By Douglas Kruger
MY Dad had a romantic notion that he used to call “the caravan in the swamp”. The idea was something I think Brits intuitively get: a maximum of luxury inside, great hostility outside. He imagined a hypothetical five-star caravan, cosily kitted out with every comfort, but set bang in the middle of a dismal, rainy swamp.
There’s something about the contrast.
We have a couple of “caravans in the swamp”, in Jersey, and they’re delightful. Those “glass bubbles” outside The Grand Jersey Hotel, particularly during a rainstorm. The Plémont Beach Café, perched halfway up its rugged hills, particularly when a rolling mist comes in.
And the mobile sauna at the coast, product of an ingenious entrepreneur named Cole McLean.
Trouble is, he’s been asked to move along. And it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. But it is a microcosm for a governmental issue that Jersey needs to violently and permanently exorcise. I mean… fix.
In McLean’s case, it appears that his permission was revoked. And it’s that very word, “permission”, that bugs me.
I’m the author of several books on the patterns that underpin poverty and wealth in different nations.
A brutally concise summary of their points is this: “Entrepreneurship is good. Government’s role is to uphold contracts, provide infrastructure, and get out of the way. Lower taxes, make it easier for businesses. Do that, everyone thrives.”
That’s Western prosperity in a nutshell, and the formula works when transplanted elsewhere, too. Witness Singapore, Hong Kong or South Korea (as opposed to the centrally planned economy of North Korea).
In Jersey, we haven’t mastered the “government gets out of the way” part yet.
I remember a short time ago when our farm shop had to apply for “permission” to stay open a little longer. I rolled my eyes so hard that they creaked audibly. Sanity prevailed, and they were allowed to do so. But again. “Allowed”.
Why, in the name of all that is sensible, does any human ever have to ask a government’s permission to “continue to work”? Or say thank you, like a grateful feudal serf, once permission has been “granted”? I know of people who have been on this Island for several years, who are still not “allowed” to do what they did back home, even though they’re already living here. That’s deeply immoral. It’s even disgusting.
The government’s set of rules state that not enough time has passed. Nothing changes with this passage of time; it just slides away in pure wastage. The balance of what they might have earned is effectively stolen from them by a dumb rule. Once a meaningless period of time elapses, they will be “allowed” to earn. Gee, thanks.
This whole attitude is not merely bureaucratically idiotic, but actively iniquitous. If a government has the power to grant you permission to work, by definition, that means it has the power to prevent you from working.
It’s as though we were somehow stuck in a time warp, living in the medieval guild age. Or through one of Stalin’s five-year plans.
McLean had to obtain permission to work in a certain spot. It was given. Then it was revoked, and he was instructed to move along.
At the heart of it appears to be a question over which government department owns the land. But a government department owns the land. Ports of Jersey states that “The government is our 100% shareholder”.
If we are finding reasons to shut entrepreneurs down, our whole mindset is wrong. Instead, we should encourage many, many more saunapreneurs. They are an asset. Jersey needs them.
And the amount of government permission they should require is “zero”. Indeed, they should receive tax incentives for launching such businesses, because every new enterprise not only improves our standard of living, while simultaneously driving down costs through increased competition, but also grows the total economy of the Island, so that there is more revenue available for public projects (like that bridge to France. Do it!).
Imagine being part of a committee that prevents all that from happening. And still sleeping soundly at night, as though you’re one of the good guys. I picture that Simpsons character with his finger up his nose, saying, “I’m helping!”
If you think I’m being too harsh, go watch the final episode of “Clarkson’s Farm”, and tell me you think planning permission committees don’t have it in them to be pulsatingly petty.
It’s a matter of values. If we’re going to place words like “liberation” at the centre of this Island’s identity, then the political structures should reflect such ideals.
I propose we start by taking a hatchet to any and every government policy that in any way impedes entrepreneurs, while simultaneously issuing a healthy reminder to government: You don’t own these people. They own you.
I even think we should make new businesses tax exempt for the first few years of their growth. (And, if I’m honest, thereafter as well, but one step at a time).
I have previously proposed that we should set up a commission to take a hatchet to dumb rules that hamper business on the Island.
Get one of our auditing firms to generate a twenty-point proposal for freeing up and incentivisation of our entrepreneurs.
Let the firm plaster their branding all over their proposal, so that they get the glory and the news coverage, and have them do it for free, so the whole exercise costs government nothing. Thereafter, we can publish an annual registry on how many idiotic rules have been identified and repealed.
We should also pass such ideas on to Guernsey, whose embattled Chief Minister thinks you can tax a populace into greater prosperity. Inform him that if he lowers taxes, but frees up business, he will have the missing funds he needs.
Obviously. (At some later date, we can discuss the reintroduction of floggings for politicians who propose new taxes. Again, baby steps).
Now, let’s take the whole theme one step further. We’ve discussed caravans in swamps. We’ve spoken about government- owned land, and we’ve covered how such land might better interact with entrepreneurship.
Now, falling neatly into the centre of that Venn diagram is the derelict building at the waterfront, the appropriately named La Folie Inn. Government have owned it for twenty years, and for twenty years it’s been doing nothing.
Why not simplify this one? “Free to the best money generating idea! Send in your proposals and win an inn.” Well, why not? Its current revenue stream is zero. Hold a contest for the cleverest entrepreneurial idea, and award it, entirely gratis, to the winner.
Too radical? Okay, here’s a more sensible idea. Let the government keep it. Let it stand idle for another twenty years, in arguably one of the planet’s premier locations, because a group of people who do planning permission have become Frodo and can’t let go of the ring. Let the cobwebs gather. That sounds smart.
Hey, while you’re at it, let’s take our coolest new entrepreneur, and tell him to take his awesome sauna and hide it in a crevasse. Real smart.
Douglas Kruger lives in St Helier, and writes books to keep himself out of mischief. When the seagulls aren’t shrieking, he records them too. They’re all available from Amazon and Audible.