Will it be, nation building that pulls the wagon of economic growth, or economic growth pulling the wagon of nation building??
With elections coming up in one month, ambitious politicians try to maneuver their favorite hobby horses into position. On 10-10-10 the island of Curacao became a nation after a majority vote of the public. Somehow, intuitively, voters had a notion of what a nation should be. Five years later, they found out that intuition and a warm underbelly feeling is not enough to sustain the abstract politicians still of a nation; they need nation building!
Nation building consists mostly of symbol politics, with the objective to contribute to the “sense of a nation.” A national anthem, national flag and a flag day, a national language, national Olympic team and other national sports teams, a national currency and a national favorite local race, are all possible elements of symbol politics and nation building.
Anyone who wants to experience how “national building” is expressed, only has to spend a few hours with the History Channel. You can witness first hand how Hitler trained his “Hitler Jugend” to be the show piece of his Dritte Reich. Mao had hundreds of millions his Revolutionary Red Army and who can forget Mussolini’s marching fascist gangs? Symbol politics usually ruined the nations, rather than building it. The idea of a nation, is a relatively modern phenomenon, replacing a few world empires, and surprisingly, it seems to stick. The United Nations has more than 200 nation-state members today, whereas, in 1948, there were hardly 50.
An interesting twist is that several political parties now claim that the economy will grow with nation building. Although several examples strongly suggest the opposite, politicians still try to con their constituencies into the blatant falsehood. A few examples.
Although a national anthem and a flag can hardly hurt a local economy, a local language, as the sole language of communication, can have dramatic negative results on communication and education. The introduction of Papiamentu as communication language on the island turned into an economic disaster. Even students going abroad for further higher education require lengthy, extensive remedial courses. The quality of the service product was severely damaging especially for tourism, trade, and communications. A large part of the workforce is unable to communicate in any other language but Papiamentu and as such, disqualify themselves for the main economy. Textbooks in schools are not available in the local language or of such poor quality that use should not be encouraged.
The local currency of the Nafl, with a 25-year old peg to the US dollar which eliminated monetary policy by opportunistic politicians, has no other function than to sponsor a few banks and families that hold the money exchange monopolies with a cost ticket of a whopping US $ 50 million a year. The local currency has negative economic effect only.
A favored local race, defined as Yu di Korsou, with preferential treatment in the 80/20 employment laws, is a very strong deterrent for any international business to make any local investment. The local workforce is insufficiently motivated and trained to provide the required production in the service industry and importing qualified labor is inevitable to economic growth.
The conclusion is unavoidable, most ” nation building” is harmful to the economy. Politicians will not be deterred and try to sell the fallacy anyway, mostly because it benefits their power base.
By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Opinion columnist for Curaçao Chronicle