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Wednesday 16 October 2019
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Dazzled by politicians and innovation

What do Boris Johnson and Watson Duke have in common?

That might be slightly unfair to one of them, but nobody would disagree that it is unbridled hubris that makes Facebook think it can take over the economies of the world. Harold Wilson, the 1960s reforming UK Labour Prime Minister, famously said that a week is a long time in politics, and he was also bent on harnessing the “white heat” of technology. What would he say about today’s world?

Since it is Facebook, the world already knows that the company wants to create a new global currency in collaboration with Visa, Paypal and other rich global companies. A good question to ask is, “Why?” Facebook has at least one very good answer, namely, that the present banking system does not help the poorest, such as migrant workers who pay high fees to remit monies back to their families. The new cryptocurrency, Libra, would allow fast person-to-person transactions at little or no cost by exchanging national currencies for Libra via Messenger and WhatsApp. The currency will closely track local exchange rates and will be backed by a collection of low-volatility assets such as bank deposits and short-term government securities in currencies from stable, reputable central banks.

It sounds desirable, and I am not a great lover of the established banking system that we know can be unreliable and is exploitative, but the prospect is too frightening to contemplate of having an entity notorious for allowing the mining of millions of Facebook users' personal data and is almost completely unregulated, managing international finances from some elusive big-brother centre. Most of us are blinded by the bright lights of technology and we do not care how it works as it is so beyond our imaginations, but we should consider where all of this leads. Apart from the increased amount of personal information to be shared, how will governments control taxes, money laundering and the effects upon national economies? This has the potential to become a monster, like Facebook.

And getting back to Watson Duke, the chameleon vying to be the ruler of Tobago, and Boris Johnson, well on the road to being the next leader of the ruling Conservative Party in Britain and the next Prime Minister, both men worked out that you have to get noticed to win political backing and get ahead of the pack, and that your very physical being is yet another item that can be added to the war chest. They both eagerly resorted to buffoonery to win attention, and it paid off.

The two politicians came at it slightly differently. The ashen, paunchy Mr Johnson cultivated a deliberately unkempt look that makes you want to check if his fingernails are clean, and wore his extremely blond, fly-away hair carefully tousled to appear he had just suffered an electric shock. Mr Duke went the other way, treating us to a wide range of looks, making one wonder how he ever got time to get it together.

Now they are both donning elegant Savile Row-style suits; Mr Duke’s new rosettes or corsages always merit a comment, as do his matching breast-pocket handkerchiefs and superb selection of ties. Mr Johnson, on the other hand, now knots his ties properly and tucks his expensive shirts in. But it is the hair that is most sharply contrasting with their past styles. Mr Johnson is allowing his thin locks to lie flat and Mr Duke is sporting a smart, marked side part that lends sophistication and authority to his demeanour.

It surprises many that the British Conservative Party would want to choose a leader who routinely puts his foot in his mouth and upsets all sorts of people whilst clearly displaying his opportunistic politics, but they do, just as Mr Duke has won followers for his own style of disruptiveness. Maybe Mr Johnson’s backers believe him when he says he will get Britain out of the EU on October 31 – Halloween! – come hell or high water, and then negotiate to Britain’s advantage. Maybe they think that he is so geeky that he can do magic.

As for Mr Duke, he may have won some doubters to his side by pointing to the fact that Tobago needs to think more about delivering higher productivity and economic returns instead of just demanding money from the national treasury. He made some good points in his response to the THA budget presented last week. Criticising Tobago is like saying anything critical about Israel – you are dubbed anti-Semitic, racist or worse. Yet I do know that people living in those places think and say exactly what outsiders dare not. I hope some Tobagonians who do not belong to Mr Duke’s party would, nevertheless, have the courage to acknowledge his spot-on observations.

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