How did Jamaica get to be so dangerous?

I’ve been listening to Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica, in which the 1950s version of the island is described as a paradise to which film stars and billionaires (adjusted to post-Biden $$) seek to escape. A fabulous oceanfront estate could be purchased and/or built for thousands of British pounds. Fleming went there for two months every year, first to relax and then to write. Wikipedia:

When Jamaica gained independence in 1962, the murder rate was 3.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the lowest in the world. In 2005, Jamaica had 1,674 murders, for a murder rate of 58 per 100,000 people, the highest murder rate in the world.

Today’s question is how this happened. Could it be overpopulation versus a fixed set of resources? The following chart (source) shows what should have been manageable growth, from 1.6 million to 2.75 million, 1960 to the present:

What about poverty? That’s often blamed for crime. The World Bank says the country has gotten richer, per-capita (this is adjusted for inflation (“current US$”)):

Maybe it is guns? We don’t have people killing people here in the U.S. We have “gun violence”. But the book describes guns as having been readily available in Jamaica in the 1950s (Fleming owned an assortment, for example).

Readers: Have you been to Jamaica? What’s it like for tourists? Are they mostly in resorts that are walled-off from the locals?

24 thoughts on “How did Jamaica get to be so dangerous?

  1. Like everywhere else n the world. Drugs. Guns money are the core. I have nva bn. 2 dangerous 4 my blood

  2. I have listened a little more today. Jamaica had at independence a higher per capita income than Portugal’s, but people were concerned about high population density and growth.

    • Visiting Portugal a few years ago, I learned that the country had about the same per capita GDP as Puerto Rico. I had occasion to reflect on this while riding the express train from Douro to Lisbon, watching the countryside flash by. The onboard speedometer readout topped out at a memorable 222 kph, setting my (non-aviation) personal speed record.
      Of course, we all know the Portuguese stole all their good stuff from Brazil, Mozambique, Angola…Wakanda.

      On one of his shows, the late Tony Bourdain did Jamaica. His visit with some local elites in search of the answer to the ‘why isn’t this paradise’ question just about pegged the ‘this is awkward’ meter.

  3. I’ve been to Jamaica. Beautiful beaches, surprisingly dry air. The majority of tourists stay mainly in resorts.

    There’s a substantial “expat” community from the US/UK living in Montego Bay, Negril and Falmouth (Oyster Bay where some cruise ships come). When I asked about crime, expats I talked to were somewhat cagey and claimed that it’s mainly confined to locals and that the expat community is not targeted as long as you are friendly/try to integrate with locals. The “aloof” foreigners’ houses may be targeted for theft but allegedly not violence. For what it’s worth.

    The place is getting more developed, so perhaps there will be a trend towards some gentrification, who knows.

  4. Hiked there in 2000s, and it did not feel particularly safe. Everyone you met was peddling smth, and the ones had nothing to peddle just asked for money outright. And they would not take no for an answer. Couple of times almost came to blows.
    And mind you, I was not dressed up with iPhone or camera. But seeing someone from “off the island” was immediately translated to “he’s got money”.
    There is better service, weather and nature without the byblows; St Kitts, Dominica, St Lucia and Barbados come to mind.

  5. I had three business trips to Kingston, Jamaica in the early ’90s. Though Kingston is usually the murder capitol of the world, the business/hotel district was busy and congested but fairly orderly, with residents going to and from their jobs and school on the jitney buses everywhere. Store and hotel clerks were polite and prim.

    As the only White people, a coworker and I walked around a large (somewhat modern) indoor/outdoor shopping mall in town during the day, and partied at the hotel nightclub at night.

    One morning we went for a jog through a nearby neighborhood and on dirt track, and got lots of shocked stares from the neighborhood kids.

    Did not feel unsafe during the day in the immediate area of the Windham Hotel. Hotel security was serious and would not allow locals into the lobby.

    Another US co-worker took me on a long road trip from Kingston to Montego Bay. The roads were a bit dicey.

    • Those are the people who schemed to employ crack to turn LA from a paradise like Wokanda to what it was in the 1990s through today.

  6. You can tell that all this violence and crime are a legacy of colonialism because they got way worse decades after the place stopped being a colony

  7. A young man truly in love with his girlfriend decided to have her name tattooed on his penis. Her name was Wendy, and the tattoo was done while the penis was erect, so when it was not erect all you could see was W Y. Shortly after the couple was married they were honeymooning in Jamaica the man was in a bathroom in Jamaica, and standing next to him was a Jamaican man who also had a W Y on his penis. The American said to him “Oh is your girl named Wendy too?” The Jamaican replied, “No mister that says ‘Welcome to Jamaica Have a Nice Day’.”

  8. It could be the guns. More specifically, guns were legal in the 1950s and illegal now, with, I understand, severe penalties for possession. I’m not naive about cause and effect, but one shouldn’t discount the possible effects of criminalizing the tools of self defense.

    • Lee: That’s a great article. Thanks. Some tidbits:

      Barbara’s previous marriage had been abusive and damaging [almost every divorce plaintiff claims this]

      Barbara, like many women who find ‘romance’ in Negril, says she is shunned by men of her own age in the UK, ‘because they want thinner, younger women and for some reason can get them’. [do we believe this? Or does she really mean HIGH-INCOME men of her own age?]

      The beach boys I met in Negril were all desperately poor and vulnerable, yet outwardly confident and hyper-masculine at the same time. I spent several days with one of them, Clinton, during which he never stopped trying to get me to have sex with him. [the author is described and depicted at ]

      I asked Clinton what he looked for in a woman and he told me: ‘I look for the milk bottles (white women who have obviously just arrived on the island).’

