08 February 2009

Re-inventing Jamaica

John Maxwell

Dr Wesley Hughes, head of Jamaica's economic unit, says the country must brace for more economic storms – several years of economic decline " heightened by the onslaught of the global financial crisis."
Dr Hughes says Jamaica is now experiencing the outer bands of the global financial storm and he warned Jamaicans to batten down for the gale-force winds.
I believe we should be battening down for extreme hurricane force winds, forces so extreme and severe that most of us will not recognise Jamaica in five years.
Lots of people ignored the warnings for hurricane Charlie in 1951. One week later, with 200 people dead and thousands of houses and farms destroyed, another storm was rumoured to be gathering strength somewhere off Antigua. That time Jamaica was a cacophony of hammering and sawing as Jamaicans did what they should have done for "Charlie." Fortunately, Hurricane 'Dog' was never a threat and disintegrated a few days later about 400 miles southwest of Jamaica.
Some of us have been warning of the approach of the Globalisation hurricane for a long time.
In a column just a year ago (Trouble Don't Set Like Rain") I suggested that we had finally run out of time to fix or to start fixing Jamaica
"If we didn't know it before, we are now at the time when our development must be sustainable in the protection of everything we value and all of the people of this once and future blessed isle. We need to understand the need to begin eradicating poverty and developing a survival Agenda – fifteen years late – for the 21st century. Even so, better late than total catastrophe."
I believe Jamaicans should be more than a little alarmed by the government's announced reactions to the worldwide crisis. Alone in the world we seem to believe that nothing needs to be changed. When I say 'alone in the world', I am forgetting the Republican party of the United States who seem to believe that there s nothing a tax cut can't cure. The problem, as our government is on the point of finding out, is that tax cuts don't matter to those who don't pay taxes and those are
a– The poor
b–The rich
All those in between will see their taxable incomes evaporate anyway.
In Jamaica we are staring at disaster.
Sugar is dead.
Bauxite and Alumina are dead
Air Jamaica is on its last legs.
We can't outsource our miseries any more.
No one wants to buy depleted sugar land.
No one wants to buy Air Jamaica at any reasonable price.
What to we do next?

Regaining our sovereignty

The government is clearly averse to doing anything that might even appear to discommode the rich. Our public debt is the single most dangerous millstone around our necks and since most of it is owned by rich Jamaicans it is inevitable that they must be at least, somewhat incommoded.
While our production is sinking fast, three quarters of whatever we produce in the way of government revenue is headed straight into the pockets of our creditors. According to Nouriel Roubini's Global Economic Monitor, things are different in some places. In Argentina, where the whole society has already had a dress rehearsal for economic disaster, "the government has announced that 97% of the domestic investors, holding $4.3 billion in "guaranteed loan" bonds maturing over the next two years, have agreed to swap these instruments for new debt (Bonar bonds with a maturity date of 2014). The swap will save Argentina around $1 billion in the short term, making it easier for Buenos Aires to finance the roughly $20 billion in debt repayments due in 2009."
The Argentines understand that while they may not be as rich as they once were, it may be a good idea to have a country they can call home. Our Jamaican plutocrats need to learn this.
Of course, some Jamaicans believe that real life is possible in the Cayman Islands – where their bank accounts are. They may not yet be aware that the British government in concert with the Germans and other Europeans, are going looking for tax havens and the other places where national revenues and other ill gotten gains find discreet houses of accommodation.
The essentially criminal mismanagement of the international capitalist financial system is being exposed around the world, as journalists and others find their tongues and their courage.

Gangsta Capitalism

There are other who have spoken out before but have not been heeded. One such is the Professor of Accounting at Essex University, Prem Sikka, who has been taking his profession to task in a series of hard hitting, no-holds-barred articles in the Guardian.
He asks the kinds of questions big name journalists should be asking about the conduct of the world's expensive and multinational audit firms.
In a column last October Sikka said:
"The deepening financial crisis brings daily news of corporate collapses and bailouts that plunder the taxpayers' pockets at an unprecedented scale. Innocent people are losing jobs, homes, pensions and investments. Each collapse shows that highly paid directors had little idea of the value of company assets, liabilities, income, costs, profits and financial health. This has been accompanied by one constant factor: the silence of the auditors. Auditors collected large amounts in fees and dished out clean bills of health. As he pointed out in another column, "within a short period of receiving clean bills of health Bear Stearns, Carlyle Capital Corporation and Thornburg Mortgage hit the financial buffers, closely followed by Lehman Brothers."

Professor Sikka is one of not very many asking these questions, which lie at the heart of the rot in the free market system. To overlook Lehman's exposure to toxic derivatives – nearly $700 billion (with a b) – is to overlook the equivalent of the combined GDPs of Greece and South Africa.

