The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
In the long run it may yet transpire that the differences between stages of economic development as between various nations and regions of the world are a more important determinant of history than differences in ideology or systems of government. Religious wars are contested with fervor at the time; so are wars to make the world safe for democracy. But sooner or later, the economic historian presents an alternative analysis which seems to put the hysteria of yesteryear in a more realistic frame.
And so today, press, pulpit and politician would have us believe that a new ideological focus is at the heart of the uncertainties, tensions and conflicts of the second half of the twentieth century. Once again, I suggest that tomorrow's historians will point out that behind the hysteria lay economics and that the real battleground was in that largely tropical territory which was first the object of colonial exploitation, second, the focus of non-Caucasian nationalism and more latterly known as the underdeveloped and the developing world as it sought euphemisms for its condition. It has now proclaimed itself the third world to mark its transition from an age of apology to one of assertiveness.
To the extent that all this is true, any development in any part of the third world has an importance that far outweighs the size, wealth or power of that particular part of that world. And so, recognizing that this explanation may be required, I do not apologize for writing about Jamaica with its 4,000 square miles and two million people and its relationship to the English-speaking Caribbean which covers many more square miles but still adds up to only a little more than five million people.
Because Jamaica and the Caribbean are a part of the third world, they are best understood if one first isolates certain basic features that are common to that world and its general condition at this moment of history.
I think that four factors can be distinguished. First of all, the third world has joined the other two worlds in one feature that is common to both: nationalism. Basic to attitudes in the third world is the fear of foreign domination. Inevitably, in the second half of the twentieth century, foreign domination is understood in economic terms just as clearly as it used to be understood in political terms. And no consideration of third-world politics can proceed unless this is borne clearly in mind.
The second factor, in the area of economics, is the adverse movement in the terms of trade between the third world and its highly industrialized and developed neighbors of the North, encompassing not only price trends as they relate to exports and imports between groups but also the terms on which capital is exported from one world to the other.
The third factor inheres in a paradox: the fact that the new taste of nationalism and political independence coëxists with a need for external capital. Common to every former colonial territory is a shortage of internal capital resources, a release of popular expectation and an urge toward complete national independence. The paradox consists in the fact that popular expectation cannot be satisfied without capital, and capital cannot be generated from internal sources alone. Thus, the urge for independence and the need for capital come into conflict.
The fourth factor which I contend is common to the third world is that in its dealings with the industrialized nations, the third world desperately needs the strength that can come from regional economic groupings ; and, more generally, the development of a common economic diplomacy. This obvious need, however, conflicts with the tendency of all "new" nations to be separatist and insular.
It is against this background that Jamaica's recent history, present posture and future possibilities must be judged.
The recent past has been remarkable for three things. A Crown Colony within the British Empire up to 1944, Jamaica became a part of the colonial revolt in 1938. Riots precipitated a trade union movement on the one hand and the island's first mass political party on the other. Alexander Bustamante was the charismatic focus for a unique brand of mass trade unionism and Norman Manley was the equally charismatic force behind a movement dedicated to political independence and social and economic reconstruction. In time, the trade union group formed a political party and the political group began to organize in the field of trade unionism. Less surprisingly than might appear at first blush, the trade union group, which later formed a political party, became the conservative focus and the nationalists who later became union organizers became the radical focus. The net effect was a polarization of the island's politics and the most effective two-party system among the countries then fighting for national independence.
This two-party system, driven by the two astonishing personalities mentioned, embarked upon what is probably the most orderly transition from colonial status to political independence in modern history. In fact, the transition was so orderly, was handled with such sophistication and poise that many young Jamaicans today feel cheated by history. Deprived of the psychological rallying point of an heroic episode, they feel that they entered upon the estate of freedom so silently, with so little drama, that many question whether it has happened at all.
The formation of this deeply entrenched two-party system, along with the orderly transition from political colonialism to political freedom, are two of the three significant features. The third is Jamaica's part in the West Indies Federation which was launched with more doubt than fanfare in 1958 and collapsed by the end of 1961.
