Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Jamaica's New #1 Export

One might think that Jamaica's greatest export is sugar, bananas or even ganja.


I think history will show that these products are nothing compared to the unintentional success we have had in exporting our Creative Class.

It's no secret that overseas Jamaicans rescued the Jamaican economy from complete ruin in the 1990's. The increase in remittances has today made this source the number one ''earner'' of foreign exchange. In other words, overseas Jamaicans are willingly contributing their hard-earned after-tax dollars to support family and friends with little or no expectation of immediate financial return. This contribution has not only saved individual families from ruin, but also the national economy from collapse.

This is a remarkable story of duty and generosity.

However, is it the case that these same Jamaicans could not have made the same or similar contribution to Jamaica's economy had they remained at home? What is it about the North America that makes it a place in which wealth generation seems to be so relatively easy?

A few years ago, a colleague of mine in the U.S. met Richard Florida. He is the author of a series of books, the most recent of which is called ''The Flight of the Creative Class.'' My friend was quite excited by what she read, and recommended his first book highly. I was a bit slow to read more than an article by him, and I only recently purchased his new book, courtesy of

In his new book, he analyzes the data the data he has collected on what it is that causes some US cities to experience growth, and others to decline. He has distinguished that it is NOT any of the following factors:
  • access to raw materials
  • geographic location
  • size
  • racial composition
  • ease of transportation
  • access to ports
  • attractions like sports stadiums
  • cheap labour
  • education levels

Instead, the factors that do make a difference are ones that powerfully attract a core set of people that is the engine of growth: the Creative Class. This rather small and focused group of people makes up the highly-educated, innovative core of a city's economy that provides the entrepreneurial and artistic energy to start new businesses, set off artistic trends, spur new ways of thinking and invent new technologies.

What is relatively new about this group is its mobility, and willingness to move to cities and countries that offer the lifestyle they are looking for. They are willing to take risks (to a point,) especially if they are surrounded by others of the same ilk. They value freedom of thought, opportunity and a ready source of ideas, so many tend to cluster around first-class universities.

Importantly for us in Jamaica, a significant number of this group tends to be “bohemian” (or in other words, offbeat) and in some cases, gay.

In his books, Florida describes the 3-T’s that attract the Creative Class: Technology, Talent and Tolerance. Cities such as New York or San Francisco that score highly in several measures that describe the 3T’s tend to be much more attractive than those that do not, such as Omaha and Cleveland.

Clearly, there is no shortage of raw talent in Jamaica. Jamaicans living in the USA out-earn Black Americans (in terms of median household income.) While we fail to develop this talent sufficiently by any measure, those that are well-developed are considered to be world-class. Also, we in Jamaica pride ourselves on having access to some of the latest technologies that we can import.

But these are insufficient to compensate for the one area in which we are very weak – Tolerance.

Florida explains that among the leading indicators of Tolerance are religious diversity, ethnic diversity and acceptance of gays. We Jamaicans have no problem saying that we are a Christian country that has laws on the books against buggery. In addition, there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that suggests that many actively hate homosexuals and the gay lifestyle, with many using scripture to prove the point.

At the same time, there is at least a "broad understanding" among our people that many of the great contributors to the visual and dramatic arts are gay. Many of our leading artists and dramatic artistes are believed to be gay. As there are only a handful of Jamaicans living in Jamaica that are publicly gay (certainly less than 10,) there is no way to prove the claim definitively at the moment.

However, there is a much larger number of gay Jamaicans who live abroad that are, in effect, living like refugees. Their homosexuality, and the real threat of everything from prosecution to physical violence, keeps them abroad. Also, many gays that live in Jamaica believe that their freedom will only come through migration; as someone I met put it, “I am ready to die by staying here in Jamaica.”

In essence, we are forcibly exporting gay Jamaicans, by holding on to our intolerance and scaring them out of the country. Many of us take pride that “we don’t put up with that kind of behaviour here,” which is essentially boasting that we are “as intolerant as we want to be,” and unwilling to consider change.

This intolerance is keeping us poor -- not in spirit, but in GDP.

And our intolerance to the gay lifestyle is only the beginning. In corporations, we insist that seniority is critical to proper functioning. I recall a Group CEO being heard to say that “there is no way he would hire a managing director under 50,” regardless of his or her background.

On the religious front, the largest religious groups in Jamaica now consist of denominations that are among the most dogmatic and fundamental. Without saying anything about their belief systems, it is true that each of them insists that their way is the right way, and that anyone else who thinks differently will be judged as sinful and will end up in Hell. There is very little room for new ideas to the contrary, and to new thinking, much less new religions among this fast growing group. Anything that is too different is quickly labeled and dismissed as non-Christian, anti-Christ, Satanic or worse.

