Tue | Oct 15, 2019

Jaevion Nelson | The fallacy of trickle-down economics

Published:Saturday | January 19, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Earlier in January, subsequent to the announcement by the minister of finance and public service, Dr Nigel Clarke, that a record 1.3 million Jamaicans are now employed, I tweeted the following statement:

"1.3 million people employed but what kind of quality of life do their jobs guarantee them? Can they feed themselves adequately? Can [they] pay for medical services? Can they save anything from their salary? Can they send their kids to school or repay student loans?"

To the unbiased, these are poignant questions, but some people, unsurprisingly, were not particularly pleased with my seemingly less-than-celebratory mood. They were of the view that whatever employment people might now have that has resulted in this remarkable achievement for the JLP-led administration (and the country) is a fair start that is better than nothing.

I would be very unreasonable to disagree that one is perhaps better off with a dollar than nothing, but I strongly believe that we have to move beyond this myopic and tragically pedestrian way of looking at things.

We have to challenge ourselves to appreciate that while these big stats are worth celebrating, we have to go deeper than that. The big data rarely do tell the full story of people's lived reality. They don't tell us how many hours people are employed for, the percentage of minimum wage earners, average salary, for example. The Government already has the data and should, therefore, provide the granularity so that we can better understand the reality on the ground.

If what Opposition Leader Peter Phillips said last year at the People's National Party's 80th anniversary conference about more than half of the labour force earning "minimum wage or slightly above" is true, we cannot all be so jubilant about the fact that unemployment is at its lowest ever. We need to be talking constructively and making sound policy and other decisions to ensure that everyone can have a good standard of living. If salaries are so horrifyingly low right across the board, unemployment cannot be the nation's only concern. It has to be about providing opportunities for gainful employment that affords people an adequate standard of living.

 

PROSPERITY FOR ALL

 

What many people do not seem to realise is that higher levels of economic growth and development do not automatically mean prosperity for everyone. It is often the case, as many reports from Oxfam International would have highlighted, that the increase does not trickle down to those who are most in need and vulnerable. Consequently, the rich get richer while the poor either stay in their position or actually get poorer. Countries like China, India, Cote d'Ivoire, and Rwanda are growing tremendously and are among the 13 fastest-growing economies in the world, but poverty is still such a huge problem for them.

We cannot progress towards achieving Vision 2030 as a nation if we are resigned in our unwillingness to interrogate Government's policies and programmes as well as their accomplishments. So, yes, let's celebrate, but the standard cannot be that because things are worth celebrating, there cannot be a healthy debate about the extent to which people are benefiting from all the achievements taking place.

As I previously said in this paper, "The Government must be bold in its attempt to improve the livelihood and well-being of the poor and vulnerable." It needs to be transformative and deliberate in its approach and deliver for those who are at the bottom, as it is able to for those at the top, so that they can have a better quality of life.

Let's start paying more attention and asking more questions. Let's get down to the nitty-gritty of these big data so that we can tell the full story and truly celebrate the remarkable achievements taking place in the economy.

- Jaevion Nelson is a human rights, social, and economic justice advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com or tweet @jaevionn.