'What ah clock ah strike'


'What ah clock ah strike'

Economics, CARE, politics, and the coronavirus

Sunday, May 17, 2020

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The monkey said: “It is God who gives us beauty, but how we act is up to us.” — Oromo proverb, Ethiopia

“You're afraid? I am afraid too!”

A very tearful Lee Kuan Yew said these poignant words as he bared his soul to frightened Singaporeans. The year was 1965, and Singapore was forced to leave the Malaysian Federation.

The members of the federation disagreed on fundamental issues, like who should control the finances of Singapore. Racial tensions led to riots between Singaporean Chinese and Malay groups that peaked in 1964. Over 500 were injured and more than two dozens were killed. A very uncertain future faced Singaporeans.

Lee Kuan Yew went on to lead the transformation of Singapore — 725.1 square kilometres — with its few natural resources into a First World country in less than 40 years. One European described Singapore as a “poverty-stricken, mosquito-infested island”.

Singapore is a little smaller than our parish of St Thomas, which is 742.8 square kilometres.
Mr Lee, as he is affectionately called in Singapore, told his people he was sure of one thing — Singaporeans could not afford to roll over and die.

In 1965 Lee Kuan Yew warned his people that working together was not an option, it was an obligation.

No easy choices

Last Monday, as I listened to the several measures intended to gradually pull our economy from its hibernating state, I reflected on the severely tough choices that the people of Singapore faced in 1965.

Singaporeans rose to the occasion.

Right away, I know some are going to reach for the self-deprecating retort: “Ah, but Jamaicans don't have the mental mettle of the Singaporeans or other peoples.”
Such individuals need to read the numerous accounts of how our ancestors survived and conquered the unspeakable horrors of plantation slavery.

Before us is a raft of very tough choices. Whichever we chose there are huge risks. If we kowtow to those who holler for an unspecified state of emergency and related lockdowns, we face the distinct possibility of Jamaica almost certainly becoming an economic wasteland.

We must distance ourselves from the kamikaze-like options of unspecified lockdowns at this time. I set out reasons for this position in my The Agenda piece last Sunday.

It is not beyond us to walk and chew gum at the same time. Our history, as a people, contrary to what some people preach, proves that.

This is not the first global pandemic in recorded human history, nor will it likely be the last.
Recommendations which amount to sitting, twiddling our thumbs, hoping that the COVID-19 will simply and suddenly disappear is the equivalent of Three-card Monte, a fool's game.

Expert forecasts, which I referenced last Sunday, agree that the 2019 novel coronavirus will be with us for a long, long time. And I also noted that: “We all have to get accustomed to several new 'normals' related to the ramping up of our personal hygiene practices, physical distancing, and related behavioural matters.” (Jamaica Observer, May 10, 2020)
This is reality.

Those, especially on social media, who are berating the Andrew Holness-led Administration for the measures announced last Monday to yank our economy out of its largely inactive state do not, as rural folks say, “know what ah clock ah strike”.

Welcome to hard times

If they are minded to acquaint themselves with the precipitous decline in global economic activity, they need only look at what is happening with two of our major trading partners, the United States of America and the United Kingdom.

The Time magazine of May 7, 2020 had this hugely consequential headline: '33 million Americans have filed for unemployment since start of coronavirus outbreak'.

Consider this from the UK Guardian 10 days ago: 'UK unemployment to double and economy to shrink by 14 per cent, warns Bank of England — Bank outlines scale of COVID-19 shock in 2020 with forecast for deepest recession in 300 years'.

Even Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the world, is feeling the global economic squeeze. Bloomberg posted this, among other things, last Monday: “Saudi Arabia's economic downturn is about to worsen. Already reeling from the slump in oil prices and lockdowns to halt the spread of the coronavirus, the kingdom has now increased taxes and cut spending.”

One does not need to have read Alfred Marshall, the British economist, to understand the obvious negative consequences for Jamaica and other developing economies. Check this: 'World Bank predicts sharpest decline of remittances in recent history — An estimated 19.3 per cent fall in remittance flows for Latin America and the Caribbean'. (Jamaica Observer, April 26, 2020)

Jamaica does not have access to the equivalent of the Federal Reserve System of the USA. We cannot print billions and trillions of dollars to pump into the kinds of stimulus measures which are possible in America, Britain, and similarly developed economies.

CARE and fear

Those who prescribe economic hermitry should take a look at the videos showing thousands of our countrymen, who at great risk to their health, bunched up at various remittance outlets across the country, last week, to collect compassionate grant payments from the Government's COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme.

We urgently need a far more efficient system to distribute these kinds of payments to our citizens. This is not beyond us. I believe if we had a modern national identification system (NIDS) it would have made a great positive difference in these circumstances. Sure, we can castigate those who ignored physical distancing rules in order to collect the government grant. Simultaneously, though, we should try and understand the gravitational pull of physiological needs. Those of us who have experienced biting hardships at some point in our lives know what I am talking about.

The guarded and incremental approach being used by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to reopen the local economy makes obvious sense. Yes, it is natural to be afraid, but we cannot allow fear to paralyse us.

I believe God gave us a brain to facilitate us having dominion over all things, including this novel coronavirus.

