The Myth of the Jamaica Wreck-tangle

Most of us have heard of the Bermuda Triangle, that supposedly mysterious place where laws of physics and gravity may not always be operative; where airplanes and ships that have traveled all around the world develop peculiar mechanical problems which lead them to crash.

The Bermuda Triangle
The Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle may or may not be a myth; but it bears close resemblance to another proposed geometric shape that is definitely mythical. That shape is the mythical Jamaica Wreck-tangle.

This is an item of self-flattery of which Jamaicans are often guilty, and this item of self-flattery is the one that states that “Governing in Jamaica is like trying to herd wild cats,” or “Fi wi people ‘ard fi rule so till.” However it is stated, this prevailing notion is predicated on: the idea that somehow Jamaicans and Jamaica are supernaturally difficult  to govern; and the belief that the natural state of things in Jamaica is a state of disorder and discord. I categorically reject that notion, in fact there is demonstrable evidence that both the actions of Jamaicans and the disorder occurring in Jamaica — even the run-away murder rate — occurs in slavish obedience to inviolable laws.

Let’s look at the idea that some innate quality of Jamaican-ness causes indiscipline and law-breaking; the idea that “fi wi people indiscipline bad, bwoy.” Even though the vast majority of Jamaicans in the United States and United Kingdom are law-biding and hardworking; Jamaican gangs & criminals in both the US and UK have collectively gained great notoriety for criminal behavior. So why is it that, despite this notoriety, the rate of homicides committed by Jamaicans in the US and UK has not been allowed to exponentially increase year after year without abatement (like the Jamaican murder rate)?

Simply put: Americans and Britons wouldn’t stand for that shit! However, in Jamaica we do. Then, having done everything we can to reward and perpetuate wrongdoing, we pretend that somehow we are plagued with a people who are incapable of following rules and order.

Those of us who have seen Jamaicans operate and excel in foreign climes can’t buy into this blather. For example: In Jamaica many people simply stay home on days when there is torrential rainfall; yet those same Jamaicans — when they get a visa and a “work” in “foreign” — will trod through 2 feet of snow to get to their job as they fully understand the penalty for failing to show up is that they will be fired.

Those of us who have seen Jamaicans operate in foreign climes have been to the pool parties in America where a lifeguard was hired by the Jamaican homeowner (every time) to supervise the children and thereby ensure no unfortunate accidents could result in costly, wealth-destroying, litigation. Ditto for those of us who have seen Jamaicans in foreign climes wake up an hour earlier than normal in the dark and shovel snow from an overnight storm before heading to a full day of work. Why? Because in New York City, apart from the fact that you can be issued a hefty ticket for failing to shovel the snow on the sidewalk in front of your house; heaven forbid someone should actually fall in front of your house and sue you to cover the “pain and suffering” from their injuries! They might easily take your house depending on the size of the judgment they could win in court; and even if you win the case, you may have to mortgage that house again just to pay the lawyer. So the lesson is that duppy know who to frighten — or better stated Jamaicans know where to “form fool.”

The story I have heard that best typifies the ability of the average Jamaican to follow laws in foreign climes can be

No Standing at the Bus Stop
No Standing at the Bus Stop

gleaned from the following tale, which I repeat with the caveat that I have not been able to independently verify it. A gentleman I know from Jamaica who is a longtime US resident tells me his relative from Jamaica was visiting him here in New York City for a long summer and eventually got into the habit of moving around during the day while this gentleman was at work. The same Jamerican gentleman informs me that one day he got off the bus at the bus-stop nearest his house and saw the visiting Jamaican relative at the bus stop across the street seated on the edge of the sidewalk. Surprised, the Jamerican gentleman approached the visiting Jamaican relative with this query: “But wait, a what really mek you come a foreign come sit down a roadside?” The Jamaican relative looked at the Jamerican gentleman with a look of surprise and pointed out that the necessity to sit down on the sidewalk arose from the presence of a sign over the bus-stop that clearly dictates “No Standing.”

It was through tears of laughter that the Jamerican recounted to me how carefully he explained to his visiting relative that the “No Standing” sign was meant for cars, not pedestrians. And further the sign is a part of a system whereby drivers can ‘stop’, ‘stand’ or ‘park’ unless advised otherwise– so that cars can stop at some places where there is No Standing sign, but the driver can’t stand there with the engine running and can’t turn the engine off and park there.

