Crabs in the barrel
It may be hard to imagine better days are coming, particularly when everything around us represents chaos: the closure of the Rosebank branch of Butterfield Bank, school populations declining, some very old established businesses folding and the scarcity of good-paying jobs.
There are many prophets of doom who will say we are heading towards the cliff.
Every statistical fact may support the doomsayers’ observations, and having a critical mind is not necessarily negative. But pause, take a deep breath, the whole world is going through a readjustment. Turmoil and conflict are compounded with populist discontent being expressed in many developed countries. Comparatively, notwithstanding our perils, we are still a gem with some value and potential. Technological advancement is also a huge factor displacing the workforce.
The original thought for technology was that it will make life easier by increasing the ability to produce. Well, it did that but in the process removed the need for hands-on manual operators with machines that can work non-stop seven days a week.
The same companies that once hired thousands of workers have trimmed their workforce and seen the productivity and profit go upwards. We have yet to feel the effects of blockchain, which will do similar.
It has happened so rapidly that society is grappling with the changes. Today there is more wealth in fewer hands and this is after all the great liberation and labour movements. Some nations are deliberately lowering the cost of their labour in order to be globally competitive and employ their people.
The lack of having a robust employment force hurts us everywhere, but we cannot blame it on numbers alone and import more people if we don’t have an industry or jobs for them to fulfil. That is unless you were talking about very wealthy, high-net persons, who will bring some sustained revenue but not enough to get the car needle off empty.
Bermuda’s local economy is not insignificant but relatively small. There isn’t too much appetite for foreign companies investing in our domestic market. As big as Belco is, there is no gold rush or truckloads of bullion waiting to be purchased. We are truthfully dependent on servicing the world and the international economy — that’s where our focus should be.
The analogy to be drawn with our need to stimulate the economy is the Old West of the Americas when gold was found, and then oil. Caravans of people moved to the west. They did not move because of some fancy for the west; it was a lure and hope to find gold.
Emigration from Bermuda is the same thing — people are looking for a means of livelihood. In a Bermuda context, industry is that gold. Whether it was tourism or international business, that’s what has been creating jobs. So in many ways, immigration is not the core problem; it’s the lack of industry.
Under present circumstances, if more people are let in without creating new jobs, all that happens is displacement.
The real solution is the creation of new industry or new interests that attracts foreign investment and participation that at the same time will create new jobs and a newer increased population. All we need to facilitate new industry is magnanimous leadership. I am old enough to have seen opportunities over the decades pass us by. We could be farther ahead with no need to suffer economic hardship, but unfortunately we have a lot crabs in the barrel.
This is the era for bold entrepreneurship and creativity because only commerce can pull us through. Tourism is good, international business, too, but we have been beating those drums so hard for so long that their skins are dry and can yield no more.
New industry will increase tourism and international business. We will succeed, but the world of success may look very different from the Bermuda we see today.