As the violence continues in Kingston, let’s pause to consider the scope of Jamaica’s problems. By any measure, the nation should have long ago started working its way toward the middle of the development tables. Think about how much the place has going for it: lots of bauxite, fertile soil, an English-speaking populace, a thriving tourism sector, a healthy flow of remittances from emigrants, a distinct cultural brand that’s revered the world over. Yet as the inflation-adjusted data above shows, Jamaica’s economy consistently lags behind not only the world’s, but even that of its closest neighbors.
The political system is obviously broken in Jamaica, as evidenced by the fact that Prime Minister Bruce Golding was faced with a terrible choice: Either give up the IMF assistance that has kept the nation afloat (and indebted), or turn on one of his most reliable political allies—a man he’d long enriched with a steady diet of government largesse. The fact that he chose the latter was probably the lesser of two evils, but it doesn’t necessarily portend the necessary sea change in Jamaica’s political culture. That will require the state to commit to providing the services and security that have long been the responsibility of strongmen like Christopher Coke, who are not bound by written laws.
We fear that the Jamaican power elite has little interest in extending the state into locales such as Tivoli Gardens. It is much easier for them to cede control to the dons, in exchange for political support. As long as Jamaica’s politicians employ this shortcut, the nation can never fulfill its potential.