Where are the cuts in the civil service? #WhereDidTheJobsGo

With the introduction of the recent budget, the civil service is under the spotlight for the tremendous burden it places on the economy.  The Chamber of Commerce expressed its disappointment that little is being done to reduce this burden.  Facebook has lit up with claims that “the civil service is basically welfare”.  Is it fair to say that the civil service is oversized for a jurisdiction like ours and overloaded with far too much unnecessary bureaucracy?  If so, what is being done?

Let’s take a look at how civil service job numbers have faired against all other jobs.

First off, let’s note that there’s no crazy chart voodoo being done here.  On the zeroed left axis we have public administration jobs and on the zeroed right axis we have all other jobs.  The two data points are plotted in such a way as to give a relative comparison from the same starting point.

What we can see from this chart is that the civil service has only gradually started reducing overall numbers from about 2012.  Declines are happening, though they aren’t happening all that quickly when you contrast them against the declines across all non-public jobs.  Non-public sector jobs witnessed a start decline right from the start of our available data in 2008 and have only recently shown signs of halting.

Let’s take a deeper look at changes of specific occupational groups within the public sector to better understand what has been happening.

Interestingly the largest job category is “professionals” which has seen rather significant declines over the years.  The other categories are not as clear, mostly seeming to either stay around the same or actually rise a bit.

Let’s narrow in on the declines other than professionals.

Technicians and elemenary occupations don’t show a great deal of change while clerks (such as secretaries) have seen a significant decline.

How about job growth?

This one was a bit surprising.  Interestingly there was job growth in management as well as service worker positions.  It would seem that although attrition is happening, there does seem to be considerable growth in management which could be pushing up costs as salaries tend to be higher for these roles.

So, there are certainly some arguments to be made that the civil service is gradually being reduced in size, albeit slowly.  Unfortunately this means that the private sector is left to take on an increased burden and the public faces higher taxes as a result.  It’s too bad the furlough days were eliminated, they seemed like a good solution for reducing costs without eliminating jobs.

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Are people really that easily misled and is that why fake news is king?

Today’s lesson has been watching my post on how misleading the PLP’s tourism chart was drive a ton of traffic and discussion based upon an over sensationalized headline that was intended to be sarcastic.  My aim was to demonstrate how the PLP’s chart and “back to average” headline was an equally misleading chart based upon the same data and an equally terrible sensationalized headline.  What I didn’t really plan for was the number of people who took a title like “This ridiculous chart shows how the PLP clearly destroyed tourism” seriously, somehow missed the “ridiculous” part and not actually bothering to read the piece.

No wonder fake news is king and traditional blogging and media is dead.  In the old days it was possible to just write half decent content regularly to get a reasonable following. That was back when there was no commenting on news articles and people barely knew about facebook.  Now there’s an overload of content, cat photos, jokes, and stupid videos. We’re inundated with it.

Many people just don’t really care to actively go out, read and verify things for themselves anymore.  It seems like its easier to pull-refresh-react on facebook or twitter. Really, my traffic has been dead despite a return to regular blogging vs. the old days where it was rather easy to build up a regular readership.  Now, large social media driven spikes are the norm with a flatline for the rest.  Get a few shares and traffic spikes but otherwise people don’t come back.

 

Why am I even still blogging?  I want to understand how things have changed.  Given that I work in tourism I need to understand how social media marketing works, how to advertise on facebook and drive interest in products and services.  Sure I can read articles, but it isn’t practical experience.  I know google analytics inside and out enough to explain a compelling story of traffic already going to a site but I don’t really know how to create viral content and drive traffic.  So, hack together some half witted articles, throw some headlines on it and see what sticks.

For  example, here’s what facebook shows you about shares on  a page in terms of reach vs. engagement.  It’s actually quite interesting stuff.

