DATELINE FEBRUARY 13, 2042: More bad news for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Haiti’s President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, now 90 years old and the world’s longest serving leader, said today that Haiti was closing its borders and could not accept any more refugees from the Virgin Islands. President Aristide said, “We Haitians are a generous people. But enough is enough. The Virgin Islands has to get its act together.” Just last month, Puerto Rico’s president, its first since independence from the United States in 2035, shut the door to further emigration from the Virgin Islands, stating, “I know they don’t have much of an economy anymore, but they always seem like they’re in a bad mood. We’ve got our own problems.”
Students in the class of 2043 at a St. Thomas high school, viewing pictures of a thriving Virgin Islands decades earlier, asked their history teacher, “how did this happen?” “This” was the rapid decline of the territory following the crisis and recession earlier in the century. The teacher sighed and said, “Well, it’s kind of complicated.” To which one of the students replied, “Make it simple.”
“Okay, here is what happened. The Virgin Islands had this thing. It was called the Senate. They are what happened. When there was a good opportunity, they rejected it. When good people came before them, they humiliated them. When bad opportunities and bad people showed up, the Senate embraced them and took them in. At some point, the bad just crushed the good. And here we are.”
“Give us an example,” one of the students said.
“Okay, here is one, but there are lots of them,” the teacher said. “In 2012, a company proposed to turn trash into fuel. The Virgin Islands had too much trash and not enough fuel. It seemed like a natural, and the company’s technology was proven. But the Senate rejected them.”
“Why would they do something like that?”
“Well, it’s kind of complicated.”
Again, the same student said, “Make it simple.”
“Well, many of the senators were not smart enough to understand what they were doing, but they thought that they were big shots,” the teacher said. “And it was kind of fun to shoot down these companies that wanted to do business in the Virgin Islands. In a basic sense, they shot them down because they could. Unless the companies were a little shady. They seemed to like them a bit more.”
The discussion went on, with the students becoming more and more discouraged about their future prospects in the Virgin Islands and worried about their inability to emigrate to Haiti or Puerto Rico.
Back to the present. There are lots of reasons to be discouraged about a lot of things these days. But there is something about the Alpine Energy vote – and the reasons for it – that makes you want to throw up your hands. Or maybe even just throw up. The journalist H.L. Mencken once said that Puritans were driven by the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, was happy. Members of the Virgin Islands Senate seem to be driven by the haunting fear that some business, some day, will make a profit in the Virgin Islands. And they are doing their best to make sure that this never happens. They are likely to succeed.
Two of the Senate’s financial wizards, Sens. Hansen and Millin-Young, felt it was “unfair” for the company to have more than one revenue stream. Another stalwart, Sen. Rivera-O’Reilly, opposed the Alpine lease because her feelings were hurt and because she did not believe that there would be no cost to the government. Of course, she had no facts to support her belief, but she did have her feelings.
Another senator “sympathized” with Alpine and suggested that they stick around for a while so that the Senate’s deep thinkers could work things through in greater detail. In reality, this would simply give them more time to not get their facts straight.
What is quite striking about this action, and the explanations for it, is the degree to which the senators are divorced from all economic reality and from the reality of the situation in which the territory finds itself. Right-wing Republicans constantly accuse Democrats of being “not friendly” to business. This is total baloney. There isn’t anyplace in the United States that isn’t friendly to business today, with the exception of the Virgin Islands, and, on certain days of the year, the City of San Francisco. And San Francisco has a lot more assets than the Virgin Islands.
Every time you jerk someone around or throw up barriers to starting a business, you grease the skids a little more. Businesses have choices. Why invest in a place where, rather than being welcomed by a government partner, you are given crap by a bunch of blowhards and know-nothings? As one said, “We may have to vote it down and bring it back another time.”
Take your time. I am sure that the Alpine people will have operators standing by anxiously waiting to take the Senate’s call.
It is all very discouraging.