Last year, 10,000 millionaires fled France. Paris alone lost 7,000. That represents 3 percent of the nation’s millionaires and 6 percent of the capital city’s.
The reasons for the exodus, according to a report from research firm New World Wealth, include rising religious tensions between Christians and Muslims, and an overall lack of opportunities.
The situation is similar in Italy and Greece. About 5,000 millionaires moved out of Rome (7 percent of the city’s total), and 2,000 left Athens (9 percent) — in just one year. The causes cited, again, include “lack of opportunities” and slumping economies, as well as the Syrian migrant crisis.
In the global economy, one country’s loss is usually another country’s gain. Sure enough, the largest beneficiaries of this transfer of the wealthy, and their wealth, were Australia, the United States, Canada and Israel. (The U.K. just about broke even.)
That’s interesting. But what does Paris have to do with the Cayman Islands?
At minimum, the data on the movement of millionaires demonstrate that millionaires will and do, in fact, move. Because they have the means (i.e. the money) to relocate when they feel the need, they can be seen as “canaries in the coal mine” who warn of toxic atmospheres. According to the report, “Millionaires are often the first people to leave” … but not the last.
The report, which was compiled from government statistics, interviews and media reports, also points out that millionaires tend to be employers, spend a lot of money, pay a lot of taxes and bring innovations to local markets. When they leave, they take their jobs, money and ideas with them, leaving their erstwhile homes poorer in several different ways.
Here in Cayman, we shouldn’t need a report to learn those lessons. Consider, for instance, our country’s largest investor Ken Dart, who, we would assume, expatriated from the U.S. and settled here, at least partially motivated by the desire to escape confiscatory tax and inheritance policies.
For examples of people who have packed up their bags in search of better lives, we needn’t look to the upper class, but can cast our gaze in nearly any direction around our islands. Consider our expatriate community, many who are members of the Jamaican and Filipino diasporas, who have left their homelands to take up residence in Cayman.
Or, reflect upon the generations of Caymanians who went off to sea and saw the world from the decks of ships. Many returned, but many others settled elsewhere. Or even, think about the Caymanian children who grew up here but now are studying or working in Florida, New York, Canada, London or other points across the globe.
In the second half of the last millennium, economic migrants populated the New World and settled the Western Hemisphere — not without considerable conflict, violence and bloodshed. Some were driven by lust for gold, and many more motivated by “opportunity.”
Geographic mobility, perhaps even transience, has long been an aspect of Cayman society. Now that our country has developed to the point where our domestic economy can support entire families, we must never forget that if we don’t make our residents feel “at home,” then there are myriads of options elsewhere in competition for our monetary and human resources.
Many times, when government is considering new initiatives that will hinder businesses, officials are toying around with regulations that will make immigration more difficult, or people are spewing anti-“foreigner” rhetoric in other media, the response we hear from some residents boils down to, “Well, if you don’t like the way we do things in Cayman, then leave.”
We must be careful what we wish for. In a moment, Cayman’s “immigration problem” could evolve into something infinitely more serious: an “emigration problem.”