On the mainland, demonstrations in favor of lifting the COVID-19 restrictions are taking place. Perhaps this is an unconscious manifestation of an already mounting distrust of government.

I am reminded that Weimar Germany was considered a hub of intellectual thought, engineering, science and the arts until economic chaos hit and the subsequent inability of democratic institutions to deal with it. Once people lost faith in their institutions and relied more on personalities is when the tables turned.

Many people are impatient to return to what was. Here in Hawaii we have at best guess somewhere around a quarter of a million people out of work. Could be more.

Once those lockdown restrictions are lifted, what will they do? Will we experience the economic turmoil of pre-Hitler Germany, or can our government and its institutions get a handle on this?

The problem is not that we have so many people out of work but we have no work for these people. As economies around the world reawaken, the emphasis will be on resurrecting previous ways in which commerce was conducted.

Visitors enjoy the sun on deck at Ohana Waikiki West pooliside recliners. 2 dec 2014. photograph cory Lum
Visitors enjoy the sun on the deck at a Waikiki hotel, December 2014. Hawaii can no longer rely on tourism to feed its economy. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Many would argue that things will return slowly to the way they were. But will that happen here in Hawaii?

The governor has convened his navigator panel to plot a course for Hawaii’s future. As of this writing, our hotel, hospitality and tourism business is at a standstill. It is unlikely it will revive quickly. If it does, problem solved. Until the next time.

There have been many in the past who have called for a diversification of Hawaii’s economy. We now have a chance to make plans and move away from a one-pony economy.

Points Of Contention

I appreciate the governor’s convening his economic navigator group. The report and recently released vision titled “Economic and Community Pathway to Recovery,” has all the right words and as with any document of this type has some areas that will be points of contention.

However encouraging the words of this document are in placating those who seek a more energetic approach to our recovery, the composition of this group may be wedded to traditional ideas and methods.

Its subsequent advice might say to stay the course and be patient; the tourists will come back again. In the meantime, there will be those that will make it and those who will suffer.

At present, we can only make wild guesses as to what this virus did to our economy. What we do know is there are a lot of people out of work that we cannot afford to have remaining on the dole.

The nonprofit 808 VETS has invited people to take a survey so they can share their vision of a future Hawaii. So too has the governor’s committee.

We do not wish to offer competing strategies. If anything, we need consensus. We need to rethink our business culture. Change is always hard especially in the minds of those whose interests are perceived to be threatened.

What we all need to understand is that we are on a group of islands, segregated from so many of the things we need. We need to grow an economy that works with others and does not depend on a single source for its revenue. We also need to work together. Gone are the days of labeling ideas and people.

Gone are the days of thinking we can get by with showing off our islands. Finding new ways to generate commerce should not be thought of as an alternative but as an imperative.

Tom Brokaw wrote “The Greatest Generation” profiling the generation of my parents who survived the Great Depression and went on to fight totalitarianism. They came back from World War II and built a society that was the envy of the world and is fondly remembered. They had a spirit.

Gone are the days of thinking we can get by with showing off our islands.

Is our country, is Hawaii so devoid of spirit that we cannot answer this little challenge and rebuild an economy? If so then we get what we deserve.

What concerns me most is our lethargic approach to so many of our problems. There is little dynamism. If our institutions are unable to plot new directions, reliance on them for answers and directions may pass to a personality or groups who will promise one thing and potentially lead us into another crisis. It’s easy to dismiss this idea as a simple answer to a much more complex issue.

But maybe that is how all historical catastrophes begin — relatively effortless reliance on a personality instead of the effort-intensive institutions.

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