The English-speaking Caribbean is effectively bounded by the Bahamas to the north, British Honduras (in Central America) to the west, Barbados to the east and Guyana (on the South American mainland) to the south. However, the area has hitherto been dominated by its largest island, Jamaica (population, two million), just south of Castro's Cuba, and its second largest island, Trinidad (population, one million), just north of Guyana. Jamaica consists of the city of Kingston with half a million people, an entrenched plantation system mainly centering on sugar, a booming bauxite and alumina industry and a burgeoning tourist trade, all of which coexist with the country's rural peasant majority whose small-scale hillside agriculture is falling further and further behind the progress achieved by the rest of the country. Kingston itself is a classic example of urban life in a developing country, with beautiful suburbs, a growing and expert middle class, a skillful but restless industrial proletariat and huge, smoldering slums all packed together around a port which boasts one of the greatest natural harbors in the world and rests on a plain surrounded by mountains of spectacular beauty.
Trinidad is like Jamaica except that it has no rural peasantry to speak of, and whereas Jamaica has a new bauxite industry, it has a much older oil industry. Like Jamaica, it has extensive sugar plantations, massive unemployment and a growing but more recent investment in tourism. Jamaica has, however, in a subtle but real way, a more practical population. Trinidad, with its carnival tradition and stronger Latin influence, tends to be more volatile.
These, along with the smaller islands of the Leeward and Windward chain, share a predominantly African ethnic origin and a common political and institutional history as ex-British colonies. However, the area consists of eight clearly defined sub-regions, at least one of which has a thousand islands and all of which have separate senses of identity. All this adds up to one of the most tantalizing political problems in the world today.
It is in this regional focus and within the broad perspective of third- world politics that one must now consider Jamaica's part in the abortive West Indies Federation. During the 1940s and 1950s the question of such a Federation was much talked about in Caribbean politics; but however central it was in the rest of the Caribbean, it was always an afterthought in the dialogue of Jamaican politics.
The truth is that Jamaica all along had been preoccupied with its internal problems which were, and are, legion. Once in the Federation, which was not independent in 1958 and whose central government was then largely impotent, the issue had to be faced : "What sort of constitution shall we have when we become an independent nation shortly and how shall the powers of a central government ruling over many separate islands compare with the power remaining with the government of each island?" In the event, geography defeated political logic; Jamaican nationalism proved too strong for the federal principle. The two parties which dominate Jamaican political life failed to agree on federation and in a referendum insularity won. Jamaica voted herself out of federation, and without Jamaica the Federation collapsed.
But federation is a technique. It is a means rather than an end, a point of departure rather than of arrival. Behind this particular federal experiment, which collapsed in 1961 (the vote was approximately 230,000 against to 210,000 for the federation), lies the still larger question of regionalism. Do Jamaica and the Caribbean stand to lose or gain by regional coöperation?
Becoming an independent nation in 1962, Jamaica has nonetheless remained a classic example of what is sometimes described as a "two-tier" economy. Equally important, our economy has remained firmly cast in the colonial mold. The bauxite and alumina industry is entirely North American owned. More than half the tourist and sugar industries are under foreign ownership. Foreign trade continues to grow faster than internally consumed production and remains oriented toward traditional lines of exchange with North America and Great Britain. And those who manage the economy continue to look outward for ideas and expertise.
In spite of dramatic expansions in the bauxite and tourist industries, a balance-of-payments situation in surplus, the rapid development of a sophisticated network of financial institutions and a basically sound civil service, Jamaica remains a prey to many of the evils which beset it in colonial times.
Unemployment runs at a dangerous 20 percent, and is believed to be over 30 percent in the 16 to 25 age group. Agriculture lags badly and is virtually stagnant in an otherwise booming economy. Since approximately half the population depends upon agriculture, either as small farmers or as agricultural workers, this means that half of the population are condemned both to a total defeat of their expectations ever to become independent and to a growing awareness of the widening gap between their condition and that of the rest of the population.
