There are times and indicators that cause me to have great concern for Bermuda and its future. I don’t want to paint the illusion that the rest of the world has got it and is doing great because everywhere there are political squabbles over the issue of how to direct the economy.
However, when looking at some of the more progressive jurisdictions, one cannot help but observe that they are leaders because they have aggressively covered their areas of competitive vulnerability and have exalted any area where they have advantages and complemented them with a supportive education.
It’s no mystery or great secret that economies revolve around satisfying a demand. Our economy is not an arbitrary instance or random shot in a dark abyss. Over its 400-year history, it was never a random exercise; it was always satisfying some niche in the global market — for that matter, even wars.
The concomitant trend we also had was of having at times more opportunity than people, hence a demand for labour. However, walking the streets of Hamilton today, in the middle of what should be our peak season, the emptiness is worrying. It’s not just the lack of tourists; it is also the lack of locals and the lack of people as participants and buyers.
The cost of living under the existing construct cannot come down and in spite of the lay calls such as “bring down your prices”, the truth is that we would have to do a lot of things radically different to affect the cost of living — and price control is not one of them. The issue of chain of supply would need to be intercepted, which would require huge infrastructural development.
This is an area of pure frustration, as I witness other countries tackle this issue head-on. Development of ports is quintessential to this exercise. Whether it is the present size of cruise ships or the size of container ships, the reality is your economy is dependent on the ability to facilitate the marine market “where it is today”.
Cape Breton Island, as an example, is a quiet economy when compared with the rest of Nova Scotia, but it is experiencing a little boom and next year will be bigger because of port development.
The benefit Bermuda had in the past is that it was mercantile in its attitude and nature. Whatever we needed to do to play a role in the world, we did it. Most everything you see, such as the airport, was put there and was not part of the natural landscape or geography. All the channels were not natural, either, and were made to accommodate ships and required dredging, and in some cases blasting, yet it was done. And here we are.
We know that it is a bad word when governments perform out of expediency. However, business thrives on recognising opportunity and the ability to seize them. Opportunity unlike issues of developing political consensus comes and goes to those who are able to respond win a timely fashion. This is the dance of life or death for a country such as Bermuda.
This may be the greatest challenge to the Government and, indeed, any government of Bermuda. Our challenge would be to avoid “analysis paralysis” where governments second-guess the acumen of businessmen to the extent that they destroy the timing on an opportunity. When the opportunity goes, it is not just the businessman who loses; the country loses also.
There is a direct correlation between opportunity and all the Bermudians parked in England or elsewhere. There is a direct correlation between violence and crime, and opportunity.
The increasing numbers of those on welfare, and the distress of business owners are all related to opportunity.
It doesn’t matter who is in government, the issue is how do they respond to opportunity.
No amount of rhetoric can reverse the trend; it is a structural matter. Like the leading nations, we have to recognise that our survival as a country and viable economy depends on the private sector securing opportunity, which in turn benefits all of Bermuda.