Leina‘ala Ahu Isa, Ph.D., Trustee, At-LargeThe prophets of an “information economy” will have forgotten basic economics. When something becomes abundant, it also becomes cheap. A world awash in information will be a world in which information has very little market value. With social media sites being developed every day, and information instantly at our fingertips, it is now “free”!

In general, when the economy becomes extremely good at doing something, that activity becomes less rather than more important.

The four great economic trends that observers in the late 1990s should have expected, but didn’t:

Soaring land and resource prices.

The 1990s were an era of low land and home prices. It is hard to see why anyone thought this situation would continue. The Earth is a finite planet. As 2 billion Asians began to aspire to Western levels of consumption, it set off a scramble for limited supplies of minerals, fossil fuels, and food. China has most of their manufacturing plants in America and Third World countries.

When America started alternative energy projects it became clear that natural resources were important for us to protect.

The environment as property.

Our environment is our ‘kuleana.’ The limited carrying capacity of the environment has become the single most important constraint on the average standard of living. The 19th century’s great fortunes were made in industry; the late 20th made in technology. Today’s super-rich are those who own prime land or mineral rights.

The economic consequences of the conversion of environmental limits into property were unexpected. Once governments got serious about making people pay for the pollution and congestion they caused, the cost of environmental licenses became a major part of the cost of doing business accounting for more than 30 percent of GDP. Such fees have become the main source of government revenue, abolishing the federal income tax in 2047.

The Rebirth of the Big City.

Modern telecommunications had eliminated much of the need for close physical proximity between routine office workers. Today the roads belong mainly to hordes of share-a-ride minivans, efficiently routed by a web of intercommunicating computers. Suburban door-to-door transportation still takes considerably longer than it did when ordinary commuters and shoppers could afford to drive their own cars.

The jobs that flourished in the suburbs were eliminated in vast numbers beginning in the mid-90s. Some white-collar jobs migrated to low-wage countries; others taken over by computers. Jobs that could not be shipped abroad or handled by machines were jobs best done in the middle of dense urban areas served by what is still the most effective mass-transit system yet devised: the elevator. Vertical is the ‘word’ of today as far as workplace buildings are concerned.

The Devaluation of Education.

In the early 2000s, everyone believed that education was the key to economic success, for individuals and nations. A college degree was essential for anyone who wanted a good job. Over the course of this century many of the jobs that required a college degree have been eliminated and replaced by computers.

I ask again: “What are the tough choices today’s leaders need to make to be Future Strong? True innovation needs to be built at the edge of the organization. Where will OHA be in 2067?”

Now in 2067, where are the Hawaiian people? Why did they have to leave these beautiful islands? How much does a home cost in Hawaiʻi today??

Did the leaders in government to fail to protect them?


Note: Trustee columns represent the views of individual trustees and may not reflect the official positions adopted by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.