Having observed a sufficient number of Jamaicans operating outside Jamaica to fully refute the argument that an innate quality of Jamaican-ness causes misbehavior; let’s look at the bulk of the myth of the Jamaica Wreck-tangle. The bulk of the myth is that Jamaica itself, as a territory, possesses some ‘natural mystic’ or is operated on by some supernatural phenomena that precludes the ability to enforce laws and administer justice. Yet paradoxically the lawlessness that encroaches upon every aspect of daily life in Jamaica is not merely a symptom of a greater disease, rather the lawlessness is the disease itself. Frankly the lawlessness is not even lawless — instead it is precisely what happens when the state refuses to do what only the state should be doing.

So it’s a really a matter of common-sense to understand what is happening in the “territorial Jamaica” today — even if scholars would prefer to dress it up in fancy names like behavioral economics and social psychology. It is really elementary though — even with all the fancy words to dress up common-sense.

Let’s begin with a look at the recent protest in St. James over stolen light. The lack of common-sense which this Observer article displays is in the belief that these people were stealing electricity from JPSCo. YET, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO STEAL ELECTRICITY FROM JPSCo! There is no customer in Jamaica stealing electricity from JPSCo; instead to the extent that anyone benefits from an altered meter or illegal connection –they are simply stealing the value of the electricity from their fellow customers. JPSCo is a private entity, in business to make a profit; and when electricity is stolen from them either by poor people in Retirement or by rich people like Azan of Megamart; the costs of the stolen electricity is passed on to the suckers customers who in fact do pay their bills. Even if JPSCo was a public entity, the theft of electricity would still increase the costs of the government subsidy required and thereby the tax revenue that would have to be devoted to the enterprise.

So, that it is impossible to steal light from JPSCo is easy enough to understand. We have to extrapolate that idea into a better understanding of the economic toll that crime takes on the purse and pocket of Jamaicans. Many Jamaicans imagine that it is possible for criminals to extort money from prominent and successful merchants. YET, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO EXTORT MONEY FROM A BUSINESSMAN! What criminals can do however, and are doing, is to extort money from that merchant’s customers. Again, the merchant is in business to earn a profit — and will aggregate the needs of his individual customers for a wholesaler and connect the goods of the wholesaler to those individual retail customers for a mark-up called “profit.” When the merchant opens his store, he incurs the wholesale costs of the goods; in addition to a host of other costs like staff, fixtures, and utilities. If the merchant has to pass on the costs of the wholesaler’s goods to the customer, the merchant also passes on the costs of all the other vendors — including the trucking company that delivered the goods, the employee that minded the store, and of course the extortionist. The extortionist is, in this framework, simply another vendor in the merchant’s supply chain; supplying a product called “non-aggression,” perhaps under a catchy brand name like “Walk & Live…

Man is an economic animal, and it is impossible to separate his actions from commerce and enterprise. So let’s look at crime in Jamaica with this prism in mind. Remember that lawlessness is the disease, it is not a symptom; and that our so-called lawlessness, is not even lawless. What the hell does that mean: that lawlessness is not even lawless? Most lawlessness in Jamaica is emblematic of a law that needs no state to enforce it, this law is Gresham’s Law. It is an interesting topic, on which it would be possible to write the little I know about it and still not even begin to do it justice; but it is best to keep it simple:

Gresham’s Law is often stated as “Bad money drives out good.” It is best explained by understanding the times that led to its articulation. Money used to be gold coins, and some people would ‘debase’ those coins by filing down the edges, or by alloying the gold with another ‘base’ metal.

In Gresham’s day, bad money included any coin that had been “debased.” Debasement was often done by members of the public, cutting or scraping off some of the metal. Coinage could also be debased by the issuing body, whereby less than the officially mandated amount of precious metal is contained in an issue of coinage, usually by alloying it with base metal. Other examples of “bad” money include counterfeit coins made from base metal. In all of these examples, the market value was the supposed value of the coin in the market.

Source: Wikipedia

What would happen, which Gresham observed, is that as debased coins became more common, people would hoard the good money, meaning the pristine coins. Since the law required others to accept the debased coins as legal tender, there was no cost to those debasing the coins — only profit in gold shavings.  As this hoarding continued, the cycle would feed itself, all the good coins (those with gold actually worth the face value of the coin) would all be weeded out of the money supply and hidden under someone’s mattress. Meanwhile the money supply, the currency, would be increasingly comprised of coins with metal worth less than the face value of the coin.

The hoarding process is also interesting, as it starts out with pristine coins being hoarded out of circulation, then just the nicer coins, then the somewhat whole coins, and so on — till the money supply is comprised almost entirely of debased coins.

