AS I listened to the Planning Institute of Jamaica’s recent review of the Jamaican economy, I thought to myself that we have become a nation that is too used to mediocrity. The PIOJ estimated that the Jamaican economy grew by 0.9 per cent for the fiscal year just ended, and in the current fiscal year it is expected to grow between one and two per cent.
In the context of how the economy has performed, one could easily say that this is welcome news, as since around 2009 we have seen what the economists love to refer to as “negative growth”. In layman’s term, the economy has shrunk.
On the other hand, while we are happy for the growth, our willingness to accept that meagre growth rate is symptomatic of the way in which we have grown to accept mediocrity as a standard. In other words, we should be very concerned that as a country with a lot more potential to expand at much faster rates, we have failed miserably to achieve that full potential.
This is the same way we accept poor customer service, indiscipline, poor governance by our politicians, bureaucracy, and the list goes on. It seems as if we have been shell-shocked by our mediocre performances, and so we set our standard very low and any politician that comes and tells us how nice we look, we are ready to go with them. This, I think, is one of the major impediments to our economic and social development.
If you grow up in a community where it is expected that garbage will be disposed of anywhere (gullies, sidewalk etc) or loud music is as natural as birds chirping, then it becomes a natural part of the environment. And you can’t imagine your life without it. In other words, what is the big deal about these things? Until finally one day, as we are seeing now, it is no longer just confined to a single community, but rather is very much the accepted culture for the whole island of Jamaica.
So we are numb to murders when they happen, or the number of road fatalities. We also see indiscipline as a way of life in the form of road use or squatting, among others. Because this culture and degradation is now ingrained in us, we then begin to celebrate it through our music.
So songs speak about the abuse of women or violence and we cheer when we hear them. Or, one of the new trends is violence in dancing, where men jump from roof tops on women, many times causing physical harm. But it is so accepted as a part of our culture that the patrons at the dances cheer when they see it.
The irony, also, is that we try to sell Jamaica on this “No Problem” culture, as Jamaicans seem proud to display their indiscipline when overseas. Many times when travelling and Jamaicans are on the aircraft, they have to put on some display, including speaking loudly. Recently I saw a sports team representing Jamaica (funded by the Jamaican Government and in Jamaica-branded shirts) playing music and speaking loudly on the aircraft. I had to speak to one of them to get the other to shut up.
But when I think about it, you can’t really blame Jamaicans too much for how they behave because this is how they have been socialised. Because of the failings of government policy and action, over the decades, we have developed an environment of indiscipline and acceptance of mediocrity, hence the reason for falling labour productivity since the 1970s.
Governments have further solidified this mediocrity by creating labour laws that go way beyond protecting workers rights to harming them, as the stringency of the laws have now led to a situation where a great majority of the workforce do not have any health or pension benefits, because it is best to hire people on short-term contracts.
These same Jamaicans, though, when they go to live in other countries, do conform to the social behaviour in the majority of cases. And then we ask the question why do Jamaicans conform when they migrate, but are indisciplined here. The answer, of course, is that the environment we have in Jamaica encourages indiscipline and mediocrity.
It seems logical to me then that if we truly want to realise our full potential as a country, we must as a priority look at the environment we promote.
For example, the best-selling book Rich Dad, Poor Dad speaks to the belief that the environment for learning created by two different fathers can determine the outcome of the child. So, as long as we teach our citizens to be indisciplined, unproductive and give them handouts, then we will continue to create a country where underperformance and indiscipline is rampant.
It is for this fundamental reason why we will always find it difficult to achieve any sustainable growth about three per cent. It is also for this fundamental reason why we have so many Jamaicans earning very low wages. It is also a fundamental reason why child abuse is so high, why squatting continues to grow, and why crime is a challenge.
For me it seems logical, and I can’t understand why we have not seen it expedient, to fix these underlying issues rather than encouraging celebration of our mediocrity as “No Problem”. It is perplexing that we celebrate the very high standards of people like Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Bob Marley, but we seem too ready to accept a mediocre society.
Until we can do so, then we will continue to speak about one to two per cent growth and be willing to accept mediocrity as our highest standard.
Dennis Chung is a chartered accountant and is currently Vice President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica. He has written two books: Charting Jamaica’s Economic and Social Development – 2009; and Achieving Life’s Equilibrium – balancing health, wealth, and happiness for optimal living – 2012. Both books are available at Amazon in both digital and paperback format. His blog isdcjottings.blogspot.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.