Caribbean Political Economy

Jamaica: Reflections on Fifty Years of In-Dependence, Norman Girvan

An interpretive overview of Jamaica”s post-colonial political economy. focusing on economic retrogression in the age of neoliberalism, the need to recover policy independence, and the imperative of regionalism.

Click here for In-Dependence

Link to Video of Norman’ s address

The Raffer Debt Insolvency Proposal

Jamaica’s Internal Debt Trap (republished), Norman Girvan

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Originally presented at a Symposium on Jamaica’s Financial Sector held at the UWI in 1999; this paper hypothesised that the Jamaican economy was caught in a vicious cycle of mounting internal indebtedness, falling output and deteriorating physical and social capital. It briefly examines the escape options, and ends by suggesting that the only viable one may be a negotiated debt restructuring programme. It is republished at this time because of the current debate in Jamaica on the debt burden.

Click here for paper (PDF file)

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Addressing Debt Insolvency: The Raffer Proposal

Jamaica’s Gas Price Riots 1999 (Republished) Norman Girvan

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Originally published as a commentary on Jamaica’s ‘Gas Price Riots’ in April 1999, this article proposed a mutually agreed and negotiated debt restructuring programme,   to reduce the crushing burden of public debt on the Jamaican economy and release resources for productive investment and rebuilding of the social and economic infrastructure, a topic which is now subject of public debate in Jamaica.

The collective sigh of relief that greeted the partial rollback of the gas tax is far from justified. The truth of the matter is that we are faced with a fiscal and economic crisis of massive proportions…

Click here for article (PDF file)

Towards Social Management of the Jamaican Economy, Norman Girvan

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Originally prepared as “Social Consensus, Democratic Socialism and the Market Economy’, a paper delivered at the PNP 60th Anniversary Symposium, Kingston, September 17,1998. In three parts: I. Growth with equity and social justice: the need for social consensus; II. Elements of A Social Consensus; III. Democratic Socialism and the Market Economy

The fundamental problem facing Jamaica today is how to simultaneously achieve sustained economic growth with equity and social justice. The four decades since Independence have shown the problems that arise when economic goals are pursued at the expense of social objectives, and vice versa…

Click here for paper (PDF file)

UWI Law Education: Commodification and Deregionalization


by Norman Girvan


An item in Jamaica’s Sunday Gleaner (August 16, 2009) reports on the decision of the UWI Mona’s Law Faculty to turn itself into a “self-financing entity”. The majority of Jamaican students admitted to study Law will now have to pay almost the full economic cost of their education, amounting to US$10,000 per year (presently J$890,000, but this will increase as the Jamaican dollar depreciates). A minority will access the programme at the subsidised fee of J$201,000/year.

In addition, Jamaican law students wil no longer to the UWI’s Cave Hill (Barbados) campus to do years two and three of their degree. The cost of this is US$16,800 per year per student, and the UWI Mona cannot afford it.

This is a signficant development. It is a futher sign of the impact of the global economic crisis on Jamaica. One of the results has been a 9 percent cut (J$700 million) in the Government of Jamaica’s financial subsidy to the UWI Mona Campus.

There are several implications that are worth noting:

(1) The further erosion in Jamaica of the principle that “education is a right”, and extension of the principle that “ediucation is a privilege”, or better still, “education is a commodity to be bought” (the Gleaner article notes that the decision mirrors one taken by the UWI Mona’s Medical Faculty six years ago),

(2) the further reversal of opportunties for upward social mobility in Jamaica, law education being one of the principal historical means by which individuals from the lower social strata have moved upwards (only 80 high performing students/year will be admitted annually at the subsidised rate, which is still a hefty J$201,000 year)

(3) tendency for the reproduction of traditional patterns of class/colour stratification in Jamaica–only the economically privileged wil be able to afford fees of close to J$1 million/year

(4) removal of one of the sole remaining elements of regionalism in the UWI student experience–Jamaican law sudents will no longer be going to Barbados,

(5) further implantation of an individualistic, mercenary culture, amongst the professional elites, particularly the legal profession; and

(6) further differentiation within Caricom (and the Caribbean) in the availability of social services to the general population. In Babados and in Trinidad, tertiary education is either free or highly subsidised to all students gaining acceptance to the relevant institutions. In Cuba, education at all levels is free.

Commencing in three years time, when the first batch of graduates from the commercialised UWI Mona law programme begin to come on stream, we can look forward to the accentuation of a parochial, individualistic culture in the Jamaican legal profession, with a social composition that reproduces existing hierarchies in the society. This is a trend that may already be underway with increasing numbers taking their degrees from UWI competing institutions, as the Gleaner article points out. In other words, UWI is being forced to adopt the model of competitor institutions.

None of this, by the way, is to criticise the UWI officials who have made these decisions. It follows logically from the system in which we are a part and from the “rules of the game”. One of those rules is that payment of the public debt is the first charge on the fiscal budget. Debt service absorbs over 60% of the Jamaican budget. When debt service trumps all; social services must bear the adjustment. Ultimately it is the poor and the less privileged in the society who will be made to pay the social cost of the global financial crisis–a crisis provoked by the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street and the City of London and of the governments that not only permitted, but encouraged, this.

Launch of Kari Polanyi Levitt’s ‘Reclaiming Development: Independent Thought and Caribbean Community’

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30 years ago, economics in the Caribbean was much more interesting than it is today. It was concerned with matters like growth and transformation, distribution and equity, local control and participation, industrialization and agricultural development. Mathematical formalisation and econometric testing were not ‘dissed’, but it was accepted that they needed to be grounded in the institutional and structural realities of the Caribbean.

Today much of that attention to context has disappeared; and economics itself has largely been replaced by finance as the career of choice by many of our best and brightest young people. To quote Professor Levitt.


Link to Kari Levitt interview in Race and Class

Jamaica: The Way Forward, Norman Girvan

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Prepared for Seminar on ” Ideas and Innovation for Change”
Sponsored by Poltical Reform, Development and Innovation Task Force
Kingston, July 17, 1999

There has been no significant growth in the Jamaican economy since 1975. In the early 1990s PC income had probably not attained the level of 20 years before. The latest ESSJ shows that real PC GDP in 1998 was about 6 percent below 1990.

This stagnation followed two decades of economic expansion. Before that the economy had been stagnating. For the 20th century as a whole the Jamaican economy has experienced about 20 years of rapid growth beginning in 1953, and 80 years of slow growth or outright stagnation. This will have to change.