Life and Debt is a documentary distributed in 2001 about the effect the the Intenational Monetary Fund, IMF, policies on the economy of Jamaica.
"This is the Jamaica the tourists see, says the narrator in Stephanie Black's documentary Life and Debt, a country of lush jungles, clear blue water, and sandy beaches. Beyond the luxury hotels, however, is a third world country fighting poverty, crime, and hopelessness. Based on the novel by Jamaica Kincaid A Small Place, Life and Debt, the film studies the effects of the policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank on the economy of Jamaica, focusing on the impact of economic globalization on the dairy farmers and factory workers. Backed by a soundtrack of native reggae music, Life and Debt is filled with economic facts that require some knowledge to fully understand. You don't need a master's degree in Economics, however, to understand the desperate faces of children in poverty, the agony of farmers who can't sell their crops, or the hopelessness of factory workers who earn the equivalent of thirty US dollars per week.
Black interviews former Prime Minister Michael Manley who explains how the current situation came to be. When Jamaica achieved its independence in 1962 after being a colony of Great Britain for 400 years, help was needed to build its economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank gladly supplied this money in the form of short-term loans. These loans though came with strings attached. Subsidies to local farmers were prohibited and tariff barriers were lowered to allow cheap foreign goods to come into the country, inevitably driving local industries out of business. What's remains is tourism, sweatshops and fast-food chains. Manley blames the big Western powers that have used Jamaica for cheap labor and easy sales. For example, thanks to huge subsidies other countries including the United States exported powdered milk to Jamaica at an excessively low price, forcing the local dairy industry to shut down. He also points out that big American businesses like Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte have worked to stifle exports of local Jamaican bananas. Manley asks of the IMF, "You ask, 'In who's interest? I ask, 'Who set it up?"
Part of the conservative lie is the belief in "personal responsibility" and that life should be lived by the philosophy of every person for himself. Human welfare is simply a matter of markets and capital, and those markets are best left free and self regulating. However, policies about free markets get made by people and these people often make policies that are in their best interests, and less powerful people have little influence in how the game is played. It is little wonder then, when poorer and less powerful people loose.
Our mental health, our sense of well being, is very much influenced by the environment in which we function. Being able to influence our environment is an important aspect of good mental health. As this documentary shows, policies which force farmers to dump their dairy milk because milk powder can be imported from foreign countries cheaper, and workers being paid $30.00 per week for textile piece work and when they protest their working conditions their employment is taken away, leads to frustration and violence.
Perhaps we will get to a point of social evolution where we can develop policies which take the human costs into account and not merely the financial gain.
When Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western Civilization he said it might be a good idea for us to try.
I recommend this film if you are interested in how social policies at a macro level influence mental health of populations at a clinical level.
Life and Debt (2001)