Jamaica is a funny country; our capitalist class is so embedded and so all-powerful that they have successfully vanquished the talk of socialism in this country, which has been unmatched in other English-speaking Caribbean nations.
This is their main triumph from the battles of the 70s when, after a near civil war, the idea of socialism and anything to the left of it was not only rejected by the people but almost totally forgotten.
This though, does not mean that they are successful or even brilliant. Time has shown us that these people who have been left with power unchecked have been the architects of the destruction of the nation’s economy. I say this not in the sense of them metaphorically funding election campaigns and calling the shots in smoke-filled rooms, but in the literal sense as they made up the administrations going forward from 1980 to today. They were ministers, deputy ministers, advisors, board chairmen and so on, all in the most powerful positions, all ruining the economy.
Sure, they have got rich in the process, no one can deny that fact. But this shows the lack of thought by this class even when it comes to money-making. Let us look at land and housing, for an example; sure, the landed gentry in this country have seen a tidy profit when it comes to land valuation increases and the sprawling apartments built on them, but do they not realise that they could have made more money by say, leasing the lands, or having them developed for low middle-income housing and rent them? This would see not only a constant and steady stream of income (far dwarfing what they made in the sale to developers) but would also see a knock-on effect as people spend money to maintain their houses and beautify them.
This fact is lost on private landholders who selfishly, and more importantly for the focus of this piece, stupidly go after short-term profits and damn tomorrow. No thought is put into the fact that such a move alone would mean that their land value would increase, thus increasing their wealth exponentially. Instead, white elephants and get-rich-quick schemes are given priority.
Agriculture is much the same. Our wealth capitalist class, bar a few outliers who have historical links to the operating of plantations, have no interest in domestic food production. Instead, they focus almost exclusively on importation of foodstuffs, the licensing of foreign brands and all manner of things. It was only in the past few years that our local dairy company dared challenge the near-monopoly that imports have on condensed milk, and I’m not sure they are in it anymore now.
People cannot live without food. The Jamaican diet is filled with items that cannot be imported from our current food importers; they are also items which are staples within the English-speaking Caribbean. Rather than let the land to the current peasant class to till (for a price of course), they let the land sit idle. Rather than do what other capitalists have done — that is, build on the primary production of the workers to make more money — our capitalists have chosen the short-sighted way of importing everything and then complaining when inflation eats away at our purchasing power.
Forget socialism and communism. Just on a basic Adam Smith/ David Ricardo classical economics point of view this makes no sense. People are content to live off of rent, idle lands, and imports rather than producing anything of any note and then there is a general murmuring and sense of shock when the economy ‘grows’ at point something per cent or actually recedes while poverty increases.
This cannot continue for much longer. While the BPO sector does bring in FX we invariably lose that FX importing food. While hotels bring in a tidy profit, houses and communities for hotel workers would bring in even more money as whole new industries sprout up to support the residents and — wait for it — rents are paid. The money being made is, in truth, monkey money, and it is not permanent money as tourism will decline and the BPO sector will leave to the next green pasture.
What will the local capitalists do then? How will they fend off the masses which will be rightly baying not only for their blood but also (heaven forbid) their property? Do they believe a police state staffed by police and soldiers who are underpaid will defend them? Do they think they can carry their wealth with them to Florida, Toronto, and London? Or are they so far gone that they truly have no issues being masters of a failed state?
We have moved beyond altruism, beyond saying that the people need jobs, need better healthcare etc, from a strictly selfish perspective that more money could be made by biting the bullet and working with the interests of the people and needs of the country, and still they won’t do it.
They will not do it because they are not nationalists, they have no love for the nation, let alone its people, and in the worst sense possible have sold their soul not only to the god of profit, but to a foreign land.
Much is to be done in this country, and short of a socialist revolution, the only way it will happen is at the behest of the ruling capitalist elite. They fund the parties and politicians, they make up the boards of not only private but public companies. They, in the end, make the decisions. They will either see sense and engage in common sense capitalism, capitalism of a nationalist flavour, or they will lose their kingdom. That is the reality they are facing and these are the options, however unappealing, on offer to them.
They either bite the bullet and take the risk of moving from an import-based economy to one which is more insular looking when it comes to satisfying their needs and thereby increasing the wealth and well-being of the general citizenry, or they will be faced by people wielding weapons of war demanding a cut of the ever-decreasing pie.
As those who are accustomed to playing rugby will understand, they are in the use it or lose it phase, they will decide if a change is done in a reasonable fashion with as little fuss as possible or if the nation and themselves will be dragged to a form of nationalism when it comes to the economy.