If it seems odd to seek to apply a law/theory about money to lawlessness in Jamaica, go ahead and change the word “money” to “behavior.” Restated, Gresham’s Law now is “Bad behavior drives out good.” The application is common-sense: If I am an MP dutifully engaging in rhetorical debates and constituency service in order to secure my re-election; and another MP simply shaves the corners by passing out guns in his constituency and that MP gets re-elected; that bad behavior (when it is accepted as equal in value/result to my good behavior) will eventually force me to do the same. Similarly, if one merchant is stealing electricity/bribing customs officials; then once the merchant derives a competitive advantage without penalty other merchants will also steal electricity/bribe customs officials. If the bus-driver doesn’t deny admission to the bus for the man that skipped to the front of the line, soon there will be no line. Good behavior in Jamaica today is a competitive disadvantage! Being that no intervening authority enforces the law, since there is no penalty and bad behavior is thereby equivalent to good behavior, then bad behavior has simply forced good behavior out of circulation. The same way that the laws of gravity don’t need Gordon House enforcement to work, neither do natural laws of which Gresham’s Law is one. People debase coins when a debased coin can buy you the same loaf of bread as a good coin; the way to stop the hoarding of good coins is to prosecute those people with debased coins in their possession.

A second economic concept that is useful to understanding why Jamaica is where it is today, is the Tragedy of the Commons. It is best to define it from the Wikipedia entry: multiple individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared resource even where it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long term interest for this to happen.

The essence of the commons dilemma has been discussed by theorists since ancient history, but not under that name. It has also been studied more recently, such as in game theory.

Central to Hardin’s article is a metaphor of herders sharing a common parcel of land (the commons) on which they are all entitled to let their cows graze. In Hardin’s view it is in each herder’s interest to put as many cows as possible onto the land, even if the commons is damaged as a result. The herder receives all the benefits from the additional cows but the damage to the commons is shared by the entire group. If all herders make this individually rational decision, however, the commons is destroyed and all herders suffer.

Source: Wikipedia

An easy to understand application of the Tragedy of the Commons, a.k.a the Commons Dilemma, is global warming. America didn’t sign the Kyoto Treaty because China and India didn’t have the same forced limits. The fact that all of these three big countries continue to pollute against our collective self-interests doesn’t seem to bother anyone as much as it should. Suffice to say, if everyone in Jamaica isn’t made to obey the law and respect the commons, then all Jamaicans become reluctant to obey it (fearful of losing their competitive advantage) even when the collapse of the country (our commons) is the inevitable result.  And with that we return to the protest in Retirement over stolen electricity: if everyone had an illegal connection to JPSCo, then the paying suckers customers to whom the cost of the light stolen by thieves could be passed on would dwindle and JPSCo would go bankrupt. The same is true of taxpayers, yet oddly, people seem to think that no-one in Jamaica has to pay taxes but then seem surprised when our debt service reaches 50-cents on the dollar.

Since we are wrecking our country, let us at least have the courage to acknowledge how and why. The fiscal problems Jamaica faces, the crime problem Jamaica faces, the corruption problem Jamaica faces — all of it is entirely predictable. There is no Jamaica Wreck-tangle, there is no supernatural quality of territorial Jamaica and no innate quality of Jamaican-ness that makes governance in Jamaica, or of Jamaicans, comparatively harder than other places and other people. There is only nature enforcing natural laws where the state has failed to enforce the laws passed in parliament.

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22 thoughts on “The Myth of the Jamaica Wreck-tangle

  1. D- A really interesting and thought-provoking post!

    A few thoughts —

    [snip] “Good behavior in Jamaica today is at competitive disadvantage! Being that no intervening authority enforces the law, since there is no penalty and bad behavior is thereby equivalent to good behavior, then bad behavior has simply forced good behavior out of circulation.”

    “Bad” behavior has not only become the new currency, but also become integral to individual and collective identities. One has to be able to explain one’s “good” or “not quite bad” behavior, which is often treated as the exception – or just plain strange and unfamiliar – as well as expect to lose some credibility with others who are asking for the explanation. So either the “good” behavior has to be kept a secret, or through showing too much “good” behavior, one is shut out of the network that trades on and invents new kinds of “bad” behaviors. Either way, “good” behavior is not positively sanctioned.

    [snip] “the way to stop the hoarding of good coins is to prosecute those people with debased coins in their possession.”

    You seem to be falling prey to the notion that simply creating and enforcing laws will prevent criminality and other kinds of “bad” behaviors. Laws limit but don’t determine. Yes, indeed, we could use some limits right about now.

