‘Life & Debt’ from a Kinda’ Jamaican

I just watched PBS’ POV special “Life & Debt” about the impact globalization and the IMF/World Bank has had on Jamaica. While the special was put together well and had a strong message, there are several problems in its presentation as well as its central thesis that I feel was discarded or disregarded in order to push forward the filmmaker’s (noble) agenda.

The Narration
Jamaica Kincaid’s narration came across as standard fare “we hate whitey” speech, continuing the victimhood meme where problems are never as complex as personal responsibility combined with outside influence, instead it is always the nefarious evil doing of some subtle “other”. The “other” in this case being white tourists from Europe and North America. I also got the feeling that she was put off by tourism as any sort of industry. Somehow this doesn’t seem to be a problem for Orlando, FL or Las Vegas, NV – two American cities that have tourism to thank as an economic stimulant. One was desert wasteland, the other swamp – they are thriving cities now and employ thousands of people, stimulating the local economies.

Jamaican Voices
The vast majority of Jamaicans interviewed were able to make their points in a logical and intelligent manner, laying out the entire system and how the IMF had unfairly stacked the deck against them. My first problem is that while former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley came across as the most intelligent, sensitive and informed voice in the presentation – I felt that his socialist ideology should have been communicated to the audience. I definitely agree with most of his points on how the IMF bullied Jamaica and other countries like it, but I do feel an ideological frame would have given insight to Manley’s line of thinking. Another voice I had a problem with was that of the rastafarians. Way too much weight was given to a group of people who basically endorse the demonization of Caucasians when the vast majority of Jamaicans are not members of the group nor subscribe to its ideals. For all intents, Rastafarianism would be classified as a cult. This would be tantamount to asking the Black Panther party to represent the views of blacks in America, or White Aryan Resistance to represent that of whites. Not very logical.

I also feel the voices of Jamaica’s businessmen who aren’t in farm-related industry were sorely neglected, this would have given their spin on the IMF/World Bank/globalization.

Unfair Policies
No doubt the IMF’s policies in Jamaica are unfair, forcing the restrictions of a free market system on the government of a country where there isn’t yet a free market. Jamaica’s government also exhibited short-sightedness, taken advantage of by American corporations.

Free Trade
I do believe reforms need to be made in the free trade movement to regulate working conditions in developing nations, so that corporations can benefit from cheaper labor but local economies can maintain their independence. There is definitely a “third way” for this issue.

Agrarian Society
What is interesting is that Jamaica’s farms are experiencing on a micro scale the same problems as America’s farmers. The only way I see to combat this is to transform from an agrarian-based society to an information based one. India has had success with outsourcing of programming work from the USA injecting cash into the country and resulting in a more well-informed populace who become more entrepreneurial and employ others in the long run. The major difference is America has the funds to re-train farmers and their families, while Jamaica does not. This is an area where the IMF should be involved with a lower interest, longer term loan to build out their infrastructure and evolution from agrarian to technological landscape.

Overall an excellent (if slanted) piece of work that was able to communicate Jamaica’s natural beauty (still not as nice as in person, you have to see it) and lay out the issues associated with globalization. I would have liked to see some more constructive voices represented.