It’s not the economy, stupid! It’s the people?

Once in my working life at the Bank of England I had responsibility for a team that looked at economic development in English-speaking Caribbean countries. I got into a professional bind by arguing, against the official policy line that devaluation was to be supported as a way of easing Jamaica out of its economic woes. I argued, based on my understanding of how Jamaica had worked for decades, that while one side of the devaluation equation worked, the economy was titled in a way that meant the gains would go out on the other side: we imported more than we exported and the balance of that meant higher net costs but without the needed gains that could come from a more competitive exchange rate; we also had lots of tied contracts in bauxite that were not sensitive to exchange rate changes. My other reasons were based on ‘cultural senses’ that Jamaicans were not going to change habits fast enough to make exchange rate shifts work quickly; that was part of the truth but also reflected that fact that jinnalship meant Jamaicans were as likely to find ways around the change, eg by making use of remittances more (which, being in foreign exchange, meant full protection). I did not win the internal debate at the Bank, and my career did not tailspin. Fast forward.

Jamaica has done what many economists would see as the ‘right thing’ in recent years in dealing with the long-standing issue of a bloated fiscal deficit and its debt burden. Now, that improvement can be an important necessary condition, but is not sufficient, to use economics jargon. It’s also allowed the exchange rate to be ‘flexible’, or depreciate in visible terms. 

What economic policies are supposed to do is to change the way that ‘economic agents’ operate, based on certain assumptions about behaviour. What has so often been the problem with Jamaica (and many other countries) is understanding how people react and if they react in unexpected ways, how to taper policies so that the desired effects are still achieved. 

One thing certain about curbing fiscal excesses is that less money will slosh around between political powers and private people: that’s simple maths. That squeeze may have some negative economic effect, but it may be less if the previous beneficiaries find other ways to operate and make money. 

Similarly, with the exchange rate depreciation, significant numbers of people and businessmen are not totally exposed and can draw on foreign exchange buffers or substitute domestic items for imports enough to get by. 

The problem with all of this is that some of the things needed to change economic behaviour are not in the hands of economic policy makers. 

A simple example. Interest rates are meant to offer incentives to save (and by extension, to spend). Now, if people are fearful of banks (for whatever reasons) changing interest rates in the banking system does not affect behaviour much because people stay away from the system where interest rates matter. So, one of the first steps in this instance is to get over people’s fears and dislike of banks and other financial institutions. That is a matter of education and life experiences; the life experiences may have deeper roots than education can uproot, so it’s a hard battle to just ‘teach’ people about the benefits of banks. No sooner have the lessons been learned than a ‘disaster’ occurs when many people (and friends) lose money deposited in banks. The old suspicions resurface and new fears arise. So, the battle is nearly or totally lost. However, economic policy makers have few tools, of which interest rates are one. Stuck.

When I look closely at Jamaica, I’m as perplexed as I ever was why somethings don’t change or change at the pace at which a snail sprints. I have to wonder if it’s something engrained, like ‘in the water’ or ‘in our food’, which are sort of intangibles.  So, in that vein, is it ‘in the people’? 

All the macroeconomics are undone easily by a microeconomic set-up that does not correspond well to many standard ways of thinking about economics. Part of me sees this as a curse, but it has also been a boon.

The curse is that all the pulling of the macroeconomic levers don’t give the expected results. We know this, for sure, in Jamaica! The good part is that Jamaicans have found ways to overcome economic ‘problems’ and found many different ways to ‘survive’. Now, a key part of that survival is about not staying within all the legal lines that exist. That is one of the binds that stop me clapping every time I think about how Jamaica has not imploded. If the world were full of ‘wild West’ countries and anarchy was the mark of success, then Jamaica would be hailed, I’m sure. 

What is more puzzling to me over recent times, as I’ve had more chance to see life lived in Jamaica, is how many of the microeconomic quirks are not restricted to any social class. We’ve carved out a way of life that makes the most wealthy and best educated less different from those at the other end of the scale than wide wealth and education differences usually mean.

Monetary gains and losses do drive how Jamaican people act but in some odd ways:

  • Businesses do not strive to be the best as a way of ensuring their financial success; many are content to just do what they do; customers like it or lump it. This is not abnormal in many economies, but usually means the demise of enterprises. That is not the case in Jamaica, which means that businesses must be surviving WITHOUT business.
  • Time is (near) meaningless: if time is money in most people’s minds, it doesn’t have that connotation for many Jamaicans. (It’s one way of rationalizing why Jamaicans don’t see timeliness as important, because they have somehow given time zero value. As a fellow blogger pointed out to me today, saying ‘7.05’ means ‘sometime before 8’ to a Jamaican ūüôā ) But, economically, if money doesn’t matter (in the normal flow of events) then value must have ways of being preserved that are not apparent.
  • Attention spans are short, but ‘memories’ are long. Many Jamaicans will have ‘ready reactions’ to any phenomenon, but barely want to analyse what is really going on. (This is reflected in the way that ‘news’ and ‘events’ are reported–much of the ‘What’ and little of the ‘Why’.)Many Jamaicans live with the illusion of things being better in the past–despite lots of evidence to the contrary or no means of really comparing. What’s funny about that is that people will talk about the ‘good old days’ but do nothing (much) to recreate those times. I’ve yet to see a Jamaican ready to give up the motor vehicle, access to running water and (near) constant electricity, or the telephones, as part of the step back in time that is needed ūüôā
  • Distortion is the norm. At its worst, this is all about corruption. Transparency International defines this as: ‘Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.’ The Merriam-Webster Dictionary puts it more simply: ‘dishonest or illegal behavior especially by powerful people (such as government officials or police officers): the act of corrupting someone or something.’ My take is that ‘powerful’ has to be scaled down to include anyone who has influence over others, which means that many more are actually in the position to be corrupt and do corrupt things. The fact that the deeds are common or long-standing doesn’t change their nature. This is something that the integrity of Jamaicans often does not understand or accept. 