    It seems to me that the key to the effectiveness of the “no standing” rule is that 1) there is a concerted effort to educate people about what the rule is (e.g. part of getting a license, etc.); so, we know what to do and what not to do e.g. I stand at bus stops when I know I shouldn’t (I never stop/stand/park in handicap spaces though – that’s a no-no for me); but I also know how long to do it and when not to even think about it; case in point, I’m not even going to think about such an action at that Golden Krust right at Flatbush and Fulton; but I have done it at the one at Fulton and Washington. 2) few people are actually caught violating the rule, because of [1]; that is, we know what the limits are and there is a process by which we figure out how to work in them e.g. watching the police blare their horns at someone else standing there, plus the hellified traffic situation that we’ve been caught in when someone else violates the rule is enough to tell us that maybe not that corner, but maybe somewhere else; 3) because everyone is aware of the rule, people look at you funny and talk about you, wondering what makes you so special that you think you can do it without getting caught; even the buses will blow their horns in the most violent fashion, threaten fi lik off yuh door and mirror, and make it quite uncomfortable for you to stand at the bus stop; 4) having to circle too many times just to stand at the bus stop utterly discourages the standing; one simply gets sick of trying to break the rule, and move on to something else; better yet, either park the car or go find something else to eat.

    In other words, the law works because the range of possibilities are circumscribed enough that it takes far more effort to do bad behavior than good, the risk of getting caught is prohibitive, actually getting caught is embarassing and costly. All that effort is required because there are too many hurdles to overcome in order to get to the point of doing the “bad” behavior.

    Sure people can continue the bad behavior if they want to, but we first need to make it clear what the limits of and rewards for acceptable behavior are, what the sanctions are, and then leave folks to decide.

    Another case in point: Reading yesterday’s paper, I can tell that JUTC board could not see that their decision to use NHF funds was unethical and inappropriate. It just could not occur to them because we don’t have any guidelines for ethical behavior at any level. We don’t have any framework to say what’s ok to do, and not ok to do, and why. Hence, sometimes its impossible for our people themselves to tell “good” behavior from “bad” behavior. It’s all ok; its only bad when police get involved.

    Enforcement of laws are not the be-all and end-all. Certainly, we the people have consistently failed to demand that just laws be enacted, and that public policies be implemented fully and enforced equally or not at all. We have also consistently failed to demand that our elected representatives do due diligence all the time, not just when it suit dem.

    Because we invoke the “wreck-tangle” mythology so regularly, only “moral crusades” seem to hold any water or come reasonably close to a solution. As you correctly note, the whole framing of the problem is a problem.

    Walk good

    Long Bench

  2. Respect, Diatribalist, very interesting article, but you are a bit off on one point. People can and do steal electricity from the JPS. They do it all the time. My brother, JPS charges for electricity based upon an agreement they negotiate with a Gov’t. or NGo entity, can’t remember the name right now. Anyway, the tariff is set and they bill for electricity used (i.e. they bill you for what is read at your meter) not for the amount of electricity they generate. The fact is that there is often a disparity between what is generated and the sum of what they read at all their customer’s meters and this disparity is always in excess of what can be explained away by line losses, etc.
    Yes, you can say that they therefore negotiate a tariff that will cover what they expect to be their losses, but think on this… 1) Their projection of what their losses will be is often not right, and the tariff agreement is signed for a period of time (I believe its 2 years), so if they estimate wrong, they will have to live with any losses until its time for the next tariff agreement, and 2) their revenue would be that much greater if they could bill for what they generated, especially with the built in factor to account for the abstraction of electricity! No one else is due that money! The money is legally theirs as long as they can bill for it! Of course, they can’t bill for it all because teifin’ people gone with it! I agree that the cost of electricity is higher to the overall Jamaican populace because of the abstraction of electricity, but JPS loses money too. Both sides lose, is what I am saying. This can be proved by the fact that the JPS maintains a division (the Revenue Protection Devision, though the name might have changed) which focuses on finding the thieves and getting back the money from them. To the extent that they can find and negotiate with / prosecute the thieves and therefore reduce the amount of abstraction, their profit is sweeter.
    Based on these two points, I therefore suggest that people can and do steal fron the JPS.

  3. >> Similarly, if one merchant is stealing
    >> electricity/bribing customs officials; then once the
    >> merchant derives a competitive advantage without
    >> penalty other merchants will also steal
    >> electricity/bribe customs officials.

    You stated the above yourself… this is why the JPS cannot effectively predict what the amount of electricity expansion will be.

  4. >> the way to stop the hoarding of good coins is to
    >> prosecute those people with debased coins in their
    >> possession.

    This methodology would eventually lead to a lot of innocent people in jail and to a even heavier tax burden on other innocent people to feed the ones jailed. The people with the “debased coins” (you can substitute in the term counterfeit money) would be the people who had exchanged their goods and services with someone else who had debased the coin. The debasers don’t keep the debased coin, they get rid of it as fast as they can. Most of the time, the people with debased coins in their possession don’t have any clue it isn’t good until they try to store the coins away, i.e make a bank lodgement or make a purchase for something they need and hear that the money is worthless.

