Let me begin by acknowledging that in the grand scheme of things, as an individual I am relatively well off. I’ve never gone a day without access to food/a meal, and I currently have somewhere to live, but I feel as though perhaps my own (lower middle class) family is living too close to the edge. In fact, a little too close to the poverty line than I would like. A moment, or mishap away from tragedy. Perhaps we haven’t invested enough.
It could be short-sighted goals or a lack of foresight but in the event that we did save, and did in fact make long-term investments, then how did we end up this way?
There is the harsh and often upsetting reality that perhaps my birth was inconvenient, but it is not outlandish to think that my parent’s decision to have a second child, was well within reason. Job security was much less of an issue in 1988 than it was in 2001, and a non-issue when compared to the beast it is now. Unfortunately, a more devious thing was occurring simultaneously. You see, the leadership of Jamaica began selling the country’s assets and without transparency squandered opportunities and resources. With lack of incentives, and prevalent corruption – investors were unwilling to take risks. With no guarantee on returns, companies began downsizing, scaling back and minimizing overhead costs.
Coupled with the reality that the median income of the Jamaican household has lagged behind the rate of inflation, it is fair to say that to be poor in Jamaica in 1951, 1988, or even 2000 is nothing compared to what is means to be poor in this country today.
The social and economic landscape has morphed into a dynamic and increasingly unbalanced sphere, wrought with inequalities, and powerful undercurrents. These realities have changed the way our society operates, its values, norms and structure. So much so that our country is likely to be unrecognizable in the wake of poverty, rising criminality, and desperation.
Access to opportunity
Hear ye! Hear ye! The meritocracy is dead. Ability and hard work no longer propel individuals in the way that they once did. Across the globe there is a steady decline in equitable access to education, and tertiary degrees. There is a chasm between the rich and poor for access to not only education but also, entrepreneurial loans, business investment, long-term financial solutions etc.
This has left a ghastly dependence on political groups to sustain/finance growth in communities, primarily through organizing development programs and in turn providing the monetary funding for these initiatives.
Role of electorate
This has adversely affected democracy in our nation. So much so that there are neighboring communities continually on watch for politically motivated violence. Unfortunately this is not something new or unique to Jamaica. Since the bloody tribalism of the 1970s there have been periods of calm followed by state-crippling unrest. With so much riding on “which party is in power” many Jamaicans, wealthy and poor have found themselves discontent with the island’s interpretation of the Westminster model. A crony-driven, often nepotistic version of representational politics.
Focus on status
Sadly, this version of politics has only served to drive our people apart. Political affiliations are taboo among conservatives, and in some cases even families are torn apart by converse allegiances to the two main parties. Ultimately this means that many Jamaicans have difficulty viewing each other as counterparts in nation building. This is marked further by the assertions that one party is for one class, and the other is for the other. It is complicated, delicate, and volatile.
Yet more than anything it is frustrating. The inability of the various stakeholders to focus on Jamaica’s need to realign its objectives is a difficult and complex challenge to see, and yet not have any idea where to tackle first.
Interestingly enough, the middle and upper class have taken on the task of addressing the nation’s problems in a elitist and homogeneous way — by throwing money at everything.
Erasure of identity
To our dismay, this has helped little. We buy things we don’t need, import more than we export, galvanize programs to buy back debt, and yet here we are. Jamaica’s external debt now stands at over 14 billion USD. Yes, I know that there is no quick 12-step program to fix the economy, but what about those who don’t have anyone to file for them?
I refuse to propagate the notion that my grandmother was wrong for not taking up US citizenship. I refuse to believe that I am wrong for not wanting to pursue permanent residency in a foreign nation. Of course this is a problem unique only to those above the upper lower class.
For those that remain here it is a constant and difficult struggle to juggle the demands of life and high cost of living alongside the landslide devaluation of our currency. Nothing holds its value anymore, not your assets, not your investments, not your money, nothing. This reality sometimes makes it challenging for me to take pride in my country. On the one hand I see the untapped potential of our people and of our resources, but it is overshadowed by the lack of diversity in industry and productive sectors. There are just so many unemployed, underemployed, homeless, destitute, or living just above the poverty line.
Without money, or status many Jamaicans that would be identified in these categories find themselves voiceless, unseen, and unheard. They are run out of buses, walked pass on our city streets, and ignored at stoplights. I know we can’t help everyone, but are we adequately trying to address the needs of these individuals? Is our future tied to taking the poor out of poverty? Or are we merely obsessed with making the well-off, comfortable and making the rich more wealthy?
Which brings me to my final and perhaps unifying point.
Inherent centrality of capitalism
Is capitalism destroying Jamaica? As a nation we have lost sight of truth, honesty, and charity. These are not mere virtues, but the pillars of our nationhood. We have been so desperate to acquire the wealth of foreign nations, and to experience the growth and development of the first-world, at the cost of what? Our national purpose, our national identity?
What do we have to show for what we have invested? What kind of sustainable projects do we have to show for the debt we have amassed? These and other questions of stewardship are to be weighed now as we look to 2020 and realize that our deadline is drawing nearer. What will we have to show in the year of reckoning, five years time?
Read Meritocracy in Retreat (Britain) to learn more about Britain’s challenge with a growing hierarchy of institutions.