Inevitably, this has led to growing tensions in the society. The older peasantry tends to be bitter, but resigned. The youth, on the other hand, are increasingly disillusioned but by no means resigned. Instead, the anger of the youth tends to focus increasingly on the presence of a dominant structure of foreign capital and contends that we have not altered the equation of our problems in spite of the considerable sacrifice of sovereignty involved in the acceptance of foreign capital. In short, they feel that we are sacrificing economic independence for the explicit purpose of solving our internal problems, but that in the event since the problems are growing worse, the sacrifice is in vain.
Of course, both the perception of the problem and disappointment with the result involve dangerous oversimplifications in economic terms. Basically, the economy needs to be restructured. This should involve land reform, import substitution in relation to food consumption and the planned use of inter-industry linkages so as to ensure a growing measure of internal viability to the economy. A largely agricultural country, Jamaica is exporting J$62 million of sugar, bananas, citrus and coffee, while it imports J$60 million of food ; and this in a context where some 20 percent of its arable land is either totally idle or seriously under-used. In addition, much of the industrial development of the last 20 years has been of the last stage assembly "screw-driver" type, while virtually no attention has been paid to agro-industrial development, which is the most obvious area for establishing inter-industry linkages. The total result has been that agriculture, while supporting more than half of the population, contributed 13 percent to the gross national product in 1960 just before the attainment of independence but only nine percent in 1969.
Broadly speaking, Jamaica has fallen into the same trap as many other developing countries by thinking that the indiscriminate granting of tax incentives to foreign capital-regardless of the contribution which the particular capital can make to development, or of the posture of that capital in the society-will necessarily contribute to progress. Even in recent times, when experiments in forms of joint ownership ventures between foreign and local capital have become the vogue in response to nationalist pressures, there is still no evidence of realistic national planning as to the sort of ventures that are needed and, in particular, industries which seek to exploit local raw materials and by-products. If unemployment is to be significantly reduced and the dangerous gap between the agricultural population and the industrial élite is to be narrowed, radically different policies have to be pursued. These will have to involve new thinking about the use to which internal resources are to be put; a complete reëxamination of the sort of foreign capital which should be invited to participate, and the relationship between foreign capital and the national interest as regards ownership and control.
The question arises as to the frame in which these objectives can best be secured. As a consequence of the federal experience, Jamaica is undergoing a period of ambivalence toward the rest of the Caribbean. In less fanciful terms, the party in power, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), is hostile to regionalism partly in response to the parochial instincts which lay behind its anti-federal fight and partly because it is a prisoner of its success in that fight. The opposition People's National Party (PNP) tends to be afraid of regionalism because its own loss of power was attributable to its support of federation in the 1961 referendum. And yet history has its own inexorable logic. In spite of all these factors which seem to conspire against regionalism, Jamaica has already joined the Caribbean Free Trade Area and is a founding member of the Caribbean Development Bank.
Exploratory talks are already under way as the region makes the first tentative approaches toward a formula for a common external tariff and common policies toward foreign investments. Although many counsel caution- and indeed, this may be the price of ultimate success-one wishes that a greater sense of urgency attached to the whole exercise. Where gross disparities in wealth, massive unemployment, showpiece industries and conspicuous consumption coexist in one overpopulated island, violence and even revolution must lurk in the wings. Clearly, regional economic development provides a more ample prospect in a situation where peaceful progress cannot be more than a marginal possibility. Yet, although the aisle is clearly marked, we seem to come to the altar of history like a reluctant bride with faltering step and lowered gaze.
What is needed, I suggest, is a tough-minded recognition that national survival, like business survival, is a matter of margins and that regionalism can provide the framework in which internal markets are increased, external bargaining power enhanced and international recognition maximized. The fact that all these differences may be marginal, far from disproving the case, represents the limit of what is possible in any event and should be pursued relentlessly in a world which does not offer more than marginal opportunities at best. Perhaps, then, we might now consider what Jamaica stands to gain from regionalism.