  5. Powerful post. I think you’re right on most counts, especially the point that is not possible to steal from JPSCo. Entities like that win every single time and those who play by the rules get shafted in the process (with thanks to Peter Phillips). Applying the existing laws consistently and without favor to anyone would by no means solve all problems but it would surely be a start. One alternate perspective, though: if we accept that Jamaica is currently in a state of (near-)anarchy, it works remarkably well in many ways. Or at least, it works very well for some people and we have to ask in whose interest it is to keep things this way. Have you read “Demeaned but empowered” by Obika Gray? It provides a cynical but, I believe in many ways very accurate, reading of this curious state of equilibrium.

  6. Longbench:
    We are in absolute agreement. You are right that part of the problem in Jamaica is that people are mocked and laughed at for following rules – there are ways to affect that, I’ll incorporate into a future post.

    Where we diverge, and only slightly, is in the belief that enforcement is a cure for getting people to follow laws. And I think the distinction is this: I think crimes like murder, and extortion already meet the “No Standing” criteria you have laid out. For example you told a story on your blog of an encounter with a corrupt customs official at the airport. The customs official that begged you to “let off” (pun intended) KNEW that his actions were on the range from criminal (meriting a jail sentence) to unethical (meriting the loss of his job.) So for the murderers and extortionists and corrupt customs officials who are all engaged in violations of the law and KNOW what laws they’re violating; for them I believe the best notice of the law is the enforcement of the law.

    Another traffic example: In NJ drivers can always turn right at a red stop light by default if there is no on-coming traffic. In NY drivers can only turn right at those lights where there is a sign advising that you are allowed to do so. (See sign here: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/1/10/Rightonred.JPG/674px-Rightonred.JPG )

    Often, NJers come over and forget they can only turn at a red light when they see the sign. So how are they reminded? NY cops love to pull someone with Jersey plates over and give them a fat ticket for running the red light. It’s expensive to pay the ticket, and the ticket is a “moving violation” that is likely to cause your auto-insurance premiums to rise. Each ticket results in a pissed off NJer who goes back and tells all their NJ friends how unfair it was that they got this ticket. And sometimes that’s the best “notification program” in the world.

  7. I agree with those who say Jamaicans, in Jamaica are very indiscipline people. But most people in the world are, so what we do need are laws and to without prejudice enforce these laws. If the law is enforced then the incidence of indiscipline in our society will not be eliminated, but will certainly be less.

  8. Stunner and D – I get the point you are making, and I agree with you. Except: depending on laws to limit and even decrease criminality means that laws only emerge when some issue is re-defined [by whoever] as a problem that needs to be fixed. So we have learned to think that its [only] laws that [can] say what is ok and not ok. In our thinking then, if its not specifically in the law, then its not a problem, and whether some behavior or whatever is contributing to social problems or not is entirely a matter of opinion. And as we are seeing is that laws themselves are viewed as a form of punishment especially by those who have gotten along quite fine – or so they think – without the laws “interfering” with them.

    I absolutely agree that enforcement is important, critical, even and that’s a huge part of the problem. But the other part is that its not just LAWS that matter, its also the various policies that [ought to] come out of, and give meaning (and some teeth) to those laws.

    To use the Customs example: I know one or two people who might say, well, gyaadie no s’pose fi a sell di tings dem still, but wha’ fi do? Im n’aa ‘urt nobaddy so lef im alone. Gyaddie imself a go seh: well dem neva tell me seh me cyaa’ sell dem. An if me nuh sell dem, den a how di people dem a go get di form dem? Anno no ‘ole éap a money me a mek, yuh no s’eet. So mi nuh si’ wha’ di big problem. A jus’ one likkle form. Well, they both have points that can’t be dismissed.

    Good luck writing and passing a law that would properly identify and regulate these kinds of exchanges, except at the highest level of abstraction. Nonetheless, the place where that law would be made meaningful is in the rules regulating this specific workplace/setting.

    The guard’s job description and training should clearly define his/her role, defines what specific interactions/behaviors s/he cannot engage in, and what to do when presented with certain scenarios.
    That is, the job should make the LAW intelligible in bite -size chunks in and through the job itself.

    The definition of the customs workplace also ought to clearly state what kinds of transactions are necessary and integral, and which ones are not, and what the sanctions and consequences. Part of the job of supervisors would be to make sure that employees are aware of and follow the policies, troubleshoot areas where they see issues (e.g. why don’t we have the forms available to customers? Get them and make them available as part of the customs encounter; if its so so expensive to print some likkle form, build in the cost into the “processing fee” whatever..).