Former Prime Minister Michael Manley also did his part in helping to make Jamaica inhospitable to the entrepreneurial creatives, in particular. In the 1970’s he announced that “Jamaica has no room for millionaires. For everyone who wants to become a millionaire, we have five flights a day to Miami.” Thousands of the country’s business-people took him literally, and when he deepened his flirtation with Fidel Castro and Socialism they did just as he recommended and took flight.

This has all helped Jamaica, in the past 30 years, to join company with some of the most backward economies in the world. According to the Creative Index, it is not hard to imagine that we enjoy the good company with some of the poorest countries in this regard. Countries that scores among the lowest in the Creative Index (i.e. 3-T’s) include Egypt, Haiti and Afghanistan.

The fact is, the majority of Jamaicans living in Jamaica feel a sense of security when they are surrounded by others who share their unbending views on religion, homosexuality and entitled positions in corporations. To our Creative Class, the likelihood of change seems small, and it just seems a lot easier to get a Canadian visa than it does to stay and fight for change.

It’s sad to think that we are continually exporting our Creative Class while coddling the intolerant majority who resists change.

We have long wondered why it is that countries like Trinidad can produce twice the GDP/income that we can. They have not had anything near the migration that we have had, and neither has Barbados, and the have the most vibrant economies in the region. On the other hand, the other CARICOM countries that have experienced creative class migration on the scale of Jamaica are Guyana and Haiti -- among the poorest in the region.

The message here is that if we leave our bigotry unchecked, it will only help to drag us further into poverty.


At 3/20/2006 1:13 PM, Blogger Rhythmwize said...

I think it would be hard to get an accurate estimate of the impact that intolerance and/or brain drain has on the current prosperity, or lack there of, in Jamaica.

I suspect the specific intolerance of gays would not be a significant factor but overall intolerance may very well have a negative impact.

In comparing Jamaica to Trinidad, a lot of Trinidad's prosperity is due to their oil and gas industry. For example, Trinidad has a trade surplus of 1 billion while Jamaica runs a trade deficit of some 2 billion per year...Now that hurts. Trinidad must be experiencing a brain drain of significance in recent years with the increase in crime and kidnapping of business people.

Barbados, without oil, is much more prosperous then Trinidad with a per capita GDP almost double that of Trinidad. How do they do it? Perhaps small is better, their population is only 1/4 the size of Trinidad and 1/10 the size of Jamaica; But they also know how to squeeze the most from the tourism industry. And, they also seem to run things efficiently and corruption appears to be minimal for a Caribbean country.

Are both Trinidad and Barbados more tolerant then Jamaica? From my experiences I would definitely say yes. Is this a significant reason why they are much more prosperous then Jamaica? Probably not, as other factors likely play a much bigger role.

At 3/20/2006 7:32 PM, Blogger fwade said...

I think the book says that measures of intolerance towards gays are one of the leading indicators of intolerance. In other words, it is not the whole story, but a significant part of the story.

With respect to Trinidad, their recent prosperity came after a signficant oil bust in the early 1990's when they went through a severe economic crisis with the drop in oil prices. It produced a middle class that is quite frugal -- I was amazed when I got to Trinidad to see how few "big cars" and "big houses" they have. That comes courtesy of the bust of the early 1990's, and they are all deathly afraid that it will happen again.

Barbados' economy is another matter -- it is quite closed in comparison to the others... they still have foreign exchange controls which hampers business. Culturally, they are much more conservative and efficient as you indicated.

And, yes, both countries are significantly more tolerant than Jamaica is. Trinidad in particular is more than half Indo-Trinidadian, with a significant Muslim population.

I suspect that at some point my blog may attract the kind of hostility and intolerance that we find in Jamaica -- sadly, if it comes, it may help to make the point.

At 3/22/2006 9:12 AM, Anonymous said...

This is my first time reading your blog and in a word my first impression is 'wow.' Your own grasp of the issues seems to be really adept.
I could learn alot from people like you.
If there is one thing that you can be sure of it is that you WILL be attracting some very intolerant Jamaicans and quite understandably so.

In the final analysis, I think what we need to ask ourselves critically is why our do our people hate gays, and while we're at it, our skin colour so much?

At 3/22/2006 4:18 PM, Blogger fwade said...,

I wonder where we learned that also. I put it down to something we learned from our slavemasters, as we adapted their social mores, religious practices and belief systems. It must have been a _strange_ society that could claim to be Christian, and at the same time enslave millions.