The first three bullets point to the impact of ‘hidden economic activity’ that may be a principal or not trivial part of many people’s lives. I hope the economic logic of that is clear. The last bullet is different, as it points squarely to what ‘government’ does, more than other parts of the economy. It bothers me more than other things, because we have a country where many monetary flows are opaque, at the level of government, where transparency and accountability are supposedly built-in to protect ‘the people’. Without dredging through Archives we find too many stories such as reported last week about hay: Millions Down The Drain In Hay Project. The extracts say enough: 

  • ‘…financial mismanagement and lax oversight uncovered…
  • ‘In reference to the proposed revenue that was forecast, the project revenue is at a deficit of -$17,492,750,’ the auditors wrote…’At Bodles, they reported that no records were being maintained for the production of hay between April 2014 and December 2015. For the first six months of 2016, the audit found that 1,329 bales of hay were produced at both facilities, compared to a projected 54,000 bales.’

The average Jamaican lives with the sense that government is full of corruption and reacts with feigned or little surprise at stories such as these. The real surprise is really that such ‘malfeasance’ goes on undetected in many realms and for extended periods. But, as I’ve said before, corruption is so entrenched that its total beneficiaries are far more numerous than those who are not. If you don’t believe in ‘trickle down’ economics, then you wont understand how the ‘feeding tree’ of Jamaica misappropriation of public funds works. Everyone gets to eat because of someone taking money that is not truly theirs to distribute. To break that system is to break the society. 

In that sense, our pervasive corruption is worse, in my eyes, than the corruption often seen elsewhere, where a very limited pool of ‘elites’ benefit. In Jamaica, almost everyone’s life depends on it. 

Institutions like the IMF know that it’s not just the economic policy levers that need to be turned to fix the economy. However, the Fund cannot enforce changes in areas outside its mandate. Its structural policies must still stay within its ambit, so it tries to go to the limits but cannot go further. To get the whole of a country change economically requires a government to be committed to putting in place a wide swathe of policy changes that go in the same direction as the desired economic policy. In other words, it must have complentatry meaures to support the economic ones. Government must also fix itself by weaning itself away from some or all of its bad habits, such as evidenced by the ‘hay project’ fiasco. That is much harder than may appear in countries like Jamaica, where (as I have said, repeatedly) have built themselves on ‘rent-seeking’ behaviour. That has to stop and maybe unwound. Like taking out a thorn, it cannot be done without pain (real, imagined, or both). 

        Government ‘fixing’ itself is both direct and exemplary: how many countries can progress if government is seen to practice things it says it is against? Also, government must change first and fast.

        Jamaica is not alone is struggling to get its economic act together. Jamaica is also not alone in terms of countries that have struggled economically then made a major forward turn. However, it takes time, consensus, and coherence in policies. 

        Getting the macroeconomy right is only a step on this journey, rather than the journey, itself. I’m not sure Jamaicans understand that. 

        Crime in Jamaica: A visit to the Twilight Zone

        Jamaica has a parallel ‘universe’, where crime lives, & it’s a mental as much as physical space, born from our notions of exceptionalism. It’s a kind of Twilight Zone, whose borders seem to be expancing.

        Former National Security Minister, Peter Bunting recently renewed his call for a high level summitchaired by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, with support from the relevant ministries that will give support to the implementation of social intervention strategies. This was in response to a rapidly escalating level of murders in western Jamaica. 

        With the best will in the world, it’s the sort of thing politicians will suggest: they are people used to exercising power and influence and see that as a process that comes from above. Personally, I think that while such approaches might have worked at some stages in the past, it’s not clear that they have much hope now? Why?

        The battle against crime was lost long ago when ordinary people did not see it was in their interest to not lose control of their communities to criminals. Like a tangling weed, once the cracks started to form, the weed spread. So, it’s much the case that many communities live cheek-by-jowl with crime and criminals, but have become unable to address the negatives that poses. The recent Tivoli Enquiry gives some idea of why that might have happened. Criminals could deliver goods, services, justice, in a manner that the state or other entities could not. The tolerance of criminals was sweetened by a life that many openly admit they wished was still there. Perverse though it may seem, people felt safer.

        So, with that sort of background a high-level summit would not get far, UNLESS and UNTIL, it were to include ‘Dons’ and criminals who are also ‘stakeholders.

        The other stakeholders who must be there are ordinary citizens. So, if anything, the summit needs to be truly national and probably LOW LEVEL attack. Answers to crime in communities must come from the many ‘Ground Zero’ battlefields where crime has taken control.

        That is an enormous challenge. Why?

        Jamaicans have grown up with many reasons for not assisting in fighting crime:

        • Informers are not to be trusted and should be eliminated–that means that it’s a very brave soul who openly offers to the authorities information about crime.
        • Police have been corrupt and knowingly complicit in fostering crime–whether the crooked police have been in cahoots with criminals or doing their own range of crimes, law-enforcement agents have been seen as much as cause as cure of problems.
        • Politicians have for too long just uttered ‘buzz words’ with little evidence that these carry content and drive any real change.
        • Politicians have also been long-suspected of being closely associated with criminals. Just this morning, former Contractor-General, Greg Christie (@Greg0706), posed this question on Twitter.Screen Shot 2016-09-27 at 7.49.30 AM.png The fact that such a question could be posed by someone who’s prime role was to look into the awarding of government contracts is startling. However, Former Security Minister Bunting made it clear in 2014 that the link exists, and has been part of the root problem in solving crime

          “Criminals would support party candidates and were often rewarded with contract works. Hopefully, the worst days of this criminal gang/political nexus are now behind us, but we must acknowledge our contribution,”  The ‘worse days’ may be over, but the bitter fruit are still on the tree. So, sinner, heal thyself!

          Bunting, while contributing to the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives, said to substantially reverse violence in the country, “we have to change the attitudes and behaviours around the violence-related risks and causal factors”.

          The minister said Jamaica has, for decades, developed a subculture of violence and lawlessness that has been reinforced and promoted by segments of the society. He said the connection between elements of both political parties and criminal gangs and dons is one of the causal factors in the culture of violence:  “Criminals would support party candidates and were often rewarded with contract works. Hopefully, the worst days of this criminal gang/political nexus are now behind us, but we must acknowledge our contribution.”

