Jamaica is an enigma. On the one hand, as a small island state in the Caribbean Sea, it is the one hundred and sixty eighth smallest state in a world in which scale matters, yet it has global recognition on par with the leading dominant states in the world. When it comes to global recognition, countries, like corporations, are recognized by their logo or branding.
The United States for example is branded by the stripes and stars, the Statue of Liberty, its military power, and its cultural and human capital. Great Britain is recognized for its imperial past and the monarchy; France for the romanticism of Paris and its cuisines. Italy is recognized for its architecture, its landscape and the Vatican, and Japan for its remarkable rebuilding after its devastation in the Second World War.
Among Caribbean island states, Jamaica is equal in global recognition as the aforementioned countries. Like its Caribbean counterparts, Jamaica boasts pristine white sand beaches, luxurious tourist resorts and frequent visits from royalty, the rich and the famous. One distinction, however, is that Jamaica is the only developing country ranked in the top ten countries visited by Americans in 2007 ahead of China and Spain, according to a Pew survey on global travel.
Jamaica’s global recognition is a result of the island’s ingenuity, a Janus quality that brings both positive and negative recognition. On the positive side of the recognition ledger, Jamaican reggae music and the legend behind Bob Marley’s music have given Jamaica a global brand the equivalent of Nike and Coke. Reggae, like jazz, is seen as an original musical art form.
Then there is Jamaican marijuana/ganga weed, the putative choice of worldwide marijuana smokers. When Jamaica comes up in conversations globally, invariably reggae music and marijuana will be invoked as part of the discourse.
Then there is the athletic prowess that has added to the island’s global recognition. Jamaican athletes in world sprinting are Olympian in stature, owning the two most prestigious world records in sprinting, the one hundred and two hundred meters.
There is also the global recognition that comes with negative branding; mention Jamaica in conversation anywhere in the world and the discourse will invoke the notorious posse gangs, gun violence, corrupt politicians, drugs and sexual indiscretion, etc.
Negative branding of course adds to Jamaica’s global recognition, while tarnishing the shine garnered by its positives.
Taken together, Jamaica has benefitted from its global recognition in inestimable ways. The most obvious being the direct tourist dollars.
Similar to the corporate world global branding and recognition, what are referred to as good will, constitutes a part of a corporation book/market value. Just what is the dollar value contribution of Jamaica’s good will is not exactly known, but what is certain is that it is a significant part of the GDP.
Jamaica’s enviable world status is the result of collective self-restructuring; an inside-out job that differs significantly from the type of restructuring that is associated with the state or external agents such as the IMF.
The latter is associated with a top down elitist architecture of progress, absent of an organic relationship to the place or subjects in whose name the restructuring is carried out.
The former embodies the birth of reggae music, which emerged out of the ghettos of Kingston, not from a formal music academy in which the esoteric quaver and demisemiquaver and vocal training were regimentally taught. Reggae music is the poetry and the anthem of the oppressed, the marginalized and the dispossessed.
The reggae artists for whom the late Bob Marley is the iconic brand were mostly victims of spatial dislocation, residents of Jamaica’s counterculture; the world of marijuana, rebellion, Rastafarianism, millenarianism, poverty, violence, love, soccer, collectivism and music.
With musical instruments, personal and collective will to survive, raw untamed talent and a seemingly innate resistance, reggae artists triumphed, and in the process, elevated Jamaica to global recognition. Bob Marley is memorialized in Serbia, of all places, where his statue is displayed in the Serbian village of Banatski Sokolac.
A similar narrative can be articulated about the famous athletes who have become global icons as a result of personal and collective restructuring rather than a restructuring process owned and managed by the state.
That is to say that the state and the Jamaican political and economic elites have not been the driver behind the global success of the artists and athletes who have restructured themselves from the subaltern strata of Jamaican society to become iconic figures known the world over.
What is clear is that the state and the elites have reaped the benefit of personal and collective restructuring without investing their capital, moving in to appropriate the rewards once the global recognition is a fait accompli.
Contrast personal and collective restructuring with state and external restructuring; the latter two restructuring processes ignore cultural assets and talents that are rooted in subaltern culture that is the cultural context and talent of the majority of Jamaicans. This accounts for sixty percent or so of the Jamaican masses for whom the state and external restructuring do not touch their life world. The reality is that state and external restructuring have led to downgrading of community, cultural, personal and collective assets. State and external restructuring have reinforced economic hardship, degrading of educational institutions, the degrading of community cultural assets and the down grading of biological survival so that basic needs such as food/nutrition and shelter are hard to come by. The contradiction is that these manifestations of downgrading are the measure of success in fiscal targets set by the state and external agents such as the IMF and for which the sixty percent of Jamaicans have no say in setting are met.
