Tag: Economics

It’s high time we audited Jamaica’s debt

It’s high time we audited Jamaica’s debt

Jamaica has a high level of debt, pardon me for stating the blatantly obvious, but just to hammer home that point let me state that Jamaica’s debt to GDP ratio is at the rate of %115, in other words, each Jamaican citizen owes an individual total of roughly $800,000 (JMD). This level of indebtedness has had a massive toll on the nation, be it the fact that we have to take on stringent IMF regulations in order to get by, the fact that borrowing on the international stage is now rather taxing, but the most damning thing about all of our debt is that we really have nothing to show for it.

The billions in debt that the state (and as such we individuals) have to repay and honour is in need of auditing. The fact of the matter is that (and I’m only speaking of the 80’s onwards) for all of the billions we owe the nation (to use a technical term) looks like a piece of crap. Monies that was borrowed for bridge building in Parish X disappears and the bridge is not there, money borrowed for road repairs vanishes and the roads are left to further cave in. Money that we cant afford to pay back is borrowed to upgrade jail cells to move them out of the mid 19th Century is not accounted for and the jails remain like dungeons.

A majority of the money owed was borrowed because the state wished to ‘improve the lives of its citizens’, and yet here we are, 37 years after the economy was returned to pure capitalism and a willing credit market (the little democratic-socialist initiatives initiated by Manley were almost all killed off by the successive administrations) with nothing to show for it except an ungodly level of debt, nothing relating to infrastructure, and a sick joke when it comes to social services. Along with politicians and certain well-connected individuals getting rich coincidentally of course.

The people have not benefited, we as a society have received no gains from this borrowed money and instead, are left to foot the bill, that is utter madness (to put it politely) and should not be allowed to pass unchallenged. We should demand a forensic audit of this debt (or as much of it that can be audited) so we can find out just where the money went and most importantly, who has/had it. Now I’m not of the opinion that the guilty parties once found out would (or even could) pay back the money, but it would be a massive start, it would show that theft from the state is no longer something to turn a blind eye to and it would also send a strong message to those who wish to dip into the public purse for their own benefits.

Were in over our heads when it comes to this debt, full repayment is simply not an option if we wish to live in a nation resembling anything near half decent, it is a massive handicap. The audit of our borrowed money (who got it, what was it used for and the terms of the loan) would be a most important step in either wiping away our debt (something we should be heavily lobbying for) or at the very least in getting a haircut on the debt, that is only possible with an audit. I say again the people have not benefited from this borrowed money, and unless and until a full forensic audit is done on our debt, quite frankly we shouldn’t (as citizens) pay our taxes (which only go to debt service) and demand that a closer look at our debt is carried out.

P.S. I’d like to thank Mr Lloyd D’Aguilar for providing the seed for this bit of commentary, if it weren’t for his posts on twitter I’m not sure that this process would have crossed my mind.

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We need to talk about A.I

Artificial Intelligence (or AI as it is more commonly known as) is fast improving as are robots. They are improving at such a rapid pace that it is very realistic that in the next ten to twenty years we will be witnessing AI and robots taking over jobs that humans have once held. That is not new nor is it headline news, for since the dawn of man using tools and technology we have witnessed where people have been replaced by machines (be it people thousands of years ago who went from manual tilling of the earth to the ox driven tiller, or the spinning jenny that decimated the British textile cottage industry).

What needs to be done and what hasn’t really been touched on by local politicians, industrialists and unions is just how robotics and AI will affect the already precarious labour market. AI and robotic ‘theft’ of jobs are not just going to be a first world problem and is one that we must tackle now or we will definitely be left playing catch up in an age where things, technology and events are transforming at a pace never seen before.

Take for example the recent Jamaican economic ‘saviour’ the call centre or Business processing outsourcing (BPO). Yes, it is true that call centre jobs in the US and other developed nations have fallen off a cliff due in no small part to the cheap labour that is offered in nations like Jamaica, but what has also hit the call centre worker is technology. We see where persons have been laid off en masse in the U.S and replaced by technology (AI), call PayPal for example and see if you can and just how long it takes to speak to a human, one has to interact with what is really pretty decent AI. This is because it is massively cheaper to have AI (that requires no pay, insurance or benefits) and hire a few technicians to maintain the system. Will these companies who moved to Jamaica exclusively to maximise profits really continue to employ the projected 30,000 (that is the number we are aiming for) when the AI in the next five to ten years makes human interaction unprofitable?

