October 22, 2007

A study of anecdotes

I haven't commented particularly on the Racial Quota law that has been getting heavy rotation over the past couple of weeks, mostly because I don't view it as a serious policy initiative, it's a political pre-election trap.

Phil Perinchief's prejudiced and hypocritical attack on lawyer Tim Marshall (apparently legal opinions are now racist if they run counter to the Government's talking points) and the ex-Governor should have confirmed that, as does the rather intemperate but revealing email exchange where the taxpayer funded race consultant has admitted that he's there to turn the next election into a test of racial allegiance.

Today's rather amusing yet disturbing interview with Wayne Perinchief, Minister of Cultural Affairs, is worth a quick dissection though.

Firstly, I think that you can make a decent argument in favour of affirmative action, one that I used to subscribe to; but after spending a decade working in the real world I’ve come to the conclusion that while the intent can be noble it's completely unworkable and devalues everyone who has achieved their success without quotas.

I believe a much better approach in Bermuda's case is to address education and create an environment that is conducive to creating opportunity rather than doing to international business what we did to Tourism in the 80s by taking it for granted.

Frankly, this initiative from the PLP is apparently a rip-off of Canadian legislation, except it is not broadly targeted at all. Instead it is so narrowly defined that it mocks the idea of preventing discrimination in all forms, making it little more than a political ploy designed to achieve a political result not a social one.

But sadly although not surprisingly the Minister is clearly incapable of making even the decent argument, judging by his rant today in the Royal Gazette.

Where to start? How’s about here:

We have done some studies which indicate white people with a high school education go further than blacks with a degree.

"We have seen that, it's been anecdotal. That is one of the issues we need to address. But whites don't have to look over their shoulder if they are as educated and as qualified. They don't."

"I have heard, and this is anecdotal, of students who are entering the workforce in international companies and being — they believe — harshly treated. In other words they are being micro-managed and they have what they believe is a punitive system which deters them from staying.

So which is it? Did they do a study, is it anecdotal or did they study anecdotes?

And then there’s the interchangeable use of “black Bermudians”, “natives” and “indigenous”, providing a classic study in the code words in Bermuda politics that 'Bermudian' means 'black' and everyone else is not a ‘real Bermudian’.

But are we talking white people, or white Bermudians? Black people or black Bermudians? This wouldn't be the first time that the Government used expats as a proxy for whites and compared to black Bermudians with the not surprisngly skewed results of some high earning expats (John Barritt tackled this in a Parliamentary debate in the past year or so).

But it’s funny. Because today the Department of Statistics released its Facts and Figures 2006 report with this historical note:

1609 Start of human settlement as a result of shipwreck of the Sea Venture which was bound for Virginia.

1612 Permanent settlers arrive from England, one of them being Richard Moore, the first Governor. Town of St. George established.

Hence, Bermuda had no indigenous population, everyone is a status Bermudian ultimately.

I could really care less the race of the original settlers versus the current racial breakdown of the population, no-one has a greater claim to call Bermuda their home based on their race. I find this strategy of creating an us and them mentality very offensive. We're all Bermudians.

Personally I think that Bermuda is a much more interesting place as it becomes more cosmopolitan, but I know some don't agree.

My personal favourite non-justification justifications are as follows:

Recently Mr. Perinchief had an epiphany when he visited the Atlantis hotel in Nassau, Bahamas.

"What I was used to seeing in hotels was white management and one or two black people at the lower levels of employment."

But in that hotel everyone from the doorman to the management was black.

"I suddenly realised, after two days, what I was observing. I saw an institution that was run and managed, top to bottom, by the indigenous people, by the locals, by Bahamians.

"And quite honestly it blew my mind — it is a premier hotel by any description. It was mind-boggling and an education to me. I came back home further resolved to ensure that this type of thing happens in Bermuda."

A few statistics (real not manipulated ones) for Mr. Perinchief:

Population of Bahamas: 305,655 (2007)

Population of Bermuda: 62.059 (2000) – 71% Bermudian

Unemployment in Bahamas: 10.2% (2005)

Unemployment in Bermuda: negative (ie. approx 9,000 work permits)

Suggesting that a population (black, white or otherwise) of about 50,000 (with no unemployment) can staff up a highly specialized international financial services economy such as ours, is just bone-headed and completely dishonest. We are a small town.

I know that I shouldn't say that because it doesn't play into the nationalistic fervor that we're trying to cultivate, but it's just a fact. We're a tiny, tiny place with a very sophisticated economy that needs the best and brightest from the world, which brings with it a lot of associated benefits.

Sure, any individual Bermudian can aspire to the best positions, but it's intellectually dishonest, and socially dangerous, to suggest that Bermudians can in disproportionate numbers populate the top positions in the international conglomerates that call Bermuda home.

And then there’s this one:

"Look at the anomaly in this country, you have a Government that, coincidently, is black from top to bottom. A civil service that basically is black — we run the country, we set the policy, we draft the legislation.

"We set the parameters by which these very rich companies make billions. Yet the companies don't employ our nationals, there is something wrong there. Don't tell me we can run a country with basically all black people at the top and these companies can't employ our nationals at any level of middle and upper management? Ridiculous.”

Right. Firstly, to reiterate, Bermudians aren’t just ‘black people’, despite the effort to rewrite history.

Secondly, our companies do employ ‘our nationals’; the 1,700 or so employees of our Class 4 insurer/reinsurers are about 70% Bermudian.

Mr. Perinchief's fundamental flaw is that our private companies are not paving roads, delivering mail, and processing paper work. Bermuda succeeds as a financial jurisdiction because of a lack of Government intervention and a low tax rate, not because of Government. More and more it's in spite of Government in fact.

Our ‘very rich companies making billions’ are competing against the rest of the world in earning high returns on billions of dollars of invested capital, not just within a 21 square mile perimeter.

The closest comparison of Government's effectiveness at performing in the private sector is at the Department of Tourism, and we know how we're losing ground to our competitors there constantly. Things have got so bad that the Premier has to lie about it.

And finally, while we have a very high opinion of ourselves here based on our economic success, a little dose of reality for the misguided Minister is probably in order: cities like New York, London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dublin, all of whom have populations many many times the tiny size of ours, import a substantial amount of the senior staff for their financial services industries as well.

To be honest, I’m not sure why I waste my time pointing out realities in the face of political stupidity.

A friend said it best to me today in an email:

Methinks that attempting to reverse the rising tide of politically-motivated ignorance in Bermuda is probably about as futile - and thankless - a task as trying to convince the Iranian president that the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion were, in fact, long ago exposed as a Tsarist forgery. You're not dealing with reason, anymore, but faith - blind faith that is entirely impervious to logic. Frightening days ahead, good sir.
Posted by Christian S. Dunleavy