I did not attend the Economic Growth Council’s (EGC) ‘Signing Ceremony and Call to Action’, held at the Courtleigh Auditorium on November 7, but I was able to watch the Livestream video of the event, which you can watch here https://www.facebook.com/EGCJamaica/posts/275339559528471. There’s lots to applaud in how the EGC packages what it’s doing, and its slickness is one of the positives that can be taken from what they are doing. As I’ve noted before, I’m interested in aspect of the process of getting Jamaica onto a much faster growth path. Achieving that should be important in getting more Jamaicans contributing to the well-being of the island. Traditionally, high growth rates would be translated into faster and broader jobs growth, but many things have changed in the local and world economy, so that the prospect of ‘jobless’ growth is a real risk. That’s an outcome that Jamaica needs to avoid.
One thing that struck me in the presentations was how much of Jamaica seemed to matter. Now, I might not have been looking or listening with as much care as I could, but if so, please correct me. I saw only a few representatives of many of Jamaica’s important people. Who do I mean?
I mean farmers, vendors, schoolchildren, young single mothers with many children, the sick, the unemployed, the young men whom we often talk about as being disaffected or alienated.
Now, as is the way with many events, the process of ‘reaching out’ is often done hastily or incompletely. But, to me, this series of omissions is telling. When I watched the video ‘testimonials’ of young people telling me what they were expecting and hoping I heard what seemed like a narrow cross-section of those who are also yearning. Again, these ‘sound bites’ cannot be comprehensive, but they should give the impression of being broadly spread. I did not get that impression. Why do I think that matters?
One of my big concerns is that amongst the mistakes that we have made in the past and are in danger of repeating is somehow acting as if the change we want to see will be organic. Time was, when economies grew, people knew work would be created across a wide area of the country, so that no or few special measures were needed to see that flow occur. My belief is that those days are long gone, partly due to technology, but also due to the fact that the structure of the country has changed, both geographically and culturally. What that suggests, to me, is that some careful funneling needs to happen. That cannot be like in a planned economy, where you direct resources very specifically to areas and people, but it may need to be something similar.
I think the notion of inclusion is important, but do not see it happening spontaneously. My belief is that a large swathe of the country has actively excluded itself, or felt it was excluded, and so needs to be actively included.
Some of those who need to be included live in the ‘shadows’ of our society, but that does not make they trivial; on the contrary. They have significant influence on many people’s lives. If crime is seen as the biggest challenge to getting Jamaica’s economy onto a much firmer footing, that cannot happen without addressing the flow of young people into crime. The motives for following that sort of life are complex, but talking about ‘opportunities’ in some glib, or amorphous way will miss the target massively.
I do not have the answers to this problem, but I see what is happening in many areas as a sign that all cannot be well if the process does not reach deep down into daily lives. I just cite a simple set of experiences.
I drove across the middle of Jamaica on Sunday, from the tourist hub in Montego Bay, through our Trelawny agricultural heartland that grows sugar cane and yam, into the capital. I saw many men and women doing what they do almost daily:
- Sitting playing dominoes, or drinking and eating;
- Standing at water pipes or walking with drums on their heads to and from water tanks;
- Living in homes that are barely fit for purpose;
- Putting piles of produces onto roadsides, hoping for sales;
- Getting into overcrowded taxis to head to their activities;
- Begging on the road, at traffic lights;
- Walking along potholed roads, long distances, to their activities;
- Making phone calls to people on a list, plying them for money.
I just cite those snippets because they are representative of what many people are doing.
The idea of moving from ‘third world to first’ is attractive, but what does it mean, and is it something that means that people’s lives will be transformed dramatically AWAY from some of these daily activities within the next four years?
If the answer to those questions is to mean anything, those people need to know what will change in their lives and what they need to do to make it happen faster and look likely to be a permanent feature of their lives.