Apparently highly sensationalized misleading headlines, even when they’re intended to be clearly sarcastic, drive traffic.  They also drive up a firestorm of interest from people keen to express their opinion based upon a headline.  All this without having actually read any of the content while readily ignoring key words like “ridiculous” that are supposed to offer a clue that I’m not actually being serious here.  I’m still reeling from it as I’ve watched people whom I wholly expected to take a deeper view into things react before evaluating.  It really helps illustrate why fake news seems to be so successful these days.

In the age of an abundance of content that is being pushed at us through mediums like facebook, people seem to ignore a sense of getting to the truth and just accept the narrative presented.  This is a large reason why I’m so frustrated with the PLP’s misleading chart.  Politicians are all too ready and willing to take advantage of people rather than focusing on moving the island forwards.  Is that all we’ve descended to? Shallow headlines and terrible charts that mislead people to evoke a response?  That’s what works these days?

 

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Bermudians are to blame for the decline in tourism

No, the PLP is not to blame for the decline in tourism air arrivals.  They’re to blame for terrible misleading charts but not the decline as it is something that has happened since 1980.

The real hard truth is that Bermudians are to blame.  We can point the finger all we want at politicians but it won’t change the truth.

Oh, but it was 9/11 and 2 recessions.  Sorry to burst your bubble but no, it wasn’t.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization publishes extensive stats on it.  Unfortunately they used to be free and now they’re stupidly expensive so my alternative is to use google images search.

Here’s one.  Arrivals down in the recession?  Not much, spending was.  9/11 fear?  Only till 2004.

 

Some countries did just fine, like the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Jamaica.

Even Haiti saw improvement from 2006

Let’s stop kidding ourselves.  It’s not a “Platnium Period”, we haven’t set a “gold standard” and for the love of all that is holy it isn’t a “Tourism Renaissance”.

We’d be lucky to call it green shoots appearing long after we thought the plant was dead.

Who’s responsible?  We are.

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This ridiculous chart shows how the PLP clearly destroyed tourism

The above chart clearly shows how the PLP destroyed tourism.  Note the heavy decline from 1998 and the flatline from 2009.  Obviously this chart makes it clear just how massive a decline there was from the UBP days to the PLP’s with 2006-2008 barely registering a blip over what the levels used to be.

Ridiculous misleading charts make me laugh.  For example, here’s the PLP’s version:

Of course the axis is set at 200,000 to emphasize the difference between 2007’s level and 2015’s.

Jahmal Simmons proclaims ‘Numbers Are A Return To Being Average’.  Sure they are.

Let’s be frank here.  When compared to historical figures, the OBA’s tourism numbers suck and the PLP’s numbers sucked.  They’re a shadow of what they once were.

The real question is:  What was the tourism budget and the corresponding visitor expenditure figure for each year?  Now that’d tell a real story.

Oh, and the BTA provided a much more comprehensive 0-based axis chart in their 2016 report that gives a much better picture of the long term failure of tourism.

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#WhereDidTheJobsGo? – Health care and government most stable fields

So continuing our series of using excel voodoo (aka VLOOKUP) to take a look at where jobs the jobs went, let’s take a look at what jobs losses looked like across industries.

Unfortunately the data to break things down by Bermudian vs. non-Bermudian isn’t available so we’ll just look at jobs overall

How about construction?

Clearly this stands out as the industry that faced the most pain of the recession.  We overheated the economy and ultimately construction demand dried up causing the very painful loss of nearly 2000 jobs.

International business and associated business services have also had a painful slide with slight indications of recovery in 2014-2015.

It is too bad we don’t have a picture of pre-2008 due to the change in the occupational categories as it might give us more insight into what things looked like before and afterwards.

Then we can see retail, hotels and transport were all hard hit, likely especially due to the recession.  Restaurants seemed to hold steady.

Let’s move on to the growth sectors of the last few years.

Education, Healthcare and Social work was one of the few places that saw job growth. Perhaps unsurprisingly as Bermuda was increasingly encumbered with unemployed people needing assistance.

Oh, and government…

 

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OBA reenergizes some of its base

The recent poll results suggest an uptick in OBA support, though it comes in the fashion of undecideds becoming more certain rather than any sort of conversion from the PLP support base.