They have given up many of their pet hatreds, but we have not moved as quickly.

Therefore, we hate gays, black skin, other religions, etc.

Mental slavery.

And... thanks for reading, commenting and the vote of confidence.

At 3/23/2006 10:20 AM, Blogger Rhythmwize said...

Specific intolerance's are learned but I suspect that hatred of others is just an undesirable characteristic of human nature in many people.

Even when you have, say racial homogeneity, people find another reason to hate and fight with one another. You only have to look into the intercity of Los Angeles for a prime example; Here you have Crips versus Bloods, two groups of blacks hating one another with a passion.

This seems to be a universal character flaw among people throughout the world and if
you haven't got a natural enemy to hate, you create one: Religion, Race, Politics, Geography, Wealth, Sexual Orientation...pick one or more! Its a shame more people don't rise above the intolerance and hatred and make a supreme effort to live in harmony with their fellow man.

At 3/24/2006 11:05 AM, Anonymous said...

Francis, I re-read your post and it occured to me that simply because Jamaicans havent opened up to gays doesnt mean that we are necessarily intolerant of them. If you thought about it for a minute, you'd realise that gays dont get beaten and murdered like here like flys.
At best, the only representation of this alleged intolerance in the mainstream is the lyrics of a few DJ's who have been conveniently painted by the J-FlAG'S and Thatchells as representative of a generally hostile society. At best, those who are suspected of homosexuality only get a harsh glance here and there and probably ever so often, someone ignorant/brave enough will venture to call them "battybwoy" in public.
Also, if you were to do a similar area specific analysis of the sort carried out in the book you referenced, I think you would realise that there is no correlation between those area's here that score highest on this scale and relative productivity.

Just a few thoughts.

At 3/24/2006 11:30 AM, Blogger fwade said...,

I can't either agree or disagree without some hard data in hand, and I don't have any.

I only have my own experience, which is quite limited, and my observation that we continue to export our Creative Class. This is not only a matter of being intolerant to gays, but also to other sub-groups -- even to those who want to be millionaires.

Gays are just one group that we "export" -- and we are the most intolerant of the few countries I have visited in the world (which happens to be the ones we emulate for many reasons.) Even Bob Marley at one point migrated from Jamaica, vowing never to return. Thankfully, he changed his mind, but only after spending 2 solid years away at this prime.

In the book, The Flight of the Creative Class, the author noted that the migration of the Creative Class was co-related to slow economic growth. That's my primary concern here, and gays are only indicative of the larger problem, and are a minority in sheer numbers of our Creative Class, I'm sure.

At 3/24/2006 11:34 AM, Blogger fwade said...,

If you are willing to change your opinion with respect to our intolerance to gays, there is information at sources like the Gleaner, Observer and Human Rights Watch websites that can provide ample evidence.

I imagine that a majority of Jamaican men would _proudly_ say that we are intolerant or "we nuh put up wid dem ting yahso."

At 3/24/2006 2:13 PM, Anonymous said...

I notice you have provided me with an opinion whereas I merely offered some pointers for discussion.
I read the Gleaner and Observer regularly and I would be glad if you could point me to the statistics provided by these human rights sites and their method for arriving at them which suggests that Jamaicans are generally intolerant of gays.
Also I have not read that book and until I do, I cant comment on the concept of a creative class in the way that he has coined it. Until I do though, I will keep in the back of my mind the circumstances under which he developed this standard (read:I.Q. tests being developed for/with white subjects then applied lavishly throughout the rest of the world)
BTW, what do you mean by "I imagine that a majority of Jamaican men would _proudly_ say that we are intolerant or "we nuh put up wid dem ting yahso." This is the reality and in treating the issues I dont think we should try to act as if it isnt. However, as I suggested before, given our inability to actualise any acts of hostility beyond words then the posture of the typical Jamaican male still doesnt accumulate to being harshly intolerant.

At 3/26/2006 10:18 AM, Blogger Rhythmwize said... sey: If you thought about it for a minute, you'd realise that gays dont get beaten and murdered like here like flys.
Maybe one reason for that is they don't dare come out of the closet, its just too damn dangerous.

With the high murder rate in Jamaica, it becomes hard to tell if someone was murdered because they were gay or for other reasons.

A google search on the subject seems to indicate that there have been at least 30 gays murdered in Jamaica since 1997,including a couple prominent gay that significant? You be the judge.

At 3/30/2006 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just found you, so please keep on writing, very interested to find out how this works out.

At 7/16/2010 7:05 AM, Blogger Trinidad Shipping said...

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