        • Jamaicans have a strange tolerance for many things that they should oppose. This is a feature of daily life, and shows itself in the most mundane incidents, but rises to the highest levels. Jamaicans often try to find reasons to excuse the inexcusable. If they feel that the welfare of the ordinary citizen (‘the little man’) is at stake, they rally to save his ‘opportunities’ to ‘eat a food’. But, again, like the weed spreading, the nation then finds itself unable to oppose bigger things because it’s been so accepting of everything up to that point.

        Former National Security Minister, Peter Bunting, introduced the ‘Unite for Change Campaign‘ in 2013. One of its features was the introduction of a ‘mobile phone application (app) that will enhance the resources currently available to empower citizens and improve their level of safety and security’: ‚ÄúThis app will offer each Jamaican the opportunity to play their part by engaging either the iReport, Panic Mode, The Law or Alert icons on their mobile devices in order to report incidents of crime, seek assistance from the police or be informed about their rights.‚ÄĚ

        Mr. Bunting added: ‚ÄúIn this respect the Ministry has embarked on an intensive programme of public education and resocialisation to displace the dysfunctional elements in our culture,‚ÄĚ noting that crime is an outcome of failures at varying levels of the society; the family, community, school, church, the built environment and governance structures.

        His successor, Robert Montague, earlier this year agreed to continue the program.

        Now, I have never seen any report that indicates, at the least, how the public is using this app: eg, number of alerts, follow-up, criminals apprehended, etc. A renewed notice about the app appeared in the newspapers in June. I downloaded it onto my phone when I first saw its availability, but have never had cause to use it. I may just start doing so, however, for the many minor transgressions I witness. MY only problem is that I see these while driving, and being a careful citizen, I’m not going to interact with my device while driving. Maybe, I will have to stop and work it, next time. Watch out!screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-9-35-36-am

        But, the other aspect about crime is the inevitable feeling that politicians are cynical–ie about their self-interest and self-preservation, and buzz words are for votes. They came to have little meaning quickly as national elections loomed and business was more about ‘divide to rule’, rather than unite for change. The best example of a unity approach would have been a coalition government, but heaven forbid!

        I reminded some people the other day how then-PM Portia Simpson-Miller had rejected the overture from then-Opposition Leader, Andrew Holness to walk together through ‘garrisons’. That tells you a lot. It also tells you why being optimistic about crime being ‘tackled’ based on initiatives from politicians are as likely to be failures than successes.

        ‘Taking back the streets’ is not an empty phrase. But, for it to have meaning, it has to have meaning. Who is going to start to take back the community in which they live? It’s not for the faint of heart. But, saving your country rarely is.

        Putting security forces on the streets will have the effect of making it seem that ‘something’ is being done. But, for the impact of that presence to really mean something, the criminals have to decide to stop committing crimes. The rationale for doing that, however, seems weak. Jamaica is notorious for not being able to catch criminals, and then not being able to use the law effectively to sanction them. So, the odds favour continuing with crime, not stopping it.

        The police routinely state that x murders were ‘gang-related’, yet that ‘intelligence’ seems to not be brought to bear to curb gangs beforehand. There’s a peculiar disconnection there that goes back to people’s suspicions about the police. But, it could also be that the police are inept. A report yesterday pointed out how out-dated are many of the police’s practices in the area of tracking crime, with local paper records that cannot be inter-connected, and work practices that seem at odds with effective policing. That tells us about political priorities in the past, and we are living with the consequences of those.

        But, all of that has left the country in a state where each day sees the apparent spreading crime, and once-quiet communities now find they are just as prone. I listened to the radio this morning and heard reports of how schools in crime-riddled areas are having to ‘lock down’. These are the actions of a place in a state of war, or siege. Criminals, for their part, seem totally ready to do everything to defend what they have and hope to gain.

        Therein lies the bigger problem. Force is not enough to defeat force. It’s not clear, for instance, that the increased policing in St. James can point to people who are being sought. Do the police have targets in mind? If not, just being numerous isnt going to cut it. If villains ‘hide’ out ‘in the open’, the exercise is largely futile.

        Changing minds takes time. Putting boots on the ground can be done quickly. Changing minds gives lasting results. Putting boots on the ground may give, at best, a temporary respite.

        The state we’re in. If not ‘failed’, then what?

        Renowned journalist, Ian Boyne, has been lecturing renowned journalist, Cliff Hughes on whether Jamaica is a failed state. This may seem to be arcane stuff just for intellectuals. However, I suggest everyone think about it, carefully.

        Boyne understandably goes for the books to find the official definition of a failed state. He wrote (my stress):

        ‘The respected Foreign Policy magazine had for years been publishing its annual failed-state list. When political scientists talk about failed states, they have certain features in mind, such as state collapse, having whole parts of a country’s territory controlled by rebel forces or outside of central control; a state where social and public services have totally collapsed; and where state authority cannot be asserted in critical areas. A state with military intervention, political manipulation of the judiciary, alienation from the international community, etc.’

        Naturally, by that standard, Jamaica is not officially classed as a failed state. Boyne goes on to stress that the term of art used by political scientists has now moved to look at the fragility of states. The map below shows the world according to this fragility measure. Jamaica is ranked amongst the less fragile (#119, where a high number is a good mark, with South Sudan being #1 and Somalia #2; Sweden is #177).

        Fragile states compared
        Fragile states compared

        In defence of Jamaica’s not officially making the failed state grade, he cites our freedom of press, freedom of assembly, and our liberal democracy. But, all of that is well and good, in the realm of discussion by political scientists. However, they make up such a small portion of the world’s thinking people, and of those who have to live their lives under different regimes. So, I think that, while they may try to help us codify and understand things in a certain way, theirs is not the final word. I think what the general population believes makes a lot more sense. I will come back to that.

        Boyne acknowledges our many social and economic failings in a follow-up article, where he wrote (my stress):

        ‘There is a strong, overwhelming sense that Jamaica’s Independence dream has been betrayed; that it has become a nightmare, with many wishing they could turn back the clock. There is a high degree of political disillusionment in the country, and this is not confined to disappointment with the present administration, but with the political system and political class in general.’

