Saturday, November 15, 2014

Minimum Wage

The idea of a formal minimum wage is very attractive. Nobody should have to spend every hour of his waking life working just to keep body and soul together. A “living” wage, paid to reasonable people working reasonably conscientiously, for enough hours each week to allow time for a reasonable amount of leisure and a reasonable amount of savings. What could be fairer?

In practice, though, there are difficulties. By definition, only the lowest-paid workers in a community would receive the formal minimum. Everybody else would be paid more. Indeed, a formal “minimum wage” would in practice actually be several minimum wages – one for each of several occupations and personal circumstances.

So we’re face with the likelihood of finding ourselves lumbered with yet another bloated Civil Service bureaucracy to monitor the separate minimum wages for all the occupations listed on the Census forms and maybe even in the Yellow Pages. Plus rewards for skills, experience and responsibility. Plus, gratuities and commissions would need to be reported and monitored. Plus, plus, plus. All formal minimum wages would be based on some kind of political advantage, with little consideration given to economic realities.

Would single individuals receive the same money as married-with-children? Surely not. Would every re-assignment mean a different pay-scale, like the notorious Civil Service “promotions” do? Probably. All disputes would require arbitration; there might need to be an entirely separate arbitration-justice system. All private-sector wages would be set by faceless bureaucrats assuaging their hunger for control.

There won’t be much left of our private-enterprise system. The FCO requires that all our professional politicians be native Caymanians, and almost all their cronies are too, naturally enough. The birthright-entitlement foolishness (endorsed by all the MLAs and cronies, as well as the FCO), would ensure that any minimum-wage legislation would discriminate against immigrants one way or another.

The most certain victims of discrimination would be our lowest-paid migrants. Most native Caymanian householders would flat-out refuse to return to the old days of doing their own housework, baby-minding and gardening. They would vote for a Minimum Wage only on the clear understanding that they could cheat with impunity. In practice, that would be allowed. They would pay their domestic workers below any formal minimum wage, regardless of what the law said.

Nobody in authority would hold them to account. Nobody in authority holds them to account now, if they short-pay their indentured servants and/or steal from them and/or over-work them. In the slavery era, there were good slave-owners and bad ones; it’s the same sort of thing now. It’s a personal option. Without protection from either law-enforcement or the see-no-evil Human Rights Commission, and with no labour unions permitted, unskilled migrants are easy to exploit.

Cayman’s rules for the poorest indentured labourers are arguably harsher than they were in the 1830s for the unskilled labourers imported to the West Indies from India and China. At least then there was a Protector of Immigrants charged with monitoring the migrants’ treatment. Today, we have an entire bureaucracy (the Immigration Department and its politically appointed committees) charged with protecting the migrants’ employers – i.e. the persons who hold the indentures. What a farcical situation that is!

So what would be the point of a Minimum Wage? It wouldn’t benefit migrant workers one bit, and would surely make unemployed Caymanians even less attractive to prospective employers. The most sensible way of helping our least-productive Caymanians would be to scrap the protectionism that is built into the labour-laws.

Make them know that in order to beat out migrants for jobs they must put in an honest week’s work every week. Holding yet another knife to the collective throat of private-sector employers, in the form of a Minimum Wage for Caymanians, would be yet another exercise in futility.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Who sold ISIS all those Toyotas?

Could it have been a Cayman company? Not directly, of course – dear me, no! But those who understand how offshore tax-havens work, recognize very clearly the advantages of channeling dodgy transactions through several jurisdictions in order to hide the paper-trail. A hot transaction like a fleet of Toyotas probably involved at least three offshore havens, plus a few onshore conduits like London and New York.

You have to feel sorry for the Toyota public-relations people. It wouldn’t have been they who did the deal. Or the marketing people. Yes, a sale is a sale, and Toyota pickups are ideal for dusty desert roads. But, enough already!

They’re extremely well built, Toyotas, and ideal for conversion to weapons of mobility in war zones. The ISIS ones look to have been modified according to US “Special Forces” specs, with speedy and heavy-duty off-road capabilities – and machine-gun mountings. Not the kind of vehicles evil revolutionaries could have bought in their local souk.

