I recently read an article that Jamaica’s economic woes are tied to the “culture” of the people. Let me quote the writer:
.”it does not matter which political party is in power, our success will have dismal limitations. It does not matter how many loans we can access from the International Monetary Fund and multilateral institutions, it will just be for the purpose of feeding our insatiable appetite of instant gratification. It does not matter how many graduates we turn out from our universities, because the economy, in its limping impotence, will not be able to marshal a workforce to absorb them. Culture matters and it is a definitive difference between countries that are prosperous and countries that are not.”
With comparison to the USA the writer was drawing attention that the difference in culture between the two countries was directly related to their individual success. Let me first agree with something the writer has alluded to and that is one has to develop a culture of success, aggressive leadership, and strong fortitude to achieve success. But where the writer is incorrect in their analogy is aaligning the lack of success to a seemingly lackadaisical cultural lifestyle, a lifestyle stereotypically Jamaican.
Every human wants to succeed, There is no human that calls himself a human that does not have that ingrained in his DNA. Which human , with all senses intact, will tell you he is a failure? Who will tell you he is bad at what he does? I have not met that human as yet. Jamaica’s economic problem is among other things , directly pinned to a lack of leadership, clarity of vision and the natural instinct of Jamaicans to think that anything foreign is better than what they have. It is inextricably pinned to the lack of quality education denied to the masses of the people for various reasons. It is troubling but it is no different from the USA, the difference is Jamaica is smaller so the problem is heightened.
A country the size of Jamaica has a “brain drain” problem and ever since the big departure in the early 80s it has been the cancer that eats at Jamaica’s economic recovery. Then Prime Minister Manley invited Jamaicans to leave on flights to Miami and they granted his wish. That educated culture left the country to develop the USA and other countries.
Education breeds an informed and a more refined culture. Culture is not a singular lifestyle unto itself. It is the daughter of a refined and educated mind. If you were to agree totally with the writer then how do you explain the success of our athletes in the international arena? How do you explain the many other success achieved by Jamaicans in every discipline of life both here and abroad? I disagree with the writer. Jamaica’s culture is as strong as the US and they want the dream, not necessarily the American dream, but a dream of a quality of life that they can enjoy in Jamaica. No Jamaican living abroad and I mean none, do not aspire and want to come back home to live their last years in Jamaica.
Our woes are big and seems to be in the forefront as Jamaica enjoys a high-profile, ironically because of its culture, yes the same culture that everyone, including the US , is trying to emulate. We cannot hold the country responsible for who the people are? Jamaica is who it is. It will never be a US, but it can enjoy the quality of life similar to the US. Jamaicans are not driven by the same morals or ideals as Americans , but they share the word that is sweet on the lips of those that experience it – and that is SUCCESS. Jamaica’s wish to succeed is far greater than fear itself. The writer obviously has limited knowledge that the freedom of fear is also a part of our culture. Success is not final. It is a living thing that keeps on going as long as the believer holds on to his dreams and move towards it .
An educated culture breeds success but to blame our “culture” solely for the inefficiency and backwardness of the economy is like saying the US immigration is responsible for its crime. No one should be so short-sighted.
Paul Tomlinson © 2014
Here is the letter in its entirety. Feel free to leave your comments.
USA and JA — a difference in culture
Monday, November 12, 2012
If it were in Jamaica that President Barack Obama was running for a second term, say, as prime minister, he would not have been voted back into office, given the slow pace of the economic recovery he has presided over for the past four years. Although he did not create the dismal economic problems in the first place, he would’ve been soundly defeated at the polls for the sheer reason that our culture is one of instant gratification. We want it here; we want it all and we want it now.
For those who reject the idea that culture has a lot to do with economic prosperity, this is a lesson we should not neglect to learn, and a revelation to purposefully observe. Let me quote my favourite Jamaican journalist, Ian Boyne here: “I am one of those who believe that economic development cannot be divorced from culture; or at least that culture either advances or hinders economic development. I have no doubt that some of our cultural proclivities are inimical to economic development; so no matter which party is in power, we continue to stagnate. It’s not just our corruption. Other countries experiencing corruption grow (China, India and Russia are prime examples).”
Despite 20 million Americans still without jobs today, and although Mitt Romney touts a relatively excellent résumé in business, Americans took the long view, and invested their vote in steady progress, not instant and ephemeral results. They rewarded the president for making significant incremental progress, however slow the pace. What is the difference? Culture. Americans think in terms of what is best for their children and grandchildren. They will give up today’s cash for tomorrow’s certain post-dated cheque. The American culture emphasises wealth creation and long-term rewards, and as a result, their politicians are forced to think long-term rather than in election cycles. Jamaica, please take note: politicians will lift their game when their constituents lift the standard of their expectations and demand the available best.
It is my considered opinion that our best leaders have not yet emerged at the podium of national leadership and the reason is because our culture does not accommodate or embrace what they have to offer to this dying country. They are instead forced to dangle on the under-achievement line of mediocrity or migrate to cultures where the work ethic and durable success are far superior to ours. One of the distinguishing characteristics of a prosperous country is that the future takes precedence over the here and now. The American dream, for example, is not about pursuing a loaf of bread for today’s hunger, it is the pursuit of owning the bakery. Owning the bakery requires strategic planning, goal setting, sacrifices, smart work, delayed gratification, and discipline.
Therefore, it does not matter which political party is in power, our success will have dismal limitations. It does not matter how many loans we can access from the International Monetary Fund and multilateral institutions, it will just be for the purpose of feeding our insatiable appetite of instant gratification. It does not matter how many graduates we turn out from our universities, because the economy, in its limping impotence, will not be able to marshal a workforce to absorb them. Culture matters and it is a definitive difference between countries that are prosperous and countries that are not.