Thursday, 22 June 2017
Life and Debt
I watched this film with a group of friends and we were shocked at our collective appalling inability to learn lessons from history. This film is about Jamaica's transition to independence from Britain and the economic 'assistance' that was required to move to a free market consumer economy. It is a documentary that helpfully sets out the context of the founding of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the aftermath of World War Two. Keen to avoid a scenario that developed into World War Three, these institutions - dominated by the USA - set up vast funds to loan to countries to help them reach prosperity. Sadly the opposite is what has happened. Tragically the world is filled with too many Jamaicas - one is one too many.
The whole aim of colonialisation is to make money for the colonising nation and its entrepreneurs. Jamaica had sugar, bananas and a wonderful natural beauty and climate that lend themselves to tourism. The economic plan ignored its greatest resource - its people.
To become a productive consumer led economy required huge investment in infrastructure that was beyond the scope of this tiny nation to raise internally. So they tied themselves into the only banking regime in the West that was able to help and took out loans from WB/IMF. It soon became clear that to service the interest payments on the the loans, more loans were required and with each successive round of borrowing the debt spiral increased in speed and depth. Whilst the USA subsidised its farmers and industries to produce for the world market, Jamaica was hit by punitive interest payments and cowardly trade tariffs. They didn't, and never have stood a chance. The playing field is not level.
Even something as modest as a banana was used as an economic weapon. The giant US owned corporations harvesting and exporting bananas in Central America were supported by their government which then through the WB/IMF imposed tariffs on exported Jamaican bananas to the UK - its principle historical market and not one which competed with Central American produce to any great extent.
Over the decades Jamaica's economy has dwindled as the USA established free trade areas on the island to enslave workers (see picture above) with tax free and subsidised production of goods that were then returned for sale in the USA at a knock-down price because of the low production costs. As a consequence most Jamaicans are caught up in subsistence low scale agriculture dependent on the weather and the seasons to guarantee enough a food to put on the table. Unemployment is high and social problems and drug use are widespread.
All of this is in stark contrast to the smiling bright and happy Jamaica that the tens of thousands of tourists see who arrive by liner and plane every week. They stay in luxury hotels and dine of fine food until they've had their fill. Tours take then past McDonald's, KFC and Baskin Robins to sanitised ghettoes that offer the consumers an opportunity to sample the 'real Jamaica' sold to them by the tour brochure.
Who said the slave trade had been abolished?