Should we raise taxes?

The UK Government has come out recommending that territories and crown dependencies should raise taxes to wean themselves out of the recession.  This is absolutely the wrong approach.  The UK hasn't itself been able to reign in it's own troubles with ever expanding debt levels.  What we should be doing is cutting expenditure.  Our government has seen our budget double in the last few years and our spending has recklessly expanded faster than our revenues and yet what do we have to show for it?  Focus on reigning in our budgets, not doing more damage to our economy, that's the right course.   The only changes we should consider to our methods of taxation are ones that would likely prove a bit fairer for all.

Computer issues

Posting is likely to remain light as my main pc is out of commission and I'm forced to rely on my netbook, which simply doesn't suffice for the kind of analysis I'm hoping to do on a couple topics, including the recent PLP / Royal Gazette surveys.  

Does it miss the mark?

Opposition Leader Kim Swan's One Bermuda, it certainly is a nice effort but does it miss the mark?  Something just doesn't seem to add up about the leader of the opposition starting his own site, on his own, in an effort to boost his leadership popularity while claiming it is about promoting unity and togetherness amongst Bermudians.  

It is much like if Premier Brown were to come out with a website dedicated to improving race relations and then plaster his PR all over it in a bid to try and improve his standing in maintaining leadership.  Honestly, who would take such a site seriously?  It is certainly one thing if the Premier were to start a race relations site and certainly another if he wanted to create a personal PR site with a personal blog, hell both would be welcome but combining the two?  Thus why does it make any more sense for the Opposition Leader?

Another point of mention is the site's 'blog'.  Could people please take note the difference between a blog and a forum and that they are not the same?  Both can serve the purposes of providing discussion however there are distinct differences to the format.  One can think of it like a public meeting.  In 'Blog' format it is like having a moderator with a microphone.  That moderator can give a speech on a topic and then pass the microphone around for others to give feedback, the moderator can also invite guest speakers and give them the microphone.  A 'forum' is more like a meeting with no moderator or microphone but simply a bunch of signs setup where people are encouraged to meet under signs to discuss the topics posted amongst themselves.  Mr. Swan's One Bermuda includes a forum though it is incorrectly titled as a blog.  It is the belief of this writer that Mr. Swan would be better served having a true blog instead where he can regularly share his own thoughts and insights as well as invite feedback and thoughts from others.  The reason being is that we already have numerous forums for general discussion and in order to stand out Mr. Swan would need to offer something different. 

One Bermuda is certainly a nice effort, but it seems to be confusing two different purposes into one.  By doing so does it ultimately discredit the stated goal of the site while doing more damage to Mr. Swan's reputation than good?  It seems an odd mix, trying to unite Bermudians behind a site in which he couldn't unite fellow UBPers to take part but still pledging togetherness and a one Bermuda while intermixing it with his own PR.  Is anyone else rather confused?

Bring on the faceless bureau!

Vexed laments the requirement of changing UK passport requests to being processed through the embassy in the US rather than locally.  I for one am encouraged by and look forward to the move.  

A few years back I tried getting my British passport via the local immigration office.  I turned up, grabbed one of the pamplets, gathered the required information, filled out the forms and returned to submit my passport only to be told the pamphlet was wrong and I didn't have the correct information.  So, I asked what the correct information was, gathered that and returned only to be told this time that the previous woman had been wrong and that I needed a different set of information.  So I found out what was needed and I turned up once again to thankfully be told that I had the correct information, but since I was headed back to school in a month they'd no longer accept my application because I'd be travelling so soon.  I ended up with no British passport and out the fee I'd had done up via bank draft.

Vexed notes:

"a cynic might understand this kink in the process as a subtle way of dissuading Bermudians from taking up their citizenship rights, and of distancing ole Blighty from those troublesome little pink bits on the map."

This cynic has long wondered if all the hoops were a way of dissuading me from taking up my citizenship rights and is more than happy to give the new method a try.

and the survey says…

The pissing contest the PLP has gotten into with The Royal Gazette over poll results is rather amusing.  The PLP is hell bent on proving that their poll results are the more accurate and ‘fair’ while condemning The Royal Gazette’s as ‘Voodoo Statistics’.  This while neither have moved to make their full results and methods transparent by having them published by the polling firms involved.  If the PLP wants to taken seriously they should have Research 2000 openly publish the full poll results, not cherry picked subsets.  If the Royal Gazette wants to be seen as unbiased they should subsequently request the same of Research.bm.  Allow the people to compare apples to apples not what you wish to be seen.  Only then can we even get a hint of who’s truly biased.

To take a fair look at these polls lets turn to the National Council on Public Polls (NCPP) for some insights into what’s truly considered ‘fair’.  We’ll go through a few of their guidelines to see how things measure up.

Who paid for the poll and why was it done? 

“The important issue for you as a journalist is whether the motive for doing the poll creates such serious doubts about the validity of the results that the numbers should not be publicized.”