        That indictment gets to what many see as a clear failure of the state. Jamaica has not made a success of itself. Boyne touches on some of the reasons, not least the awkward convenience of crime and politics rubbing shoulders and our garrison politics.

        So, what is Jamaica? If we want to live by official definitions, then we may have to create a category for states that have failed miserably to deliver much by way of quality of life for the majority of its population. Should it be the ‘mediocre’ state? It could be the ‘disenchantment’ state. Or, the ‘never really tried, so give us another chance’ state? How about ‘we look after our friends and stuff the rest of you’ state. I’m sure that a ranking could be found that slots us in well. In the same way that measuring GDP does not capture well what is really happening in a country in terms of quality of live, notwithstanding the general agreement on the measurement elements, the ‘failed’ state definition is not the end of the debate. Rather, it is a point for discussion. As Bhutan has decided to try to measure gross national happiness, so we should think about measuring our ‘gross national disenchantment’ (If I wanted to use a more profane term, such as p***ed-offness, we could get a new measure of GNP.)

        I think that the refuge taken in official definitions in an interesting piece of positioning. (It’s not consistently done, as some have noted, because the use of ‘terrorist’ is a rather loose one. But, let me leave that piece of semantics alone, for the moment.)

        Like with the notion of corruption, we have to move away from a strict definition of something to a point that many understand to be very acceptable. Transparency International does not try to measure¬†actual corruption, but¬†perceptions of corruption. The world runs with this, quite well. Likewise, I think we can, at least, live without the strict definition of ‘failed’ state, and work with the perception of a ‘failed’ state, in ways that really affect the lives of most.

        In another vein, we may have the skeleton of acceptable governance, but the body has very little by way of solid flesh. It’s that way in many countries, where they have met the letter of the laws, but have not put in place mechanisms to have those laws applied effectively.

        I write all of that in the wake of the latest piece that suggests that the state fails its population, the running sore that is the NHT purchase of Outameni Experience/Orange Grove.

        It’s important to see Jamaica for what it is. It is¬†not a success. It has many trappings of failure in the broadest sense. We are not in some middle ground, though some would say that life in the country is like purgatory

        How else do you categorise a country that has the high levels of murder per head of population that we have? We were not so long ago, deemed the ‘murder capital’ of the world. A failure to ensure a high level of safety from crime. Reducing slightly the rate of killings does not erase the high stock deaths that have been at the hands of murderers.

        How else do you categorise a country that has had almost the highest rate of killings of civilians by its security forces? The official, legal definition of ‘extra judicial killing’ fits Jamaica.

        How else do you categorise a country that woefully underserves its school and college graduates?

        Pontificating about the political scientists’ definition of a failed state may read well, but it misses the essential point. Jamaica has failed.¬†Merriam Webster defines ‘fail’ as:

        • to not succeed
        • to end without success
        • to not succeed as a business
        • to become bankrupt
        • to not do (something that you should do or are expected to do)

        We meet the definition, fully.

        The good, the bad, and the ugly (June 8, 2014): don’t make the same mistake edition-Redux

        When I wrote my blog post, I had just returned from a day’s road trip. It was only after posting it that I read Saturday’s papers. It was amazing that the Gleaner had an editorial on the same subject of police corruption and traffic fines, but with more pointed words. Read for yourselves.

        The good, the bad, and the ugly (June 8, 2014): don’t make the same mistake edition

        Effective June 7,¬†a bunch of traffic offences will be subject to higher fines. I shuddered at the thought. I’ve seen nothing to make me feel that Jamaica’s police will do more to collect money for the state. By reputation, they are regarded as well-honed eaters of food, who look to line their pockets as much as fill our national coffers.

        What is the expected yield from these increases? According to the Daily Observer , about J$16 million, of a total $205 million due from higher taxes and fees.

        Now, Jamaica’s finest have a reputation for trying to get lunch and dinner money from motorists. Maybe, they were sent a memo yesterday to stop this and get on with the real job they are supposed to do.

        It so happens, though, that on Saturday afternoon, I was being driven back from Montego Bay, by a lady whose daughter had just been playing in the Jamaica national team golf trials. She had been really cautious, as lots of speed traps and other police patrols operate from MoBay through Mount Rosser to Kingston. So, we were driving well within the speed limit when we approached the Tru-Juice roundabout at Bog Walk. But, a police officer waved her to stop.

        “Do you have any firearms in the car?” he asked. We all looked puzzled. Did we put those Howitzers in the trunk or were they still in the condo? She told him no. “Do you have a valid driver’s licence?” he then asked. She reached for her bag, but he added “You can just answer.” No, she told him, again. He let us go. I told my driver that we should have asked him how much it would be to buy a licence in case she did not have one another time. We all laughed.

        What was that all about? It smelt like smelt.

        20140607-215358-78838863.jpg
        Smelt like this smelt

        If that is the kind of new policing that will reap the harvest of fines, heaven help us. The new rates have stiffer penalties for speeding:

        • exceeding the speed limit by 21 mph to 30 mph, $7,500;
        • exceeding the speed limit by 10 mph to 20 mph, $5,000;
        • exceeding the speed limit by 31 mph or more, $10,000.

        The officer never tried to issue a ticket. I guess he was lonely and wanted to chat. ūüėõ

        Were we giving signs of erratic behaviour? Who knows? Maybe, he had to make his quota of stops. Or, he was hungry.

        The trouble with Jamaica, sometimes, is that we have so many people who live life full of bandoolism that when we have to do something straight it just comes out crooked.

        Good luck with collecting those fines. I look forward to seeing the fiscal accounts at year-end.

