Of certainties, population and avocados
Do you recall who said that death and taxes are the only two certainties in life?
I didn’t. But “Professor Google” set me straight — it was Benjamin Franklin. Writing a letter about the United States Constitution in 1789, he said: “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Smart guy, Ben. His opinion might be a touch morbid, but it’s certainly topical.
Humanity is wrestling with viral deaths. Bermuda Government debt is spiralling towards its new “ceiling” of $3.5 billion, which means … you guessed it.
Even before Covid-19, Bermuda saw an alarming increase in taxes. Some tax increases caught the public’s attention, others less so. The 2018 sugar tax was probably the most blatant — and unwelcomed. Surprisingly, the Progressive Labour Party government’s decision to increase the foreign-currency purchase tax went less noticed, but this was a tax increase with a hidden sting in the tail.
Given our geographic isolation, we are forced to import almost everything — as to which, read on. And we must pay US dollars for things we import. By taxing Bermudians more to obtain those precious US dollars, the Government has increased the cost of living in Bermuda.
A less obvious tax than the sugar tax, perhaps, but the pain is just as real — probably more so.
Franklin’s certainties: death and taxes ...
Population growth versus Bermudian status
And speaking of Bermuda’s debt, how exactly does one clear a tab of, ahem, almost $3 billion — which may soon hit $3.5 billion?
Do you think a layaway plan will cut it? Nope, me neither.
So, what can we actually do to prevent us sinking beneath this ocean of borrowed debt?
Well, we already discussed increasing taxes. And no one wants any more taxes, thank you very much. Plus, raising taxes in a faltering economy is generally considered to be a bad idea.
So, what other option is there?
To me, there is only one: we must grow the economy.
And how, you may ask, do we do that? Aren’t we swept up in an economic landslide at present?
Again, there is only one option: we must grow the population in Bermuda.
If we have more people in Bermuda, this will mean there are more people here paying taxes.
If we have more people paying taxes, this will give us more money to reduce our massive debt burden.
Interestingly enough, the Premier agrees with this. In December 2017, David Burt said in an interview: “ ... we will grow this economy and the way we will grow this economy is by having more people living and working in Bermuda.”
But wait, you say, didn’t we have protests in the streets about not having more people here? Well, yes, but there is a fundamental difference between increasing our resident population versus increasing those with Bermudian status.
These are two different things. And it is important to understand this difference — because the reason why some oppose increasing one is very different to why some oppose the other.
Opposition to more Bermudians is entangled with quite legitimate questions of birthright, identity and, for some, the vote.
Opposition to more residents is based on the quite mistaken belief that having more people in Bermuda might take jobs away from those already here.
But the truth is they don’t. The economy is not a “zero sum game”. Foreign workers allow both Bermudian businesses and international business to grow. Business growth creates more jobs in Bermuda — this means more jobs for Bermudians.
It also means more people to pay the taxes needed to reduce our debt.
It’s a sensitive issue. Of course, it is. But the tide from the debt ocean gets higher with each passing day.
Leave things much longer, and Franklin’s certainties may be all that is left for us.
Which are the real Bermudians?
Changing topic a bit: what makes something Bermudian? No, not someone. Something.
This question struck me when, the other day, One Bermuda Alliance deputy leader Leah Scott kindly shared with me some of her home-grown vegetables — green pepper, tomatoes, eggplant, since you asked; the eggplant made an amazing curry.
Yet the subject of my musings was not in fact a vegetable, but the Bermuda avocado.
Presumably, I am not alone when feeling rather proud about Bermudian-made things. We make or grow very little on our island. So, when the lemon tree planted several years ago outside the kitchen finally sprouted a single lemon, I got quite excited.
The converse of my pride in all things Bermudian is that I have been silently carrying a bit of guilt about “Bermudian” avocados.
There are some 500 varieties of avocados globally — thanks again, Professor Google. But Bermudians are most familiar with two varietals: the bigger, rounder, light-green ones; and the smaller, oval, green-bluey ones, with rougher skin. The former are more buttery, certainly. But, to me, it is the smaller ones that are the more flavourful.
I used to think the round ones were the “Bermudian” avocados, while the smaller ones were imported. And I carried a twinge of guilt about my preference — was I somehow being disloyal to my homeland?
Yet now I discover I am absolved. Neither varietal of avocado is truly Bermudian — both hailed from overseas. And both grow and flourish here. So avocado lovers can celebrate our mixed “Bermudian” heritage. I am sure there is a message of unity in there somewhere?
In any case, no new taxes on our avocados, please.
• Scott Pearman is the Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs and the MP for Paget East (Constituency 22)
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