by Cato Rand
There has been much talk again recently – I guess primarily triggered by that Volkswagen ad aired during Super Bowl XLVII – about ‘Brand Jamaica’. A number of local media pundits seem to be of the view that there is some sort of goodwill that Jamaica has earned which can be exploited and transformed into some kind of bonanza for the country. They seem to think that for example, with the Jamaican accent used by one of the actors in the VW ad; or Bob Marley and his music being a favorite of many music lovers worldwide; or the exploits of our athletes, especially Usain Bolt being the fastest man in the world and lowering the 100 meters record to previously unimaginable depths, that there will be persons the world over just in awe of Jamaica (and perhaps they are). So much so, that apparently they will be drawn to our shores in droves – a la rats following the pied piper of Hamelin – and Jamaica will garner astronomical growth in tourist arrivals.
Our thought leaders are so quick to invoke the phrase ʻBrand Jamaicaʼ. Somehow they try to convince us that Brand Jamaica will lead to boom times and go a far way in extricating us from the economic abyss we are presently in. But does this make sense? I would argue such thinking is downright asinine.
How many Jamaicans are visiting Rio de Janeiro or buying things Brazilian because we so love the jogo bonito? How many Jamaicans have visited the United States of America and Hawaii in particular because Barack Obama – probably the greatest person to walk planet Earth since Jesus Christ – is President. Obviously not many of us Jamaicans are responding to nation branding so why do we think others will.
Corporations – not the nation-state in liberal democracies – are in the business of marketing goods and services and thus branding has value for a corporation not a country. It’s the corporation that provides the products we voluntarily exchange for our hard earned money. Thus, if we like the goods and services that Corporation X has to offer and a famous individual is pitching products for Corporation X then we might be lured to purchase goods and services from Corporation X.
Personally I would not care much if this concept of Brand Jamaica would just result in a warm, fuzzy feeling for our intellectuals and politicians. I am not someone who wants to deny a person his/her fun. But it goes beyond this – too often resulting in our leaders foolishly spending taxpayers’ money on ill-conceived projects such as the Marina in Portland, the Montego Bay Convention Center and the Trelawny Multipurpose Stadium.
In an article from the Sunday Gleaner of February 10 it is reported that the Convention Center was constructed at a cost of US $ 51 million and we are spending J$ 1 million per day to keep it open. And guess what? There is little action at the Centre. From the article we learn that projected estimated earnings was US$ 10 million annually.
A few points to consider… In life there many things are possible. I guess its possible I could run sub 10 seconds for the 100 meters after spending some time with coach Glen Mills, but this is very unlikely, verging on impossible. If there were so much money to be earned from a large non-hotel based convention centre why didn’t the private sector entities seize the business opportunity of building one? Instead the then government with their hands on the public purse (borrowed money) and went ahead with their ʻif we build it they must come, as this is Jamaica’ mentality. Now the politicians may not be aware of this but we cant spend a dollar twice. Just imagine if we were spending an additional one million dollars per day on police stations, hospitals, schools or the justice system.
Its time we put this Brand Jamaica concept to bed. Certainly we should celebrate Jamaicans when they excel in their chosen endeavor but please let us not believe that the exploits of individual Jamaicans will translate to a windfall for our island home. The only way we are going to earn monies from Mr. Bolt apart from the taxes he pays is if we nationalize Mr. Bolt such that all his earnings go directly into the nations coffers. Oops…I hope I haven’t given any of our leaders any ideas!
Cato Rand is a Black Jamaican of Libertarian and Conservative persuasion. He is a fervent believer in Capitalism, Freedom and the principles outlined by the US Constitution and it being applicable to all peoples, including Jamaicans. He is a strong advocate for the limited role that a government should play in the lives of people.