Like a crack of thunder, the announcement that the Cayman Islands now boasts its largest population ever – 58,238 – is a confirmation that lightning has struck. Last year, following a half-decade of decline and stagnation, Cayman’s population shot up by 4.5 percent, an annual rate that if sustained would easily place our country among the fastest-growing in the world.
And we see no reason why Cayman should not continue this growth; on the contrary, we believe our country’s strategic positioning (economically, financially and geographically) to be so sound that to counter the impending wave of prosperity would require an act of God – or government.
Therefore, we pray that hurricanes maintain a safe distance from our shores, and we applaud Cayman’s current elected leadership in all parties, which seem predominantly to share our belief that for Cayman’s economy, “growth is good, and more growth is better.”
In tandem with the news of Cayman’s population increase, officials revealed that unemployment in Cayman fell 1.6 percent to 4.7 percent last year, a number in the “low-to-normal” range for developed countries.
If anyone is looking around for another shovelful of marl to dump on the debunked theory that new work permit holders “steal” Caymanian jobs, consider this: Last year’s population growth was fueled mainly by the 1,800 newly arriving non-Caymanian residents (most all of them work permit holders); at the same time, the unemployment rate among Caymanians fell 1.5 percent to 7.9 percent – still too high, but significantly declining.
Last October, we published an editorial that set forth our pro-growth position and attempted to explain that pro-expatriate policies are also pro-Caymanian policies. One of our readers provided a thoughtful response, asserting that if population size were the ultimate determinant of wealth and well-being, then residents of India would enjoy some of the highest standards of living on Earth.
Point well-taken, but we’ll also provide a couple of our own:
First, being pro-growth is not the same thing as being pro-“infinite growth.” Sooner than later, it may start to feel a bit crowded here, particularly if Cayman’s infrastructure does not keep pace with new residential development. Right now, though, Cayman’s population density is only about half that of Aruba and one-fifth that of Bermuda.
Second, all growth is not created equal. Cayman’s immigration policy must be predicated on ensuring that long-term residents are self-sustaining and do not place a future financial burden on the Caymanian people.
As the most recent statistics illustrate, nearly all of Cayman’s new residents will arrive by airplane at the Owen Roberts International Airport, not by stork at the Cayman Islands Hospital. As time goes on, expatriates will account for a greater and greater proportion of the Cayman population. Actuarially that redistribution of demography is ordained and inevitable.
Geographically speaking, the new data show that two districts have been left out of last year’s growth, East End and the Sister Islands. We won’t explore in this editorial the causes and effects of this disparity, short of observing that increasing inequities in the number of voters per elected member should figure heavily into calculations of electoral boundaries, allotment of public spending and plans for capital project investment.
It is incumbent upon those seeking a low-growth or no-growth strategy for the Cayman Islands to reconcile their position with the cost of government, the growing swath of services it provides, the expense of future capital projects and, notably, its debt obligations (particularly its underfunded health and pension benefits for government workers and their families).
Somebody’s got to pay government’s ever-increasing bills and obligations, and those “somebodies” will be our future residents and businesses.