How can anyone take any of these bozos seriously?
The same questions need to be asked of those most exquisite tastemakers in the valuation and assessment of risk, the ratings agencies, who can wake up one morning and defeat a political movement in Jamaica or perhaps, Peru, by changing the rating of their sovereign bonds. I have for long railed against these nutters, who consistently rate our sovereign debt below American sub-prime mortgages.
People do not understand that it is normally faceless malefactors like these who produce famines, panics and civil war, hundreds and thousands die and millions are uprooted because some 'country specialist' is dissatisfied with her boyfriend's performance the night before the ratings are decided.
Twelve years ago in a column in this paper I quoted an observation by the billionaire George Soros, an observation I thought self-evident.
"In the absence of equilibrium, the contention that free markets lead to the optimum allocation of resources loses its justification. The supposedly scientific theory that has been used to validate it turns out to be an axiomatic structure whose conclusions are contained in its assumptions and are not necessarily supported by the empirical evidence. The resemblance to Marxism, which also claimed scientific status for its tenets, is too close for comfort."
It doesn't worry me that my prognostications are not taken seriously. If people like George Soros and Warren Buffet are not taken seriously, who am I to cavil at my insignificance? The point I want to make is that we urgently need to slaughter a few sacred cows, because if we don't, they will cause even more damage than they already have.

Ideology Negotiable

Thirty years of World Bank/IMF indoctrination have produced a Jamaica committed to fundamentalist capitalism, where concepts of social justice are even more primitive than in the southern United States and its GOP. It is amusing at first, then peculiarly nauseating to read an analysis in the Los Angeles Times which equates the Obama Administration's attempt to rescue the American economy with the return of "Big Government'. This is the same lunacy which got all of us into the present mess:
Reagan says "Government is not the answer, Government is the Problem."
The even more witless Thatcher says –'There is no such thing as society', and the patron saint of Friedmanism, Alan Greenspan, slept with Ayn Rand texts by his bedside - while the world economy went up in pipe-dreams of unimaginable wealth and ease. Out of this farrago of idiocy has come the whole derivatives scandal, the sub-prime mortgage bubble and the idea that if money is to be printed it is best printed by the likes of Goldman Sachs, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Bernard Madoff.
We have to burn down these temples of Moloch and return to our humanity.
In Cuba last week the government handed over 45,000 parcels of unused land to private farmers, not because agrarian reform had failed, but because it had not worked as well as it should have. There is a place in every sector for private enterprise. What we cannot allow houseroom to is exploitative, drive-by capitalism which reduces people to serfdom and values them by their 'economic competitiveness'.
That's why I fault the Jamaican government for two of its most recent decisions:the not to increase the minimum wage and the refusal to legalise the right to strike.
If we are to create a jamaica in which we can all live, prosper, be safe and happy, we need to realise that if we are not partners we are either dead or living in prison.
Two year ago and again last year, I suggested that our political parties need to come together, not to surrender but to lead jamaica to victory over its real enemy, poverty/injustice.
Reading about how a Philippine community rescued itself by farming seaweed I thought how easy it would be to do the same in jamaica if we were willing to give up some of our cherished ignorance. In four years from a standing start the Filipinos had an industry exporting more than US $30 million annually.
If we put our sugar lands to work we can – using purely organic methods –, restore their fertility while producing food and slashing our foreign exchange deficit. In Florida, an area the size of Monymusk produces citrus worth $60 million annually. If we understand that we cannot produce any commodity to satisfy global demand, but that we can produce star-apples, or honey, or mamey, or sarsaparilla or pepper, or turmeric in quantities which we can easily market to other small enterprisers, we can be well on our way in five years to transforming this country, putting every child in school and reducing the crime rate to insignificant proportions.
We need to look inside Jamaica, to our history and culture which prove that we can do these things, We have done some before. Because of wartime shortages we planted corn and grew enough to feed ourselves and to export. In 1919 the Jamaica Government Railway brought 50 tons of jamaican butter from the countryside into Kingston markets.
We need to set people free from their mass-production slavery and their mass-production education and fundamentalist superstition and ignorance.
As I said nine months ago, "the thousands of young Goldman Sachs traders are mostly unconscious of the fact that their million-dollar bonuses mean the destruction of whole communities and the transition of many of their fellows from citizens to prostitutes and jailbirds. The hedge fund managers who have cornered the market in rice, corn and ethanol may claim not to be aware that they also own much of the market in hunger, starvation, misery and death".
We, who bought into this nonsense more heavily than most, have a duty to ourselves and our neighbours to achieve a second, real emancipation. The time is now.
Seize the day
We can and must make our country work
We have absolutely no choice.
Copyright ©2009 John Maxwell

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