This poll was conducted between February 7th and 9th, before former Premier Brown’s businesses were raided and the government launched a lawsuit against the Lahey Clinic.  It was also before excerpts of emails were published in the paper that allege there was a conspiracy to drive up health care costs.  That won’t bode well politically for the PLP because not only is a former PLP Premier implicated, the current PLP leader was a protege of that former Premier.  Worst of all, rising health care costs have impacted every Bermudian and this weighs on that important voter question “how does this impact me?”.

Before this poll, we surmised the PLP had lost the momentum they’d built up thanks to the Genevieve-Tweed crusade.  Now it looks like they may not just lose their momentum, but re-energize OBA supporters while disillusioning their own.  If a poll were held today, would we see a decline in PLP support and a rise in undecideds or is it possible that we’d also see a decline in PLP support, a decline in undecideds and a corresponding rise in OBA support?

This is quite a hole to dig out of, though the same would have been said of the OBA back in November when police pulled out the pepper spray.  It certainly could still be recovered from, however the timing is pretty bad.

The sad truth is that the PLP has spent far too much time trying to be “not the OBA” and not enough time being a credible alternative.  They were elected to govern for many years to provide opportunity to those who were disadvantaged and yet increasingly it doesn’t look like that really happened.  Only a select few seem to have prospered. When people look deep down and ask themselves “how does this impact me?” associating rising health insurance costs with the PLP is a pretty horrible combination.  What have they really done to demonstrate they’ve learned from being voted out?

Thus the PLP’s prospects aren’t looking very good.  Things are already starting to ramp up for the America’s Cup.  Jobs, the big headline item, are being created.  Money is starting to flow.  It will mostly all be temporary and will dry up come July but the hype, euphoria and joy of having money in one’s pocket won’t be so quick to fade.

It looks like this time around the OBA won’t need to make pie in the sky promises of being a new party that promotes good governance that they have no intention of fulfilling.  It seems quite likely that we’ll see an election called for mid to late July if things stay the course.  That would be the most likely time for the OBA to capitalize on their momentum, broken promises or not.

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#WhereDidTheJobsGo – Comparing declines in major occupations by Bermudian status

Ah, so much to write about, so little time.  I haven’t followed up on our #WhereDidTheJobsGo analysis in a bit so I thought I’d throw up some more charts I’ve generated.

One thought I wanted to explore is what job declines looked like for Bermudians vs. non-Bermudians (excluding spouses and PRCs) on a relative basis.  \

Basically, if I zero the y-axis, plot Bermudians on the left, non-Bermudians on the right and adjust the upper values so that they start at the same spot, what do the declines look like relative to each other?

But what does it all mean?

Well, so far we’re seeing a story that non-Bermudian jobs on a relative basis declined first and more aggressively than Bermudian jobs across all job categories except Elementary Occupations.

It adds more questions to dig into.  Which jobs within major categories declined the most?  Why did Elementary Occupations see an increase rather than a decline?  Why did Plant and Machine Operators and Assemblers witness a spike in 2015?

Lots of questions, few answers as of yet.
What have we reviewed so far in this series?

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Are people on financial assistance really able to request costly brand name drugs over generics?

Image result for site:fda.gov brand name vs generic drugs

How can we afford to be offering people on financial assistance the ability to choose a brand name drug over a generic if not specifically prescribed by a doctor?  Apparently this is happening.  People on financial assistance are able to choose brand name drugs to fill their prescriptions rather than generics and don’t have to pay a co-pay.  What’s the problem?  Brand name drugs tend to cost substantially more than the generic equivalents and in most cases have the same effect.  People who have their prescriptions covered via financial assistance should be required to use generics unless a brand name is specified by a doctor.  We simply can’t afford it otherwise.

