In a recent communique from Simon Black (Sovereign Man), he addresses this question from his American perspective and using his extensive travel experience (120) nations. I take a feed from his comments and apply them to Samoa, addressing some of the curly ones about why Samoa struggles so much in the economic world.
One of the things I’ve learned in my travels over the years is that wealthy nations do have some common characteristics.
The FIRST set is cultural. Wealthy nations have a culture that values hard work. Knowledge. Productivity. Innovation. Risk-taking. Saving. Self-reliance. I’m not trying to say that people in poor countries don’t work hard. Far from it. The point is that if working hard and saving money are strong CULTURAL values (which tends to be the case in Asia), a country is going to do better.
Ouch! Samoa strikes out on all of these . . . you just can’t put productivity, innovation, risk-taking, saving, self-reliance in the same sentence as the word Samoa no matter how hard you try, without a negative in there. You can also add in the concept of hard work. Look, the Samoan culture is unique and has a lot of great points but anything to do with basic building blocks for strong economics – forget it!
I remember when I first came to Samoa I attended the Samoa Association of Manufacturing and Exporters (SAME) and they were complaining that they only got a miserly $10k from the Government that year. I had in my hands the P&L and Balance Sheet for the year just gone and their budget for food for their monthly meetings was $8k. “Food is a very important cultural requirement, Dennis!” I am constantly told. I never went back to any of their meetings. Life is too short!
Let’s go through these one by one and be specific:
Productivity – Samoans are essentially lazy – in all aspects of life and living. OK the biggest and brightest have taken themselves offshore and we’re left with the raw breeding stock and the black sheep who have been sent back to look after the family lands but low productivity excels here. Poor attitudes abound. Speak to any employer. Many Palagi suggest to me that we wouldn’t work hard if we were only paid $2.50WST per hour but the truth is that if you doubled the pay rate, they’d only work half a week. Most of the money they get goes to their parents (often for booze and smokes) and the rest to the church. What motivation is there to be productive?
Innovation – Samoa is highly resistant to change. It is the cradle of Polynesia and you can see the advances that people-groups who have left Samoa have brought for themselves – art, carving, crafts, dance, music, tatoo design, horticulture, food, construction – all the people outside of Samoa have innovated, changed and taken their lives ahead. Not so Samoa, which is intensely proud of it’s ways of living. Innovation – not!
Risk-taking – I say that anyone here who has any get-up-and-go has. They’ve got up and gone. This leaves the people who cannot or will not take risks. A large portion of the Samoan population is unable to step out and take a risk and the rest are generally unwilling to step out. The exceptions are the mixed race afakasi (half caste) of Samoan/Caucasian; Samoan/German or Samoan/Chinese who are generally the more well off. The rest – nope! Keeping it the same so that one can’t get shamed in society is the name of the game here.
Saving – There are two aspects to the aversion to saving in Samoa. The cultural norms here are that when you are in need you go to the High Chief or family Matai. It’s his job to provide for those under his care, so why bother saving? It’s his job, not yours. The other thing is that in a communal society (like an socialist society) achieving wealth is like pushing the proverbial uphill. One is drawn down to the lowest common denominator for if you do have savings, then they MUST be used for 101 different things in the family and they simply cannot last. This is why people get out of the villages as much as they can so that they can try to get ahead from the constant drain of village requirements.
Self-reliance – Again, forget it. The same thing applies here as saving – individual strength, vision, sense of personal responsibility are appreciated to a small degree at special times when it brings honour or glory to a family or a village but culturally it is the Matai of an extended family that will take responsibility. If for example a boy causes financial loss, say a vehicle accident, then it is the Matai who will pay the fine or reparation – not the boy. If he causes offence to another family it is the Matais who do the talking – not the children. This teaches them that personal responsibility (and self-reliance) is provided in the context of a Samoan family. A common indicator of this cultural struggle is when a Samoan achiever returns to coach the young people here, they will invariably speak words to show how important it is to have a vision; to work hard; to take responsibility and suchlike. The reason is that this is largely missing from the communal Samoan culture.
SECOND, wealthy nations have much better institutions. The rule of law is strong. Private property rights are strong. Corruption is limited. Regulation is sensible. Taxation is reasonable and efficient. It’s simple; no one wants to do business in a corrupt dictatorship. Bad institutions drive away foreign investors. And as capital is one of the critical components of economic growth, choking off external investment suffocates an economy.
OK, so now we strike out again on all of Simon’s hot buttons. Samoa is classified as a “Developing Nation” although I see it more as a Third World country in most ways. The reason is not that Samoa hasn’t ticked the boxes on paper, it’s just that I live in the real Samoa – rural Samoa – with Samoan village mentality. I observe the way that those in government do things to look good – especially when their offshore funders/lenders and ‘big brothers’ are watching.
The reality is that Samoa is exactly what Simon calls the worst investment category – a corrupt dictatorship. In my book “Corruption in Samoa” I explain that the corruption here is more akin to “extreme nepotism” and naked self-interest more than what would come to mind normally. It’s a complex subject and of course you have corruption the world over but I would caution investors to have strong local knowledge before investing a cent.