        Brazil 2014: Jamaican interests

        The World Cup finals will kick off in Brazil on June¬†12,¬†with Brazil vs Croatia, as the first match. The matches will culminate on July 13. (Full details of the schedule are on FIFA’s site.)719px-WC-2014-Brasil.svg Jamaica did not qualify for these finals. I have no idea how many Jamaicans or which will be headed there. I hope to be in Rio, so at least one of us will be representing. My wife became a lover of things Luso-Brazilian after making two business trips several months ago, so jumped on the wagon and booked flights and arranged accommodation. I’m trying to get myself keyed up for the trip for things that I want to do. Over the past two weeks, I’ve made contact with some Brazilians at my daughter’s school, funnily, all women. I know a few Brazilian men and will be tapping them soon. By chance, the women were all together yesterday morning, and we had a nice little chat about Brazil and some things that excited me about visiting there. I learned a few Portuguese words. The women keep telling me that Brazilian food is the best. But, they warn me about crime. Living in Kingston, I wonder what could be in store. I promised them that I would try as much of the food as I could, and that I would try to be careful, but life is full of risks. I’ve visited a few crime-ridden spots over the years and I know that you may get lucky and not be robbed or attacked, but it’s important to take the simple precautions, such as no jewellery and being careful with the new gadgets, such as cell phones.

        I have started to focus on the football side of the World Cup over the past few days, once the team selections started to emerge. The competition is open, and I am looking at how various nations get their support. I feel that a lot of Jamaicans pull for Brazil, largely because of their flamboyant style over the years, but also because they have produced a long stream of great black players, most notably, Pele. I’ve always pulled for Brazil, with the 1970 tournament standing in my mind as the best I have seen. Pele’s headed goal for 1-0, Brazil’s 100th in the tournament is a classic of power and control. Carlos Alberto’s goal for 4-1 was one of the best set-ups ever. Brazil!

        But I know that I will also feel a pull for the England team, having made my football career there and having supported an English team all my life. Now, the English interest is different, with a few black players with Jamaican roots being an important part of the team. I will also want to see how the African teams do, and hope that Ghana will hold its nerves this time and really make the world stand up. The South Americans in South America are always good value: Argentina will always want to topple Brazil in Brazil; Uruguay are no longer a surprise, and Luis Suarez is an amazing player to watch. The Europeans? Spain still have the best-looking chance at the start, but I hope England will give a good account of themselves.

        As the finals come closer, the international media is paying a¬†lot more attention to a long-running problem–the pace and nature of the stadium developments. Some are set to be still unfinished when the games start, and that is happening amid stories of bribery and incidents and building accidents that suggest things were being done too fast and without enough care. That’s a real disgrace. Attention is also being focused on domestic opposition to the World Cup being given to Brazil. In short, a lot of money being spent on stadiums when people are in desperate need of housing and social services seems at least problematic. Those in need seem likely to gain little from the tournament or after it. Concerns are real that demonstrations could disrupt matches.

        A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 72% of Brazilians are dissatisfied with the way things are going in their country, up from 55% just weeks before the demonstrations began in June 2013.¬†About 61¬†percent¬†think hosting the event is a bad thing for Brazil because it takes money away from schools, health care and other public services‚ÄĒa common theme in the protests that have swept the country since June 2013. Only¬†34¬†percent¬†think the World Cup, which Brazil will host for the first time since 1950 and which could attract¬†more than 3.5 million¬†people to the nation‚Äôs twelve host cities, will create more jobs and help the economy.

        Reuters reported a few days ago that¬†Anonymous hackers plan a mass hack attack on the Cup‚Äôs sponsors.mascara-anonymous-brasil¬†In the age of mass terrorism, it’s not a set of idle threats.

        I have also been thinking about many things to do with the World Cup that are not to do with the football. I am beginning to think about the legacies of slavery on Brazil and Jamaica (or more broadly, the Caribbean). That would be an interesting area to explore. Black people¬†in the English-speaking Americas tend to not draw too close to the shared heritage of the non-English speaking areas. We do not know or ignore the connections, such as the fact that the Portuguese were slave traders, just like the British;¬†Brazil had a larger slave population (3 million) than the United States. Slavery had an immense impact on Brazil’s economy and social structure. Brazil’s slave history shares some aspects with Jamaica’s, such as slave rebellions (in the mid-19th century) and runaway slave communities (‘quilombos’) in the deep interior, similar to our Maroons, as early as the 17th century. I’m npt knowledgeable about this and look forward to trying to learn more about such developments.

        On the back of this comes news about the bribery and corruption involved in Qatar winning the bid for the World Cup in 2022. That bid may yet be quashed and a new venue selected. The question had always been ‘Why would Fifa award the World Cup to a small Gulf state with no footballing history, let alone stadia, where summer temperatures can reach 50C (122F)?’¬†The USA, Australia and Japan had seen their bids snuffed. England, too, in its bid for the 2018 finals, which were given to Russia. With that latter country causing ruffles over its human rights record and the annexation of Crimea, both bids could be reopened.

        Other distasteful stories are coming out, such as Pele’s son, Edinho, who had also been a professional footballer (goalkeeper) for the Santos club, being sentenced this week to jail for 33 years in a money laundering case, helping a drugs cartel in Santos.

        Cultural interests are many. I am also intrigued by the influence of Asians on Brazil’s economy and society. While Jamaica had its Chinese influence from the mid-19th century, Brazil has its influx of Japanese from the early 20th century.¬†Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan:¬†as of 2000 between 1.4 and 1.5¬†million people of Japanese descent lived in Brazil.¬†The overall Japanese-Brazilian population is declining, with¬†a decreased birth rate and an aging population; return immigration to Japan¬†as well as¬†intermarriage¬†with other races and dilution of¬†ethnic identity is also going on. Of the five Brazilian women I met recently, two are of Japanese origin; the grandmother speaks Japanese, but the daughter does not; they both speak excellent English. I don’t know if that will be true of any I meet in Brazil.

        I did some quick online research last night about this community. In 1907, the Brazilian and the Japanese governments signed a treaty permitting Japanese migration to Brazil, many of them became owners of coffee plantations, replacing Italians who were being pressured to cease subsidized migration. Japanese immigrants began arriving in Brazil in 1908, as a result of the decrease in the Italian immigration to Brazil and a new labour shortage on the coffee plantations. In the first seven years, 3,434 more Japanese families (14,983 people) arrived. The beginning of World War I in 1914 started a boom in Japanese migration to Brazil, and inflows peaked into the mid-1930s. A brief reading indicates that assimilation was often forced and the Japanese immigrants faced significant prejudice in a country that still had a slave owner mentality to foreign labour.