As indicated earlier, Jamaica cannot hope to provide the basis of a decent society unless it substantially restructures its economy. The plantation system condemns those who depend upon it to a life of insecurity and is a constant focus for hostility and tension for any society which it dominates. Hence it is almost a precondition of progress to reduce dependence on fly-by-night foreign capital which will come in briefly for a "quick buck" while wages are low and the conditions for exploitation ideal. But the search for alternatives is no easy matter and a regional economic bloc unquestionably provides a larger frame within which to pursue the restructuring of the Jamaican economy along with those of its Caribbean neighbors. Apart from the obvious advantages of size that come with regional coöperation, there are four other major areas that must be considered.
The English-speaking Caribbean will not benefit from its size until its territories learn to act in unison in matters of common concern. Thus, it is urgent that its governments develop techniques for handling trade and other relations with the outside world on the basis of a common policy. Beginnings have been made in this direction with an annual Heads of Government conference and in certain areas of trade, such as sugar, which are handled collectively. These tentative beginnings have to be pursued with vigor so that the region speaks more and more to the outside world with one voice.
Secondly, the region would benefit enormously if it could learn to handle major foreign capital interests secondary to a common policy. A classic example is the bauxite and alumina industry. The Caribbean region, including the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Surinam (which is next door to Guyana), produces 52 percent of the bauxite consumed in the Western world and 43 percent of world consumption. As the raw material of the aluminum industry, bauxite has a critical part to play in the economic future of Jamaica and certainly of Guyana and Surinam. But it is a wasting asset, which has to make its contribution to general development as rapidly as possible. Interestingly enough, the workers of the region have been much quicker to recognize this than the politicians.
Perhaps because bargaining power is "the name of the game" in trade unionism, the Bauxite Workers Union in Jamaica (a section of the National Workers Union and affiliated with the PNP) pursued a more than ordinarily aggressive wage policy against the giants of the industry-Alcoa, Kaiser and Reynolds of the United States and Alcan of Canada-from the very outset of bargaining in 1952. Later, when the companies began quoting wage rates in Guyana and Surinam against Jamaican union claims in the mid-1950s, the Jamaican Union responded by forming the Caribbean Bauxite Mining and Metal Workers' Federation. In the last ten years, this body has played a significant part in bringing regional strength to the collective bargaining process, and this in turn has led to spectacular gains in wages and fringe benefits for the region's 15,000 bauxite and alumina workers.
Clearly, this is a lead that the politicians and governments of the region would do well to follow. In terms of royalties, taxes and general contributions to infrastructure, the aluminum companies can do far more in the Caribbean region. The ability of the region to bargain, however, to increase the contribution of the industries to general welfare, has been considerably affected by the fact that no coherent policy within a united political front exists. And here, let me make it clear that I am not talking in the spirit of wreaking some sort of spiteful vengeance on the aluminum industry; rather, I am concerned to find by legitimate bargaining that point at which the conflicting interests of the industry and the region may be reasonably resolved.
So long as this and similar industries remain exclusively owned by foreign, multinational corporations, the search for this point of "mutual justice" will be virtually impossible. The very presence of such economic power in foreign hands represents a threat to the sense of independence of a country and a serious obstacle to its freedom of action in economic planning. On the other hand, the corporations have made large investments and provide access to markets and technology. The key, therefore, must lie in joint ownership. It is only when control and ownership are shared reasonably between those who supply the initial capital and know-how on the one hand, and those who supply the raw material and the labor on the other, that mutuality of interest can exist. There is perhaps no greater challenge to man's capacity for wisdom than this. Indeed, the future of the world may be profoundly influenced by the ability of the third world to pursue this goal with calmness and with skill and equally by the ability of the metropolitan world to comprehend the aspirations that lead to the claim for joint ownership and to coöperate wholeheartedly with the process. Where the metropolitan world and its overseas corporations have not learned this lesson in the past, expropriation has often sooner or later been the result If the world refuses to learn from the past, the old device of revolutionary expropriation may continue to be invoked, not as dogma, but out of practical necessity.
