The Scarlet Pimpernel Blog
Sunday, 05 June 2011 11:30
By The Scarlet Pimpernel
Last November, while attending a conference sponsored by CADE, in Urubamba, Peru, I had the pleasure of meeting Harvard Business School Professor Michael E Porter, who delivered a presentation on "Strategies for Sustaining Growth and Prosperity in Peru".
Professor Porter is a world renowned economists, and expert in the area of competition; his seminal work on "The Competitive Advantage of Nations" is a must read for prudent 21st century politicians and political aspirants.
After the lecture, we exchanged pleasantries. I commended him on a brilliant presentation, so much of which was applicable to the emerging nations of Latin America and the Caribbean in general, and Antigua & Barbuda in particular. We touched the declining economic plight of Caribbean states in the new global economic environment, and after much prodding, he reluctantly explained that although the havoc caused by the global economic crisis cannot be ignored, the macroeconomic policies of Caribbean states are largely based on advice rooted in twentieth century economic ideology and supported by either dated or no scientific research.
I must admit a profound respect and admiration for Professor Porter’s scholarship and his expertise in the area of competition, and I tend to agree with his recommendation that attaining a “competitive advantage” is the express track to economic recovery and prosperity for small, emerging states like Antigua & Barbuda.
Although I was convinced as to the efficacy of the advice he proffered, the exchange left me with a nagging need to decipher what, if any, competitive advantage(s) Antigua & Barbuda presently has or could attain in the short term. To say that Antigua & Barbuda is delinquently uncompetitive is to state the obvious. Albeit, the answers to the essential questions of HOW Antigua & Barbuda could gain global competitive advantage; and in what market or area of endeavor should such an advantage be pursued were significantly more elusive than my fragile ego could tolerate. In the end, my relentless desire to uncover at least one solution eventually revealed a simple delectable possibility, which I will attempt to explain.Operational Definition
According to www.businessdictionary.com, competitiveness is the “… ability of a firm or a nation to offer products and services that meet the quality standards of the local and world markets at prices that are competitive and provide adequate returns on the resources employed or consumed in producing them.” This modern concept of competitiveness “captures the awareness of both the limitation[s] and challenge[s] posed by global competition, at a time when effective government action is constrained by budgetary constraints and the private sector faces significant barriers to competing in domestic and international markets.”Self-Assessment
In the new world of over 220 recognised countries that are in fierce, desperate competition for every conceivable regional and international economic advantage, it is extremely difficult for a small nation, with a highly vulnerable economy, like Antigua & Barbuda, to carve out any reasonable niche market through which it could garner competitive advantage, and secure the economic gains necessary to create jobs, grow the economy, and return the nation to former prosperity.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, one thing for sure is that “difficult” has never meant impossible, and I for one am of the opinion that as a nation, we do not have the option of further placid apathy while we, the ship of state, remain aimlessly adrift towards the proverbial tributary. I can recall when little Antigua & Barbuda enjoyed global competitive advantage; we once housed the lion’s share of all the internet gaming in the world. We were a world-class jurisdiction that dominated the global competition in a multi-billion industry. Accordingly, we must take solace in the idea that because we have done it before we can do it again. How do we get there?
To its enduring credit, the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) government created the legislative framework, secured the requisite partners, established the governmental agencies, created the policies and selected the local talent necessary to lead the global internet gaming industry. Our dominance was coveted by the deep pocketed, well-connected, gambling cartels of the United States, and they invested millions to pull the rug out from under our feet. We fought them all the way at the World Trade Organization (WTO), and won a token victory ... then the government changed. To make a long story short, there eventually came a time when we completely lost that highly lucrative competitive advantage and in that connection, have been overcome with collective regret, political sorrows, and economic distress ever since.Attaining National Competitiveness
According to Professor Porter, “a nation’s prosperity depends on its competitiveness, which is based on the productivity with which it produces goods and services.” He beckons us to appreciate that "national competitiveness is rooted in a nation’s microeconomic fundamentals, the sophistication of its operations and economic strategies, and the quality of its microeconomic business environment.” Indeed, an understanding of the microeconomic foundations of competitiveness is fundamental to successful national economic policy, but it must be emphasized that sound macroeconomic policies and stable political and legal institutions are necessary, but not sufficient conditions to ensure a prosperous national economy.
