“At Kingston, Jamaica, in April 1975, Prime Minister Michael Manley, a light skinned West Indian, presided with panache and spoke with great eloquence. But I found his views quixotic. He advocated a “redistribution of the world’s wealth”. His country was a well-endowed island of 2,000 square miles, with several mountains in the centre, where coffee and other sub-tropical crops were grown. Theirs was a relaxed culture. The people were full of song and dance, spoke eloquently, danced vigorously and drank copiously. Hard work they had left behind with slavery.” From Third World to First. The Singapore Story: 1965-2000. Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew.
|Forcing me to think…
Sigh. That observation was made more than 35 years ago…I sincerely hope that by now we have ditched the notion of wealth redistribution. We are still the same size and we are still well endowed. We still are full of song and dance. We still know how to speak, announce plans and create an impression with words. (Never mind that the English language continues to rot in the mouths of so many: our children and leaders alike!) Here’s the clincher per LKY: we don’t work hard. We don’t work hard?
Yet, I remember on Christmas Eve last year I was making my way home in the heavy Dec 24th traffic with Miss World and Little Master. Our light had just changed to green. And slowly making her way across the road, preventing me from from moving on was a woman pushing a heavily laden cart with produce. She strained and pushed wearily, obviously heading home from selling all day. Little Master said: ” Mummy, don’t blow your horn! Isn’t it sad that that lady has to work so hard on Christmas Eve?”.
Did you know that vendors in our markets gather their produce and take a long journey every Wednesday night to their market of choice and often remain there until Saturday night? Sounds like hard work to me.
What of domestic helpers who leave their own children behind to live and work in the homes of middle and upper class Jamaicans, caring for those children. Sounds like hard work to me.
What of the single mother who is holding down a job in corporate Jamaica. She drops the children to school and then heads in to office to put in 8 hours. She picks up the children in the evening and heads home through bumper to bumper traffic. Homework and dinner prep mark her next shift and then she gets to do it all over again in a few short hours. Sometimes, she manages to squeeze school in to all of that! Sounds like hard work to me.
Quite a few of our local companies are posting huge profits…GraceKennedy, Sagicor, NCB, BNS, Pan Carib, CPJ, Honey Bun… Did the profits happen without hard work? Let’s slow down here… I’m sure somebody had to sweat out a strategic plan. I’m sure somebody had to craft the weekly and monthly reports that checked to see that they were on track. So yes, somebody was working. Sure…you ask: how much of those profits were generated from productive endeavors where value is added to A to create B, creating a base from which future profits are guaranteed? And how much of those profits were generated from simply moving prices for goods and services up higher? When will the law of diminishing returns set in?
I’m not setting out here to validate a business model. It seems to me that in spite of the model, somebody is working.
|The Jamaica Stock Exchange
Then we have a SME sector that is still breathing…I think of a venture like EduFocal, small food processors, small players in the hospitality industry, entertainers, consultants, traders and farmers…these brave souls who risk their own capital and manage to make a decent living for themselves and their families! Sounds like hard work to me.
Yet 35 years after the great Lee Kuan Yew made his observations, here is what we have: a shrinking manufacturing sector, the real foundation I think, for creating a sustainable, profit generating base from which to grow. Our debt is increasing, crime is on the rise again and our trade deficit widens with each setting of the sun. We pray for IMF funding for our nation that has been “independent” for the last 50 years. Our leaders fantasize about a “Greek-style” bailout. We seem to have perfected the art of “after the fact”controls, sussing out public sector corruption long after the horse has gone through the gate. We seem unable to put in place mechanisms which prevent it from happening in the first place.
So is our present state due to the fact that we left hard work behind with slavery?
I humbly posit that the correct answer begins with “L”.