Sunday, May 29, 2005

Freedom For Me But Not For You

Several letters to the SamoaNews Editor defend the McDonalds-Utulei proposal by trying to divert the public’s attention to other controversies such as illegal immigration and the immorality of the Yacht Club’s business activities. This strategy is just as shameful as most of the arguments made in opposition to the proposed lease, because they are all suggestions demanding limitations on other people’s freedoms. What this amounts to is “freedom for me but not for you” type of thinking and policymaking.

Unfortunately, many people seem to fit that mindset. Burdensome bureaucracy is great until it infringes on your liberty. Most people didn’t care that the ASG started to impose greater restrictions and controls on immigrants into the territory. But as soon as Independent Samoa enacted similar measures on US Nationals, the ASG and the public cried, “Fowl play.”

When you shut the door on someone, he or she is likely to respond in kind. All nations affected by the new ASG permit policies could impose reciprocal restrictions on American Samoa in the same manner done by Independent Samoa. Is that what we want?

If anything, we need to open doors in American Samoa, not close them. I have fond memories too of Utulei, but I have had disappointing experiences as well. The public restroom was never clean enough for use, trash and broken bottles littered the area and the ocean is not even safe for the fish to swim in. What makes the Fono think that I would let my son swim in there?

Election after election we’ve heard politicians promise cleaner government, but Mr. Clean never came to Utulei Beach. No state does a good job at running parks because resources get tied up in the political system and bureaucrats’ paychecks don’t rely on consumer satisfaction. If their pay were, then the public wouldn’t have to wait 10-15 minutes for the Attorney General’s Office to pick up the phone.

It is time to salvage property bought by and maintained with federal dollars by giving an entrepreneur rights to the property and the freedom to profit off it.

And let’s put a positive spin on all the trash for a change. See it as a sign of prosperity. Surely, the people of Ethiopia, North Korea or Somalia don’t have to worry about people discarding McDonalds boxes or anything else we take for granted everyday in America.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

McDonalds Resolution Passed by Hypocrites

The senate passed a resolution on 5/11/2005 to condemn the McDonald’s lease on the basis, according to Senator Lolo Moliga, that the Governor approved it “without regard to the people’s concern.” I am guessing that the senator got that impression from the very opinionated letters to the editor on the issue since this debate began. If this is true, then why hasn’t the Fono passed a similar resolution condemning the raise in Fono allowances when all letters to the editor unanimously disapproved of that course of action? Hypocrisy indeed.

If Senator Lolo Moliga is truly interested in whether McDonald’s in Utulei is in the best interest of the public, then he should allow the enterprise to have an up or down vote in the market. In the market, the people can express their feelings by either spending or withholding their dollars. More importantly, the people do not have to wait every 2 or 4 years to cast a vote; they can do so right away every day at their own convenience.

And McDonald’s is really going to need “the people’s vote” if it’s ever going to recoup its initial investment (what it pays for labor, construction, electricity, equipment and landscaping). On top of the recoupment, the company will need to collect a profit.

In economics, we’re taught that an enterprise’s initial investment is like a loan. Entrepreneurs loan their money in the form of payment to their employees, construction workers and everyone else who provide the things these risk-takers need to start up their businesses. In return for foregoing the use of their money today, entrepreneurs expect an interest rate. They expect their businesses to generate revenues above costs in order to pay for that interest rate. In everyday language, we call that interest rate the company’s profit.

It seems rather obvious that the Senate tried to score some cheap political points with its resolution. If it wants the public to believe that its approach is even-handed, then the Fono should pass a resolution condemning its own raise in allowances. Unfortunately, the Fono, unlike McDonalds, can get away with forcing the people to pay its bills.

Monday, May 09, 2005

In Defense of McDonalds

We live in good times. We live in a time where we can condemn obesity. Before the industrial revolution, society had to worry about starvation on an almost forgotten level of misery. When we compare starvation and obesity side by side, parents would rather have “fat kids” than skinny ones with bloated stomachs. Starvation is the bigger killer, and we have to thank the commercialization of foods for turning the tide on abject poverty.

Again, our poor suffer the most when the government stands in the way of progress for the fast food industry. In Detroit, the local mayor proposed a 2 percent fast food tax. Is it to fight obesity? No, it is to balance the city’s budget. Instead of cutting unnecessary spending, the local government tries to collect more on the backs – or stomachs – of its citizens.

I remember one letter to editor where the author complained that he could not afford to take his children out to eat. Such actions like Detroit’s 2% fast food tax cause such heartfelt experiences. But with the introduction of another McDonalds, we can expect the prices of their products to come down. This is assuming that demand remains constant while supply goes up. The chance of a reduction in prices is worth it because it gives the author of that letter the opportunity to enjoy life with his children.

Fortunately, McDonalds does more than just feed the poor. Their investment in American Samoa adds to the level of funding brought in by federal grants and the canneries. Their actions also encourage others to follow suit. Surely, McDonalds would not be here today if Krystal Burgers, A&A Pizza and others did not pioneer the fast food industry in Tutuila. Therefore, over the long run, we can expect an increase in local employment.

The debate seems to center around “location,” and this makes it clear why we need to privatize public parks. If we believe that there is no such thing as a free lunch, then funding for the maintenance of property held in public interest is a dilemma. If you are faithfully religious, then this dilemma arises out of the sixth commandment, “Thou shall not steal.” Since not everyone cares to use Utulei Beach, taxes, whether progressive or regressive, to fund the public park is a form of theft.

If Utulei had failed as a private enterprise that charged people for usage, then it is logical to assume that people want something else that they are willingly to pay for. That something could be McDonalds, Shoe Tree, or any other enterprise taking its chances in the market. Progress in this manner is most efficient, fair and moral, and we should support it.

Lastly, there are those who feel that this progress destroys our culture and our islands. To that I say, “Our islands and our people are not a museum for your enjoyment.” We are a real people with real needs and real desires. Progress plays to the needs and desires of the people. Progress brings change, and adapting to change is what the fa’asamoa is really about.