right strategy, but it’s going to have more than a little ‘feel good’ effect, but I understand that change is sometimes a catalyst, whatever it is. (It’s well-known that positive things come merely from announcements.) I wish the government well, and I wait for them to come clean with the public about their thinking and what it may mean for how they handle other tendentious issues.

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