State and external restructuring has left Jamaica poorer in term of its cultural assets and its human capital. The opportunity cost of this kind of restructuring is that the potential talent and creativity of the population is never nurtured or renovated. The history of state and external restructuring since the late 1960 to the present has been a systematic wasting of human capital as well as the physical infrastructure capital of the island. Schools in urban depressed areas where population is concentrated are allowed to deteriorate to the point where they are no longer functional as educational institutions. A look at the annual budget of Jamaica sums-up what state and external restructuring are all about. The annual budgets are replete with references to balancing the budget, restoring fiscal discipline, bringing down the national debt, meeting IMF targets and fulfilling the European Union criteria of good governance in order to qualify for external financing. A line item entry in the budget list the national assets for sale to foreign investors, but no line item listing for building schools, cultural centers, community economic development, investing in sports facilities where they are needed and investing in life-long learning.
To put this aspect of restructuring in global comparative perspective, Singapore’s fiscal budget is replete with line item entries addressing long-term improvement in human capital and productivity through investment in education, life-long learning, cultural centers/assets, community development, and sport facilities. State subsidy is set aside to ease the financial burden of students in their quest for meaningful education. The state in Singapore is purposive and rational in recognizing its human capital particularly the young people as its most important economic resource. Singapore is recognized as one of the most developed countries in the world with a human capital resource base globally recognized for its productivity, work ethic and discipline.
Both Jamaica and Singapore are highly indebted countries; Jamaica has a debt to GDP ratio of 135.7 percent as measured by the IMF, which ranks it in 2011 among the 7 most indebted states. Singapore ranks 9 with a debt to GDP ratio of 98.8 percent. This is where the similarity ends. Singapore has real achievements to show for its sovereign debt – a stable and progressive civilization. Since the end of colonialism Singapore has taken ownership of its restructuring process. It has restructured its society and has architected a process of development that is organic and adds up to total development. That is, in Singapore progress is not measured only in terms of GNP growth rate, stable money and physical infrastructure; but equally, progress is measured in terms of the collective improvement of the human potential of the society. No one is left behind. In Singapore restructuring starts with the basic assumption that improvement in human capital is what drives development and establishes the foundation of long-term prosperity. In Singapore restructuring is the means to the end of providing human security.
The Jamaican elites have historically not been human capital centered in their orientation towards development. This explains the historic neglect to invest in education, lifelong learning and skills training. The necessary public goods provision, such as healthcare, public health, law and order and affordable public housing are inadequately provisioned for. Yet these are fundamental preconditions for long-term development and prosperity.
The Jamaican elites have opted and continue to opt for a spatially disarticulated development process that produces enclaves of development with no organic linkages to the wider society; the tourism sector is the quintessential example of this. State and external restructuring have led to a systematic stripping and selling off the national patrimony of the Island. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the planter class engaged in similarly stripping and dispossessing the native population of their patrimony. While the planter class accumulated wealth on the back of slaves, indentured servants, peasants and the working class they never reinvested any of their ill-gotten wealth in improving the lives of the population of the Island.
The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that the elites in Jamaica, both the colonial version and post-colonial version, have the shared vision of viewing the masses of the population as objects to be exploited, but not worthy to invest their Capital in for the improvement of the social conditions of the masses. The planter class of the 19th century had a rationale for the vision they held of the Island and the masses – their destiny was never bund-up to the progress of the Island and the people in it. They were comprador elites. Their destiny and future were always Europe; so they were rational in their calculus in not wanting to invest to improve the Island and the population they exploited. The investment would not yield a return for them since they were itinerant exploiters.
Though this mentality remains intrinsic in the minds of the upper echelon in Jamaica today, the reality is, the canvas has drastically changed and exponentially so after the exodus in the 70’s. Jamaica is now technically owned by its nationals, the vast majority of whom have nowhere to go and without the recognition that real progress can only be achieved through investing in the development of its people, the country will continue to flounder through separatism and an excessive amount of capital wasted on punitive measures for those who have no other means and those who must continuously seek to protect their material acquisitions.
Kirk Atkinson Esq. Professor of Law, York University