In 2015/2016 we spent $55 million on financial assistance, that’s nearly $900 for every single Bermuda resident.  That’s no small amount of money.  While it is necessary that we give a helping hand to those at the bottom of society, we need to eliminate extravagant waste. Cutting down on waste and abuse in the form of generics vs. brand name prescriptions is one such area.   People on financial assistance are eligible to have their prescriptions covered 100%, generic or brand name without a co-pay.  A co-pay discourages people from unnecessarily choosing a brand name but when a co-pay doesn’t exist there’s no incentive to choose the cheaper option.

So brand name or generic medication, whats the difference?  If you had a headache and you were offered the choice of Tylenol or Acetaminophen which would you prefer? It shouldn’t matter.  Tylenol is simply the brand name used to market the common medication acetaminophen.  When a drug is originally produced it is subject to a patent and marketed under a brand.  Later after the patent expires, other companies are eligible to manufacture and sell it under other brand names which are commonly referred to as generics.

Let’s use another common example.  You’ve likely heard of Viagra but probably never heard of Sildenafil. They’re effectively the same.  It is commonly known as a treatment for erectile dysfunction but was originally created to treat pulmonary hypertension, but it’s a well known example so we’ll stick with it for this case. Viagra costs about 50 times more than Sildenafil and yet they’re effectively the same drug.  In the US, generics are not available yet.  However since we can import from the EU, we are able to acquire generic versions vs. the brand name.  Should we be requiring people on financial assistance to use the generic rather than the more expensive brand name?  

(No idea if people on financial assistance are getting viagra, it is just a laymans example)

Wait, is there a time when generics don’t work?  Yes, generics are not always an exact copy of the original drug and can have slightly different interactions with other drugs or symptoms in people.  Thus there are occasions when a doctor or pharmacist will specifically advise the use of a brand name drug due to known side effects or conflicts of a generic with other medications.  Thus there are occasions when a brand name is specifically prescribed by a medical professional vs. a generic.  So, if a brand name is specifically prescribed, it does make sense to dispense it and is justifiable for people on financial assistance.

Should people on financial assistance be able to be dispensed brand name drugs if a generic exists and they weren’t specifically prescribed the brand name?  It certainly would mean a considerable cost difference.  The tax payer is ultimately the one footing the bill and we can’t afford to be wasteful.  People on financial assistance should be required to take generic versions of medications if available unless a brand name is specified by a medical professional.

Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional and had a chat with a pharmacist regarding details on this piece.  None of this constitutes medical advice and you should consult a doctor or pharmacist for any medical needs or concerns.

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Is Bermuda experiencing an expanding debt crisis?

A question came up on facebook about Bermuda’s debt liabilities in reference to this article.  Namely, is Bermuda experiencing an expanding debt crisis in relation to personal loans?  The article suggests there are risks that auto loans and leases are increasingly being repackaged and collateralized like was done with home mortgages in the 2008 crash and the reader wondered if Bermuda has similar risks. I hadn’t looked at the deposit vs. loan profile data in years so I thought I’d take a look.

To my knowledge the government doesn’t track or publish auto loan data.  The best approximation is the BD$ Deposit vs. Loan Profile data published by the Bermuda Monetary Authority which consolidates all bank loan data.

Here’s what the last few years look like.

 

What does this tell us?  Unfortunately not much about car loans specifically.  What it tells us is the condition of the local banks in terms of how many Bermuda Dollars they have deposited vs. how many they loaned out. I’m not aware of any cases where Bermuda’s loans are repackaged into securities like happened in the US.  Our market is a bit small for that so it is more a question of direct loan liabilities than collateralized ones which is of far less risk to destabilizing banks as they’re relatively transparent and well known.

From what we can see, historically in terms of Bermuda dollars, local banks loaned out less than they took in deposits.  Around 2005 that trend shifted and back in 2008 this writer expressed concerns about the impact 100% financing and interest only loans were having and whether the excess was driving a housing bubble.

It was clear to some that our economy was in for a crash.  Our government and banks had their foot pressed firmly on the accelerator at a time when we needed to be hitting the brakes.