        The Japanese Brazilian community was strongly marked by restrictive measures when Brazil declared war against Japan in August 1942.¬†During the National Constituent Assembly of 1946, the government proposed Amendments to the Constitution as follows: “It is prohibited the entry of Japanese immigrants of any age and any origin in the country”. In the final vote, a tie with 99 votes each in favor and against.¬†Senator¬†Fernando de Melo Viana, who chaired the session of the Constituent Assembly, had the casting vote and rejected the constitutional amendment. By only one vote, the immigration of Japanese people to Brazil was not prohibited by the Brazilian Constitution of 1946.

        Japanese immigrants appeared to the Brazilian government as undesirable and these immigrants were seen as non-assimilable. As Asians, they did not contribute to the “whitening” process of the Brazilian people as desired by the ruling Brazilian elite. In this process of forced assimilation, the Japanese, more than any other immigrant group, suffered the ethno-cultural persecution imposed during this period.

        Nowadays, many Japanese Brazilians belong to the third generation (sansei), who make up 41 percent of the community. First generation (issei) are about 12.5 percent, second generation (nisei) are 31 percent, and fourth generation (yonsei) 13 percent. A more recent phenomenon in Brazil is intermarriages between Japanese Brazilians and non-ethnic Japanese.  Japanese-Brazilians live mainly in Sao Paulo.

        I will be watching how the Japanese team reach out to this community, and also if there is much reaching back to them from their Brazilian ‘near compatriots. Brazil and Japan have forged some football links at playing and coaching level, with ‘Zico’ (a famous player turned coach)

        Zico, sporting the famous number 10 of Brazil
        Zico, sporting the famous number 10 of Brazil

        coaching the Japanese national team from 2002, up through the 2006 World Cup. He had previously played and coached in Japan.

        Zico, in his days coaching Japan
        Zico, in his days coaching Japan

        Many things are starting to percolate in my head about the trip and what I want to look for and experience in Brazil.

        This wont be my first World Cup finals; I was in Mexico in 1986, and went to the Argentina-Germany final, sitting in the palco behind the goal with a clear view of all the goals. I’d bought tickets from a tout on the morning of the final for a really good price. I went with an English acquaintance I had met in the city. I had been in Latin America on a business trip. My boss was a football fan. He had made his connections with Mexican bankers, who had helped finance the tournament, so was set up in a VIP box for the final. I hung out with some Mexican friends and¬†watched matches on TV, eating chicherones and drinking a lot of beer and tequila.

        Chicharones
        Chicharones

        I also went to Venezuela and Colombia during that tournament and saw how fervent South American fans could be. I recall a lunch-meeting with a central bank governor in Caracas, and how after eating, we all relaxed and screamed as we watch a World Cup match live on a TV in the restaurant: my kind of business lunch. I remember the city being absolutely dead.

        Of course, I will spend a little time thinking about how the two countries’ leaders, both women, stack up against each other.

        I will also reminisce about how our football got a major boost from a Brazilian coach, Ren√© Rodrigues Sim√Ķes, who coached the Jamaica national team between 1994-2000 and took them to the 1998 World Cup. Jamaica has since¬†gone through a Jamaican national coach, and a disastrous World Cup campaign. Now, we have gone to Germany to find a solution.

        It’s going to be exciting, and I will keep delving into topics that have resonance for both Jamaica and Brazil.¬†

         

        Jamaica: Risk, reward and incentives. Crime pays and getting away with murder is easy.

        Some things about life in Jamaica strike me as blindingly obvious. One of them is the constant disconnection between what people say they want and what people encourage to happen. Economics is supposed to be about scarcity, but that is really another way of saying that it is about choice and how that is influenced. One of the main drivers for choosing is what is the risk and what is the reward of the choice. Normal, sane people go for things that tend to have more reward than risk. Policy makers should set up options for their societies that load rewards on things that they want to happen, and load risks onto things they wish to discourage. This is where Jamaica–the land of the exceptional–comes to the fore. We have a society that has been loaded with either perverse incentives or incentives that seem to run counter to what we say we want.

        I wont try to cover the whole country and the things that appear to be wrong, but will focus on one thing that people say they dislike very much–crime, especially, murder. Several analysts over the years have noted that over the past decade (since 2004)¬†‘under 40 per cent of homicides were cleared up and, of that figure, only about an eighth of the accused managed to make it to trial. When crunched further, the data show that, in real terms, a mere five per cent of persons accused of murder get convicted‘. When the odds are so stacked in favour of getting away with murder, who really believes that the country has a hope in Hades of seeing murder rates fall dramatically? If you want to drag your hands in the dirt more, realise that those numbers overstate the ‘success’, not least because it includes people who are accused but then found to not have done the crimes.

        But, murder is not something that people choose to do simply because they can get away with it. It’s a product of a society that does tolerates high levels of violence against the person. “Let me beat you!” is one of those stock phrases Jamaicans use, as much as “Please” and “Thanks”. We are civil in our words and brutal in our deeds. I remember seeing a lady with an infant who looked to be about six months old, hitting the child softly but constantly saying repeatedly: “See, Mummy beat you. You bad girl.” No shrill tone that denoted anger, but a clear, repeated message. I asked her what she thought she was doing. A little shocked, judging by her expression, she replied “I’m teaching her not to be naughty.” So, for that early age, and I know it starts earlier, we beat to teach what we call ‘discipline’. “If you wont hear, you must feel,” is another of our stock phrases for getting children to understand what the consequences will be of disobedience.

        So, why do we act horrified when we hear of the series of aggravated beatings that a littered amongst all our communities, often with the instrument of choice having graduated from a hand or a belt, to a machete. We also, often see that what started in early life as an uneven contest–an adult versus a child–has continued. So, we see many assaults and worse by men on women and children. We built the house and now we live in it. We pushed holes into the roof and ceilings and are surprised that rain is falling on our heads while we try to eat our dinner.