“For example, an environmental group trumpets a poll saying the American people support strong measures to protect the environment. That may be true, but the poll was conducted for a group with definite views. That may have swayed the question wording, the timing of the poll, the group interviewed and the order of the questions. You should carefully examine the poll to be certain that it accurately reflects public opinion and does not simply push a single viewpoint.”

The PLP is quick to claim the fairness of their questions and yet one can wonder what details they conveniently omit.  For example, they suggest that for this question 50% responded PLP, 46% UBP, 1% IND and 3% did not vote.

“Did you vote for the PLP candidate, the UBP candidate or an independent candidate in the December 2007 general election?”

Fair enough, but why is it that 4% of respondents refused to identify their race and 2% refused to identify their age?  Interesting how the question of how you voted, easily as controversial as asking racial identity or age had no refusals.  Or is it that such information was left out?  Convenient?  Perhaps.  Subsequently similar details are not fully vetted by The Royal Gazette.  If one wants a fair interpretation, both results should be published openly by the polling firms.

How many people were interviewed for the survey?

While it is absolutely true that the more people interviewed in a scientific survey, the smaller the sampling error, other factors may be more important in judging the quality of a survey.

The PLP claims their sample of 600+ respondents to be far superior to The Royal Gazette’s 400+.  Taken as a whole with a typical 95% confidence rate and measuring against the same pool of total registered voters the PLP’s poll produces a reported 4% rate of error vs. the RG’s 4.9%, as reported by each.  This leaves less than a 2% of difference between the overall +/- accuracy of each poll, not making the PLP’s significantly more accurate than the RG’s when taking respondents as a whole.

The PLP makes the case that their higher rate of sampling for 18-34 year olds makes their results far more accurate for this group.  In this they have some weight in their argument as again assuming a 95% confidence rate and a pool of let’s guess 10,000 registered 18-34 year old voters the RG’s sampling of only 31 voters produces an approximate 18% rate of error.  However, not mentioned by the PLP is that their sampling of 91 respondents in the 18-34 year old range produces an approximate error rate of 10%.  So while the PLP does have a case that their results for this range are more accurate, they too still have a rather large margin of error in their results.

How were those people chosen?

The key reason that some polls reflect public opinion accurately and other polls are unscientific junk is how people were chosen to be interviewed. In scientific polls, the pollster uses a specific statistical method for picking respondents.

While the PLP is quick to claim accuracy of their poll on the part of matching demographics, what they fail to mention is how they came up with respondents.  Similarly the RG’s methodology is not known.  As is hounded over and over again on this blog, you must compare apples to apples for a fair result.  For example, were respondents interviewed via telephone?  Was it via an automated system?  Was the phone list compiled randomly and were businesses excluded?  Were cell phone owners included considering the large number of cell phone only homes these days?  How were individuals who didn’t answer or refused to answer handled? 

Who should have been interviewed and was not? Or do response rates matter?

In recent years, the percentage of people who respond to polls has diminished. There has been an increase in those who refuse to participate. Some of this is due to the increase in telemarketing and part is due to Caller ID and other technology that allows screening of incoming calls

How likely were people to be interviewed?  The PLP used a foreign firm, the RG a local one, what was the turnover rate of calls?  Is there a difference between the number of people attempted to be contacted vs. those who actually responded based upon the source of the calls?

How were the interviews conducted?

There are four main possibilities: in person, by telephone, online or by mail. Most surveys are conducted by telephone, with the calls made by interviewers from a central location. However, some surveys are still conducted by sending interviewers into people’s homes to conduct the interviews.

This kind of information is crucial to comparing each of the polls.  Both the PLP and the RG should be asking their representative firms to be publishing their results and methods in full.

What other kinds of factors can skew poll results?

Question phrasing and question order are also likely sources of flaws. Inadequate interviewer training and supervision, data processing errors and other operational problems can also introduce errors. Professional polling operations are less subject to these problems than volunteer-conducted polls, which are usually less trustworthy.   Be particularly careful of polls conducted by untrained and unsupervised college students.  There have been several cases where the results were at least in part reported by the students without conducting any survey at all.

What were the questions, the phrasings and the order of each survey?  Neither have been made public.  Subsequently why is it that when the error rate in the overall samples should indicate that overall results should be similar they are not.  The PLP’s poll suggests much higher favour ability for both Premier Brown and Opposition Leader Swan, why?  One or both of these polls are likely to be inaccurate but without having made both public to ensure that we are comparing apples to apples it is impossible to say which.

Road repair

The Missouri Department of Tourism has put together a great video that provides a great explanation as to why repaving a road is only a temporary fix.  If you pay attention to such things you’ll have noted that a couple years ago many of our roads were repaved and yet have already started showing signs of deterioration.  Here’s why:

 

Ultimately if we want to truly fix issues with our roads we need to dig up the upper layers of pavement and rebuild the lower supporting layers.  It also helps explain why the addition of much larger trucks on our roads may not have been the best long term idea.

Credit to Infrastructurist for promoting this video.

Is “I told you so” persuasive?

