Today’s featured editorial in the PDN discusses the similar histories, yet different outcomes, of Guam and Singapore. Both were distant island territories with similar advantages, but Singapore ended up an economic powerhouse while Guam is mired in fiscal chaos and a crumbling infrastructure. What were the differences that caused such divergent outcomes? The author cites a common thread in the ‘Asian Tigers’
Existing special circumstances, such as entrepots in Hong Kong and Singapore built by their colonial masters; a shared Confucian heritage of hard work, frugality, hierarchy and harmony; an embrace of a free-market economy; and economic planning based on a market-driven and export-oriented economy.
While he goes to lengths to explain the parallels in Guam’s history that could produce a similar ‘Pacific Tiger’ on our island, he ends his analysis there. Any discussion on the failures of Guam’s economy should include a lengthy discussion of the military’s pervasive presence on the island.
For decades Guam has hosted several major military bases, serving as a tangible projection of U.S. military might into the Far East. The Navy developed a great deal of Guam’s infrastructure, and ran the island as a colonial power for decades. Power, water, telephone, even the government itself was entirely under naval administration. The damaging effects of this policy are only too clear: Guam has become dependent on others, most notably the military, survival.
How does the saying go? ‘If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day; if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.’ Whether overtly or not, the military kept Guam dependent on the federal largesse.
These habits rubbed off on the nascent GovGuam when self-rule finally occurred in the 1960’s. GovGuam kept this paternalistic attitude and maintained control of all the major utilities. Over time, the function of GovGuam become not to provide basic services and duties of a government, but to provide cradle to grave employment, health care, and benefits. It made an island of dependents.
Why take chances or innovate when a cushy government job with generous salaries provides all a person needs? The impetus was not present to spur economic diversity. Guam was given a fish every day, and never learned to fish for itself. And so the island stagnated, a vassal territory to a world superpower, while the Asian Tigers surged ahead to become economic powerhouses.