Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Mixing Up Metaphors: What Corner Shop?

Sometimes when travelling it's easy to write, other times it's not. So, a few days in Washington for a spot of turkey eating with friends and looking after some other business allowed me to read a lot but left little chance to write. A few things struck my eyes, though. Amongst them was a commentary by Richard Bayles, CEO of Sagicor Life Jamaica Ltd (see Gleaner November 30 report). The Gleaner reported that he compared Jamaica's progress with that of Barbados and Singapore and said the growth levels of those two countries, as well as Jamaica, could in the recent past have been compared to a corner shop: "One has become a supermarket, the other a Wal-Mart and the third has remained a corner shop. That's Jamaica,". That's a very difficult metaphor to work when looking at these three countries. To me, it's silly to try to say that Barbados is a supermarket, while Jamaica is a corner shop. If he means in terms of wares, he had better check the shelves again: in a simple sense, people do not flock to Barbados to shop. If he means in terms of how the countries are run, I've no idea what he means.

Agreed, Singapore has managed spectacular economic growth. It is also a very open economy. It has managed to run large budget surpluses. But that does not fit well with comparing its performance to a mega retailer other than saying that it is bigger on various measures (including population) and has done much better than the other two countries. It is a model of social order and stability, but not many would wish to have had, or were capable of carrying out, the Lee Kwon Yew model of dsicipline and development. By and large, Caribbean countries have not embraced the approach Singapore took.

Byles said "Singapore and Barbados, which have far healthier debt-to-GDP ratios than Jamaica, have fared better because they had a plan and stuck to it." What debt data was he looking at? The IMF's 2009 Article IV report showed Singapore's debt/GDP ratio at 99% (see staff report http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2009/cr09269.pdf); Jamaica's is just north of that, around 110%, and Barbados is teetering past 100%. Statements do not make truth: 'far healthier' is far from true.

True, Singapore has managed its budget very well, and after several years of running sizable surpluses was able to mount a stimulus plan to deal with the current economic downturn and finance part of that from the surpluses rather than needing to issue debt. The other two countries have no such room to manoeuvre.

Bayles said that Jamaica "had a comprehensive economic plan since the 1950s and '60s when the import-substitution model was implemented with some measure of success". Planning makes little sense if you cannot control many elements, so whatever 'plan' Jamaica had--and I would argue that the 'model' was not a 'plan'--did not have the makings of success.

It's perhaps unfair to dwell too much on what the paper reports as his comments on other failings and what needs to be done in Jamaica:

'The Sagicor boss said any effective plan must have four key ingredients. First, he said, "the leadership must step up and make the decisions expected of leaders and do what is right even when it is not the popular thing...Education, he added, was key as "Jamaica can't go anywhere without education and we must find the money to educate the population". Both Barbados and Singapore, he noted, had invested heavily in education with outstanding results....Third, Byles pointed out that security is an area that requires immediate attention...."Colombia, which previously had worse security problems than Jamaica, including the mother of organised crime, can today say they whipped it," he said. "I don't know how, but somebody needs to know."...Turning to high-energy costs, Byles called for a solution and programmes to reduce this nationally and also recommended improved communication between the authorities and the people of Jamaica "so that everyone can understand where we are going and get on board".

Sorry to say it but the ideas as reported are a jumble of wants and not so evident truths. It's far from true that Colombia has 'whipped' crime: it's still endemic and at high levels, very violent, with much of its core coming from drug-related organizations. Also, maybe Mr. Bayles does not look at 'crime' in terms of government corruption. For what it's worth, Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perception Index ranks Colombia at 75 (with Barbados at 20 and Jamaica at 99).

But, Singapore has had a very different approach to most countries. More notable, as a small, open economy, it has been very mindful of its vulnerability. Its rapid growth and well managed budget provided both a source of economic strength and social stability. But, it has also seen it fit to be wary of being exposed. It has been increasing its international reserves, and from near 5 months of import cover, they are now near 7 months of imports.

So, it looks like Mr. Bayles will have a few people baying about 'corner shop', but a deeper look may have people baying after him.


Carson C. Cadogan said...

You don't disappoint. If you had written that piece any different I would have been surprised.
In your opinion there is nothing wrong with Jamaica. Mr. Bayles has it completely wrong. No one wonder nothing is getting better in Jamaica. Crime rate is one of the most brutal and worst in the world and it will not get better soon with attitudes like yours.
Jamaicans like the country so. I can't imagine why.

Dennis Jones said...

Mr. Cadogan,

Good to know that I have met expectations. It's good to be consistent. I admire too your ability to only read some of the words and ignore the rest. I guess if one analyses the points made and find them wanting that should not be the thing to do. Let's just say "Yep. You're right." I actually brought some facts to back up my comments. Mr. Bayles merely made some statements and presumably hoped everyone would accept them.

I hope you are diligent and capable enough to go and look up some facts for yourself.

Barbados too is full of people who 'like it so'. Must be a Caribbean thing.

ac said...

I think Mr. bayles point is well taken in the way he has analyse the different ways in which the three counties has progressed.
.Simply put he was oulined the difference in the way the countries are managed and has been able to give a good detail ofwhat is necessary to make them succesful.
One the other hand while reading your take on what Mr. Bayles have said some how I got the impression that Mr. Bayles gets it wrong, but somehow you get it right.

acox said...

Mr. Bayless analysis of the three countries were well defined giving his point of view .in examing the overall complexities of these counties he summed by saying that education and good leadership is a strong factor in forming the strenths of a country and Barbados and singapore has these elements.I find nothing wrong in the way he has formed some of his conclusion.
However when reading your take on Mr. Bayles comments I get the sense that you are a little bit taken aback when mr. Bayles compared JA. to a "corner Shop"

Dennis Jones said...

@acox, my reaction to 'corner shop' is simply that it does not work as a metaphor, whatever definition I try to take (eg a store selling a limited variety of food and pharmaceutical items; open long hours for the convenience of customers). This might have been a good image for Jamaica in the mid-1970s--and Bayles says that all 3 were once corner shops--but not for the past 30 years. I've no problem with calling Jamaica a failed state, or referencing its terrible crime; I've written that before.

Read again what Bayles said and show me the 'well defined'. Statements that are wrong are wrong.

No problem with his highlighting good leadership and education; on that we can agree.