The contributions of Lyford Cay

Dear Editor,

It would be interesting to see an explanation of the analysis supporting the claims in The Tribune’s recent article headed “Lyford Cay Wages Equal $3k to All Nassau Families” (Business section, October 23).

It would also no doubt be instructive to the public to know who commissioned the study by “an Oxford Economics affiliate” and how much they paid for it. The public could then use its own judgment to decide how seriously to take the conclusions.

As an example, to say that the annual “wage bill” of Lyford Cay is the equivalent of $2,858 for each New Providence household, does not tell us whether that represents wages paid to people working inside Lyford Cay itself or includes wages paid by every company of which a Lyford Cay resident is a substantial owner. In either case, it would be interesting (and perhaps surprising) to see just how that figure compares with the “wage bill” generated by the Carmichael constituency.

For the record, while there may in fact be many people who happen to live in Lyford Cay who have impacted the Bahamian economy (and Sarkis Izmirlian, whom the article mentions, is a prime example), this is not the same as saying that the community itself, or the economic model represented by high-end gated residential communities, is to be credited with these impacts.

That would be like saying that because a man who lives in Papua New Guinea contributes billions annually to the Bahamian economy via his ownership of a mega resort here, then his residential community in Papua New Guinea is a major benefactor to The Bahamas. It is, in other words, a non sequitur.

By conflating Lyford Cay (or any other wealthy foreign enclave) with the wider issue of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the Bahamian economy, the article unfortunately gives the impression that widespread residency here by foreign homeowners is somehow elementary to the billions of dollars of FDI that sustain our tourist economy. It is not.

Atlantis, for instance, which is a clear and massively positive contributor to the Bahamian economy, is here simply as a multinational corporation seeking profits in an area where the country has obvious comparative advantages. It is not here because its owners are coddled to live in a gated community here by low taxes and red-carpet residential policies. In fact, very few of the owners of our principal resort properties live here at all.

Insofar as the study suggests that the Lyford Cay community itself, with its hordes of Filipino, Haitian and Latin American domestic workers, is a major center of middle-class employment for Bahamians, then it is demonstrably misleading. As a community, Lyford Cay supports far fewer middle-class jobs than Carmichael and even fewer entrepreneurial opportunities. You don’t need a study to tell you that — just drive down the road leading to each community and keep your eyes open.

On the negative side, the “contributions” of foreign-dominated, gated residential enclaves are clear: 

1. They contribute to the high cost of land, which has militated dramatically against the goal of land ownership by Bahamians on New Providence. On an island with a lower minimum wage than the United States, land prices are three times higher than middle-income areas of the adjacent mainland. This obviously intensifies ghettoization and contains the expansion of the middle class;

2. They lead to anti-democratic power concentrations that in turn influence public policy — often against the wider public good. A perfect example of this came in 2018 when the present government decided to heap more of the tax burden on the poor by hiking consumption taxes (VAT) to a whopping 12 percent, only to be forewarned by the illustriously-titled Henry Cabot Lodge III (writing on behalf of Lyford Cay homeowners) not to bring real property taxes up to even minimally normal levels seen in his own home country. To the surprise of nobody, the government didn’t; and

3. They exacerbate the horrendous income gaps in our country by creating demand for low-skilled, low-income immigrant domestic labor, which in turn exerts downward pressure on wages at the bottom.

Lyford Cay may have some fine people living behind its gates. But it is time we stopped pretending that policies that pander to them at the expense of the wider public are in any way beneficial to The Bahamas. They are not.

Andrew Allen 

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