More creaking at 89

In recent weeks there has been a considerable increase in creaking noises from the antiquated floorboards at 89 Old Hope Road. People's National Party (PNP) deputy chairman and Member of Parliament for Clarendon Northern Horace Dalley was reported in some media as saying the economy needs to reopen. The PNP spokesman on health and wellness Dr Morais Guy was reported in some media as saying quite the opposite. Peter Bunting was reported as saying the curfew hours are too long. The cross-threading of messaging which has beset the PNP in recent years is continuing seemingly unabated.

The PNP claims it would do a better job at managing the COVID-19 crisis. Most folks will find that hard to believe, given evidence that Norman Manley's party cannot even get its primary message aligned to reflect a cohesive position.

Incidentally, Bunting has noticeably raised the decibels on his media visibility metre during parliamentary sittings in recent weeks.

The birds, those reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, Bananaquits and John Chewits, tweet that some in the PNP are figuring that there will be an important internal announcement, sooner than later.

The birds also tweet that those people may have to wait quite a bit longer than they have calculated.

Anyways, at last Tuesday's sitting of the Lower House, for example, Bunting hollered about the ineffectiveness of our Integrity Commission. Of course, I understand that as a Member of Gordon House he can do so.

Did the Opposition spokesperson whose shadow responsibility is directly in sync with the jurisdiction of the Integrity Commission defer to Bunting? Was there a case of tongue tie or was the person just under the weather? Who knows?

I believe Bunting is again employing a strategy of hogging as much media bandwidth as possible.

In a column in 2018, titled 'Is Peter Bunting publicly sparring with Peter Phillips?' (Jamaica Observer, May 6, 2018), I alluded to this political hunch. The birds sing that I should carefully watch their tweets in the coming months.

More dissonance

This Gleaner headline last Wednesday would have surprised some, I am not one: 'Spanish Town mayor wants to replace Daley as constituency chairman'. The story noted: “The hierarchy of the People's National Party (PNP) has intervened in a growing rift in St Catherine Eastern between Member of Parliament Denise Daley and Spanish Town Mayor Norman Scott.

“Scott, who is also the councillor for the Greendale Division in the constituency, wants to replace Daley as the constituency chairman.

“It is understood that Daley has been losing the confidence of her constituents.”

Recall that only a few hours after Dr Winston De La Haye tweeted his resignation as the PNP's standard-bearer for St Catherine East Central posts advertising Norman Scott as the “MP Candidate, East Central St Catherine” started to appear on social media. Are these signs of more wider political troubles in the PNP?

Mail alert!

In response to recent columns a few of my valued readers have posited that the reforms of former US President Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) did not lessen the severity of the economic and social conditions brought on by the Great Depression (1929-39) in America. They also argued that FDR's New Deal worsened conditions. The facts do not support these assertions.

Here is a synopsis of the major achievements of FDR which fundamentally changed white America and effectively saved/rescued capitalism in that country.

1) FDR established a system of social welfare and pensions.
2) He established unemployment benefits.
3) He outlawed child labour in America.
4) He introduced a minimum wage.
5) The New Deal projects massively improved America infrastructurally, primarily via the building of dozens of schools, hospitals, dams, reservoirs, highways, etc.
6) Union representation for white American Workers was achieved under FDR.
7) The Great Depression resulted in 13 million Americans losing their jobs. By 1935, eight million Americans got jobs under Roosevelt's New Deal programmes.
8) The American banking system, which was almost destroyed under Herbert Hoover, was revived under Roosevelt.
9) Roosevelt dealt a significant blow to the crisis of under-consumption which was a legacy of the Great Depression .
10) FDR restored national hope. This was perhaps his greatest achievement.

Admittedly, US President Herbert Hoover did set up some minimal forms of federal relief to combat the negative effects of the depression, but Hoover's responses were slow and not did not match the severity of the problems.

A few readers have said I painted Hoover in an undeserved negative light. The facts do not support that assertion. These are my reasons in summary:

1) Hoover blew up the American economy.

2) The Bonus Army Tragedy was presided over by Hoover. Just over 14,000 World War I veterans gathered in Washington, DC, to demand early cash redemption of their service certificates. These were unarmed men. Hoover sent in the army to break up the gatherings. Over 1,000 were injured. Two were killed. Their makeshift shacks were set on fire.

3) Leftist politics mushroomed under Hoover. The communist party came out of hiding and kept open rallies and meetings in America. Their numbers swelled.

4) The Ku Klux Klan, commonly called the KKK or the Klan, saw a significant rise in numbers under Hoover, reaching just over four million.

5) Other forms of populism and extremism flourished under Hoover.

6) American democracy and capitalism were threatened by the economic circumstances of the Great Depression and Hoover's misleadership.

7) The global economic collapse was greatly responsible for the rise of mass murderer Adolf Hitler.

8) Hoover did not inspire national hope.

I humbly recommend the following scholarly works for those who wish to situate their understanding of the debilitating global impact of the Great Depression in facts. If they desire to factually understand the hugely restorative impact of FDR's New Deal programmes, these books are helpful:

1) Mongrel Firebugs and Men of Property: Capitalism and Class Conflict in American History, Steve Fraser

2) Rainbow's End: The Crash of 1929 (Pivotal Moments in American History), Maury Klein

3) The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future, Joseph Stiglitz

4) The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, Paul Krugman

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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