While we bear witness to businesses closing their doors after years of prosperity, and others leaving to more competitive jurisdictions or retrenching large numbers of workers, our bungling government still does not seem to have received the memo. Eloquent speeches and voluminous documents with clever acronyms CANNOT revive our economy. Moreover, the UPP’s 20th century economic ideology of sitting back and waiting on taxes from the private sector CANNOT work in a small economy with a tiny private sector, where the government employs most of the workers.Becoming the Marriage & Divorce Capital of the World
We have grieved over our economic losses long enough; it is time to “get up and get”. Life was grateful enough to send us some lemons. It’s time for us to use those same lemons to make lemonade and start selling it globally. I propose that we reclaim our former dominance, starting with a strategic foray into a niche area of marriage and divorce. This is a multi-billion dollar industry, and one in which we can pursue competitive advantage by simply creating the legal infrastructure and using the internet for Antigua & Barbuda to quickly become known as the “easiest (best) place in the world to get married or divorced.”
In short, I am proposing that Attorney General Justin L Simon QC start earning his keep. He has not demonstrated the perspicacity to originate any creative ideas to help his adopted home out of its current quagmire, but I am fairly certain that he is bright enough to follow simple instructions. The idea is to quickly change the laws and make it easier for couples to get married in Antigua & Barbuda than in Las Vegas, where an average of 500 people get married each day. Correspondingly, couples must be able to get divorced in Antigua & Barbuda more easily than anywhere else in the world, including Mexico. Then use the internet to tell the world.
If the marriage license application process was simplified and a revocable marriage license was made available to couples online, this facility could mean a radical increase in the number of couples electing to get married in Antigua & Barbuda. The obvious effect of these additional arrivals on tourism cannot be overstated. Likewise, the establishment of a non-contentious divorce court, which accepts online divorce applications and quickly processes and awards divorces, based on the sworn statements (affidavits) of a single applicant, who is required to appear in person, could also contribute significantly to our dwindling tourism and ailing economy.
For many people, the decision to get married or divorced is one of the most significant in life. The traditions, customs, formalities, legalities processes, and procedures associated with marriage and divorce can be extremely nerve wrecking. Thousands of couples would greatly appreciate an easy way to get hitched, or unhitched, as the case may be; the popularity of Las Vegas “quickie” marriages, and uncomplicated Mexican divorces are strong testimonies of this reality.
Countless couples would prefer to have a quiet, intimate, exclusive wedding in Antigua, and then have the reception with friends and family in their hometown. Worldwide, people are getting divorced at a rate that is as fast as, if not faster than the rate at which they are getting married. After the love fades, many couples would find it advantageous to get lawfully divorced in Antigua & Barbuda and then return home unattached to deal with custody and division of assets in the courts where they are domiciled.
As we strive to solidify our competitive advantage in a niche area of marriage and divorce, the government should seriously consider decriminalizing the victimless offense of polygamy. We can lead the western world with laws that give consenting adults the right to marry as many husbands or wives as they please. Indeed, rich men and women in high tax jurisdictions may see the advantage of acquiring additional spouses in order to claim more dependents and consequently pay less to the state in taxes.
I cannot come this close to such a controversial topic and not touch it, so while we are seeking to revive our economy by any lawful means necessary, the government is encouraged to accept an “in for the penny, in for the pound” disposition and legalize same sex marriages. This is more about the morality of securing revenue to ensure that poor people have the resources to put food in bellies of their hungry children, as opposed to supporting the perceived immorality of homosexuality. We already have legislation according limited rights to same sex unmarried couples; I cannot see the moral danger of proceeding to the next logical step, particularly considering the national economic benefits of the instant proposal.
I want to make it abundantly pellucid that these ideas should not be interpreted on an all-inclusive basis. The powers that be should “tek time and walk fast” … feel free to select the aspects it deems most likely to help revive our sickly economy. I notice that the UPP government remains averse to good advice, particularly the counsel of those born and bred in Antigua & Barbuda. I predict that the same local talent they refuse to acknowledge will be leading the clarion call for change, which will ultimately result in the undoing of an arrogant government that came to power on the promise of championing the rights of the people they now disgracefully reject.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is the nom de plume of an Antiguan born “knowledge broker” whose intercontinental exploits involve work as a university founder and educator, military strategist, international legal consultant, United States prosecutor, published author, trade advisor in Latin America and international investment counselor.
The inimitable acuity of the “Pimpernel” is sought after by entrepreneurs, investors and governments from Dubai to Brazil. Recent work, created for Latin America, which speaks to the conjunction of technology and education to reduce cost, motivate students and improve testing results will be translated and introduced to school systems across the Caribbean later this year. “Employing anonymity to domesticate the ego ...”