The Price of Literacy

It now costs 16.5% more than it did last year for the average Jamaican to read a book. Thank you, Jamaican Government.

While my first instinct is to lambaste this tax reform as a dick move by the government, I will restrain from using bad words from delivering my initial reaction and instead try to create some semblance of a rational reply to this ridiculous measure.

But first, enjoy a few statistics:
Jamaica ranks 63rd (of 163) in the world with our literacy rate of 86.4 {source}.
Girls and women have higher literacy rates than boys and men (6% and 10% differences respectively)
In 2009 the average literacy rate of youth was 95.17
In the same year for adults, 86.36

This is the kind of educational climate in which Dr. Peter Phillips sees it fit to impose a tax on printed material, with the exception of sloppily defined ‘textbooks’ (which includes children’s colouring books and of course the Bible, because Jesus would upset the temple of the moneylenders all over again if they dared to tax His Father’s book).

And besides, he adds flippantly, the Ministry of Education already provides the basic texts through the book rental programme. In HIGH SCHOOL.

And what of those students whose required readings fall outside Dr. Phillips’ nonchalant demarcations of “textbooks”? What of university students (like myself) whose books already cost more than some people make in a fortnight (and that’s just ONE book). What about people who read for leisure?


Therein lies the source of my greatest displeasure. In a nation, nay world, where young people already eschew the written word in favour of mp3’s and mp4’s taxing printed material is akin to dropping the axe cleanly on the chopping block. We readers had pretty much been confined to the gallows before but now our feet are dangling above the gap and instead of a clean break (like, say, censorship) we are faced with the pain of a slow death by asphyxiation.

I am not being melodramatic.

Even you, reader of blogs; if you are honest with yourself you can realize this. When was the last time you picked up a book that wasn’t required for school or work? If you can answer yesterday, last week or even last month, congratulations, you are among a happy and dying minority. If like most Jamaicans, the last thing you read was your Lotto ticket (or light bill), then you will be right at home in Peter’s new world order.

I of course plan to boycott this capitalistic censorship by buying books for as cheaply as possible as often as possible. Feel free to join me. I’ll be the one chaining myself to a bookstore and reading.

2 thoughts on “The Price of Literacy

  1. If you think things are going to improve…you’re gonna have a bad time.

    I love this post though. It’s always heartening to know that I’m a member of a dying minority.

    “What of university students (like myself) whose books already cost more than some people make in a fortnight (and that’s just ONE book). What about people who read for leisure?”

    This was the part that hit me. I find it hard enough to afford all the textbooks I need, even with my job (most of our textbooks cost me a fortnight or more of my pay). The idea of buying a book to read already seemed like some far-fetched and fanciful concept. If I weren’t an avid reader already, I wouldn’t find this state of affairs conducive to making me a recreational reader. This tax isn’t doing anything to help the situation.

    What the hell are colouring books and bibles supposed to do for most people? Something else I find amusing is, does the tax exemption only apply to *THE* (Christian) Bible, or to other religious books as well? If it doesn’t, I can see the possibility of someone making a valid objection to the new taxes on the basis of religious discrimination, because after all, it’s become a bit difficult to define a religious book. For example, Atlas Shrugged is a novel to some people, but it’s pretty much a manual to life for followers of Ayn Rand. It would be fun to bring this up in the legal system – although it would probably take forever to get it resolved.

    All of a sudden, my grand plans to buy a book every other week this summer seems to have died. *Shameless plug* If you had a very handsome friend whose birthday was coming up and you wanted to buy him a book on history of famous pieces of art that originally cost $4000, you’re going to end up paying almost $1000 more. It’s terrible!

    I LOLed at “Peter’s New World Order” though, and it wasn’t even funny. Jah know star, things dismal. :|


  2. Taxing books is quite low.Maybe a TV or/and cable licence would have been a better alternative for revenue collection.

    But books! Come on gov’t. It can be a challenge enough to get some of our children to enjoy reading.

    Hopefully Amazon and their online equivalent won’t be affected for any sales to Jamaica. For some type of books we’ll have to rely on Kindle and other E-readers.

    Any word from the Deacon?


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