Friday, September 30, 2016

National Affairs:Wheel and Come Again, Growth Council

"5 in 4"

In a generation eager for quick, digestible principles and messages, the condensation of the target of The Economic Growth Council - launched in May to great hubbub and excitement - is like a bon bon of policy objectives: Minimum 5% growth WITHIN the next 4 years.

The emphasis is critical. As incoming PSOJ President Paul Scott reminded recently at his first official address, low and negative growth are all that the country has known for much of the past 40 years Year after year of decreasing living standards for even the wealthiest Jamaicans, though they clearly have the resources to blunt that negative impact. The rest of us simply "tough it out" or do what so many Jamaicans have long been doing (since early Colonial times): run.

Growth Council head Michael Lee Chin, himself still among the world's wealthiest individuals, has the express desire of seeing that wealth reach a greater number of Jamaicans. to that end, he and the Council members reportedly met with numerous individual and collective stakeholders, from across the society, and thoroughly reviewed copious documents in the filing cabinets -and other hidden corners - of Government Ministers.

That brain-blasting, eye-splitting meeting and reading schedule is encapsulated in the first report of the EGC, emblazoned with the "5 in 4" motif for further good effect.

I did not do nearly as much reading as the Council did, but I did take time to read the report, from front to back, and then in reverse - twice.

having done so, I'm reasonably sure of one thing: :

Growth WILL NOT come from that report, even if the Government were minded to implement ALL the recommendations made therein.

Obviously, some of you may thinking this is a harsh assessment, so let me state the basis for my pessimism, despite the strong composition of this Council.

First, entertainment, the arts and culture gets ZERO direct mention in the EGC plan. there are some allusions, particularly with regard to developing tourism. but with Jamaica an acknowledged cultural superpower - in content and execution, at least, if not in dollar-earning terms, a field which the nation holds such a competitive advantage deserves to be broken out.

there's no way, with the diversification of media platforms to properly compute the full value of film, music, the performing arts, sports, gaming, literature and antiquities, but based on available information, an extrapolation of US$100 billion would not be far-fetched.   Proper legislative and encouragement measures that yielded a 1% share of this revenue would pump US$1 billion into the economy, drive job creation, and contribute toward stability at both the macro and micro ends - reducing domestic and internecine strife and the resultant crime in the process.

Similarly, the Growth Council document has not a whiff on another significant growth engine for Jamaica: marijuana

Notwithstanding the cries of the Rastafarian community and others for legalizing recreational use (the Dangerous Drugs Act Amendment of 2015 allows for a small personal use allotment and "frees up" sacramental use in relation to Rastas), there is a massive opportunity that may yet go up in smoke if the authorities fail to put the pedal to the proverbial metal and institute full legalization.

In the US, which cruelly sought to dictate Marijuana eradication among its trading partners in the Hemisphere (Jamaica included) and still classifies cannabis as a Dangerous Drug at the Federal level, the "green train" is approaching bullet speeds.

 Colorado, Washington state, Alaska and Oregon all have full legalization. Another 20 states, including California, have legalized medical marijuana. Five more states will vote to legalize recreational marijuana this November, while medical marijuana is up for consideration in four more states. Should ballot initiatives pass in select key states (California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine, Montana, and Florida), those markets will account for $2.7 billion in additional marijuana sales in 2018, according to industry tracker Arcview and its big-data partner New Frontier.

Further, legal marijuana sales have tripled, to US 4.5 billion in 2015, with state Governments receiving additional windfalls of up to US$10 billion (in Colorado).

Obviously, there's no guarantee that full legalization will bring the same level of financial benefits to Jamaica, but similarly, there's nothing at the moment to suggest that it wouldn't. The prospect of legalization opens up the potential of so much new employment - from weed-centred tourism to scientific testing - and myriad health benefits (more are being clinically realized as usage widens) that marijuana already represents one of the greatest potential missed opportunities  in our modern history. 

Which, in a way, is exactly what this first presentation from the Growth Council is: a well-intentioned, passionate missed opportunity; a summary of missed opportunities past and a call - laudable - on the administration to act to forestall future missed opportunities.

As I write this, Hurricane Matthew is fast approaching. Whatever tack it finally takes, there will be adverse impacts for the country as well as new opportunity. Let's hope that damage will be minimal, and that our preparedness and response systems are up to the task.

thereafter, I urge the Council, soonest, to regroup and revise the document; in the dancehall parlance, to wheel and come again, better informed and more prepared to advocate for those activities that Jamaica can truly gain from.

The succeeding generations deserve nothing less

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