Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Black Sheep

Talifaitasi W. Satele

With all due respect to the Governor, sometimes doing nothing is actually better than doing anything at all. In situations such as purchasing the COS facility, I am constantly reminded of one of my mentor’s favorite newspaper cartoons. It depicts a lone black sheep running away from a towering cliff while the rest of the flock blindly follow one another right over it.

Fortunately, in our particular situation, legislators are asking the tough questions that need to be asked instead of going right along as usual.

However, my main concern is not particularly the proposal itself. It’s how Governor Togiola is going about it and how it reflects on how he’s been doing business lately. After making enemies out of anyone who dared to oppose his agenda in the first few years of taking office as governor, Togiola changed his strategy and made them all his “friends”.

There is nothing wrong with that. It’s the “big tent” philosophy. You know, keep your friends close and your enemies closer sort of deal.

But you start running into problems when you expect everyone just to fall in line. That’s a rare occurrence in a home with a family of more than two— let alone a “big tent” full of different interests and agendas.

But this administration seems to expect and assume broad support for anything it chooses to do. That sort of arrogance led the administration to deem it not necessary to get the Fono’s approval before expending funds on a number of items this year.

Assumption of approval replaced actual approval in that case, and that is wrong.

Otherwise, why have a Fono at all? Just assume that a make-believe legislature representing a make-believe people authorized you to spend their real life money.

And who cares if the court orders the ASG to do something; the power of the purse lies with the legislature, not the treasurer. It’s the Fono’s responsibility to address such mandates. The Fono cannot be an equal branch of government unless the other two, let alone its own legislators, treat it that way.

But getting back to his proposal, the Governor is the salesperson in this situation and the Fono (and the people) are the investors. In the free market, you persuade people to risk their own money in backing your plan; you can’t order them to do so.

The Governor has to spend more time convincing us why his proposal is, at the very least, better than doing nothing at all, and not expect us just to follow him over what seems to be a very big cliff.

In that newspaper cartoon, the only thing the black sheep says is, “excuse me, excuse me”, as he makes his way through an unsuspecting crowd. I am very proud that, in this case, our legislators are saying more than that!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lessons Forgotten

Talifaitasi W. Satele

Governor Togiola has said that the profit motive will not run the new ASG Cannery. So does he expect this company to operate at a loss or barely break even? If this new government entity does not generate revenues above expenses, then taxpayers will be throwing their money down a bottomless pit.

And I don’t believe anyone around here is so naïve as to believe that government officials or workers don’t have a profit motive of their own. If they didn’t, then we could rest assured that ASG employees all worked for free! That is simply not the case.

Nevertheless, the profit motive in government just doesn’t work like it does in the free market. For one, there isn’t the same level of responsibility in government as there is in the marketplace. That’s because the money the ASG will use is not Governor Togiola’s or Mr. Sanchez’s. Whether this venture succeeds or fails, no one here will be held financially liable, and that fact alone makes their decision making process a lot less reliable than someone who has a personal stake in a gamble of this nature and magnitude.

Second, the profit motive in a free market depends on having a very satisfied customer. That’s because the customer is your only source of revenue, and on top of that, he is free to go to your competitor. Government, on the other hand, can continue to tap taxpayers as a source of revenue whether the customer is satisfied or not. Or whether they do the job right or not, or the market is up or down, or they advertise sufficiently or not, and so on and so forth.

We can go all day making the case why ASG involvement in the cannery business is certainly doomed for failure. Is it not enough to take a overall look at the government as a whole and see where and how this thing is going to end up?

But how can anyone blame Governor Togiola for taking such drastic measures? After all, this is what the majority expects a governor to do, and that’s to do something, rather than nothing, especially at a time like this! Our expectations of his office empower him to take almost any measure necessary lest his constituents judge him for not having enough compassion for those who are about to lose their jobs.

However, a popular idiom reminds us that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In actually using the government to do something to remedy the situation, we only make matters worse.

In times of extreme shakeup of an economy, conservatives-libertarians point to three ideas for policy guidance. They are benevolent ignorance, creative destruction, and believe it or not, having faith. Benevolent ignorance means government ignores a problem so that private actors can more appropriately and efficiently address the situation. Creative destruction refers to the fact that sometimes something has to be destroyed in order for something else to be created and take its place. And having faith means just that: having faith that it will all work out. These are lessons already learnt but easily forgotten; especially for those with little faith indeed.