    The job of the manager or whoever should be to make sure that the appropriate policies are in place, and that there is a clear method for enforcing them. Our laws are often so vague, that if you want to sue somebody for selling your business secrets to a competition, I doubt you’d be able to do so easily. But if its in the policy: anyone caught or suspected of doing so and so will be subject to xyz, its perfectly clear what the outcome for gyaadie will be. He might still try to do something on the side, but he will know that his ass is grass if somebody like me go and say something. And likewise, Missa Big Man who think that he can try to get in my drawers is also going to be in deep deep shit. He does not “know” that what he is doing is a problem, because there’s no sexual harassment law, and it has not been translated to have relevance to his job.

    Needa me nor gyaadie nor Missa Big Man woudda affi inna no dealings if the policies [does it even exist?] had been properly translated and thus enforceable.

    I feel that this is one reason why we can’t get a handle on how to deal with the ever-expanding circles and practices of criminality. There are simply too many loopholes and areas of exchange that our policymakers, employers etc never thought to close, and we are too focused on top-down strategies for a system-wide problem that has to be taken on piece by piece. The sting operations D pointed out in the other post will work **precisely** because they go right to the point of exchange. Our laws have to translated into policies that also govern those points of exchange, and people have to KNOW about them, and KNOW that everyone else knows. Otherwise, we can’t hold each other accountable for anything, and we have no recourse anywhere. Its my word against yours, and the one with the goods is in control.

    If I didn’t have a big mouth that day, for me to get that form I would have had to drive all the way back from NMIA to New Kingston to the place he was sending me to get them. Were it not for my own sense of what the scenario *should* look like, that level of inconvenience alone made it feel entirely reasonable to just buy the form from gyaadie an’ sweet up Missa Big Man so me can do me business. And right deh so, another set of corrupt practices has been made normal again. We have to take account of those points of exchange, build up towards a law that adequately covers them, and then map out the policies that ought to come into play. A deh so we need fi go.

  9. As fi di spiteful, facety NYC police offisah dem whe’ love tek set pon NJerseyites: yes dem certainly working within the bounds of the law, but dem also tun parasite pon people so dem cya’ mek up dem quota, under the guise of enforcing the laws. And that kind of duplicity is not only annoying, it also is the basis for much of the abuse that does happen. So, while the message about NYC’s general intolerance for traffic violations does get out, we also have to deal with all the other crap.

  10. @ Mad Bull:
    Thanks for the information as to how JPSCo sets their rates, I really didn’t have that to use in the consideration of why it is impossible to steal electricity from JPSCo. I think the point that it is impossible to steal electricity from JPSCo can be better stated: JPSCo is just a middleman and the thieves are stealing from their fellow consumers and the taxpayers. JPSCo passes on ALL costs it incurs — if its projections are off for a two-year period wherein it sustains a loss (or its profit margin is significantly eroded) then JPS simply factors that miscalculation into its revenue model moving forward for the next two years and uses the loss (or profit erosion) to justify a compensating increase in customer charges for those that do pay. Yes JPSCo may employ a Revenue Protection Division to prosecute theft but that is to reduce the amount of spoilage/stolen-electricity it passes on to customers. In the same way, JPS may negotiate with employee unions aggressively to reduce those labor costs; but ultimately, as with the stolen electricity, JPSCo’s paying customers pick up the tab for the employee salaries. So while JPSCo may elect to absorb certain costs for a little while, or a tolerate a reduced profit margin for a short time — over the long run ALL these costs get passed on the paying customer. The thieves steal then, not from JPSCo but from the paying customers.

  11. @ Veerle: I’m looking at the Obika Gray book on Amazon now, I will have to add it to the To Read list. Sometimes I read books in the bookstore without purchasing them depending on how short they are and if they lend themselves to a quick read. This book is $35.00 on Amazon so it’s a likely candidate for that. It looks like something I really need to read though.

    From Amazon.com: “Gray’s central thesis asserts that the Jamaican state is a form of predatory state that incorporates contradictory social forces into an arrangement that is hierarchical, often brutal and ultimately debilitating to democracy. He introduces a series of constructs to support this argument, but the more interesting and novel theses are to be found in his vivid description of the social forces that resist the predatory state and how they have carved out a modicum of autonomy based on what he describes as an elaborate value system of ‘badness/honour’.”

    @ Mad Bull: Regarding innocent people with counterfeit funds — as you know, if you went to a U.S. bank and tried to deposit $20 -40 in counterfeit funds they’d confiscate the money and maybe quiz you about how you got this money. But it probably wouldn’t get you arrested. On the other hand if you tried to deposit $400 in counterfeit money, or if you have counterfeit money in multiple denominations — you’d likely have a serious problem on your hands, regardless of how innocent you are. As you know, you could expect interviews with law enforcement,who would arrest & charge you if you are uncooperative in explaining precisely how you “innocently” came by this much counterfeit cash. Maybe it’s not entirely fair — but it works.

