Losing our most enterprising people

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Courtesy Jamaica Observer

We don’t join those who think that migration is necessarily a bad thing. Moreover, we believe that it would be great if Jamaica can train persons for the international labour market.

What we are more worried about is losing the people on whom this country should rely for advancing its development. If a country loses too many of its most enterprising, it cannot achieve its full potential for economic development.

Jamaica has not attained and sustained real economic growth since the boom of 1960s. While many factors undoubtedly contributed to this sad and discouraging state of affairs, the loss of a significant share of our most enterprising people is definitely an important cause of our prolonged economic malaise.

The late Guyanese intellectual, Walter Rodney argued persuasively that Europe undeveloped Africa because it removed such a large part of its labour force through slavery into the New World, causing the continent’s economies and societies to collapse. Hundreds of years later Africa has still not recovered.

Jamaica has seen a haemorrhaging its human capital on a massive scale since the late 19th Century. This has a profound and deleterious impact on our economy and society. Neither the platitude of brain drain nor the palliative of remittances are conceptually capable of grasping the unquantifiable aspect of losing a substantial number of our most enterprising people.

Enterprising, of course, is not to be confused with skills or brains or qualification. It is an attitude which encompasses hard work, creative survival, ambition and ingenuity.

The proof is the outstanding record of achievements of Jamaicans in foreign countries. West Indians, along with Asians and Jews, have repeatedly been documented as the highest achievers among all migrant groups in the US and have outperformed US-born groups, especially African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans.

Jamaicans succeed abroad because of their attitude of enterprise. The demonstration of this enterprise is to organise the resources and visas to migrate from the familiar and the family to the different and difficult. They survive and thrive in different climates and cultures working two, sometimes three jobs. They accomplish despite prejudice, racism and xenophobia. This is good news of which we can all be proud.

But there is a down side. The loss to Jamaica is that these are the type of people that would be the driving force of economic development. In many instances, it is the most enterprising people who have the courage and competence to migrate and hence Jamaica is left to rely on a mixture of the depleted ranks of the enterprising and the less enterprising. The former stay by choice but have to pull along a disproportionate weight of the latter, namely the less enterprising.

We are losing too large a share of the most enterprising Jamaicans to be able to meet the human capital requirements for economic development but more important the spirit and culture of enterprise is what Jamaica needs to succeed in the 21st Century. If they could be induced to return in large numbers they would reinvigorate the culture of enterprise which is so lacking in our economy and society.

The appeal to patriotism will not be enough nor will remittances substitute for their presence. Jamaica needs their social energy, economic enterprise, work ethic and constructive example.

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