‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’.
This old Chinese proverb has been repeated by several of our politicians recently, and the message it contains is sage. Certainly it is better for any society to teach its members how to provide for themselves rather than give them government assistance.
That point should be apparent more than ever now that it has been revealed the government expended some $19 million in 2010 in providing almost 8,000 people – nearly 15 per cent of the population – with some sort of financial aid. These figures do not include the efforts of Cayman’s many service clubs, churches and other charitable organisations that spend significant amounts assisting local residents, including some not helped by the government.
What is particularly noteworthy about those staggering figures is that they occurred in a year when there were no natural disasters that would have typically necessitated widespread government aid.
It is true that Cayman was – and still is – feeling the effects of a prolonged economic downturn, but most people can cut back on their expenses during tough times so that they don’t need government aid.
Minister of Community Affairs Mike Adam vowed last week to “not leave anyone behind” and, when it comes to people who truly have needs in order to subsist, we agree.
However, we have to wonder what kind of checks and balances the government has in place to ensure all of the nearly 8,000 people getting assistance are truly in need and not taking advantage of the system.
Financial aid, after all, should be reserved for those in real need, and should not just be a way for people to maintain the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed.
The problem with government aid is twofold: Firstly, it tends to make our society less self-reliant in general. Secondly, Cayman doesn’t have the means to support it. Other countries that give substantial financial aid to its citizens also have direct taxation to finance the expenditure. Unless Cayman starts teaching more of its people how to metaphorically fish, it will have to start teaching them the details of direct taxation.