  12. @ Longbench: Bwoy mi dear, mi haffi confess that mi a wonder if you a pull mi leg or maybe you’re playing a foil to allow me to hammer home a point more clearly. Why mi sey so? Yu see if dis was something I was responsible for, I would LOVE! to catch a guard selling paperwork in the Customs Office and have him admit to the infraction & assert that he didn’t know he shouldn’t be selling it! Mi sey I woulda love to interrogate that guard! The idea that one could be hired to be a guard and not know it is unethical, immoral, and a conflict of interest to sell documents is risible and ridiculous. What next, nurses selling Cheesetrix in hospital waiting rooms? Traffic cops selling Daily Gleaners while they direct traffic? This is not something that needs specific prohibition for people to know they ought not be doing this kinda nonsense at work.

    The sly, surreptitious way in which people go about these activities is evidence they know what they’re doing is wrong. And Jamaican society is materially harmed by the guard’s actions — so lock him up, with him argument ’bout him neva know! I’m not talking about 20 years hard labor, but a $10,000 to $50,000 JMD fine, termination from his employment, and maybe a 15-day sentence in a clean and humane penal facility. The same specific XYZ penalties you note the need for.

    I once saw Mark Wignall make an argument that the PM had a narrow majority and so couldn’t dent crime because the Opposition didn’t roll over and pass whatever laws he wanted. Last I checked murder was still illegal in Jamaica, ditto for extortion and electricity theft — and dem dey laws are not too vague.

    Frankly, I am also somewhat bewildered by the outpouring of concern that innocent people will be harmed greatly when we enforce laws. If innocent people are indeed being damaged unjustly then the law has remedies for that.

    Again Longbench, I think we are thisclose to being in complete agreement. The laws should be better crafted, clearer, and made into intelligible bite-sized pieces. When I finish the crime plan post — you will see how much we agree on that. And we do need to go to the point of exchange to enforce these laws.

    I get that your objection to this “enforcement first” mentality I’m advocating is that it is top-down. But while the idea of grassroots organic changes are romantic and attractive to me as well — top-down coercive state action is the surest, quickest way to change the behaviors we want to see changed. I am confident that a top-down approach can change the behavior of the guards at Customs. If I needed to jail the guard for selling the form AND fine the customer for buying it — I’d do that — I would even confiscate the goods of customers buying the forms if it has to go that far. Finally, in the US of A many times when you get mail from the government there is a warning on the envelop that says “$300 penalty for personal use.” Meaning if an employee was to send personal mail using this envelop or postage machine that employee would risk 1) $300 as well as 2) their steady paycheck just to save .40 cents in postage. That seems to work -so it is possible to stamp out this kind of petty corruption, easy, easy.

    Lastly, on the matter of the traffic cops. Nobody loves traffic tickets — but there are laws. And those laws protect me when I am a pedestrian and I enter a crosswalk in NYC, I don’t expect a car to make a right against the red light. The NJ drivers doing that in NYC are posing a real risk to NY pedestrians — so mek dem get dem ticket. If they missed the memo on the fact their action was illegal in NY, then they can consider the ticket their official notification. I agree it can be parasitic; but ticketing people who break red lights doesn’t keep me up at night. =)

  13. D – While yuh di deh a lock up di people dem an’ tek whe’ dem tings, mi wi go right dung a halfway tree go gi out information, an’ drive roun’ di island wid me loudspeaker dem a gi out warning to all. Afta dat, who n’aa ‘ear, wi feel – fine an lock up dem baxide!

    I am definitely going to get Obika’s latest book. Seems like a must=read.

  14. “What next, nurses selling Cheesetrix in hospital waiting rooms?”

    Me a ded wid laugh, god know. It soun’ ridiculous yes, but ah cau’ yuh nuh know how dem people ya stay yaa’. Ah bet yuh seh smaddy a do dis a’ready ~
    teacher nuh jus’ get ketch a sell suck-suck an what not to school pickney dem. But my auntie teach a one all-age school – dem change di name nuttn else nuh change do – an’ from me a pickney, she a sell all ki’n a ting to har student dem – pencil, suck-suck, biscuit, you name it. Me affi go aks har tonite if she still a do dem deh supp’n deh.

