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Fun with the Dollar?
an on-going perspective on Cayman
from Northwest Point, West Bay
Grand Cayman, British West Indies
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West Bay, 3 March 1997

Q: When is a Dollar not a Dollar?
A: When you're in the the Cayman Islands!
. . . Seriously!

Let's look at the word dollar. What does it mean? The longer you look at it, the stranger it looks. What exactly is that thing we call a dollar?

The answer, of course, is that the dollar is a unit of currency, just like the pound or the yen or the mark or the peso. It has no intrinsic value, but rather is measured against other currencies or against a "standard," like gold. And just as there are several different currencies called pound or mark, there are several called dollar.

In fact, the dollar is the basic unit of currency in Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Fiji, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Kiribai, Liberia, Nauru, New Zealand, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United States, and Zimbabwe.

So far, so good. Where the problem presents itself is when we start dealing with "exchange rates." The various pounds are not equivalent, nor are the different francs. A British pound certainly does not buy the same goods as an Egyptian pound. The Swiss franc and the French franc will not buy the same amount of gold. Similarly, the Canadian dollar does not buy the same amount of goods and services that the U.S. dollar buys, which is different still from the buying power of the Cayman Islands dollar.

Canadians donít seem to have a problem understanding that their currency now buys less than the U.S. dollar (US$), and even less than the Cayman Islands dollar (CI$). They may not like it, but they generally understand it. Americans, however, who are accustomed to their US dollar being "worth more" than most other currencies, seem to have a problem with this concept.

For some reason, they seem able to accept that the British pound buys more than the US dollar, and they donít seem to mind that the Canadian dollar buys less than the US dollar, but they canít seem to comprehend that there could be another dollar which buys more than theirs!

Since they are used to getting for their US dollar thousands upon thousands of pesos or lira or escudos or whatever currency is used in the various countries or islands they have visited, they are shocked to learn that their precious dollar has a fixed exchange rate of only $0.80 in Cayman Islands currency.

If we had called it the CI stone when we changed over from the Jamaican monetary system in 1972, it would probably now be easier for them to accept. Or we could do what has been done with the Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$). You get lots of them for your US dollar, but a can of Pringles costs EC$9, which ends up being about US$3.46, if memory serves.

A can of Pringles in Cayman only costs CI$1.79, which is US$2.24, so youíve saved US$1.22 by buying them in Cayman instead of, say St. Lucia. Americans, however, still complain because their dollar is worth less. I suppose that $9 for a can of Pringles is so ludicrous that is becomes amusing; whereas a $1.79 price tag that requires over two dollar bills (US) to actually purchase is just irritating enough to get under your skin.

Perhaps we should re-evaluate the whole concept. Letís see, if we made it so that you got two CI$ for one US$, then that can of Pringles would be CI$2.48.

Maybe that would do it!

[Note: Editor's subsequent suggestion that we rename it the CI Pringle was tossed in the can.]

In addition to these essays, the wench also posts frequent short writings about her View from West Bay. Check out the latest post!

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Last update: 3 March 1997
Copyright © 1997 Don Backstrom