Banks get over confident, lend far too much money to people who can’t afford to pay it back and eventually strain our economy with inflated valuations and ultimately bad debt. This kind of bad debt encumbers banks where they’re stuck having loaned out money for properties that won’t be paid back.

In order to free up that undervalued capital they either have to take a loss by selling the assets at firesale prices or come up with a creative scheme to shift bad debt.  Shifting bad debt was the theme behind the whole “sub-prime crisis” of 2008 and locally you can see examples with what Clarien appears to be doing with BHC.

So welcome to 2017 where we can see what happens after loans peaked through 2009-2011 and then began a decline.  We’re in a process called “deleveraging” which is where banks took on too much and have to gradually reduce their loan books to return to a normal value.  If you’re wondering why it is extra hard to get a loan these days this is why.  The banks simply have far too much money sunk into bad loans in a market that was overinflated that they’re still trying to sort out.

Does mean Bermuda is experiencing an expanding debt crisis?  Not from what I can see.  If anything its a good sign that we’re renormalizing after a period of irrational exuberance.  Hopefully we’ll see the local markets stabilize, we’ll gradually return to a period of strength and growth and people won’t forget that time we got too overconfident.  Though I wouldn’t hold your breath on it.

 

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Time for the PLP to regroup and restrategize and for the OBA to reflect

As suspected, the opposition to the airport deal dried up The PLP overplayed the Airport Card and the OBA has run a relentless campaign of public outreach, feedback and awareness building.  Public support has now shifted from opposing the airport deal to supporting it.  Likely the PLP will have to regroup and re-strategize and the OBA will reflect on what worked.

Many, like this writer, likely have just gotten tired of the airport deal.  Ultimately its an airport, we get it back in 30 years and if it truly proves to be a bad deal, that’s 30 years the OBA won’t be able to dodge the blame for it.  It is really too bad that we’ll be spending a fortune to create a non-Bermudian looking monstrosity, but it certainly isn’t worth tarnishing our reputation of stability or disrupting America’s Cup over it.

The question is, what next?  I put together longer term stats from the Royal Gazette’s polls going back over the last few years to get a better idea of the context of the momentum of each party.  I’m not really sure why the Jul 2015 number was so different but it did foretell the shift in momentum.  Ultimately, the PLP were on a successful run up until the Genevieve-Tweed crusade with the OBA sliding.  They were neck and neck, possibly with a shift in momentum approaching.

The PLP will need to shift focus and start thinking about the upcoming election.  They’ve done a good job at opposing the government but haven’t really laid out a plan for what they’d do as government.  This will be the time they start capitalizing on the OBA’s forgotten election pledges and setting the tone.  Given the loss of momentum and the approaching hype of the America’s Cup we may see them shift to a more mature stance.  Perhaps trying to highlight the lessons learned from being removed after their first stint in power and how they have learned from their mistakes and starting to signs of reinventing themselves under their new and capable leader.

The OBA may get complacent and take forgranted this recent win of support or they may take the time to take a step back and really evaluate what they’ve acheived.  They very clearly invested a tremendous amount of effort in public outreach, educating the public, consulting (sort of), leveraging social media and generally attempting to involve the people like never before.  Is the OBA finally shifting away from most used play in their playbook?  It’s hard to say.

The odd one out who perhaps has suffered the most in this is “The President of the BIU” Chris Furbert.  After people didn’t heed his call to turn out to protest the airport he attacked the people for lack of support rather than inflecting on what he might have done to kill support.  It is likely that investing heavily in Reverend Genevieve-Tweed when he wasn’t by any definition a “Son of the Soil” and threatening America’s Cup likely evaporated support for his cause.  Fundamentally people tend to go back to asking themselves “How will this benefit and impact me?” and “President” Furbert didn’t deliver compelling answers to those questions.  One can wonder if Chris Furbert will survive this and still be President of the BIU not long from now.  Certainly attacking the people for his missteps in leadership doesn’t seem like a very good strategy.

So what’s next?  What strategy will the PLP pivot to and will the OBA learn the value of involving the people in the process?  Likely we’ll have to wait and see.

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