Editor's Pick

Will Jamaica Embrace True Economic Reform or Just More Socialism?

Jamaica is at a critical juncture in its history, and the world is watching. Long seen as a powerhouse in the developing world, Jamaica is on track to become a republic. Like in the 1950s and ’60s, decolonization is brewing, so Britain’s ex-colonies want to sever ties with their former overlord. Jamaica has therefore established a constitutional reform committee to fast-track the process of becoming a republic.

As a political process, constitutional reform will be exposed to the pressures of lobby groups. There will be revolutionaries proposing that the new constitution be disassociated from British influences; however, such hostilities must be tempered with logic. Constitutional reform is not a cultural exercise but an opportunity to create a more prosperous Jamaica. The British became the world’s first industrial nation, and Jamaica can learn a great deal from her former colonizer.

Constitutional reform cannot be about preserving national pride. An obsession with an obsolete culture has led many nations into the bosom of failure. Culture must be rejuvenated by creative forces or it becomes stale and regressive. Countries that are hesitant to evolve because they want to preserve local culture often curse their people with stagnation.

In his book Conquests and Cultures, Thomas Sowell exclaims that an inability to appreciate the pitfalls of local culture is a proven strategy for countries to remain backward. Jamaica’s counterpart in Asia, Singapore, had no pretensions about the sanctity of local culture and instead went on a campaign for independence to learn from countries like Japan and Israel. Singapore’s then-leader Lee Kuan Yew was also sufficiently intelligent to embrace the virtues of Britain’s common law. Jamaica has a history of economic underperformance and should follow Singapore instead of entertaining delusional rhetoric.

Constitutional reform is a golden moment for Jamaica to become as successful as England or its offshoots such as America, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Western countries still set the standard when it comes to governance and innovation. These countries have a commercial culture, and as a laggard, Jamaica should use the reform process to create a constitution that orients the country toward business. Though Jamaica is a poor country, economic freedom is not being prioritized in the reform process.

Surprisingly, it is not even being discussed. Most pundits only seem interested in trashing Britain. All sorts of frivolities are highlighted to the detriment of commerce. The American constitution has several stipulations dealing with economic freedom, and considering that Jamaica is a country desperately in need of an economic renaissance, understanding these provisions should be the objective of the reform committee.

Jamaican entrepreneurs are beholden to regulations that violate property rights and economic freedom. In the sugar industry, until recently the Jamaica Cane Product Sales Limited had a monopoly to market sugar, despite the preferences of farmers and manufacturers. Entrepreneurs are compelled to comply with insensible regulations to appease government bureaucrats. Although regulations are unfavorable to commerce and infringe property rights by dictating how entrepreneurs use resources, few conceive of them as violating property rights, and others are too timid to resist.

The passivity of entrepreneurs has emboldened the state to the extent that manufacturers can be charged for leaking refined sugar into the retail trade. Bureaucrats argue that when manufacturers import refined sugar duty-free for manufacturing and sell it in the retail trade, they fleece the government of revenues. Bureaucrats have no business telling manufacturers how to capitalize on opportunities.

Entrepreneurs should leak refined sugar into the retail trade if doing so is profitable. It is not their concern that the state wants to protect the local sugar industry by limiting the use of refined sugar in the retail space. Jamaica’s sugar industry has been underperforming for years, and attempting to save an inefficient project without innovation is futile. Only greater innovation can rescue sugar from sinking further into the abyss.

Similarly, coffee is also burdened by regulations. Quota laws force companies to incorporate local coffee into the manufacturing process even when doing so adds no value. One company, Salada Foods, brought the issue to court and was unsuccessful. Unfortunately, a poor country like Jamaica cannot afford such regulations.

Therefore, the constitutional reform committee must ensure that the new constitution bolsters economic freedom and property rights safeguards. It would be a travesty if Jamaica wasted this moment in history to focus on political and social issues at the expense of its economic future.

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