        The crime picture and its base cause seem clear to me. People will try to say that ‘social conditions’ or ‘economic conditions’ are the root causes. I have to admit that they may have some connection, but it’s hard to see what. My grandmothers lived in harsher social and economic conditions but were not surrounded by a world of killings. Now, I am in danger of undoing my own analysis. My grandmothers were very much of the “must feel’ generations of old. So, something else must have happened for that base to exist and murder not take hold.

        One thing is the availability of a much more potent way of making people feel–the gun. For that, we have to thank our enlightened leaders who allowed them in freely so that they could help in the struggle to keep or take political power. (We can see how other Caribbean nations have started to catch up with Jamaica once their tolerance for firearms increased.) Like weeds in a garden that is not tended, they take over and choke all the flowers that we had planted, and do so quickly. But, that does not explain the way that we have seen men brutalize women and children so that they heard through feeling the cuff of the hand or the chop.

        Another factor is that we no longer have effective justice or justice systems. This is one of the areas where incentives seem to be clear. Our formal systems for dealing with wrongdoers is a shambles. The adage of ‘soon come, never reach’ has taken hold of our court systems. The backlog of cases is far too long. Cases take too long to come to court and then take too long to be resolved. In this instance, I do not care about the outcome of the ‘Cuban light bulb scandal’ case, but five years to get to that, is like the old joke about how many whoever it takes to change a light bulb. I do not like to put profanity on my blog, but that is a real WTF situation. The now-celebrated case of the murder of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams is another one mired in delays. That other adage about ‘justice delayed is justice denied‘ also comes into play.

        It’s another plank taken away from a ship that began to flounder and began to sink fast. That failing system ate away at people’s confidence in their institutions. When that happens, people tend towards other systems that seem to work better, whether organized on an individual basis or in some collective way. It makes less sense to report crimes, because the system does not seem to care about solving them. That quickly translates into why bother noting it at all, just keep it away from me. That’s part of the gated community trend and its three monkey thinking: see no evil, hear no evil, speak¬†no evil. It also finds expression in the rise of gangs and gang-controlled areas: a form of justice will be administered and swiftly; it is also brutal. However, in its warped way, it is about maintaining order, which is what we say we want.

        Our failed justice system is aided by a police force that lost its way in terms of its real mission to serve and protect. It turned inwards and became self-serving and did not protect the people but itself. Corruption is as much about perception as it is about deeds. When people believe that a person or group is corrupt they had better work hard to disprove the notion, if not, then it will hold and be hard to shift. The police are believed to be many things–corrupt and brutal are among the repeated characteristics. The number of civilians killed by police defy reasonable belief as things that happen ‘in the line of duty’. Police shaking people down for money or tampering with evidence or just lying are accusations that either have no base in truth and are rumours spread by a nation of mean and ungrateful people or it’s really happening and few want to or can do anything about it.

        I know of few countries that did what the Republic of Georgia did in 2005. Its president,¬†Mikhail Saakashvili,¬†made his¬†government sack all police (about 30,000) and customs personnel while repositioning the country. The country had no police force for three months and crime did not go up, suggesting that police were part of the security problem. It was part of Georgia’s move from a failed state to a stable and fast-growing economy.¬†

        I’ve not used the word incentive much but it should be clear where it has been applied and what it has tended to produce.

        I’m getting in the habit of commenting on things that appear to deal with the bad incentives by add ‘change the risk-reward calculus’. Recent case of corrupt police officers getting sentenced are clear instances of this starting to occur. We can say the same about the recent murder case involving a musician. Unless human nature has made some magic self-transformation, our survival instincts push us toward doing things that are more likely to preserve our lives than lose them, even if that means killing others. On that point, I will flag my latest piece of knowledge. Humans rank second in the world of killers, after mosquitoes. We try to even things up with our nearest rival by killing them but they are more efficient at the task than we are, and have adapted to exploit our weaknesses much better than we have adapted to exploit theirs. Eventually, they are more likely to wipe us out than the reverse.

        That’s also much like what we see happening in Jamaica. The wrong doers have been much better at exploiting our weaknesses than we have at exploiting theirs. We have let them get the clear lead, and now it’s a case of seeing whether or not we will capitulate and give up the race or try to claw our way back into the lead.

        Truthfully: expressing opinions

        The Internet allows many viewpoints to find a place, and I was happy to try to join the many voices that try to express themselves and¬†hope to raise consciousness among Jamaican and Caribbean nationals about the issues that we care about¬†in a new venture, Daily Veritas, offered by an acquaintance. I’ve written an op-ed piece, entitled¬†Jamaican politicians-Always wanting,¬†on¬†poor performance of our politicians and corruption in government. I would be happy to receive comments here or on the Veritas site.harvardveritas

        What really matters?

        I’ve been involved in a few spirited discussions in recent weeks. One has been about getting more women representatives in politics, essentially, the case for and against quotas in Parliament. I’m against. Another, about complex language and whether it’s an essential part of dealing with complex ideas. I don’t believe it is. A few things passed my eyes and ears in the past few days that make me think about how these issues come up, but not necessarily with any debate.

        Women and men both have amazing gifts and much to offer. We are generally encouraged to think that having more women in areas where men have dominated will bring clear and better results. A notable argument raised recently was that it would mean less corruption. But, I asked myself, why is that we have a public agency that struggles to do its job, and run by a woman for the past two years? Jamaica’s¬†National Solid Waste Management Authority, has a female¬†head of agency, Jennifer Edwards. As far as I can tell, she has uttered nary a word since the start of the recent fire at Riverton dump/landfill. Why? An acquaintance mentioned ‘jobs for the girls’. Guess what?

