According to American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The value of a dollar is social, as it is created by society.”
According to the Cayman Islands government, the value of a dollar approximates to 10 months of effort by a 19-member committee. We are able to assert this with empirical certainty because that ($1) is the difference between what Cayman’s Minimum Wage Advisory Committee is recommending as the base national salary ($6 per hour) and what North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, unaided by anything except his own common sense, has been suggesting over the past several years ($5 per hour).
We are not, at this juncture, going to explore the question of whether Cayman should have a minimum wage, nor if $6 per hour is too high a figure, or too low. For the moment, we will allow the report to speak for itself. Indeed, thumbing through the 221 pages produced by the committee on the topic of a possible minimum wage for Cayman, we are reminded of social media theorist Clay Shirky’s succinct assessment of the journalistic autopsy performed by Columbia University investigators on the retracted Rolling Stone article on campus rape: “The Columbia report is thorough, but a distraction.”
Our opinion is that being so “thorough” was thoroughly unnecessary.
In reality, the nearly yearlong process that the committee dutifully carried out has not brought Cayman one step closer to the goal that instituting a national minimum wage will supposedly accomplish. The only thing that will is for lawmakers to, well, make a law, and then for authorities to see that it is enforced. Large institutions, including our government, are generally very adept at generating reports — but far less so at acting on them. Until Cayman institutes, and enforces, a minimum wage, Cayman does not have a minimum wage.
Since we don’t have one yet, let us take a moment to discuss what a minimum wage can be expected to do, and what it will not.
On Thursday, Premier Alden McLaughlin mentioned the two primary reasons that people in Cayman usually give for wanting a minimum wage. First, he said, “Social justice demands, requires; Christian principles demand that you treat people fairly.”
Fair enough. For the relative handful of workers who will receive a pay raise to $6 per hour, the minimum wage will indeed promote a certain measure of “social justice” and fairness.
Mr. McLaughlin then went on to speculate, though, that instituting a minimum wage may create more jobs for Caymanians — the idea being, for example, that a Caymanian may not be willing to take a dishwashing job for $4 per hour (the position then being filled by a less-fastidious expatriate), but that same Caymanian may be willing to take that job for $6 per hour. We do not believe that is a realistic description of human behavior. The committee didn’t either and recommended that government drop the objective of “improv[ing] employment opportunities for Caymanians in relation to decreasing the demand for imported workers” as it concerns the minimum wage. The establishment of a minimum wage is not an act of economic creation; it is an act of economic redistribution.
But how to generate wealth for a society? Toward that point, we’ll leave you with additional thoughts from Mr. Emerson’s essay on the subject:
“Wealth brings with it its own checks and balances. The basis of political economy is non-interference. The only safe rule is found in the self-adjusting meter of demand and supply. Do not legislate. Meddle, and you snap the sinews with your sumptuary laws. Give no bounties: make equal laws: secure life and property, and you need not give alms. Open the doors of opportunity to talent and virtue, and they will do themselves justice, and property will not be in bad hands. In a free and just commonwealth, property rushes from the idle and imbecile, to the industrious, brave, and persevering.”
Now that we have thoroughly inspected the floor of Cayman’s economy, perhaps we can realign our gaze to the ceiling.