Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Jamaica and Other Caribbean States

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Jamaica and Other Caribbean States

Article excerpt

JOHN M. COPES [*]

WALTER RYBECK [**]

I

Jamaica

JAMAICA, THE THIRD largest island in the West Indies, was seized by England from Spain in 1655 and, after more than three centuries as a British colony, became an independent member of the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1962. It is a parliamentary democracy, with a prime minister as head of government. The nation is divided into 13 parishes for purposes of local administration. Its population, upwards of two and a half million, is primarily of African extraction (its Arawak Indians having died out under Spanish rule), with lesser European, Chinese, and East Indian strains. Its official language is English, with a purported literacy rate of 98 percent, but Jamaican Creole is also spoken. A slight majority of the inhabitants is Protestant.

Rising from the coastal plain is a mountainous core that covers four-fifths of the island. The Blue Mountains in the east (where an extremely expensive variety of coffee is grown) soar to a peak of 7,402 feet above sea level. The island's climate is semi-tropical; yearlong rainfall keeps it green; heat and humidity are tempered by soft breezes.

Bauxite exists over the western two-thirds of the island, and has been mined by US and Canadian companies since 1952. In the 1960s, Jamaica was the world's largest exporter of bauxite, and it remains a major one. The government acquired 50 percent ownership of the companies' Jamaican holdings in 1976.

In the years following British seizure, sugar cane became the chief crop grown on the coastal plains. Numerous slaves were brought in from Africa to work the sugar plantations, which occupied lands granted under Cromwell, and extended from the coast into the lower slopes. The mountains remained mostly unoccupied until the slaves (approximately 311,000 in number) were emancipated in 1838. Over the ensuing decades, freed slaves progressively "squatted" on unutilized mountain lands, defining the boundaries of their respective plots with plants recognized as "boundary plants." Access to the plots was mainly by series of tracks.

Captain William Bligh (the notorious martinet of HMS Bounty) had brought in breadfruit from Tahiti. With this, together with mangoes, bananas, corn, root crops, pigs, and poultry, the former slaves became basically self-sustaining. For cash, they took their produce on donkeys to the nearest markets.

A. The Introduction of Land-Value Taxation in Jamaica

The move toward land-value taxation (LVT) in Jamaica commenced in 1943 (19 years before independence) with the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry chaired by the Hon. Simon Bloomberg. Its charge was to examine, with particular reference to their effect upon parochial revenue, the incidence, assessment, and collection of real property taxes under the existing system based on the combined capital value of land and buildings, to determine whether that system should be retained or replaced by another. As a result of its investigations, the Commission recommended that the existing system be replaced by one that made unimproved land value the sole basis for the taxation of real property, whether urban, suburban, or rural. This recommendation was endorsed by the Mission of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in a report, "The Economic Development of Jamaica" (1952).

In 1949 and 1951, attempts were made to implement the Commission's recommendation, but Jamaica had no large scale maps delineating the various parcels of land. It was thought at the time that a full scale legal cadastre was a fundamental requirement, so the program was shelved.

When the Norman Manley administration took office in 1955 (still before full independence), one of the matters to which it gave priority was the suspended program of assessing unimproved land value. The government sought technical assistance from the United Nations. …

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