Many people are critical of economists because of their poor forecasting record. But, forecasting is only a part of what economists do. For the most part, they try to understand what people and organizations are doing and how that affects the production of goods, services, costs and revenues in a geographical space. If they manage to understand that well, they can go on to assess the chances of those things increasing and declining, and with what magnitude. Associated with the output and financial implications, we get to understand and assess lots of other things, including how many people get involved in all of that. We’re really interested in that because we have a general liking for people to be active (in positive ventures), not just for the economic grains but also because we believe that society will function better when people are ‘gainfully’ employed.
One of the reasons why high crime rates is such a problem for Jamaica is that it’s well understood that it reduces the economic gains of the country, ie we are a poorer country than we should be. Worse, it highlights that a small proportion of the population is determined to extract substantial amounts of revenue (and/or associated goods) from their compatriots for their own purposes, and are happy to do that without any effort to produce themselves. Put graphically, we could easily see criminals as taking food out of the mouths of children. At its simplest, people should despise criminals, for their willingness to rob anyone of their hard-earned gains, even those least able to bear it. That’s wickedness! For that, criminals should be roundly condemned. But…
There’s an extensive literature about whether taxation is theft or official extortion. What we can say is that extortion is like a tax, without any hint that the person paying is in anyway willing, or that there will be gains from the use of the proceeds that can be seen to raise the welfare of anyone other than the person doing the extortion. At least with taxes, we can try to hold the government accountable for how it raises the revenues and what it proposes to do with them. Criminal extortion doesn’t give us such options, even if claims could be made about the benefits of protection, if that were offered as part of the rationale for extorting.
Now, we know that it’s an obvious truth that many people benefit from the proceeds of crime, and that reduces their incentives or willingness to confront or expose criminals: this is like buying into the Robin Hood story of the rich being robbed for the benefit of the poor. However, in Jamaica, it’s often the poor being robbed and the benefits going to enrich a small minority (some of which may be poor and related to the criminals). But, in a beggar-my-neighbour culture, that’s not likely to make people reconsider whether they should round on criminals and cut off their ability to operate.
The government introduced two more States of Public Emergency yesterday, in Kingston (bringing the total to 10) and one of the concerns behind this was the increase in gang activities focused on extortion.
The renewed media and political oncern about extortion is interesting: they have a new buzz word–‘super gangs’, but extortion isn’t new, it just has a new source of income (namely, road projects on the eastern end of the island): the St Thomas leg of the South Coast Highway is being targeted by criminals and ‘politically-connected’ people (that has an ominous ring). PM Holness stated: