We must rise above pettiness

Dr Raulston Nembhard
One of the obvious constraints of writing an opinion column is space.
Readers from time to time require a more elaborate discussion of points
made in a piece but this is not often possible, given the constraint
aforementioned and the ever present “threat” of the editor’s scalpel.
Even where there may be some editorial generosity, the editor himself is
under other constraints such as other articles to be published and
certainly advertising space. You do not have the leverage to write a
dissertation or an essay, and so are not able to undertake the fulsome
research or discussion that an article may demand.
I raise this matter against the background of my last piece (“Dr
Phillips: Truth and boldness necessary for economic revival”) and some
interesting questions raised by readers regarding aspects of it. One
reader was particularly concerned about my critique of Democratic
Socialism and its contribution to what I described as the decimation of
the Jamaican economy under the PNP. No one has to take my word for it.
The interested reader only has to comb through the archives of the
Planning Institute of Jamaica to get relevant statistics on what
happened to the economy in the period of the 1970s, the decades of the
1980s and 1990s and more than six years in the 2000s under PNP rule.
Grandiose socialist rhetoric trumped cogent economic analysis. The truth
is that no real wealth was created in the economy, and as such the
economy registered years of negative growth, a situation to which we
seem destined to return in this new PNP dispensation
(L-R) SEAGA… while the economy picked
up under his leadership the people
felt alienated from the process. MANLEY… what he lacked in
economic competence he made up
for in his genuine love for the poor.
There are those who are inclined to see extraneous forces such as
the CIA as being responsible for the destabilisation of the economy
towards the end of PNP rule in 1980, but to my knowledge no empirical
evidence has been adduced to support this claim. I would grant that in
the run-up to the elections, it was clear that America had more than a
passing interest in seeing the back of the Manley regime. But to my
knowledge there is no conclusive evidence that they engineered a
destabilisation of the economy. Anecdotal references all by themselves
do not prove this.
The JLP should derive very little comfort from this. While the economy
picked up under Eddie Seaga and started to record growth in the 1980s,
the people felt alienated from the process. They were not made to feel
that they were real stakeholders in building the economy. Seaga
concentrated economic power in the hands of a few and when the austerity
measures he had to impose began to bite, he was seen as a villain. Many
were surprised that, with the economy growing, voters would have put
the JLP out to pasture in 1989. Yet this is exactly what happened, the
arrogance of the ruling party being blamed for the loss at the polls.
Fast-forward to December 29, 2011, and the same norm prevailed: a
growing economy albeit anaemic in the context of a global recessionary
environment, but a lack of consultation with the people in making them
feel that they mattered. The claim of arrogance again punctuated the
air. It takes more than an appreciation of the intricacies of economic
management to grow a country out of poverty. What Manley lacked in
economic competence he amply made up for in his genuine love for the
poor and the visceral compassion that he was able to exude to them. What
the JLP lack in social competence and the ability to help people to
know that they feel their pain, they make up for in technical, economic
competence. The challenge is therefore clear to both parties: take the
people into your confidence; be open and transparent to them, for it is
their business that you have been given temporary responsibility to
Emphasis is on “temporary”, for the people have grown weary of empty
promises and are likely to throw out a government that fails to perform,
even after a first term. We have seen this with the JLP, and the PNP
should not rest on its laurels that this will not happen to them four
years hence. The people are crying out for good, transparent and open
governance, not the kind of secrecy that tends to surround the way our
politicians would want to conduct our business. Most important, the cry
is for respect, for each person to be made to feel that he or she is an
indispensable component in the drive to build a transformative society.
The contributors to the SALISES conference which Dr Phillips addressed
were long on rhetoric but short on specific, implementable solutions
that could start us even creakily on the road to building a just and
sustainable society. The time for us to do this is not our friend in
this regard. Vilifying so-called harbingers of doom because they do not
share your particular viewpoint is not the answer. We must rise above
pettiness and realise that each one of us is just one link, albeit an
important link, in a vast chain of human enterprise, innovation and
Dr Raulston Nembhard


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