#COVID19Chronicles-91: July 14, 2020-An economy of truth? Some thoughts on the debate about the Manley legacy

A debate has been raging in some Jamaican spaces over the past few days stemming from critical comments made by the PM regarding the policies of former PM, Michael Manley—‘ideological missteps of the Michael Manley-led People’s National Party (PNP) administration from 1972 to 1978’:

Now, I haven’t heard the comments, personally, so will trust the Gleaner has reported accurately. So far, no reactions from the PM have come to suggest he was misquoted.

The Gleaner reported (my stresses): ‘Holness said the “misadventure of the PNP, which diverted us from the path of economic growth, selling the people of Jamaica false hope and unrealistic dreams”, wasted the gains made by the post-Independence JLP administration, which it succeeded.’

Now, we have to understand that in many countries politics is not just about what was done but about who can get credited or blamed for what was done and the outcomes. So, what stood out to me was the clear juxtaposition of ‘misadventure…PNP’ and ‘gains…JLP’; putting some colour on the comments make them a bit clear, in my mind.  We should also remember that we are counting down to a general election, so painting images of the two main parties is more important in this period than say a year or so into the administration. People need to see what kind of legacy is on the line. That’s meant to be an objective observation, as I have no party political axe to grind.

It went on: ‘We had a flirtation with ideologies that were foreign to us and did not serve us well. With all the social problems that needed to be addressed, had we stayed the economic course and ensured that our economy was aligned to the opportunities that were created by the industrial transformations that were taking place, Jamaica would be a better place today,” he insisted.’

Well, I have to ask what ideologies are indigenous to us? This is what could be called classic false equivalence—a logical fallacy in which an equivalence is drawn between two subjects based on flawed or false reasoning; categorized as a fallacy of inconsistency’. Here, the PM talks about something ‘foreign’ as if that is exceptional and has a counterpart that is ‘domestic’. Again, I have no real idea what he meant, but I can see, in a simple xenophobic sense—foreign = bad—where he may want to point.

We would have to think hard to find domestic ideologies, of which Rastafarianism might get a look in, but it’s a hard sell to think that Jamaica was built on anything but foreign ideologies. I mean, we love to claim to be originators of so much. After hundreds of years of colonial rule, what ideologies did Jamaica have that were not foreign? Did we cast back and find a set that were, say, distinctinly African?

Finally, to throw out a hypothesis about how Jamaica would be now, is borderline absurd. Each action has an equal and opposite reaction, means that whatever Jamaica did differently in the past would have led to a series of different responses to those we saw, and we don’t know how those would have totted up, better or worse. But, again, it paints one side as ‘killing the golden goose’ and the other side, by default, saving it.

‘Holness drew on comparisons with economic progress made by Singapore and South Korea, which, at the time, were worse off than Jamaica. The fundamental difference, he said, was that these countries were not distracted and maintained a steady and balance (sic) course’.

Well, that’s a nifty précis of the Lee Kwan Yew (LKW) regime, on one hand. The broad assessment of LKW was that he was a benevolent dictator (at best), in his own words: Lee Kuan Yew reflected on how he would be remembered: “I’m not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial…Close the coffin, then decide.” I’d agree that was a lack of distraction and a steady course.

As for South Korea, here’s a précis from ‘South Korea: A model for development?‘ of how it was ‘not distracted’ and ‘maintained a steady and balanced course’, after the Second World War (remember life didn’t start in 1962):

‘South Korea, however, benefited from big injections of foreign aid, first from the US, then Japan…the US offered about $60bn in grants and loans to South Korea between 1946 and 1978. In the same period, the total amount of aid provided by the US to the entire African continent was $68.9bn. Korea—considered by the US an important ally during the cold war—indisputedly used the aid well.’ Well, who could not do with a little helping hand like that?

‘South Korea, under strongman Park Chung-Hee, focused on building up large economic champions, or chaebols (business conglomerates), against American advice to focus on small- and medium-sized companies. That policy laid the foundation for successful South Korean brands in the world market, such as Samsung and LG, although it came at a price in terms of political corruption in the close ties between business and political elites. KoFID and ReDI argue that the focus on conglomerates led to the chaebols exploiting their monopoly status, fostering increasing economic inequality. Hmm, not sure if we want to focus on that, so let’s just skip that important episode.

Park took a pragmatic approach to corruption. Instead of cracking down on corrupt businessmen as urged by the US, he expropriated their bank shares and assigned them to invest in import-substitution industries, such as fertilisers, a point made in Catalysing Development, a book on aid edited by Homi Kharas, Koji Makino and Woojin Jung.‘ Well, there’s focus and balance in a nutshell. Not sure the

I’ve always loved these comparisons with Asian countries’ successes while Jamaica floundered and wondered where we would have been with a benevolent dictator locking up the opposition voices and a Christmas sackful of aid from the USA. Like comparing Manchester City and its support from one of the world’s wealthiest individuals and his Gulf wealth with the fortunes of Barrow-in-Furness (voted out of the Football League 48 years ago (1972), pushing to get back in, leading the National League, but stymied by COVID19, yet saved by a vote to be reinstated. There’s a simple reason why City didn’t languish in the cellar and success did not come cheaply. Who wouldn’t benefit from a little sheikh, rattle and roll? 🙂 [Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan (born 20 November 1970), often referred to as Sheikh Mansouris an Emirati politician who is the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, minister of presidential affairs and member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi. He is the half brother of the current President of UAE, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He is also the chairman of the ministerial council for services, the Emirates Investment Authority.] He doesn’t just own a chippie in Barrow 🙂

Finally, ‘Jamaica, he added, missed out on this era of global development at a time when it was enjoying significant investments in bauxite, tourism, agriculture, and infrastructure, which would have borne fruit had the focus been maintained on our economic independence.’ One thing is for sure, when you compare us to the Asian successes is that they did not get there by maintaining their economic independence. We’ve seen the little leg up foreign aid from the USA played in South Korea’s success. If you regard Singapore taking a diplomatically neutral stance but being a clear ally of both the USA and China as demonstrating economic independence, then pardon my ignorance.

So, like with many stories politicians tell, there’s a lot to unpack. “Being economical with the truth” (paraphrasing Edmund Burke in the 18th century) really is a motto that has meaning.

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. :)

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