Did the Special Forces (CIA, specialist Marine units and the like) simply give ISIS some of their old vehicles left over from other US-sponsored conflicts in the Moslem world – or, worse, order Toyota’s US manufacturing plants to ship them directly to ISIS? No, no: that’s not how things are done in this electronic age.

Did some ISIS fifth-columnist in Texas buy a fleet from his local Toyota dealer and convert them in his back yard? Or, even, have the Toyota factory in San Antone or Tijuana make the required modifications? No: also unlikely.

Actually, it’s a mystery – and one that the Western MSM organs will turn a blind eye to, if they want to keep their advertisers, and their access to their political favourites. It would be interesting to know which offshore tax-havens were used in the transaction – from the initial purchase to the shipping and trans-shipping to the ultimate transfer of title- but we will probably never know.

A tax-haven professional from Cayman was once greeted warmly at a business luncheon in Brazil with the words, “Ah, the Cayman Islands… Brazil’s Number One supplier of oil!” As it was, technically, and may still be. Cayman-registered companies may still be the ultimate owners of most oil shipments to Brazil.

Maybe some Cayman-registered company is ISIS’s Number One supplier of Toyota trucks today. Who knows?

If you Google “Offshore tax-havens – what they do” (with the quotation marks), what comes up is a direct link to an item I posted on my blog in January last year. (If you do it without the quotation marks, it brings up a Wikipedia entry.) My blog-post doesn’t explain everything, but it gives the gist. There are other blog-posts in my Archive on the same general subject, usually identifiable by their titles. Though not always. “Lunching with the stars” – also Googleable – reminiscences about my life as a trust officer in Nassau.

Offshore jurisdictions are where exporters divert their profits to, mostly because profits are not taxed there. Title to international cargo can change a dozen times on a single voyage, as speculators buy and sell the goods or options on the goods. Sometimes, as with the ISIS Toyotas, profits are much less of a factor than secrecy.

The companies and security-agencies of any nation don’t want to be identified as the seller of sharp knives to the beheaders of Western citizens. The sellers all have their favourite tax-havens, of course. Cayman’s coterie of clever lawyers and bankers must make it popular with many of them. Not that our regulators would knowingly help anybody to ship weapons to known terrorists, even Western governments’ security-agencies. National security-agencies play their cards very close to their chests.

Actually, it is an open question as to whether ISIS are the anti-Western terrorists they are held out to be. I mean… if they are allowed to acquire the CIA’s specially modified Toyotas, they are actually among the Agency’s sub-agents, aren’t they? Every Western security-agency has its own favourite rebel group, just like it has its own favourite tax-haven. The Western MSM’s reluctance to enquire how ISIS did acquire its Toyotas speaks volumes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Uncle Charles and the Boko Haram

Boko Haram is the name that Western commentators give to one of the fundamentalist Moslem organizations in northern Nigeria. In the context of Islamism, a fair translation is probably “Purity”. Its members are fiercely anti-all-things-Western – not least, the national borders of Africa that were set in stone by generations of European politicians. Boko Haram doesn’t recognize those borders, and would like to establish a Moslem Caliphate – a theocratic empire with administrative districts but no independent nation-states.

(Boko Haram is notorious for having abducted two hundred Christian girls from a school in the region, and offered to exchange them for members of its cult held by the national government.)

The people of northern Nigeria were pagans from time immemorial until Moslem slavers, armies and missionaries pushed down from the coasts of North Africa and converted many of them to Islam. Some of the converts, and some of the remaining pagans, were later converted to Christianity by British slavers, armies and missionaries pushing up from the south.

I blame my Uncle Charles for much of the current trouble, including the abduction of the two hundred schoolgirls. Of course he was just following orders, as all soldiers do. In his case, the orders from London were to annihilate the local Moslem resistance-fighters led by the Sultan of Sokoto, in 1903. He did a good job of it. The death of the Sultan and his troops signaled the collapse of the Caliphate of the day.

The British Army rewarded Charles and his fellow officers with promotions and medals, and the missionaries moved in to save the souls of the survivors and their families. Occasional later rebellions were successfully put down – “brutally”, Wikipedia says – and the soldiers no doubt filled their boots with native blood. Local resentment simmered away on the back burner, culminating (perhaps) in the abduction of the schoolgirls earlier this year. So thanks for nothing, Uncle Charles!

