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Call for vision with actual growth plan

The battle lines have been clearly drawn in the sand. We have had both the annual Budget speech by the Government, and the response from the Opposition. Neither were supposedly meant as election speeches, but in an election year, the probabilities rank high.

The Government's proposed budget was somewhat an appeasement to the lower earners by shifting the increased overall burden mildly towards the higher earners, presumably using the increased revenue out of a static economy to address the national debt. The Opposition on the other hand offered the idea of economic growth to generate the revenue to continue support of social programmes and address the national deficit. We do understand that governance and fiscal responsibility mean everything, but if words alone worked, the Opposition's position has far more merit and would win the budget debate.

Just like the challenges for the American economy and its commitment to a new Trump agenda, the real formula here, as all over the globe, is the issue of economic growth. Shifting the burden may be useful, but it does not satisfy or address the overall problem. We know the big elephant in the living room is the national debt and the bloated administration needed to carry the Government and its obligations. Yes, and it does matter how we got into debt and it is also right to place the blame where it belongs. However, it is wasted energy rationalising the past when we need that energy to figure how to pull ourselves out from the debt and move forward today.

Without question, growth is the answer. A 3 per cent growth in our economy would place it firmly in recovery mode. Therefore, it is the greatest indication of bankrupt thinking when we look for growth then limit our view to the two industries that have perhaps served us good, but have proven insufficient to balance our budget. It is just as absurd as depending on catching rain to sustain the water demands for a population that has grown beyond capacity and has changed its lifestyle. Notwithstanding, equally the Opposition would need to do more than prophesy growth; it needs to put flesh on the bones and share the basis of its optimism with real growth projections.

Growth is not the sole panacea, either: where and how the growth occurs and how it benefits the whole society is equally as important. Back in the Eighties, the old economic leaders directed economic growth and capital flow towards the south-western area of the city and, by policy and zoning, discouraged development in the northern sector. They proclaimed to have wanted social progress, but at the same time disguised their intent to keep real economic progress restricted to the already established south end. The problem for them was how to contain the growth that was naturally occurring through newly emerging international business, which ultimately become a near 20-year boom.

That niggardliness in policy led to their political demise. The next 14 years as a reactionary response to them became a failed exercise in using the same ethos in reverse, as an attempt to benefit the forgotten sector, which in the end not only remained the forgotten, but now became the forsaken.

As a comparison, we are at present in a neoconservative derivative of those eras, which is vested in the ideology of rescuing the economic ship of state, but limits the sectors where that recovery takes place and as an adjunct who participates in the recovery. The old game was “capture the growth”; the new game has become “capture the recovery”. If in the past through economic expediency the ethics were that one sector of the society will become impoverished during a boom, then conceivably the update to that axiom is that same sector would be facing its demise in any economic recovery.

It would be nice if it could be said differently, but policy and performance support the hypothesis that our economy has been stagnated by “three” unhealthy traumas and not just one as presumed.

Wouldn't it also be good if you can hear from the top of the Hill a vision of a brighter future, with the steps laid out for how and from where the growth will occur? Instead, we get the picture that it may take upward of ten years before we can see a balanced budget and, that, only if we reduce our government.

It is instructive when you hear our economic political leaders saying “we are maintaining what has worked and staying the course”, because what they really mean is there will be no innovation in our economic model or efforts. That scenario of austerity works for some in our community, but it is disastrous for the majority.

So we have two options to consider: we either accept the “rock steady baby” proposed by the Government or make “Bermuda a new land of growth and opportunity” as proposed by the Opposition.

Which projection would you prefer to trust is the question before us.

Finance Minister Bob Richards arrives at the House of Assembly to deliver his 2017-2018 budget (Photograph David Skinner)

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Published March 09, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated March 09, 2017 at 7:29 am)

Call for vision with actual growth plan

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