Return to basic values

It is the wish of most if not all of us that we will witness in 2010 the revival of what many termed the Caymanian economic miracle, for we are all completely depended upon money to buy whatever goods or services we need and enjoy. But from the outset of this miracle we were a monoculture of megabanks deemed too important to be asked to pay for social development and the social damage caused by rapid change.

Capital became the all powerful god while our traditional understandings of social value become all but extinct. Those that could not pay for the assets to make themselves and their children part of the dominant cooperate culture, have no hope of making a decent living and the satisfaction of having a respectability status.

The myth of social mobility was replaced by the hard truths that only pay matters. How much we earn determines our lifestyle, where we can afford to live and our aspirations and status. We live in a society of extremes, where the income of the very rich and the very poor continue to pull away from each other.

However, the least paid jobs are often those that keep our communities and families together yet we have allowed wage inequality to become a corrosive, destabilising issue that is linked to a range of social problems. Moreover, no government has had the political appetite for taxing high paid companies and executives or establishing a living wage. And employers still have the power to set wages without consultation or negotiation with low paid workers.

Studies have shown that increasingly it is not absolute levels of poverty alone but the differences between people that contribute to social problems such as crime, ill health, poor educational attainment and addiction. We have become a two-tier society and the frequency of armed violence points this out clearly yet we make the mistake of thinking that criminality is simply a moral issue that has nothing to do with the distribution of socio-economic value.

From as early as the late 1970s, I suggested that if we were not mindful we would become a community where alienated youth would revolt against the status quo. Yes, of course we have many wealthy Caymanians and a great number of poor underpaid foreign workers, but our wayward youth do not see this. They see themselves as deserving the same social status as any wealthy executive, and believe still that status is inherited from nationality and not from income or one’s importance to cooperate culture.

Real harmony will only be returned if Caymanians are recruited into the socially valuable professions like law enforcement, teaching, early childhood education, social work and nursing, because our social problems cannot be solved by the police alone. Imagine placing the police in our schools to further aggravate the existing social conflicts, which they know little about. 2010 will have to be about more than making Cayman again an economic miracle; it must also be if we are to regain our harmony, about the way we treat those responsible for reproducing and socialising our children. It is time to apply a different way of thinking to the value generated by different types of work and reward those that produce what we once valued and the kind of society we use to live in.

Frank McField