This is not just in the ‘tech’ areas that we will be hit but also in areas that are now seen as the real domain of persons such as farming. Jamaican farming has not come all that far a way and in many ways is stuck in the mid twentieth century, all that though will change. If the government and those with vested interests are to be believed then in the next couple of years (again that ten to twenty year range comes up) farming in this country will be unrecognisable as we aim to bypass methods of both the mid twentieth century (which we use in abundance) and the late twentieth century and dive head first into the methods and technologies of the twenty-first century. This will mean the introduction of drones to replace the humans who currently manually check crops, smart irrigation and pest control eliminating the need for humans to either water their crops or apply a pesticide. Imagine the cane workers unemployed because of the smart thrasher/reaper that WILL be coming in in the next few years? Even the act of actually planting the seed will be done by smart technology shortly, saying nothing of the obvious introduction of twenty-first-century earth tilling technology, all of which will mean a loss of jobs.

Many other white collar jobs that we take for granted in this nation will also vanish as the rapid march of progress that technology is making continues. Take for example the job of a legal clerk. This profession mainly entails going to NLA, Tax Offices, RGD, the Companies Office and of course the courts to deal with the stamping, registering, signing and filing of documents. Anyone who does that job can tell you that while the backlog of cases won’t (or may never) be dealt with anytime soon, the modernisation of the courts is taking place at a rather quick (not speedy or Usain Bolt fast) pace. With the introduction of many more computers, and a better internet system we are already seeing where documents that used to be sent over from the registry to the printing department (human interaction) is being eliminated with these documents now being transferred electronically (from the registry computer to the legal clerks USB stick or by simply taking a picture of the document). With the NLA and RGD also pushing hard to go fully online we are seeing where searches, payments and requests that would usually in the past would have required one to go to the physical institution and interact with a person is being eliminated as these go online. All of this clearly poses a threat to the white collar jobs of not only those who are legal clerks (as less will be needed to do this work) but also those in the aforementioned institutions as the need to keep costly humans becomes less and less as the technology improves.

We already have been seeing this happening in our banking and finance sector where these workers (and us the consumer) have been bearing the brunt of the rapid increase of the sophistication in the technology and AI. We see this in banks now asking, nay, forcing one to use technology to bypass humans in instances such as the paying off credit cards, the paying of overdrafts, the depositing of cheques and the simple withdrawal and depositing of cash. Try going in a bank, not only will you be charged to actually withdraw and deposit your own money, it is also scant of people (employees) when compared to ten years ago and this is because people cost more money than the technology that is rapidly advancing. Even as Jamaica seeks to become a hub of high finance we are seeing where even those jobs are fast being decimated, the persons who once worked in those positions and commanding high salaries being replaced by computers with algorithms that can do in seconds what would have taken those person days. How exactly is a person to hold a job when a robot/machine can do your work both faster and cheaper?

These are just the realities of what is going on, this is both what is currently taking place and what will be taking place shortly. We should really have a serious sit down as a nation, hold forums and serious dialogues with the stakeholders and those who will be affected so that we can both prepare ourselves and evolve accordingly. This sitting down and doing nothing is akin to seeing the train barreling down towards you and you decide to stay on the tracks, it’s just silly. Politicians, Unions and the private sector must have a public discussion on just how the advance of technology will affect us all as workers, if not then we all could be in for a rude awakening.

The new dark age

History does not repeat itself, that is one of the first things drilled into anyone who has studied history, and  that statement holds true almost always. History cant repeat itself as the conditions that man faced during the 1700’s is totally different than the conditions facing mankind today in the twenty-first century. I repeat, history cant repeat itself, but as we know, current events almost always look, smell and sound very similar to past historical moments in time.

It is  my theory that the world is experiencing, and currently living through what seriously mimics the ‘Dark ages’.We are witnessing the birth pangs of a new era and history sows that it will be very messy before some order is restored. Examples of the world slipping into the darkness is all around us and is happening at a frightful speed. Take for example the collapse of the empire that is happening right now. We are seeing the great American empire disintegrate before our very eyes if only we care to take a cursory look at the situation.

America, much like ancient Rome has reached its zenith. Just as the Romans were the masters of the then known world, we have the Americans being the master of our world today. Much like Rome the american empire survives and is feared/respected because of its awesome military might. Much like Rome the Americans are the masters of soft power, so that foreigners look and hope with baited breath to become a citizen of the empire. And much like Rome then, the american empire dominates economically as well.

