The challenging global context

This debate is taking place in the context of the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression 80 years ago. It is frequently referred to as a "crisis" and that is exactly what it is. Economies that had come to regard robust economic growth as a natural way of life have suddenly found themselves slipping and sliding.

Exchange rates in many countries with much stronger currencies than our own have depreciated even more than our own.

In the United States more than 5 million people have lost their jobs. That is the equivalent of 42,000 in Jamaica. The economy of Ireland, once considered a model for rapid economic growth, is in virtual freefall and the government has had to table its second budget since the start of this year with further cuts in expenditure.

There are some who do not understand what this has to do with us. There are some who believe that we can shut our windows so tight that the rain won't blow in on us. They are mistaken!

When the demand for our goods falls, the producers of those goods suffer, workers are laid off and businesses may even have to close. When tourists cannot afford to come to Jamaica, hotel rooms remain empty and hotel workers are sent home. When automobile plants are shut down and housing construction grinds to a halt, we have nowhere to ship our alumina – our plants have to be closed. When foreign investment disappears, we lose the jobs that it would have created. When Jamaicans abroad are no longer able to send home money, their relatives suffer and the Jamaican economy suffers.

This crisis has been like a blow to our belly and the pain is spreading throughout the body in ways that we feel, but don't always recognize.

The unavoidable hardships

We are going through tough times and I know it is hard on the Jamaican people. It is hard on the workers when they cannot get their wage increases.

It is hard on the worker who trembles every Friday when he is not sure whether he will be handed a pink slip with his pay slip. It is hard on the civil servant, nurse, teacher or policeman when they can't get the wage increase that was to have been given to them.

It is hard on our young people who leave school with little chance of finding a job. It is hard on the pensioners who have to live off the meagre pensions they get.

It is hard on the poor who have to scrape and scrounge and hustle, not knowing where the next meal is coming from or how the hungry bellies of their children will be filled.

It is no comfort to them to be told we are in a crisis. But we are in a crisis!

We have faced many crises before on many fronts but we have never had to face so many crises on so many fronts all at the same time. But we cannot and must not wallow in self pity. What we must seek is not to console ourselves but to find the strength to bear what we have to bear and the courage and unity of purpose to fight our way through these rough seas.

Our weak immune system

Saving for a rainy day is an adage that is as pertinent to a nation as it is for you or me. Some countries have done that. We did not.

Some countries have maintained low debt levels and accumulated huge fiscal surpluses. We did not.

Some countries have been able to reduce taxes, provide massive financial assistance and incentives to businesses, expand welfare programmes and launch massive public works programmes to re-energize their economies. We cannot.

The global crisis caught us with our pants down. We didn't drop our pants only since September 2007! Our pants have been at our ankles for decades! We were in a crisis long before this crisis!

Only 5 times since 1970 did the Jamaican economy grow by more than 3%. It recorded negative growth 14 times and less than 2% growth 14 times. We can't blame that on this global crisis. When the world economy was growing we were limping. When the economies of developing countries were expanding even faster than the rest of the world, ours was crawling behind the entire world. In the last four decades the rest of Caricom has grown cumulatively by 173% while the Jamaican economy has grown by less than 25%, leaving us with the fourth lowest per capita income in the region.

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