Letter to the Editor: Greed isn’t good – keeping geckoes up the trees

Coming
back to Grand Cayman for three months after many years away and having first
arrived here in 1973, I would like to share some reflections with you regarding
the economic and consequently inevitable social changes that have occurred over
the last four decades of rapid economic growth albeit  with some slow down in the last four years.

Changes:
These changes are mainly the conspicuous representation of the material
benefits of economic growth and rising GDP.

(1)
Land Development – referring to the large number and size of eco-unfriendly
houses, condos and apartments. Much of the architecture is startling and there
appears to be no vernacular theme to say the least. Why so high? The sun is
beginning to disappear on Seven Mile Beach Road and where is the beach?

Disney
World meets Tuscany.

However,
I do like the appearance of the new Countryside Shopping Village. It seems to
fit naturally and not be brash or alien.

(2)
The large number of non – Caymanians living here obviously needed to provide
labour to fuel this growth. We left Heathrow Airport hotel staffed with
friendly non-natives and when we arrived at our Cayman hotel they had got here
before us ready to serve again! Bless.

(3)
The great volume of traffic and traffic noise both on land and water. The four
wheel drives are probably needed for the mud and snow months, the hilly terrain
and the high exhaust emissions to kill the last of the mosquitoes! The latest
model of those high powered BMW’s certainly get you from Meringue Town to
George Town to the Ritz Carlton tout suite. One wonders whether emulation
(keeping up with the Joneses) has reared its conspicuous head lights in Cayman.
(See later).

(4)
Increased availability of entertainment, leisure activities and restaurants.
Has the Barefoot Man popped his clogs?

The
Rugby Club used to play with itself once a week. Now it does it twice a week.

It’s
great to see the work being done with the young, but this is another place
bursting at the seams as a playground.

(5)
Cruise ships. How gay to see them in the bay, how much of the money filters
down?

(6)
Crime. This appears to be getting serious and will do harm to social cohesion
and well-being. Its connection to rising affluence and alienation is an
on-going discussion.

The
Americanisation of Cayman, which inevitably hit these shores harder than
elsewhere. Mother has moved to Europe but her offspring has gone Hollywood.
Let’s hope no one starts throwing tea in Hog Sty Bay.

(7)
Culture Shock:

Rapid
economic growth enforces social changes that are difficult to deal with. I
still have the article “The islands that time forgot”. The point is that the
people had time for you then, but that is being forgotten now.

(8)
Mosquitoes have been replaced by iguanas and chickens on the streets: This is a
good swap. We haven’t been bitten once.

(9)
A lot more TV –Dat bad.

A
lot more broadband – Dat good.

A
lot more cell phones – Dat bad.

(10)
The suspicion of a widening gap between the haves and have less. This would be
bad for social cohesion and well being.

(11)
Cayman has become much greener but only in 
the numbers and variety of plants and trees in gardens and public
places. This is really pleasing.

What
is not pleasing is the almost complete absence of all those items, which go to
make buildings more energy efficient: insulation against thermal loss, solar
panels for hot water, photo voltaic for electricity, wind turbines, rain water
and grey water recovery etc.

Most
of Europe and especially the UK are now committed to help reduce carbon emissions
and global warming and improving energy efficiency. Building regulations in the
UK for the construction of new buildings are now very stringent with regard to
those matters.  The irony is that Cayman is
more likely to suffer than anywhere else from the effects of global warming.

Reaction:
My first reaction to these changes is one of shock horror: Where is the magic
of the old Cayman? Then I realise that old people like me don’t like change and
nostalgia is never what it used to be. So I stop my knee jerking and try for a
more reasoned response. And you know what? I am flooded with new doubts of a
more sophisticated native.

Context:
Many of the economic activities that take place in Cayman are a microcosm of a
bigger world scaled down to a manageable and understandable size. This can be
useful with some exceptions to those of us who are interested in socio
political models because it gives rise to valuable insights and comparisons.
What the recent changes in Cayman forcibly remind me of is the way in which
they illustrate the notion (currently again becoming fashionable) is that as we
get richer we do not after reaching a certain level of basic wealth get better
off in the sense of happiness or well-being.