And so to the third proposition. As I said at the outset, it is my conviction that the fundamental problem of the world today is not so much a question of conflicting ideologies as of the economic relationship between the developed economies of the metropolitan world and the less developed economies of the third world. This is not the place to attempt to outline the argument. Suffice it to say that for a variety of well-understood reasons the terms on which trade and capital move between the two worlds do so constantly to the disadvantage of the developing nations and make the problem of real economic progress for small independent countries crushingly difficult.
Clearly, therefore, the ability of the Caribbean to achieve progress goes beyond regionalism to the necessity for the developing world as a whole to evolve a common strategy with regard to its economic dealings with the metropolitan nations. The fundamental rationale of third-world politics is economic. The imperative of the future must be the search for a common economic diplomacy in which, to put it at its simplest, the Caribbean must be as concerned about the fate of Ghana's cocoa as Ghana should be concerned about the fate of Caribbean sugar. And both should be concerned to see that they do not act in such a manner as to undermine each other's possibilities as they trade with the metropolitan world. When we consider the inherent economic power of the United States, Great Britain, the European Common Market and Russia, we see what India, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean are up against. What is not recognized is that fundamentally they are all up against exactly the same thing. To the extent that the Caribbean region can proceed more coherently and more cogently in acting not only as a part of the third world, but as a sophisticated leader in the development of relevant third-world policies, to that extent can it help to underwrite its own survival.
Obviously, a Caribbean voice will carry more weight in the third world than the sum total of the area's separate voices. And so, therefore, regionalism is important to Jamaican development because it is the natural avenue through which it can enter and influence the stream of third-world politics. What is more, I suggest that third-world politics would benefit enormously from the tough-minded pragmatism which characterizes Jamaican political leadership.
I turn finally to an idea that is not often in general discussion at all. Because it has something to do with human psychology and a lot to do with attitudes and the scars left by past wounds, it is not an easy one to present with clarity. I begin with the premise that national power and success tend to breed a confident man and that lack of power and success tend to have the reverse effect. Obviously, this will not operate where two societies are unaware of each other. However, colonialism and technology have combined to make all the societies of the world acutely aware of each other. To be a member of a small struggling nation, isolated within the difficulties that beset small struggling nations, puts the ordinary citizen at a psychological disadvantage. And I mean by this something quite different from the straightforward problems that arise from poverty and lack of economic opportunity. There is a sense in which the reality of metropolitan power invades the feeling of security and dignity of members of a fragmented third world.
It is clear that the youth of the metropolitan world are increasingly concerned with the moral quality of life in wealthy countries in spite of the growing economic power of their system. On the other hand, the youth of the Caribbean are increasingly uncomfortable with a situation in which they feel trapped in a helpless isolation and yearn to be part of a system that has a chance because it can face the world from a position of strength. I suggest that not all of the brain drain is a response to higher salaries. Nor is all of it merely discontent with the lack of progress at home. If you talk to young migrants you sense behind and beyond these obvious problems a deeper feeling of futility, as if they are tired of belonging to something which does not amount to much in the world. I believe this tendency to despair will grow in the future unless we wake up to the harsh facts of life and grapple with them. Jamaicans must learn to see beyond the narrow focus of insularity and realize that self-interest must be organized in the wider world because it is there that the battle is going to be won or lost. Jamaica's problem is to organize the conditions for its own survival now and it must do so in a context where the revolution of rising expectations, a revolution that is necessarily intolerant of failure, is the dominant reality of politics. The choice, therefore, in the long run of history lies between a low road of self-imposed, insular impotence and a high road of adventure into Caribbean regionalism leading on to the wider possibilities of third-world strength.