Khalid Wasi

Out with the brown, in with the green

  • Political commentator: Khalid Wasi

Previously, I wrote about ingenuity and today I will focus on the value of earning foreign exchange. There is much talk about revitalising the economy. Added to that conversation is that of closures of many local shops and businesses.

Then we hear responses such as “we need to lower the price of goods”, “bring down commercial rents” and, even, “we need to pay people more so they can survive”.

The most amazing phenomenon is that we want to do it by some format of redistributing the money that is already circulating in the economy. Let’s call it the “brown money”.

Even the suggestions such as, “let’s redo infrastructure with such things as bridges, the airport, Marginal Wharf, roads and the like, while creating jobs”, depend on borrowing in one form or another but, more importantly, will be paid for out of the money already circulating in the economy — the brown money.

The result will be a temporary bubble followed by a crash and then, ultimately, an increased cost of living.

If any of those infrastructural matters had the effect of increasing tourist numbers or international business, both of which bring in foreign cash or “green money”, then we could say that the infrastructure is being paid for by new money.

I suspect no one believes or contemplates that those items on their own will generate more tourists or international business. Worse, some believe, with no thought at all, that to do so will be nevertheless better and shall be sustained by an invisible means.

There is nothing mysterious about our economic growth as a country. Historically, Bermuda and its infrastructure has been as a result of a foreign exchange matter.

The history is long, but we can shorten the story by emphasising that those efforts were for the most part relating Bermuda as an outpost and military fort for Britain with the construction of forts at some points, according to historians of parliamentary debates in London, “with scandalous amounts of money”.

The early defence of Bermuda as a British colony included the American Civil War, then the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States, the building of the Royal Naval Dockyard, then Kindley Field during the Second World War.

All of those items were cases of foreign money developing our lands, creating infrastructure and, most importantly, they were not paid for by Bermuda tax dollars.

On a commercial level, all the leading hotels were built by foreign investment.

Properties and buildings for international business, in many cases, were financed by Bermuda money but paid for by foreign investment. It was the case in the early 1990s that many commercial buildings servicing international business were built and paid off in six years.

Let’s not kid ourselves; it was a lot more than shopkeepers standing outside their doors wearing pink shorts and long blue socks that grew our economy. It was external needs, and if we want to get back to growth, we need the same dynamics working.

For centuries, we fulfilled a maritime need in the world before we developed international business, and our fate is still tied to that formula.

There always will be the Luddites wanting to hold on to tradition and nostalgia; however, I will maintain our deeper ability that has led us to success is “adaptability”.

We need infrastructure, but we need the format that uses green money, not brown, to pay for it.

The net effect for building with green money is that it not only energises the economy as a stimulus, but it sustains it after it is built, instead of a boom bust when debt-financed, then paid out by taxpayer brown money.

Once we return to real growth with new money, there is a chain effect where large institutions will take note of our sustainability and be imbued with confidence to park their money in our banks.

Growth creates growth, and that is what we need.