Use world standards to measure Jamaica's economic performance

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

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Human beings, wanting to feel good about themselves and their achievements, measure success in a variety of ways, but all too often run the risk of setting easy to attain goals or failing to admit their own fault when things go wrong.

These human frailties are understandable, but a more common measurement of success, and indeed an unavoidable measure in today's information-rich world, is to compare with what others have done or are doing.

Societies and nations, like individuals, unavoidably engage in comparisons to know where they rank and what they have accomplished. Societies and nations also engage in collective delusion to make them feel good about themselves.

Politicians are especially good at this. The ultimate distraction is not to talk about the current situation.

Jamaica, as a society, operates in a dilemma because we practise collective delusion when we engage in international comparisons.

On one hand, in athletics we measure our achievements against existing world records, and we count our success in medals won. Jamaicans are not satisfied just to compete or reach the final. The aim is to be the next Usain Bolt, or be as good as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

In entertainment, no singer is aiming to sell only in the local music market, Jamaicans aim to win a Grammy and be the next Bob Marley.

However, on the economic or crime fronts, we as a people/society are often prepared to lower our national standards so that we can feel good about modest achievements.

This is done in two ways: First, we compare current situations with a worst period in the past, lauding ourselves about one per cent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) by juxtaposing it against dismal economic performance of the last 30 to 40 years. This is collective societal delusion.

If, on the other hand, we subject our current economic growth to international comparison, we will find that it is not impressive. We are better off comparing Jamaica to Singapore or the Dominican Republic, as that would be comparing apples with apples.

Instead, we prefer to dismiss them as exceptions because the comparison shows that we are not doing that well.

Second, we also like to measure ourselves against smaller, less developed countries. Why should our comparators be other small, developing countries?

Is it enough to be the best investment environment in the Caribbean or to be ranked higher than most of the Caribbean but fall behind the top 40 or 50 countries in the world. We should measure ourselves by global standards and stop comparisons that delude ourselves into thinking that we are doing well.

Let's start measuring economic success by global standards. After all, we have the fastest-growing stock exchange in the world, the best rum and coffee in the world, and some of the best hotels. Jamaica was once the world's largest producer of bananas and bauxite.

Mr Michael Lee-Chin is right that, as a country, we must get out of the mindset of one per cent economic growth and talk incessantly about five per cent economic growth.


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