Monday, March 24, 2008

Thank You Asian Businesses

If every business in American Samoa were Samoan owned, do you know what we would think when any store closed its doors? Most of us would rightly conclude that the enterprise just wasn't any good. It either was in the wrong market, didn't satisfy its customers, couldn't control or account for its costs, couldn't collect on its 'aitalafu', couldn't keep and nurture an effective and educated workforce, or any combination of these and other factors that hurt their bottom line.

But Jim Brittle's letter to the editor, "Facing Reality", asks us to ignore these fundamentals and encourages us to blame business failure simply on Asian businesses.

The fact that competitors in our somewhat free market are of a different race trumps all other considerations as to why a Samoan store owner can or cannot keep his doors open? Mr. Brittle does point to greed, corruption and consumer preference for lower prices (surprise, surprise) as well, but he doesn't explain those points in further detail.

There is no other conclusion one can make from his letter other than that Samoan businesses are failing because of Asian immigrants, and that's it. That sort of reasoning relies on racial phobia, and it is not only an insult to our Asian brothers and sisters but it does a complete disservice to the Samoan community as well.

Samoans can make it in this world. We don't need to be sheltered from competition; we need to learn from the competition. For that, I thank the Asian business community.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Individual vs. the Collective

Savaii P. Amitoelau's guest editorial titled "Faasamoa and Democracy" explains in detail why the Senate's ban on campaign signs wouldn't last a day in court. Sometimes I wonder if our esteemed leaders in the Fono have even read our constitutions, which they swore to uphold and protect. Nevertheless, his editorial touched on a subject that rightly concerns a lot of us, and that is the conflict between individualism and the Samoan culture.

Contrary to popular belief, individualism is not about valuing the individual above everything else. It's not about glorifying or putting the individual before everybody in the world. Individualism is not a question of value; it is a matter of an objective right. You, as an individual, exist and have natural rights that derive from your existence.

Society, on the other hand, doesn't exist in the sense that it's an actual observable object. There is no person by the name of "Society" with whom you or I can talk to. Society has no head, no heart, no blood flowing through the veins.

What people are referring to when they talk about society are different organizations of individuals such as families, villages, churches, schools, businesses, football teams, rugby teams, volleyball teams, etc. "Society" is thus a term that encompasses organizations of individuals. So without the individual, there is no society.

Individuals come together to form these organizations because they get value out of doing so. One finds love, support and guidance in a caring family. In church, a believer joins others in song, praise, worship and prayer. Individuals work together in pursuit of making money in business. In charities, individuals find value in helping other individuals.

When we talk about the eroding of the fa'asamoa or society or our culture, we're talking about the institutions that make them up. If a family doesn't care about their children, if a church bickers more than it worships, if a business incurs losses rather than makes a profit, "society" suffers, our culture erodes.

And what incentive do our institutions have to improve if the attitude is that individuals owe allegiance to them regardless of how crummy the family is, how dysfunctional the church is, or how dissatisfying a business' service or product may be?

Would Coca-Cola be what it is today if the individual did not have the right to choose Pepsi instead? Would the Nintendo Wii be so innovative if it didn't have the Sony Play Station or Microsoft Xbox on its heels? We can find plenty of these comparisons in a free society where individual rights are recognized and protected.

I see individual freedom and rights as the essential building blocks to society. It is more than obligation and duty that most individuals are part of the fa'asamoa; rather, it's the love, pride, tradition, heritage, support, communal relationships and value that we get from it. In my opinion, that is what made our fa'asamoa last so long, and it can only make it stronger.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

FCC Petition

If it is Larry Fuss' intention to prevent fraud (as in false advertising by cell phone companies) or to obtain remedy for injury suffered due to fraud, then I agree with him. The proper role of government is to enforce contracts, and as a colleague of mine pointed out, fraud is a premeditated breach of contract. But Mr. Fuss' petition is not about addressing fraud; it is about forcing cell phone companies to apply their domestic long distance rates to American Samoa , which is not the proper role of government.

The only reasons that Mr. Fuss offers up as justification for all of this are that American Samoa is now part of NANP and that the FCC has succeeded in mandating domestic rates on landlines. I would think a lot of factors came into play as to why the FCC left cell phone companies out from their original mandate on domestic rates and as to why cell phone companies are willing to apply their domestic rates to Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands but not to American Samoa.

Are the markets more profitable in those territories compared to our own? Is it because we don't have fiber optic cable? Is it because communication through satellite is cost prohibitive? How do wireless transaction costs compare to landlines? Is it more expensive? Has ASTCA invested in the necessary infrastructure to support the integration of cell phone companies' domestic rate schedule? Are these questions even significant? I'm no telecommunications expert, but I'm inclined to believe that the free market is in the best position to answer these kind of questions.

Mr. Fuss did an excellent job of ripping into my hyperbole where I exaggerated the need for the FCC to investigate radio advertising in American Samoa. I'll take his word that "the cost per listener on radio stations in American Samoa is much lower than that charged on the mainland", although I wished he provided us with some figures or references. The point I was trying to make was that it's pretty much in the "left field" that this kind of stuff is even brought up for discussion in the first place.

Why should businesses have to justify their costs to some bureaucrat in the FCC or to the public before they can price their property?