I learned a lot from this post.

> If you grew up in the Caribbean you know well that Barbados and Jamaica are similar in many ways but polar opposites in most social tendencies.

In your first post, you shared a reading list. Would you recommend one of those books in particular as the best place to go to for a variety of comparisons and contrasts like this? For example, I would like to read a book that spends a few pages comparing Haiti, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana; a few pages on Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico; a few pages on Haiti and the Dominican Republic; and a few pages on Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica.

Expand full comment
Feb 18Liked by Rasheed Griffith

Fascinating account, not only of the economy, but also of why violence is perennially prevalent in Jamaica.

Expand full comment
Feb 18Liked by Rasheed Griffith

This was an excellent post. I really enjoyed reading it and look forward to your next one.

Expand full comment
Feb 18Liked by Rasheed Griffith

If you want to really understand the attributes that make any country move ahead, there is a piece written by a Harvard professor comparing Jamaica to Singapore. Both gained independence from Britain within four years of each other and despite similar topography and populations JA actually had a higher GDP. Now Singapore is a worked leader. It all came down to eduction, rule of law, and a welcoming atmosphere for entrepreneurs. It's not rocket science. But like anything that works it's all about doing it. It's an amazing read.

Expand full comment
Feb 17·edited Feb 17Liked by Rasheed Griffith

"significant deciding factor in long-run economic preference"

Possibly a typo and should be 'performance'?

"capable of opening up space for more prudence policies"

Possibly a typo and should be prudent policies?

Expand full comment

In your and Smith’s respective assessments of Jamaica, you both neglect to give some important information about Jamaica’s current economic situation. Though Jamaica’s economy is, in 2023, in recovery from the pandemic, unemployment rates are historically low—lower than pre-pandemic. Jamaica has moved from a peak debt to GDP ratio of 147 percent in 2013—one of the highest in the world—to about 86 percent at the end of last year. It is projected to be reduced further to 71 percent by 2025. This was done without any reneging on the principal, and without mass protests or social fallout. This is unprecedented, anywhere in the world. Notwithstanding, there are several challenges: productivity is declining and growth is meager. Neither you nor Smith include these important facts that give a fuller picture of Jamaica’s economy and its challenges, which renders both pieces incomplete and bordering on inaccurate.

Jamaica has performed poorly in economic terms, and violence is undoubtedly a factor in understanding this, but it is not the only one. Further, your case for “violence being the answer” is not convincing. Your argument, as I understood it, is that Jamaica was exceptionally violent as evidenced by the several slave revolts and the existence and success of the Maroons, and that this high level of violence brought about a general dislike for the island (as evidenced by the high levels of absentee ownership), which led to the hiring of vicious overseers, and thus a “hyper-brutal environment” with no resident elite class. You follow this with noting that Jamaican sugar became uncompetitive post-Emancipation due to labour shortages, disinvestment, and failure to modernize. Further, the local Jamaican Assembly, practiced “poor policy management,” leading to Jamaica being ruled directly by Britain as a Crown Colony rule just a few decades thereafter. You do not properly connect the dots, and some of them, as you represent them, are plainly false.

In any case, the phenomenon of extreme violence that has led Jamaica to hold the unfortunate position of the most (or one of the most) murderous country in the world, only began in the post-Independence period, that is, the 1960s. Before then Jamaica’s murder rate was roughly the same as the United States. The homicide rate began to rise in the mid-1960s due to a number of factors. Jamaica was in the midst of rapid economic growth with massive investments in bauxite/alumina, and tourism. Unemployment was also rising rapidly as easy emigration to the UK was cut off with new controls brought in by the British government. Many of the unemployed moved from rural areas into slums around the capital city, Kingston, exacerbating a trend that began in the post-Depression era. The homicide rate escalated in the 1970s, and has continued to climb at a sustained rate to date. That phenomena was the outcome of political warfare that had complex roots in the development of Jamaica’s political system in the 1940s and 1950s. These are facts over which there is no serious disagreement, regardless of ideological or political persuasion.

Further, the economic effect of violence is more empirically notable in its various effects on investment, foreign and domestic, than on any historical effect that you suggest (but doesn’t substantiate). There is also research that shows a correlation between violence and economic performance with regard to its dampening effect on productivity; the cost to public health; and the loss of human capital whether by being a push factor for migration, perpetuating poverty, and simply, the loss of life.

Moreover, Jamaica’s poor economic performance has been shown to be mostly attributed to poor economic policy choices since the 1970s, many made out of political expediency, that brought about precipitous economic decline and led to economic stagnation that persisted until serious reforms were undertaken beginning in 2013.

Finally, there are several unfactual and/or misleading statements in the piece that belie your argument and its credibility.

1. There is a widely held perception that the Jamaican political establishment is corrupt. There is a phenomenon of garrison politics that has to be accounted for in understanding Jamaican politics. The phenomenon of garrison politics could be considered in relation to political corruption, but in contemporary Jamaican political discourse, they are not twinned, and the linking of the two terms and phenomena here betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of Jamaican politics, past and present.

2. There are high levels of emigration as you point out. Some 85 percent of tertiary graduates live outside of Jamaica (having benefited from state-subsidized university education), largely for lack of economic and professional opportunities on the island. However, the assertion that “the only way to inculcate the correct political incentive (sic) in Jamaica towards implementing good policies would be to allow absentee voting of Jamaicans living outside the country” is inherently illogical. How would a Jamaican living overseas having the right to vote have any effect on governance on the island?

3. Leonard Howell was arrested for sedition before he founded Rastafari and established Pinnacle, a peaceful, self-sufficient community of almost 1,000 adherents. Howell was one of many people charged by the colonial government for sedition in that pre-independence era, including Alexander Bustamante, Jamaica’s first prime minister and now a national hero. Neither of these arrests involved violence. Howell’s subsequent run-ins with the authorities were mostly about marijuana production, and also did not involve violence. Your mention of Howell, therefore, does not support your attempt to link Rastafari with violence. Neither does the state forcing Howell into a mental institution where he died violently substantiate the claim that Rastafarians are not “mellow potheads” (which I doubt they would appreciate) and the inference that reggae is inherently violent.

4. Peter Tosh was not assassinated, he was murdered in a robbery-revenge. Using the word assassinated carries a connotation that is inappropriate and misleading.

5. Vybz Kartel does not do reggae, his genre is dancehall. He is not king of either.

I will also note your lack of familiarity with present day Jamaica as evidenced in your post before this one, which was about what a Caribbean think tank should work on. The Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) is an independent public policy think tank based at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. For its 15 years of existence it has done several studies on many of the topics that are suggested in the post. One of its first studies was on the policy choices that undermined Jamaica’s economic growth and development in the post-independence period.

Expand full comment

> Shockingly, data suggests that more slaves were brought to Jamaica than the entirety of the rest of North America.

The link you cite for this doesn't seem to have the data on the number of slaves brought to Jamaica

Expand full comment