Actually, he was my father’s uncle – not mine – the last of his generation of Barlows to die. He and his older brother were career Army Officers. Both were participants in the invasion and occupation of the Afrikaans republics – “The Boer War”. Lionel stayed in South Africa after the war, and his descendants were eventually dispossessed of their farm in Zimbabwe a decade or so ago. What goes around, comes around, right? Empires come and go.

Another brother died of malaria while farming in Madagascar, of all places; yet another was killed by aborigines in the Australian bush while panning for gold without their permission. (Somewhere in my papers I have the envelope that once held the last letter his mother wrote to him from England. Addressed to Graham Barlow, Esq, Coen Gold Fields, North Queensland, it was returned undelivered in 1898. On the envelope she noted, “Graham was never heard from again”.)

A fourth brother signed on with an Australian shipping line after the South African war, and married a passenger from Toowoomba. Uncle Charles used to send his Australian nephews ten pounds every Christmas, just to keep in touch. That was nice. The expectation of meeting me, in 1963, kept him alive for an extra little while, his daughter Lucy told me. He died a week after we met, on his deathbed in the house where he and my grandfather had been born, outside Bath, Somerset.

Lucy died unmarried and childless, so I was allowed to take assorted bits of silverware the burglars didn’t carry away – souvenirs of a life spent expanding the Empire. Ross uses one of his Polo trophies from Nigeria as an ashtray in the cabin in Norway. Sigh. What can I say? Sic transit gloria, really.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Village Greenies Cricket Club

A “greenie” was a bottle of Heineken, the most popular beer in Cayman at the time, at least among cricketers. Our club’s name had nothing to do with the village greens of England, but the name was cleverly chosen.

In the beginning, the club was often scratching around for players in the weekend limited-overs league, so I got the odd game despite my overwhelming lack of talent. Fortunately, nobody wanted to open the batting except me. I couldn’t score runs, but I was hard to shift.

All my runs were scored through the slips, from deliberate nudges off the outside edge, leaning forward from a stance a foot or so down the wicket – left elbow well up in order to keep the ball down. Balls outside the off-stump missed my prod; balls headed for the stumps got the edge and bounced before they reached slip and usually went through. It was the best I could do.

As Cayman’s expat population grew, there became enough useless-but-keen players to warrant a second team. I was barely good enough to play even for the Greenies Two, but was appointed captain by virtue of my willingness to provide sandwiches for lunch every time we played. (Linda made the sandwiches, of course, but the responsibility for reminding her was mine…)

We were never the worst team in the league. We usually managed to give West Bay a kicking, and the Schoolboys, and indeed we had our moments of glory. Only two that I can think of, but they were memorable. Once, we actually beat our senior team. The local newspaper’s sports writer gave us a wonderful back-page headline in bold caps: GREENIES TWO ARE NUMBER ONE! That didn’t sit well with our embarrassed betters, but Alan and I got a good laugh over it. And From then on they made a point of promoting any of our team who looked promising.

The other “moment of glory” occurred the day we no-hopers fought the League champions to a forty-overs draw. Not a tie, mind, but a draw. Purists may point out that a limited-overs match can’t end in a draw – but there’s a story goes with it. On this occasion, By-Rite (the champions, whose sponsorship by a local supermarket meant they didn’t have to make their own sandwiches) batted first and racked up a massive total of 246 for two, if I recall. Maybe it was 264. Nothing we could ever reach, anyway. Their batsmen whacked our poor bowlers all around the park, and ran us ragged.

On form, we could maybe last for half an hour against their class bowlers. If their fielders dropped a few catches we might accumulate forty runs. It was a beautiful sunny day, and most of their team were keen to wrap the game up quickly and hit the beach. But – well – never say die, eh? I persuaded my fellows to play for a draw. Let them bowl us out, if they could.

As it happened, they couldn’t. The opposition were livid when they saw what we were up to, and begged us to have a swish and get out. Every half-hour we hung around was half an hour less time for the beach. Looking back, I don’t know how we managed to score any runs at all; we certainly didn’t try to. At the end of the day – and it pretty much was the end of the day, by the time they had bowled their forty overs – we had sixty-something on the board, and nine wickets down. The last-wicket partnership was as tense a time as we ever experienced as a team.