In
fact some go as far as to say that we get worse off due to certain
externalities, associated with economic growth – a kind of “affluenza” and in
extreme cases psychological distress. 
Cayman of course is not alone in this. It would appear to be a worldwide
historic phenomenon. Recently David Cameron, the Tory leader in the UK, was
talking about how GDP does not measure happiness and would someone dream up an
index to replace it. Gordon said no.

Galbraith:
This concept has some history. The Scottish, Canadian, American, economist John
Kenneth Galbraith (6’ 10’ and known as Ken) whilst professor of economics at
Harvard wrote “The Affluent Society” in 1958 (revised1969). He reasons that the
world is a newly affluent place owing to economic growth resulting in enormous
changes to the ways in which populations of the western world live. Such
changes ought to be accompanied by a broad revolution in ideas associated with
the management of a national economy and society.

Running
a rich country is entirely different to running an economy that is struggling
to survive; and yet so many of the ancient ideas persist unto the present day
entirely inappropriate to the new challenges, which society faces. He criticised
the assumption that the current “conventional wisdom“(he first coined the
phrase) that continually increasing material consumption is a sign of economic
and societal health. The main problem he saw with this was that the “market”,
in order to sell goods with advertising, creates artificial needs and an
artificial affluence whilst the public sector becomes neglected. Private
affluence and public squalor ring any bells?

Education:
It is not the intention of this article to highlight the published criticism of
this theory or to deal at any length with solutions. However Galbraith emphasised
expenditure on education to create a skilled workforce, (of course) and to
create a population that would be more difficult to manipulate by reducing
their conspicuous consumption habits. Furthermore, he said that we should
recognise that those localities with significantly more investment in all
public services (eg. education, healthcare, law enforcement) to compensate for
the households’ inability themselves to invest in children’s future education.

Relevance:
Is any of this relevant to any perceived Cayman predicament? This largely
depends upon your political stance but as former teacher one can only be
dismayed by the way in which government currently drags its brogues over one
building of new schools. Surely education should be given more priority and the
money found from somewhere? I can’t help but contrast the palatial state of
some new buildings (private) with the high school (public).  Something’s gone wrong.

The
bill please? How to pay for all this? A detailed explanation of Ken’s proposals
for a small island whose admirable success GDP-wise has been largely based upon
a lack of direct taxation and as a consequence of that low public expenditure
(ignoring Civil Service salary costs) would be almost totally inappropriate.
However, one issue – that of imposing sales taxes – might have more legs
avoiding as it does opening up a debate over wealth distribution. Certainly
Galbraith’s proposal of a negative income tax is inappropriate in an economy
quite unused to any direct tax.

The
Future: I do not want to give the impression that I am unduly critical of
Cayman and please forgive my weird sense of humour – I’ve been chained to it
for years. I, like many others, am grateful for the experiences and the
economic opportunities Cayman presented to me. I just wonder whether the
economic model that worked so well in the past is appropriate for the future
bearing in mind Cayman’s advanced state of development and the culture that it
has taken in recent years. How much more development can a small island take
with a finite limit to its space and population in relation to a massive demand
for its product without there being a decline in well-being? How can Cayman
overcome the dilemma in needing to maintain a low government and tax profile in
order to attract business and keep them and at the same time have a large
enough fund of government revenue finance to mitigate any decline social and
moral well-being and also to regulate the economy?

Consensus:
Surely the answer to these questions as a minimum requirement is some kind of
consensus plan of what the Caymanian people want the future to be and to
implement it before there is no turning back.

Last
word: One last word on a positive note “le plus ca change, le plus c`est la meme
chose” as my French mistress used to say.

I
am referring to the basic niceness of the average Caymanian being still intact
and the way they take time to remember us and welcome us back.

Thankfully
this national characteristic along with the sun and sea will be enough to keep
the affluenza virus at bay.

Reading:

Jack
Sloper

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