However much like its Roman predecessor america is entering a period of terminal decline, the kind of decline that precipitated the ‘dark ages’. We see the once great and vibrant american economy now on its knees and they are now a country where half of its working population is hovering precariously above or live in poverty (earning $30,000 or less a year is the benchmark for American poverty). It is a nation that produces nothing and it is a nation of many disgruntled persons who are unsure as to why their standard of living has plummeted off a cliff.

Along with a tanking economy we witness how person a social breakdown.The societal breakdown that we are witnessing today is a clear indicator of us slipping into the darkness.

Staying with America, it remains the preeminent military might, and that is the key reason for it still remaining a powerhouse. The American military is strong, probably the strongest in the world, but again like its predecessor Rome, the army is also eating away at the American empire even while they project their might. Like the Romans the American army is massive, however that fact alone is not killing it. The fact that it is an all volunteer army is however destroying it. It is destroying it because the army firstly eats up over half of the budget (and discretionary spending) of the American budget and quite frankly no one wants to join, except persons from the ‘redneck’ states or as is increasingly the case immigrants. Now i do not believe that the american army will go the way of the roman army and have troops loyal to a general and not to the nation, however much like the Roman army the volunteers are mainly from the poorer parts of the world and as such will think twice before going to war and collaborating with the enemy (as seen with the Romans found out with the Germanic legion that they implemented).

The fall of America is not however the only harbinger of our new ‘dark age’, a look at technology and how we use it also spells doom. The internet is the modern day printing press, and it going through all of the birthing pains that the printing press went through. When the printing press was invented it saw an initial explosion of knowledge as books became more available to the general populace, we see this in the internet that has also ushered in age of mass knowledge. However the internet, much like the printing press, is about to meet some hard times. Persons with vested interests will, are and already have in some instances but the brake on internet expansion and freedom.

These persons with vested interests much like there middle age predecessors do not like, want or desire the populace being informed and are working hard to stop it. Be it the ‘Great Firewall of China’ or the simple blocking of Twitter and Facebook by the Turkish authorities we are seeing where the explosion of information has been tamed. Those actions mimic those of when the monarchs and clergy of the day put a brake on the expansion of knowledge by regulating the printing press.

Just like the middle ages (dark age) we are witnessing a mass movement of people as persons flee nations failing, escape war, to just make a better life or (as is increasingly the case) to escape a land with no more vital resources (such as water). This mass migration during the middle ages caused much distress and played no small part in keeping the world ‘dark’. In the middle ages this mass migration resulted in both new nations and the re-configuring of others. While we are yet to see the birth of a new nation due to migration, we have witnessed the destabilizing and re-configuring of existing nations.

A casual glance at west Europe confirms this view. We have nations like France, Germany and the BENELUX countries all experiencing serious demographic shifts as members of the old colonies displacing the native population. They experience this when the native populace continues to have a low birth rate while the migrants retain the high birth rate along with them coming in en mass. Just as the middle ages saw the Magyars enter the Hungarian plains we see the Congolese enter Belgium or the man from Ivory Coast lands at Marseilles, and just like in the past we see where the newly arrived rapidly change the face of the nation in ways that are violent or through the gradual wearing down of the existing status quo (as seen in the UK where sharia law is used in some legal cases).

One way we are also entering some ‘dark age’ is the retrenching from globalization. Just as in the middle ages we are witnessing a world with countries looking more inwards rather than outwards. We see this in action with the demagogues who are either in power (Donald Trump) or through the labour unions that demand some isolationism as they seek to rebuild a manufacturing sector.

This retreat from each other was also a hallmark of the middle ages and played no small part in the conflicts that erupted during those times. We are seeing nations retreat from each other and starting to be more insular and as a result we are seeing nations act in ways that could inevitably lead to a conflict that would dwarf any past conflict we have witnessed as a species.

Finally another harbinger of the age we are approaching is the war and thirst for conflict. The west led by the Empire has been at war for sixteen years and it doesn’t seem like it will end anytime soon. The nations are bleeding their coffers to remain at war (against an idea) at the expense of their populations well being and we are witnessing the fruit of that blossoming. The nations are spending billions yearly to conduct these wars and they are fast becoming bankrupt as a result. The wars that the west is waging is playing a large part in the ‘dark age’that we are witnessing. As the military becomes the be all and end all of a nation it does so at the expense of the citizens in that country. Just as no one during the time realized they were living through the one hundred year war which broke Europe in terms of manpower and expense so too are we are living in our own hundred year war, and we will not know it until decades later when we have long been broken and poor.