Our problems are more cultural than fiscal, thus every dollar counts

When it comes to managing overspending in a budget, Premier Cox and I differ in the view of whether every dollar counts.  This was one of the few points raised for discussion during the lunch I had with the Premier and interestingly, has arisen in the debate of whether MPs should take a symbolic pay cut.  The Premier seems to approach our budget problems purely from a financial angle, targeting the biggest wins while my advocated approach is one which targets our culture.  A purely financial approach may solve our short term problems though I question whether they’ll get to the root of addressing the issues that got us into this mess in the first place.  It is my belief that we need to change our culture of overspending and sense of entitlement in order to resolve our fiscal issues.  In the vein of refining our culture, every dollar does matter because it sets the tone.

The Premier, like many I’ve had similar discussions with, seems to take the view that only low hanging fruits matter when it comes to cutting spending because big and easy cuts make a bigger difference than small or difficult ones.  She’s correct in that if you had the choice of focusing the same energy on saving one dollar vs. one million, that you’d be far better served with the latter.  However, the old adage of whether it is better to give a man a fish or teach him to fish arises in this case, as are we aiming for a short term quick fix or a long term solution?

Spending is a very cultural notion and it is our culture, not just spending itself which has led us into our current predicament.  We’ve developed a culture and belief that it is perfectly acceptable to live beyond your means and that prosperity will be endless.  The problem is that neither of these beliefs are sustainable and will eventually lead to a predicament like the one we’re presently in.  This is what led to one of the more brazen questions I had for the Premier at our lunch, which was who exactly was paying for it?  The details of this discussion are perhaps best left for another piece, but you can take comfort in knowing the Premier graciously accepted my request that I pay for my own lunch and assured me that she would personally be covering the other’s bill rather than the government. 

The question of who was paying for lunch raised an interesting discussion point where the Premier seemed amused by my suggestion that my $15 lunch matters in the grand scheme of a billion dollar budget.  She is certainly right that my $15 had nearly no impact, however the point wasn’t just to save $15 but to set the tone regarding whether a ‘free lunch’, especially if footed by the government and subsequently our taxes, should be an expectation.  It was with considerable interest as I noted the other attendees quietly avoid this discussion and happily accept someone else picking up the bill.

This is the very conundrum we face, far too many have come to expect a free lunch.  We’ve entrenched it in our culture that we’re entitled to such things.  This is why we’re seeing rises in foreclosures on homes, and people struggling to pay their bills.  We have a cultural problem, not just a fiscal one.

This is the very crux of the argument why every dollar counts, even a lowly $15 lunch.  At its very core our personal financial crisis will need to be solved through a change in attitude.  People need to stop expecting free lunches.  The only way to change that expectation is to set the example from the top and ensure it trickles down and is embraced collectively by everyone. 

If we’re really all in this together then we all need to be pitching in, not just the select few.  To suggest that the unions must make sacrifices while condemning the notion of symbolic pay cuts for ministers simply breeds notions of hypocrisy.  Rather than our public servants looking at their jobs trying to figure out ways to save every possible dollar here and there, they note the cavalier attitude of our politicians and question the point.  They are led to ask themselves that if that small symbolic cut doesn’t matter or make a difference in the eyes of our leaders then why should they strive to find a solution that costs only one dollar instead of two?  That one dollar may not matter, but if collectively every public servant found a dollar or more we could save we’d be much further on our way to resolving our spending issues.

This is the very core of the disconnect we face between the preaching of our politicians vs. their actions.  They implore us that we must be doing more with less, that we must strive to make the big savings and that services can and must be cut in order to address our deficit crisis.  Big cuts make a difference, but only in the short term.  Instead, we need more ways to get everyone collectively working together to find savings, to change our culture from one where we expect free lunches to one where we all chip in to do our part.  The very problem we face however is that the leader of this initiative does not recognize and is not addressing the entrenched cultural problems which got us into this mess in the first place.  Every dollar does count and collectively we’re all in this together.  My $15 dollar lunch does matter and so too does a pay cut for Ministers.

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2 thoughts on “Our problems are more cultural than fiscal, thus every dollar counts

  1. I think this problem isn’t just confined to Bermuda though; I think it is throughout the Anglophone world, and perhaps further afield. There is a sense of instant gratification and living on credit – it leads to a growing credit bubble which then bursts, and then we have the mess we’re currently in.
    It’s not clear to me how to change the culture though. There are still many people who don’t use credit except in extreme emergencies, but there seem to be many more people who use credit all the time.

  2. Well said Mr Pitcher.
    The same “low hanging fruit” rationale has been applied to policing in Bermuda for many years and has greatly assisted in the development of todays gang culture.
    If we catch the 3 or 4 most prolific house burglers then all is well…
    Perhaps a little research on Change Management by our government would be helpful.

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