Perpetual underdogs?

One thing that is unlikely to escape a Jamaican travelling to Trinidad is the relative economic situations of the two countries. It’s not that Trinidad looks like a runaway economic success and that Jamaica looks like it’s ready to check out of Planet Earth. But, the infrastructure and general physical appearance of the countries reflect their different fortunes. Both economies have been the children of mineral wealth–bauxite for Jamaica, oil for Trinidad. Bauxite had its heyday and says “Hey, there!” with a muted voice. Oil and its byproducts have had the pole position in terms of desirable commodities for most of the past 50 years. Other things have worked for and against each country, but the net result is that Trinidad has ended up in a better place than Jamaica. We have had much need to keep putting out the begging bowl to keep from drowning (sorry about the mixed metaphors). Trinidad has been able ot live high on the hog (sorry for any offence to some of its Muslim population). So, we’ve been heading in near opposite directions.

Let’s cut right to the chase. Jamaica is nearly insolvent, with its debt to national income (GDP) ratio hovering near 150 percent. We hand over a huge amount of our national income just to pay interest on debt–that’s about 10 percent of GDP, or about 1/3 of government revenues.

By contrast, Trinidad’s debt to GDP ratio is just over 45 percent; its interest payments are only about 2 percent national income, and about 8 percent of government revenues.

So, whenever Jamaicans think it would be good for government to fund something (in part or wholly), we have to remember that the debtors have to be satisfied first. Then, we can argue about the left overs. So, with about 70 cents of each dollar only to work with, we have to make sure that our priorities can be met by that lesser amount. We cannot think that we should borrow more to make the money up. But, we also have to note that we need to reduce the debt burden by about 50 percent of GDP in only a few years. Did I hear you say “Squeeze!” Where are those old trousers that I used to wear when I was not so fat? So, we are either going to try to raise more revenue or spend even less.

Alright, we want to develop and help the next generations have some prospect of a future. As part of the current IMF arrangement, the Jamaican government is committed to minimum levels of spending on social programs (education, health, etc.). Well, that leaves much less for any discretionary spending. In an ideal world, the government would have some clearly set development objectives and want to stay on track with those. Anything else, has to be considered (and probably wont get a look in now because the whole process of agreeing the current priorities wore out even the most patient of persons). Jamaica has Vision 2030, and having settled on that we should hold the government’s feet to the fire to stick to that. Otherwise, they’ll be open to comments that they are unfocused and wishy-washy.

The problem with that is people like to see things they like supported. Look at the national bobsledders working their hardest to be respectable in Sochi, Russia, during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Where are government in helping them? Not sitting at the beach bar drinking another pina colada. More likely, government had no image that the sledders were going anywhere. The sledders themselves were not really on a clear track to qualify. Nice that they did it, but not nice in that we never had them in our sights. Instead, we had in our sights Champs–madness in March–and the Reggae Boyz trying to raise the flag in Brazil–Poof!

I really feel saddened that the sledders had to struggle so much for funding.bobsledders But, could they have helped themselves a bit more, too? Maybe. When their backs were up against the wall–they’d shocked themselves and qualified–they found some imaginative friends and went to the modern piggy bank of crowdfunding. It got them over the hump in quick time. But, imagine what might have been the situation if there had been the equivalent of a ‘business plan’ or promotional venture called ‘From Ochi to Sochi–helping Jamaica’s sledders reach for gold’, begun in say 2010. Those four years could have been a very interesting period of fund-raising, consciousness-raising, talent spotting, and more to help the ‘cool runners’ run this time and maybe sow seeds to keep running after Sochi.

The world loves underdogs. We love being underdogs. We love being loved. However, if you keep putting yourself in the position of underdog, you will lose more than you win. All that worldly love doesn’t feed or develop us, even though it looks good on TV to see foreigners in false Rasta wigs and yelling “Irie, mon!” and wanting to take pictures with our struggling athletes. Our successes don’t and wont come from putting ourselves into the position of perpetual underdog. If not, we will end up where underdogs do most often–at or near the bottom–no matter how much ‘love’ is showered on us.