        Jennifer Edwards, Executve Director, NSWMA
        Jennifer Edwards, Executve Director, NSWMA

        Ms. Edwards was¬†President of the People’s National Party’s Women’s Movement. She ran on a PNP ticket in general elections.¬†Now, we should not jump to conclusions, but¬†as talk of quotas swirl, persons like me wonder about where merit is put to one side and favouritism comes into play. This gets bothersome with bodies that have been tainted by claims of cronyism in their activities. Corruption is as much perception as actual greasy palms. So, better to remove all perceptions of slipperyness. That aside, clearly, no one woman can be a miracle worker, but if we are interested in better results and good processes, someone has to show me what we are supposed to have gained and what we have gained by placing our bets on a gender.

        By contrast, it was interesting that no sooner had¬†news flowed yesterday that the ‘Cuban light bulb case’ had been declared ‘no case’ by Resident Magistrate Judith Pusey, than words flew about the ‘spat’ between her and DPP Paula Llewellyn, and two women who were locking horns (if I can mix my gender metaphors). Justice Pusey had put her foot down and tried to get Ms. Llewellyn kicked out of proceedings in the case. An appeal quashed that ruling. Ms. Pusey refused to recuse herself. The process of impartial judgement seemed to be slipping. But, these are professionals, right. Both women seem to be well-equipped for their posts and I’d have few reasons, prima facie, to suggest that anything other than merit played into their being where they were. But, they got into a professional tiff and…well, it’s good for selling papers.

        In a sense, my point is simple. Numbers mean little if they are fiddled. I’m still nervous about quotas.

        On the language of the bright and mentally bountiful, I should have been warned when I heard Public Defender, Earl Witter,

        Earl Witter, Public Defender
        Earl Witter, Public Defender

        tell Dionne Jackson Miller that a process had not been “sufficiently purgative“. Metaphors are tough at the best of times. Ones that deal with the evacuation of bowels are always tricky. The interviewer was trying to get some clarification to points Mr. Witter had made in a press conference earlier in the day, about the pending Tivoli Inquiry. The interview between the two did not go well. He was reluctant to understand that he had a duty to explain why his ‘Tivoli report’ had taken so long to prepare. He mentioned how the media had created a “straw man” in terms of ‘deadlines’. He wanted to know what deadlines meant. Ms Jackson-Miller patiently tried to get him to address that, but he wittered on about meaning.¬†¬†She pointed out that many civil society groups, not just the media, had queried the delays. Mr. Witter went on. The tone got tense. By the time I stopped listening, the interview was nearly over. A lot of talk from the Public Defender and not much good listening. That’s odd from someone who is a renowned lawyer.

        When people struggle to explain things simply, it’s always hard for those who struggle to understand. Lawyers may be good at weaving webs of words to obscure the truth and sometimes they get tangled in their own spinning.

        The good, the bad, and the ugly (February 23, 2014)

        Good

        Back to Sochi we go. Jamaica’s two-man bobsled came in 29th out of 30 teams. That was no ‘flop’ as one of our national papers, the Jamaica Observer, headlined it. They qualified by entering races and getting enough points. They funded themselves by having friends with imagination who helped raise money through crowd-funding. They competed even though they had difficulties getting their equipment to the Games site on time. They raced very well–without qualifying their performance–ending¬†4.41 second behind the leading Russian pair, after three rounds. Think of that, over three runs on a¬†1365 meters course. Measure the difference between first place and the Jamaican time and you will find a minuscule difference. Meaning? The Jamaican team was very competitive, in a highly competitive and tight field. I could talk more about equipment, facilities, support, etc., but why bore you with what you know already in principle as the impediments they faced? The real flop? The sloppy journalism of taking a report from Agence France Presse and just dropping it onto the pages of the nation of the bobsledders, with little more thought that it takes to watch 4.41 seconds tick off a clock.

        Bad

        FIFA is not far from being considered a dinosaur in terms of its willingness to embrace technology to make football better in terms of quality of decisions at the highest levels of the sport. I am biased because I think certain changes are long overdue. I applauded the acceptance of goal-line technology this season, which has avoided many repetitions of egregious mistakes of goals not given (or even ‘no goals’ happening). Just this Saturday, we saw a crucial goal given to West Bromwich in their English Premier League draw with Fulham, after the ball barely crossed the line–all that’s needed. Mistakes are costly in many ways–monetarily, standings, etc.

        Lampard scores past Neuer but referee 'saw' no goal
        Lampard scores past Neuer but referees ‘saw’ no goal

        This week, I again saw the case for instant replays in matches, especially to review decisions that concerns goals or goal-scoring possibilities.¬†Liverpool lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup, but were denied what seemed like a clear penalty kick. Review would have at least given the officials the chance to see what they missed in the blur of action. Barcelona were awarded a penalty against Manchester City during this week’s UEFA Champions League. Let’s just focus on where the foul took place. I say outside the penalty area, definitely: no penalty. Some, even former referees, talk about ‘continuation’ and ‘second touch’. Guff, if ever I heard it. You handle a ball twice, one hand outside, one inside, it’s not the second touch that counts.

        I’m not convinced by any arguments about losing flow of matches or time lost. The flow of games is broken more by many other things, and the importance of some decision argue against wanting to just ‘keep the game flowing’ above other considerations. My argument is simple: referees are asked to do something that is humanly very difficult–see everything clearly, even when at high-speed and from bad angles. Replays give officials the chance to look again. They can have their decisions confirmed or denied. It’s that simple. The use of replays has been good in removing much uncertainty from the minds of players and officials–fewer simmering arguments for decades. If FIFA wants to pretend that officials are superhuman, good for them. The world increasingly knows an ass when it sees one.

        Ugly

        I don’t know which is worse: the alleged sexual assault on a woman in the care of¬†the St Mary Infirmary, or the¬†case of cover-up on the part of administrators at the Infirmary. Both are disgusting. Desmond¬†McKenzie, Opposition Spokesman on Local Government condemned the matter, and said that the incident took place on the February 9, but following what is suspected to have been a case of cover-up on the part of administrators at the Infirmary, was only officially brought to the attention of the St Mary Parish Council Wednesday at a meeting of its Poor Relief Committee. Add to this reports that the perpetrator was allowed to ‘clean himself up’ before fleeing. Jamaica has some people who are desperate. But, we also have a desperate shortage of people running institutions who are capable of making good decisions.