  15. Powerful post. I haven’t read of any tertiary level institution in Jamaica examining the issues as seriously as you have done. But what’s next for Jamaica. It’s as though we are being plagued by swarms of mosquitoes, yet all we do is buy repellent and insecticide. We not trying to seek out and dismantle the breeding conditions, the stagnant pools with thousands of larvae. And they breeding faster than we can spray them…

    Our focus as usual being more armed guards with dogs, electric gates and Kevlar, and more fire power for corrupt cops.

  16. @ Kadene: Thanks. I am often disappointed that the scholars in Jamaica are in a position to do some cutting edge social research if they were wiling to get their hands dirty and venture into marginalized areas — yet they would prefer to rehash old academic theories rather than produce new knowledge in their discipline. The rule in Jamaica seems to be “Don’t touch downtown” so no one reproduces the kind of studies that solve problems.

  17. A very interesting post regarding the manifestation and promulgation of lawlessness, badness, corruption and anti-social behaviour in Jamaica. Juxtaposed with the comparative social, legal, and psychological assimilation, acculturation, and adaptation of Jamaicans domiciled in metropolitan societies. And the larger question of acceptance, and identification of metropolitan societal norms, values and standards, while within the Jamacan social context , adherence and respect for local norms, standards and values are in essence totally rejected.

    Diatribalist, I do not have any major contention of such, with your arguments regarding, the Myth of the Jamaican Wreck-tangle. As a matter of fact, I am extremely supportive of your thesis. Nonetheless, one is of the perspective that some time could have been spent explicating and delineating the corrosive breakdown/implosion of the major societal/sociological institutions within Jamaican society post political decolonization, which interestingly have contributed significantly to the sociology of badness, hooliganism and lawlessness, namely: the undoing and destruction of the family as an institution, at times, caused by emigration, resulting in so-called barrel pickneys, who are not socialized and properly developed, as a consequence of parents being abroad and such kids later becoming pariahs ,undesirables, irredeemables and sociopaths in their respective communities regarding badness and indifference to law ; the moral backwardness of educational institutions and communities —- at times manifesting itself in the form of tradition versus modernity; the corruptive, putrid and rancid nature of legal and judicial institutions; the sheer and unmitigated hypocripsy, Talibanesque, unprogressive and anti-modernizing nature of the Church, especially ,the behaviour of the Jamaican Ayatollahs, resulting in massive and deep rooted cynicism, skepticism, and defections, specifically, with respect to men, resulting in such defectors losing their moral and spiritual compasses and at times considering or viewing badness as the appropriate alternative or standard; the barbarism, authoritarianism, gulag, and jack boot style/psychology behaviour of law enforcement, in the form of the police, resulting in locals having no respect for the RULE of LAW—-which is quite understandable —- as a consequence of how they are treated by law enforcement with respect to civil and human rights; the rise of insularity and the decommunitization of communities for the preference and promotion of individuals over groups; the irreconcilable tensions between classes —- UPTOWN and DOWNTOWN —- and the general bankruptcy of the middle class and the concomitant slavish, aping, parroting, and genefleuction to Euro-American taste/values while pejoratively dissing anything Jamaican. Consequently, even as the educated elite, the middle class does not behave as role models, because things that which are in essence Jamaican are eschewed; and of course the POVERTY of leadership in all SPHERES of Jamaican life.

    Certainly, the incorporation and explication of the breakdown, implosion and general crisis confronting all and sundry Jamaican institutions would have allowed for a greater explanatory power regarding the Myth of the Jamaican Wreck-tangle. Also, central to your thesis, is the fact that Jamaican emigrants that/who are domicilied in metropolitan societies are strongly adherent, respectful, and adaptable to the rule of law in such societies. The reason, or one of the reasons for this adaptability, is that comparatively, societal institutions and the question of leadership are more viable, stable, legitimate, uncompromised,and institutionalized or entrenched. Consequently, the issue or question of adherence, respect, adaptation, assimilation, and acculturation, psychologically, socially, legally and otherwise on the part of various and sundry immigrant Jamaicans is indeed comprehensible.

    The critical question for Jamaicans residing in Jamaica, is how to stanch the corrosive disintegration of our societal institutions to manageable and operable levels and restore a sense of legitimacy and uncompromised nature in the medium term to such institutions, while improving the general human condition of the society. Diatribalist, an excellent piece, I found it extremely instructive. Hopefully, it will reach the hands of some of the local decision makers.

  18. I have never heard a better analysis of my people. Your article shed quite an interesting light on something that has had me scratching my head and shrugging my shoulders all my life. I agree completely, especially as I have no better insight into the problem. Thanks for putting this out there. I hope you sent this to the Gleaner.

  19. @ Tammy: Thanks alot. I don’t think the Gleaner would publish ANYTHING I send them. They don’t really seem to be big fans of mine. I really can’t imagine why!

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