Monday, May 18, 2015

Cayman’s entitlement culture

Following an English Army’s conquest of Jamaica in 1655, European and African refugees and drifters became the Cayman Islands’ indigenous/aboriginal inhabitants, as far as we know. There is no evidence that any native-American tribes ever lived here. It is those first settlers’ bloodline descendants who still rule Cayman today, and claim preferential rights to all manner of privileges. Migrants have always been tolerated, but full acceptance has come only after mating with someone of the bloodline.

As in other communities around the world whose governance is founded on bloodline or tribal inheritance, Cayman’s local rulers have found it difficult to give up their tribal privileges – even impossible. Like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates, Cayman has been lucky to have found a steady source of state revenue without imposing an income-tax on their subjects. 

Every Arab tribal autocracy has its oil, Cayman’s has its “offshore” international tax-haven. Those sources produce oodles of Public Revenue, and every ruling tribe produces plenty of members ready to claim first dibs on it by virtue of their bloodline. Historically, their political representatives (who must be fellow-aboriginals, by law) have created an entire system of governance that caters to that sentiment – regardless of consequences.

Cayman’s current representatives have their knickers in a twist, trying to resolve the consequences. An uncomfortable number of the tribe’s members are coming up short in the following respects:-

·        Unschooled beyond a minimal level
·        Unemployable because of an anti-work attitude
·        Untrained and undisciplined in the management of their personal finances
·        Intolerant towards foreign ethnic groups

Those deficiencies have steadily worsened in recent years; the drift to full dependency on government handouts has passed the point of no return. There is no apparent solution on the horizon. It looks as though, in time, our “native” citizenry will become overwhelmingly dependent on welfare.

Most Caymanian families will rely on the plethora of government bureaucracies for food-vouchers; most Caymanian children will rely on charities to feed them before, during and after school; most Caymanian old folk will receive free Meals on Wheels, free healthcare, and pocket-money. Already, a huge segment of our bloated Civil Service is occupied with forcing private-sector businesses to hire and promote bloodline Caymanians ahead of immigrants, regardless of experience or (often) education.

The four deficiencies listed above have achieved unstoppable momentum. None of the four is ever publicly spoken of as a dependency by ethnic Caymanians, or acknowledged as a predictable product of the culture of entitlement. Expats know better than to argue, for fear of being punished by the authorities. The problems could all be fixed if Caymanians allowed expats to participate in the fixing – but expats are not to be trusted.

The schooling could be improved with the help of expat teachers and employers – if they were trusted. The unemployables could be made employable with the help of expats – if they were trusted. The financially incapable could be taught by expat volunteers – if they were trusted. The intolerant could be educated out of their narrow tribal prejudices – if their community would trust the outside world.

(Of course there are some expat cronies and stooges whose lives are spent giving comfort and assurance to the intolerant. There always are people like that, aren’t there?  Those expats brave enough to disagree openly, have given up. Their independence is viewed with suspicion; they will never be called upon, except as prospective stooges. What a waste of useful resources it all is!)

Every year, the Caymanians-only government schools add more inadequately educated graduates to the ranks of the unemployable, the financially irresponsible and the intolerant. All expats whose home this is, would love to be called on to help stop the rot – but they never will be, because they aren’t trusted. 

An uncomfortably large segment of our native Caymanian community is addicted to its protectionist culture. Government-school standards stay low because entitlement is more important than education. Respect for foreign ways is absent because mistrust of foreigners is so strong. Personal financial responsibility is pointless when every need is met by handouts.

It all reminds me of Bob Dylan’s famous song of the 1950s about a drug-addict friend of his who, trapped by her dependency, could find “no direction home”, he said. She was like a rolling stone, he told her brutally. By the same token, the native-Caymanian community (as a whole) will find no way out of its social confusion, until it casts off its dependency on its entitlement culture.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fixing up George Town

The way things are going, George Town (our main commercial centre) will lose most of its relevance within the next ten years. Camana Bay – four miles to the north – is very up-market, and a much more attractive place for stopover tourists and cruise-passengers alike. It would be unfair to say that George Town is looking seedy, yet – or even particularly tired; but it does have some tacky retail shops and eating-places, not appropriate for middle-class visitors. There’s a lot of chatter about sprucing GT up, to compete with the new town. 

Camana Bay was established just a few years ago, designed by the best town-planners Ken Dart’s infinite supply of capital could buy. As the owner of the whole development Mr Dart has had the freedom to negotiate the re-siting of roads and the allocation of land-units. He has done a superb job.

Predictably, his commercial park knocks the socks off downtown, as an attraction for visitors. GT grew up before the days of professional town-planning. Confined in a haphazard layout of mildly congested streets and lanes, financial-sector offices rub shoulders with cheapo T-shirt shops and rowdy bars. Wild chickens share the sidewalks with pedestrians. (Actually, they’re quite cute, especially when they hang out around the KFC shop, but – well, let’s just say it’s not quite in accordance with the image that our “offshore” hotshots would like to project!)

Downtown merchants are increasingly indignant at the bussing of cruise-passengers up to Camana Bay, to shop and wander around, but are relying on government to help them out and to pay for whatever it costs. That’s pretty pathetic, but par for the course, in a Cayman in which people are encouraged to suck on the government teat rather than find their own sustenance. 

Regrettably, Cayman is no longer a self-help society. A couple of months ago, in a blog-post called Give a kid breakfast, I grumbled about the welfare mentality that encouraged parents of schoolchildren to rely on charities to feed those children. Some of the parents are genuinely not competent to manage the money they earn, but most seem to believe that they are entitled to mooch off the rest of society at every opportunity. The entitlement culture, we call it.

Charity recipients are supposed to be means-tested, but most people I speak with believe the testing-system is corrupt. Certainly, many of the kids applying for the free school-meals come from homes with fancier cars than Linda and I can afford!

Ah well…  We can’t blame the politicians and government bureaucrats for turning a blind eye to the corruption that allows self-reliance to be thrown out the window. After all, it’s the absence of self-reliance that keeps them all in their well-paid jobs. Their secret aim in life is probably to abolish self-reliance altogether. 

(Outside the offshore-finance sector, Cayman is galloping towards full socialism. Already we have quasi-communist state control of the entire workforce, and already there are moves to control day-to-day operations of commerce, too – offshore-finance excepted.)

As a general statement, our downtown merchants are milking the entitlement culture as much as the free-breakfast mothers. They (the merchants) want government to make their place more attractive, and seem unwilling to do anything substantive themselves – or to pay for the refurbishment demanded. They’re too cheap to even set up a Merchants Association, for goodness sake. If they’ve even thought about it. 

Thirty years ago our Chamber of Commerce was slapped awake from a long sleep by an enlightened group of local businessmen, just in time to fight off a proposed Income Tax that would have destroyed Cayman’s prosperity. It was a narrow escape, and the total cost was a mere $100,000. Who will slap today’s downtown merchants awake, and persuade them to finance a war-chest of $100,000 or so? 

If they can’t find an enlightened group from within their number, they won’t deserve to survive. Sadly, it seems that all the get-up-and-go of earlier times has simply got up and gone.