Samoa has a lot of work cut out for it to become a potential investment opportunity. Personally, I don’t think it will ever change, certainly not in my lifetime. I can see some market niches but the whole mix is just exactly the opposite of what Simon assesses to be good for economic growth!
On the dictatorship thing, Samoa is technically a democratic country, and the Prime Minister Tuila’epa regularly talks of the political stability. Anyone who has spent ten minutes watching politics in Samoa will know what that means. Power begats power. He’d hate being called a dictator but in practical terms you’d be hard pressed to see difference! A lot of his political capital is used trying to present himself and Samoa to the world that it is what it is not. The recent elections where he gained even more power has nothing to do with his self-proclaimed popularity or democracy. Ask the people why they voted for his party and you’ll hear the words, “I voted for XXX because they helped me more than ZZZ”. While technically legal it is simply buying votes, the same as politicians the world over. Power begats power. Tuila’epa knows how to do that very well.
LAST (and most importantly), wealthy nations have an “inclusive” economy. This means that people aren’t medieval serfs toiling away for the establishment. If someone develops skills, works hard, and takes risks, they’ve got a good chance of moving up the socioeconomic food chain. Economists call this “income mobility”. In the United States it’s known as the “American Dream”.
You can just forget it all in Samoa. Samoans only “Dream” is to get on the ballot to New Zealand or to get a sponsor to get them to Australia or perhaps the USA. Apart from the ruling elite here there is effectively NO chance of improving your lot here – thus a distinct lack of hope, meaning and purpose. The government has sold the countries future to the usual stooges – the international money-lenders and the country has NO WAY in a month of Sundays to ever repay a billion Tala of debt, so financially it’s screwed – and the churches have an iron fist on the discretionary funds within the country so it’s not a good look for Mr Average I’m afraid!
There are other forms of wealth though that Simon misses. Spiritual and Lifestyle are two that come to mind. Samoa is and always will be a poor nation (for the reasons above) but this also extends to spiritual health as well and I classify Samoa as a heathen country through and through.
It’s widely presented as a Christian country and it’s true that there are thousands of churches and most attend – religiously. But the Christianity of the bible is a personal faith, not a religion, thus it’s an oxymoron to call Samoa a Christian nation. It’s an impossibility. The spiritual wealth of a nation though is the sum total of individual faith. I’ve found it VERY hard to find genuine Jesus-loving Samoans. They ALL put their culture ahead of the Master from what I have seen and experienced.
Samoa is a spiritually poor country, churched-out to the max, to the point that peoples’ eyes glaze over if you dare to speak the name of Jesus or quick to anger if you seek or require personal accountability. I love Sundays in Samoa – not because of church for myself, but because the thieves are all in church and leave me alone. It’s the one day of the week I know that they won’t be spying and jumping the fence to steal my bananas, taro, weedeater, tools, TV and anything else they can hock off for a bottle of plonk or a joint.
In its lifestyle Samoa is however strong. It’s ways can be quite refreshing for the Palagi and healthy too if you work hard to avoid the Samoan habits of eating poorly – imported junk food high in chemicals, sugars and fats.
To summarise then, I don’t consider Samoa a wealthy nation – it has a culture that pre-destines it to permanent poverty; a political system run by people who think they are smart (they’re not!*) because they are above the rest of their society; who want to look good and try very unsuccessfully to punch above their weight; a country in gross delusion over their supposed spiritual health, but a country that can offer a lifestyle if you are very careful, know what you want and have help on the ground to get there. My prediction is no immediate change but a huge loss of sovereignty will become evident when the inevitable moments of accountability occur.
The current political leaders may be well and truly gone but they will be hunted down in their graves along with the ones hiding in the hills when the SHTF. Likewise with the church leadership who are pretty much all tarred with the same brush here – self-interest in the disguise of doing God’s business.
I’ve worked for six years now to enable foreign investment into Samoa. Unlike the government here who try to present a rosy picture and don’t really care how much one looses investing into Samoa, I prefer to shoot straight and do practical things to make it possible to enjoy a lifestyle AND retain wealth in the process. Over the coming year or two I hope to be able to crystalise many of the various ideas and projects into something that will appeal to those wanting a simple lifestyle “in Paradise” even though Samoa is and probably always will be a poor country!
Keep yourself tuned here . . .
* An example of Samoan’s stupidity is their decision in 1999 to sell their entire .ws Domain Name space. Speak to the Prime Minister Tuila’epa and Octevi from CSL about that short-sighted deed – if you dare. No other country on the planet (literally) has ever been that stupid! Multiple millions and millions of income from Samoa’s IP just going into private hands forever! Short-sighted foolishness that you can’t fathom from supposed leaders of the community. Likewise with the Prime Minister’s desperation for money, selling his countries sovereignty to get money at any place he can. From my observations he’s just a typical Samoan whose eyes light up when they see money and ‘bugger the consequences’ if he can look good in the process. Again politicians are the same the world over but Samoans are well known to be suckers for conmen out to make a fast buck. I can give you a string of stupid decisions from Samoa’s leaders that would make you cry, and that’s from only six years observing and engaging! Samoa’s ongoing poverty is assured when its leaders like its people think short-term.