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An attempt to buy time

The Royal Gazette’s Budget headline of “Premier favours growth over austerity with $1.08b Budget” misses the mark.

Bermuda has been in economic contraction for a number of years, and there was nothing in this Budget that was a break from the past which would stimulate growth. Other than growth in debt, that is.

A more accurate headline would have been: “Premier favours status quo over austerity.”

The core problem that Bermuda faces under the PLP is that its core philosophy is anti-growth, because, as blogger Denis Pitcher over at 21Square has demonstrated, the core challenge facing Bermuda is a loss of people on the island which is hitting Bermudians directly both in unemployment and in lower incomes.

Land licences were designed to depress the real estate market, term limits were designed to depress international business. And they worked. The result has been a massive increase in Bermudian unemployment, a massive loss of both Bermudian and non-Bermudian jobs, but most materially, a structural shift in the Bermuda economy which the government still stubbornly attributes to global economics despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Bermuda, it seems to me, is separating into two camps, the denialists and the realists.

The realists know that the answer is to reverse the PLP’s signature policies which have directly undermined Bermudians job creation and wealth creation. The denialists say “it’s the global recession, we need fewer foreigners and more government debt to solve our problems”, when the genesis of our problems was less foreign workers and investment preceded by a massive ramp-up of Government debt.

As the George Orwell quote goes: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

I think what drives me the most crazy is the PLP’s insistence on saying things they know not to be true.

To borrow a quote from Bill Maher:

“This is what I hate about the Republicans. They know that what they’re saying is BS, but they say it anyway because they know that the people who aren’t paying as much attention won’t know it. That, to me, is the ultimate definition of cynicism.”

That’s why I found the PLP’s recent patriotism attack on realists particularly cynical, and hypocritical. Especially because just a week ago their shrill website claimed: “If you believe in the right wing values of the Republicans and the Tories, the OBA is the party for you.”

The PLP are Bermuda’s modern Republicans, particularly in their campaigning which borrows heavily from their highly antagonistic, reality-be- damned approach to communications. Philosophically they are isolationist, anti-immigrant, and responsible for racking up massive amounts of debt.

Calling their opponents unpatriotic is election gimmick number one of the Republicans, and one they invoked regularly against President Obama. Of course it’s racial code for all sorts of things: that he isn’t really an American, that he’s a Muslim, And that’s what the PLP are up to with this patriotism charade. It’s a classic diversion, the kind politicians invoke when faced with tough to rebut criticism, not to mention similar code that the Opposition are somehow not authentic Bermudians, are pro-foreigner, anti-Bermudian etc..

But what we’ve seen is that nothing has been more anti-Bermudian than the PLP’s economic and ensuing social policy. The economic policy has turned surpluses and a thriving economy into perpetual debt and a contracting economy with ensuing job losses in every segment except cruise arrivals which have little economic value - but lots of headline value.

What strikes me as unpatriotic is implementing policies designed to drive your key jobs to your overseas competitors, and even worse - refusing to end them when it’s obvious that they are a threat to Bermudian jobs and wealth creation.

That economic contraction has made the long term survival of many Government services completely unviable. Everyone knows it. The PLP know it. They just can’t admit it with an election looming as it is an admission that their philosophy is completely incompatible with a growing economy and inwards investment.

So what we get is a budget perhaps most characterised by an import duty change that in a few months has been completely schizophrenic, culminating in a Budget proposal that isn’t even directionally consistent with a measure put in place before Christmas.

We’ve gone from 35 percent duty at the airport and $100 duty free per household to 25 percent duty and $200 each family member.

It’s indicative of a leadership that has no guiding philosophy other than what works for a headline in the here and now. There is no strategy, just tactics. There is no plan, just gimmicks. There is no growth just spin.

I keep returning to the simple idea that there is no way for Bermuda to make the structural changes without a change in political leadership. Paula Cox and her colleagues are legacy protecting first and foremost.

They can’t totally reverse discriminatory land licences because they were their idea. They can’t end job and investment killing term limits because they were Paula Cox’s idea. They can’t admit that our debt is out of control because it was single-handedly put on the books entirely under Paula Cox’s tenure.

This budget was simply an attempt to buy time and hope for some external factor to turn things around. But Bermuda can’t afford to wait for outside forces, nor will they be enough.

Bermuda’s recovery will begin when Bermuda fixes Bermuda’s self-inflicted problems. And the best way to signal that Bermuda is making a clean break is to make a clean break and bring in new leadership.

This opinion first appeared on Christian Dunleavy’s blog, www.politics.bm

Christian Dunleavy

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Published February 28, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 28, 2012 at 7:53 am)

An attempt to buy time

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