      Of those 80 women [who had sex with young Jamaican guys], nearly 60 per cent admitted there were ‘economic elements’ to their relationships, but they did not think of themselves as sex tourists, or their sexual partners as prostitutes.

      One young man told me the white women he had sex with made him feel sick. ‘They stink, have rough skin and look like old dogs. No wonder they have to pay for a man.’ A hotelier told me the women were ‘all ugly and fat’. ‘Men won’t touch them where they come from,’ he added. ‘I would be ashamed to be seen with any of them.’

  9. If you look at Gini index instead of looking at GDP (much more indicative of crime in a society), you will see it follows Jamaican murder rate quite well (very high, but not highest in the world).
    What it can not explain is murder rate rise in Jamaica in last 30 years (50 %).
    If you compare it to other murder-rich states (Brazil, South Africa, Haiti), you can see that murder rate in Jamaica is lower, but fluctuates much more then in those other countries. No explanation for such a large fluctuations.

    Side question. Is it possible to make markup style links in comments [link text](link adress) . I’ve tries it several years ago, and it didn’t work. I’ve tried it few days ago, and my comment was not accepted, maybe because of spam filter, I guess.

    • > side question

      Yes, use markup as if writing a .html file, using the “a” tag. (I’d show an example of the markup but don’t know how to escape it!)

      If I did it right, your link will be here. HTH.

    • @philg it is because of colonialism. The British stole all the natural resources of Jamaica and left faulty western ideas in place as a time-bomb. I wonder if the death of Haile Selassie (anticolonialist icon) made it worse?

    • Thanks Lord Palmerston, I am going to try it now.
      If you look quickly at Gini index and murder rate it is obvious that Gini index and murder rate are correlated. I am almost tempted to take raw data and do some investigation.
      On the other hand, you can look at the data and argue for anything. For example murder rate in Japan, Switzerland and Sweden. You could argue that stricter gun laws in Switzerland in the last years lead to decreased number of murders. But you can also ask how come that Switzerland, which has very liberal gun laws, and where almost every third or fourth citizen has a gun ,has same murder rate as Japan with very strict gun laws. Or that Switzerland has smaller murder rate then Sweden, which has much stricter gun laws. You could look just at Sweden’s murder rate data and conclude that moronic immigration practice leads to murder rate decrease.

    • How do we know if there is causality and, if so, what the direction is? Maybe a country with a high murder rate is chaotic and dysfunctional such that it is difficult for the average person to make and save money. We can perhaps see this in the U.S. There are sub-societies within the U.S. where crime, including murder, rates are high and those sub-societies also feature high income inequality. In these sub-societies there are lots of people at the government-defined subsistence level, e.g., living in housing projects, getting health care via Medicaid, and shopping via SNAP/EBT while only a handful can make and save money, e.g., by operating successful retail businesses (not always legal!) and accumulating wealth via real estate.

    • There are a lot of articles on the high income inequalities in American cities (the more Democrats in a city, the more unequal; NYC, Chicago, and San Francisco are the leaders in unfairness), but these mostly seem to focus on rich v. poor neighborhoods. However, I can’t find data on whether income inequality is actually higher within the poor neighborhoods (home to the high-crime sub-societies) compared to within the richer neighborhoods.,_New_York had almost no inequality (famous for having row after row of nearly identical houses).

      The Wikipedia article is interesting. It seems the Levitts were just like Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They loved their Black fellow-citizens, but didn’t want to be near any… William Levitt attempted to justify their decision to only sell homes to white families by saying that it was in the best interest for business.[16] He claimed their actions were not discriminatory but intended to maintain the value of their properties. The company explained that it was not possible to reduce racial segregation while they were attempting to reduce the housing shortage. Levitt said “As a Jew, I have no room in my heart for racial prejudice. But the plain fact is that most whites prefer not to live in mixed communities. This attitude may be wrong morally, and someday it may change. I hope it will.”[17] The Levitts explained that they would open up applications to blacks after they had sold as many homes to white people as possible.[16] They believed that potential white buyers would not want to buy a house in Levittown if they were aware they would have black neighbors.

      How is that like RBG? “In her 1993 Supreme Court confirmation hearing, it was learned, much to Ginsburg’s visible embarrassment, that in her 13 years on the D.C. Circuit she had never had a single black law clerk, intern, or secretary. Out of 57 employees, zero blacks.”

    • Yes, correlation and causation. I think you gave very good description in “country with a high murder rate is chaotic and dysfunctional such that it is difficult for the average person to make and save money” so it has high Gini index.
      As a little side remark for chaotic society, I always wonder how easily people in USA accept the fact that they have private prisons. I am afraid this practice will spill out into other parts of the world. There was already one case of politician in south-east Europe, lobbying for private prisons (fortunately unsuccessful). Private prisons create busyness incentive to incarcerate more people. More so in corrupt society. USA is less corrupt then south-east Europe (not so certain about that), but certainly more corrupt then northern Europe. USA has very high incarceration rate, highest in the world. Imprisoning people for petty crimes surely does not help to create peaceful society. There is known case of two judges in USA who were bribed to sent juveniles into jail for petty crimes. Are those two judges just two isolated cases, or were they just clumsy/stupid enough to be caught, and tip of the iceberg, logical consequence of a system which makes economic incentive for such things to happen.
      Do not misunderstand me, I am sure that tolerating violent crimes, as it is recently happening in USA, does not help. On the other hand, creating economic incentives for sending people for petty, non violent crimes into jail does not help either.

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