One of the surprising things the UBP keeps doing is the equivalent of saying “I told you so” in their approach to persuading people on their opinion.  It has gotten so bad that it is becoming rather annoying and makes it difficult to follow their arguments.  Would the UBP be better off focusing on the issues at hand and persuading people of what is in their own best interests rather than focusing on self promotion?

Take their latest opinion piece in the Royal Gazette as an example:

FutureCare emerged in the 2007 election campaign when Premier Brown promised to "provide every Bermudian above the age of 65 with guaranteed health care" for the remainder of their lives. It was a promise made without a plan and without a strategy for how to pay for it. When the United Bermuda Party challenged Dr. Brown on the cost of FutureCare during the campaign, he gave an answer that perfectly captured the political opportunism behind his announcement.

By specifically pointing out “The United Bermuda Party” the UBP has effectively weakened their argument by making it about themselves and adding a lot of unnecessary filler.  They seem intent on convincing people they were wrong rather than standing strong for the future.  Which do you think is more successful at persuading people to support your point of view?  Making them feel like they made the wrong decision or convincing them of what is in their bests interests?

Had the UBP simply said “When challenged, Dr, …” and kept it simple and to the point throughout the piece would people have stuck to the argument they were making instead of potentially being sidetracked?   Unfortunately they don’t stick to the point very well, they dance around and seem intent on suggesting I told you so in numerous places.  Can this really be a winning strategy?

By having specifically mentioned themselves in such a manner they have tainted their piece as self promotional and not really about the issues.  It becomes a “We told you so, you should have voted for us” argument instead of one about what they’re trying to say.  This regardless of whether there were others out there who said the same things, such as the papers themselves.  Would the UBP be better served focusing less on self promotion and more on the issues at hand?  We can only wonder.

Enamored by his own reflection

There’s an old Aesop’s fable my father used to always tell me

A dog was crossing a plank bridge over a stream with a piece of meat in his mouth, when he happened to see his own reflection in the water.  He thought it was another dog with a piece of meat twice as big; so he let go his own, and flew at the other dog to get the other piece.  But, of course, all that happened was hat he got neither; for one was only a reflection, and the other was carried away by the current.

The talk of a snap election reminds me of this fable.  The PLP could do more to damage their position than strengthen it by calling a snap election.  What it comes down to is that while polls suggest PLP supporters may not be fed up with the PLP, they’re fed up with Premier Brown.  A snap election could easily be viewed as an unnecessary power grab by Premier Brown when he has been claiming for some time his intention to step down in 2010.  Would we need to again ask if he intends to mislead us?

A snap election could go two ways.  One, the UBP and newBP could face off against each other for the newBP’s seats, thus pulling what few candidates they have away from other seats in a bid to sacrifice the win in favor of the same inner squabbling that crippled the party in the first place.  The second possibility is for the UBP to not challenge the newBP and focus on winning PLP held marginal’s.  This would be damaging to the newBP in that it would make it even harder to differentiate themselves from the UBP, but would give them a decent shot at staying in existence as a third party. 

PLP supporters could believe that the PLP is guaranteed to win regardless because of the fragmented opposition and choose this as a time to show their disappointment with Premier Brown by not turning out.  A weak turnout thus making it harder for the PLP to hold onto their marginals.  Could a snap election be much like that dog enamored with his reflection; Where the greed of having more causes one to lose all?

Immigration receipts vs. non-Bermudian jobs

Interesting.  Immigration receipt estimates where massively off the revised number for 2008/09, why?

Under ‘Fees Permits and Licenses’ in the 2009/10 budget is the category ‘Immigration receipts’ which in 2007/08 recorded revenues of approx $11 million.  Comparing this against data from the 2005/2006 budget  gives us a bit of a trend (2006/2007 was that horrible year with no tabulations, so estimates from 2005/2006 are used).  Subsequently we can compare this against non-Bermudian job numbers from the recent employment brief.  Doing so gives us an interesting picture.

image

Note the tremendous spike in Immigration Receipts in 2008/09.  Where did this huge jump in receipts come from?  Clearly it wasn’t more jobs and instead it turns out that government upped their fees in April 2008.

What is interesting are government’s projections for 2008 which put the original projection of receipts at $18 million which was subsequently revised to $14 million.  Let’s look at that chart again using the estimate for 2008 instead of the revised.

 

image

Now certainly government did not simply choose a random arbitrary number when they came up with this projection for $18 million did they?  Surely they took the number of work permits processed in previous years and used them as a projection as to what to expect in terms of the fees generated under the new fee structure.  The fact that the revised number came in $4 million under the original estimate is disturbing.  Why was there such a difference?  Were there less applications?  Were less jobs approved?  Was the proposed fee structure higher than the actual one implemented? 

As usual we’re left with more questions than answers, however we may have discovered something useful.  Immigration receipts, which are announced in the February budget may provide a much earlier indication of what kind of job growth we’re looking at without having to wait all the way to August for the Employment Brief.