A Village Greenies team did actually get to play on some real village greens in England, in 1981. It was a select team, eligibility for which was a willingness to pay for the trip and to give up one’s vacation time. Ross and I went (he was aged six at the time), and among our collage of snapshots here at home is a photo of Ross batting throw-downs from Charlie Griffith, our celebrity guest-player.

Charlie was a West Indies legend. He and Wes Hall were the best fast-bowling pair in the world, for a few years in the 1960s, and Charlie was ferocious. He was down to medium-pace in 1981, but as competitive as ever. “The most disgraceful piece of fielding I’ve seen in my life!” He told me with withering contempt, when I let a leg-glance through for a boundary at Budleigh Salterton. Well, maybe he was telling the truth, at that. So when he offered to give us all some throw-downs, later, I sent Ross in instead of me.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The ancient clans of Britain

Celtic clan-indicators have long held a fascination for me. They all seem to have originated as glottal-stop prefixes. A glottal-stop is the sound in the middle of uh-oh, and of butter in some English dialects. Think of that line from “Right Said Fred” (the song, not the band): “Bu’ i’ did no good; wew I never fough’ i’ would!” Hmmm. You have to say it out loud to get the full effect…

 In modern surnames, the stop is represented by the Irish O-apostrophe, and with closed lips it’s usually perceived in Ireland and Scotland as M-apostrophe – and indeed that’s how it was written until recent times: M’Arthur, M’Allan, M’Innis. In the 18th Century that was gradually changed to Mc or Mac: MacArthur, Macallan, McInnis. In Wales, with the lips still closed but with a slightly different delivery, the sound was usually perceived as either ‘p or p’, depending – and written ap as a prefix to surnames; ap-Rees and ap-Harry. (Priest and Parry, in later versions.)

The Celtic languages and dialects were relatively late comers to the spoken languages of Britain, and they were never spoken all over the Island(s). Between the very first settlers of Britain – described in the preceding blog to this one – and the Celtic settlers lie thousands of years and hundreds of generations, and an unknown number of other immigrant groups speaking other languages.

As far as I can tell, there has been little enquiry into the languages of Britain before the Celts – or even before the arrival of the Roman Empire. The whole of Britain is supposed to have been speaking one or other of the Celtic languages when the Roman armies arrived, but that’s unlikely to have been the case. After all, the whole of the territory under Rome’s rule didn’t speak Latin by the end of its 20 generations of occupation.

All the local nobles and administrators probably did, just as their successors spoke Anglo-Saxon by the end of those Germans’ occupation, and Scandinavian in the northern regions by the end of the Vikings’ occupation, and French for generations after the Norman conquest. But the bulk of any society doesn’t adopt a new language every time it’s conquered.

The peasantry is far too conservative to do that, and invaders don’t come in large enough numbers to change an entire population’s speech. Anyway, slaughtering the natives is never as sensible as enslaving them. Somebody has to till the fields and milk the cows and provide sexual services to the new masters. Genocide is a wasteful self-indulgence. The Roman Empire practised ethnic cleansing once in a while, but the Celts and the other foreign rulers didn’t.

The British peoples who were invaded and conquered by Rome two thousand years ago – were they radically different from either their distant descendants or their distant ancestors? There is no convincing reason to think so, whether in their basic DNA, or their language, or their clan-identities.

It would take an overwhelming invasion of the whole of Britain to alter those things to any significant degree, and there is no proof of such an invasion in the past. Histories claim that the Celts did come in overwhelming numbers – but the failure of any Celtic speech to survive east of the present borders makes that an implausible claim. Codswallop, in other words.

Actually, there is one important piece of evidence against a totalitarian invasion, although it has rarely if ever been taken into account. That evidence is the fact that English is unique in western Europe in its absence of grammatical genders. No le and la, die, der and das, -en and -et, or their Latin or Celtic equivalents: just plain old the. No grammatical genders for any nouns, ever.

On a typical farm, foreign male occupiers and their native female companions will call things by their respective names for them. That’s how genders arose in every western language but English. But when populations survive foreign invasions intact, a need for male and female grammatical genders never does arise. It’s worth saying again… English is unique in western Europe in its absence of linguistic genders. That didn’t come about by accident. English has always been the language of the native British, since Day One.