Hawai'i should make itself the gathering place of the Pacific
By Wali M. Osman
It's time to take a giant step forward on an idea that has been talked about for years with little real progress: Making Hawai'i a true Geneva of the Pacific.
Both the U.S. and Japanese economies, our main support systems, are in recession. Job losses emanating from recession, the Sept. 11 attacks and other causes, all external, make the argument for diversification more urgent than ever.
Comparative economic advantages, both physical and intellectual, determine an economy's vitality. At least in the short run, these advantages and disadvantages are unalterable.
That raises the question of how our economic future can be different from the past. Hawai'i's greatest comparative advantage lies in becoming the gathering place of the world.
Yes, the concept of the Geneva of the Pacific remains a realistic goal.
In addition to 6 million to 7 million tourists annually, Hawai'i should be able to attract people who redefine eras, make new beginnings and, along the way, make history. These are world leaders, writers, artists, scientists, corporate chiefs, generals, scholars, thinkers, reformists, rejuvenation agents, former warriors, new universal order-, peace- and tranquility-advocates and all other such groups who will learn, first and foremost, from the experience of Hawai'i's own people.
The digital age has helped the United States become a more productive economy. The 1990s boom caused gains in jobs, income, wealth and the middle class. Nearly half of U.S. households are now stockholders, Enron and the like notwithstanding. One reason class warfare does not catch as much fire as it used to is that many more Americans are better off than ever. The current slowdown, caused in part by "irrational exuberance," came at the end of the longest economic expansion in the nation's history.
The dot-com eruption (and the ashes it left behind) may be history, but its impact on the national and world economies and psyche is not.
The European Union, Japan and the rest of eastern Asia, learning from the U.S. experience, will become more productive once they fully embrace the digital age. Add to this the giants of Asia China and India. Once they discover how to become more productive and fight pollution, the ranks of their middle classes will swell. We may be talking about a global economic boom whose epicenter will be the Asia-Pacific region, with the United States as the leader.
This new wave of prosperity and dynamism will surround Hawai'i. Our greatest asset is being a state. Our natural and aesthetic resources, history, people, landscape and other attributes make Hawai'i the natural kinder and gentler link between the United States and the rest of the world.
Whether or not we like it, globalism is a reality, and the United States will most likely lead the way. Hawai'i can take the lead in bringing people together to search common destinies.
Hawai'i was for years the only state with no ethnic majority. Now California has joined us in that distinction, and Texas is close to joining the club.
These and other states can learn lessons of immense value from Hawai'i. America is becoming more mixed, and Hawai'i is a microcosm of that future today. This is not to say that racial, ethnic and other tensions do not exist in Hawai'i. They do, but it is also evident that there is more racial harmony in Hawai'i than in any other state or any other location in the Pacific. Hawai'i already is acknowledged as an example of tranquility in mixed-race parts of the Pacific.
A pivotal element of the uniqueness of Hawai'i is the aloha spirit.
There are various interpretations, but the most practical is the extension of one's warmth and acceptance to others. This spirit has made it possible for so many outsiders to call Hawai'i home for so long. The aloha spirit in the 21st century embodies acceptance of others in mixed economies as a basic requirement for economic stability and growth. This is critical in the Pacific because most capital and skills required for continued economic growth must come from outside.
An example of meetings that rejuvenate people in a particular area, creativity, is the Maui Writers Conference, which convenes on the Valley Isle during the Labor Day weekend. The number of attendees may be small by world meeting standards, but it has grown to become an event of note in the literary universe. The East-West Fest at the East-West Center can follow the path of the East-West Film Festival, now the Hawai'i Film Festival, a major independent event.
Hawai'i also should be in on the ground floor of the next frontier of knowledge biotechnology which likely will advance cloning techniques, find cures for diseases, breed new animals and crops, and invent things and processes to improve the lives of humans and the planet. Hawai'i should play host to meetings of the world's cloning experts because UH scientists have already shown they can do what many others may only dream of doing.
The world's astronomers should meet here because we already have a world-class astronomy establishment. The University of Hawai'i and the East-West Center together can expand their key roles in making Hawai'i the region's gathering place.
Given these and other possibilities, Hawai'i can become the world leader in teaching peace and tranquility, ways to connect to others and sciences that cater to better health and happiness all of which can rejuvenate both the body and the spirit everywhere.
Wali M. Osman is Bank of Hawaii senior fellow for Pacific economies at the East-West Center.