Friday, February 24, 2006

DUBIOUS SAFETY NETS

When any of us lends money, it’s not wrong for us to expect it back. Money is hard to come by; we work for it with our blood, sweat and tears. Whether it’s lending to a family member, friend or stranger, we strongly consider whether that person is trustworthy enough to pay us back. Indicators of trustworthiness include the prospective borrower’s reputation and ability to repay. When it essentially comes down to our own money, we all look at credit ratings, pending debts and income levels in one fashion or another. Why expect commercial banks to act any differently?

Of course, commercial banks may not intentionally pursue the objectives of DBAS’s “economic and social mission.” Neither do storeowners, restaurants, the tuna canneries, Manu’atele or other enterprises. They seek to create profits by lowering costs and increasing revenues. Yet, as if by an invisible hand, they promote economic and social gains through the pursuit of their own self-interests.

If it makes any sense to replace micro-loans by commercial banks with federal programs, then it also stands that we should replace every private store, restaurant, cannery and ocean transport with a government one in the name of pursuing an “economic and social mission”. Unfortunately, they will all go the way of the Rainmaker Hotel and the Fono building – just to name a few of the great many things government screws up on a daily basis.

Banking is just another service in the nexus of our economy that comes at a price like everything else. But what about the poor, the unfortunate and the needy? Like the rest of us, they need to work. If not, they need to ask to receive as we pride ourselves in being a charitable people.

I don’t think it’s a sin to have “very low incomes.” But I do think it’s a sin to make me pay for someone else’s low income. God gave me my natural rights to my life, my property and my liberty. The poor and exploiting politicians do not have a higher prerogative to what is mine.

Since Mr. Malae states that “bad credit can result from a medical catastrophe in the family that eats up one's entire net worth”, I challenge the DBAS to provide us with some statistics. How many of their applicants’ “bad credit” result from tragic circumstances such as a medical crisis? What constitutes the majority of pending debts facing most DBAS applicants? Are they due to bingo, alcohol, or a SUV?

We need to encourage the growth of our commercial banks, because the DBAS “happens to be the conduit for… [federal] programs.” When the mainland taxpayer cannot pick up our bills, the last thing we need is another $8.5 million redistribution scheme.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Man Who Would Not Be King by David Boaz

David Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute and author of Libertarianism: A Primer.

George Washington is the face on the one-dollar bill and – these days – the smiling face of Presidents’ Day sales. Most of us know he was the first president of the United States. But why is that important? What else do we know about him?

George Washington was the man who established the American republic. He led the revolutionary army against the British Empire, he served as the first president, and most importantly he stepped down from power.

In an era of brilliant men, Washington was not the deepest thinker. He never wrote a book or even a long essay, unlike George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams. But Washington made the ideas of the American founding real. He incarnated liberal and republican ideas in his own person, and he gave them effect through the Revolution, the Constitution, his successful presidency, and his departure from office.

What’s so great about leaving office? Surely it matters more what a president does in office. But think about other great military commanders and revolutionary leaders before and after Washington—Caesar, Cromwell, Napoleon, Lenin. They all seized the power they had won and held it until death or military defeat.

John Adams said, “He was the best actor of presidency we have ever had.” Indeed, Washington was a person very conscious of his reputation, who worked all his life to develop his character and his image.

In our own time Joshua Micah Marshall writes of America’s first president, “It was all a put-on, an act.” Marshall missed the point. Washington understood that character is something you develop. He learned from Aristotle that good conduct arises from habits that in turn can only be acquired by repeated action and correction – “We are what we repeatedly do.” Indeed, the word “ethics” comes from the Greek word for “habit.” We say something is “second nature” because it’s not actually natural; it’s a habit we’ve developed. From reading the Greek philosophers and the Roman statesmen, Washington developed an understanding of character, in particular the character appropriate to a gentleman in a republic of free citizens.

What values did Washington’s character express? He was a farmer, a businessman, an enthusiast for commerce. As a man of the Enlightenment, he was deeply interested in scientific farming. His letters on running Mount Vernon are longer than letters on running the government. (Of course, in 1795 more people worked at Mount Vernon than in the entire executive branch of the federal government.)

He was also a liberal and tolerant man. In a famous letter to the Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, he hailed the “liberal policy” of the United States on religious freedom as worthy of emulation by other countries. He explained, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”

And most notably, he held “republican” values – that is, he believed in a republic of free citizens, with a government based on consent and established to protect the rights of life, liberty, and property.

From his republican values Washington derived his abhorrence of kingship, even for himself. The writer Garry Wills called him “a virtuoso of resignations.” He gave up power not once but twice – at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon, and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term. In doing so, he set a standard for American presidents that lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose taste for power was stronger than the 150 years of precedent set by Washington.

Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”

“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”

Saturday, February 18, 2006

FIX YOUR OWN FALEO'O SENATORS

When something breaks in my home, I buy the necessary items to fix it. Storeowners do the same for their own establishments as do corporations. Only the Fono can take a bat to hotel and rental car consumers and demand that they fix the government clubhouse.

We shouldn’t even allow the ASG to tax the tourism industry, even if it was a stable market, for something that is clearly the Fono's own fault. A 100% increase in Fono allowances didn’t spend a single dime on repairs. Enacting a tax to fix a Fono mistake is to say that a government blunder is all of our fault.

When I don’t maintain my property, the fault lies with me and no one else. Senators need to take the same responsibility for not prioritizing the money we give them.

Setting priorities is definitely a problem in Fagatogo. Instead of focusing on protecting everyone’s individual rights to life, liberty and property, the Fono wastes time and our money wrangling over issues that the market and the people should handle, like medical and education services. If we took many of these functions out of the ASG hands, then perhaps it can focus on its core obligations (especially its own repairs).

And before the Senate tries to discriminate against tourists as their target of taxation, Senators would do well to find out who these tourists actually are. It seems that those who come down to Manu’a and Tutuila are our own people visiting their family and friends.

Is taxing their room and vehicle accommodations the real nature of our hospitality?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

THE CROWDING OUT EFFECT

The MV Sili appeared to be a nice gift from Congressman Faleomavaega. Mainland Americans paid for the MV Sili, and government uses it to charge lower freight weight fees than its competitor, the privately-owned Manu’atele. Many appreciate the money they save because of the lower government fees, and they choose to discontinue their business with a viable entrepreneur. Manu’atele will go away only for the MV Sili to take its place.

But the MV Sili can only charge fees below or at costs for a while. Hell, the LBJ did the same for us since the days of… President Johnson himself. Our medical center, which gave us a pass by writing off the bills and handing them off to the mainland American taxpayer, squashed any initiative, any entrepreneur, any leader for real healthcare with their artificial prices.

As experience has shown, low prices supported by the federal budget are subject to the federal budget. When the US Congress can’t pay its own bills, it can’t pay ours. The programs that our Congressman and local government made us depend upon soon come under the axe of budget cuts.

Despite these ignored consequences, Togiola and Utu Abe Malae continue to offer more loan programs at the expense of the mainland American taxpayer. Because of the backing of the federal government, such loans charge interest rates below the market price thereby crowding out competition from real banks. These two officials do this to combat the righteous discrimination against those with bad credit, pending debts and low incomes. Instead of condemning bad behaviors, these politicians would rather encourage and reward them.

Shame on them.

And as Togiola inadvertently pointed out, low incomes are not only the fault of those who do not strive to achieve but also of the ASG. The ASG is responsible for lowering our per capita income and standard of living by opting “not to have any interest” in the fibre-optic cable laid from Hawaii to New Zealand in 1993.

Yet, this dependency of an ASG continues to posture itself as the savior of the people of American Samoa. But it is this stumbling government that is a continual obstacle and hindrance to market achievements by our people.

The crowding out effect by government will continue to make us the dependent children of Uncle Sam. It is something that our politicians are quite proud of apparently.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

SHINE LIGHT ON OUR SHADOWS

One of the biggest lies opponents of open immigration tout around is that foreigners are a threat to our “limited resources.” Hardly anything that runs our great territory comes from our own natural resources. 99.99% of everything we enjoy comes from off-island. It would be more accurate for anti-immigrant folks to say that foreigners are a threat to our “limited sources of welfare” instead of our limited natural resources. Only then would they be honest about what they’re really trying to protect.

The only reason people send their commodities down here in the first place is because they expect people to pay. Therefore, it’s only logical to conclude that if foreigners (and locals) pay for what they receive, like medical services and education, they’re adding to the economy not depleting it.

And to say that immigrants are a threat to our traditional way of life is to say that the Fa’asamoa cannot stand on its own two feet in the marketplace of ideas. It is saying that without the force of government, Samoans would abandon a system of communal cooperation that has stood the test of time, from Tongan occupation to freedom under the US flag.

If we were to really respect our traditions, we would allow our families and our matai to decide who lives or doesn’t live on our lands. For open immigration doesn’t mean imposing foreigners onto other people’s property. It means respecting our families’ right to choose instead of having this one-size-fits-all type of immigration policy.

And as Judge Ward II pointed out, our immigration laws are “putting people in positions to be exploited.” Go figure. Why seek the protection of a government that has branded them illegal? Instead, they lurk in the shadows to survive amongst the thugs and criminals. This is the same effect our drug laws are having on our own people.

I decry Senator Tuaolo’s reckless legislation to impose more restrictions on the free movement of people. Instead of shining light onto our shadows, his legislation would further engulf American Samoa into the dark.