Expatriates’ Corner

By Thomas J. Kappock

Saturday, June 26, 1999

Answers are complex

I just discovered your online edition, and found the Brain Drain series profoundly disturbing, mostly because I've asked myself the same questions and realize how complex the answers are.

I feel like I should know the answers because I was born in Hawaii, went to public schools and graduated (twice) from the University of Hawaii. After the military I returned to Hawaii and worked for 24 years, retiring as a vice chairman of Bank of Hawaii. I was very active in community affairs. I thus believe I understood -- and still understand -- the economy and the politics.

Expatriates' Corner

I left for Washington state in 1995, and I constantly hear about how I "got out just in time," although that certainly wasn't my goal. I'm now the chief executive of a high-tech firm in Silicon Valley. These three years away -- in two different states -- have really changed my perspective.

While I agree that high prices are a major deterrent, it frankly costs a lot more to live where I do now. Taxes are higher here, too (although Washington is a tax heaven). And traffic is bad everywhere. So those issues are important, but not crucial.

Education is a big issue. The public schools in these two states are so much better than Hawaii's. (What saddens me is that Hawaii had good public schools once. When I did my freshman year in Colorado, I was as well prepared as the mainland kids.) There's also a cultural element, which I saw when I instructed part-time at UH. Our public school graduates lack confidence -- they know their schooling was inferior. As proof, I hold up the contrast offered by the Punahou and Iolani graduates: well educated and confident, they can hold their own anywhere, and know it.

I think the biggest issue is the lack of economic opportunity, which I blame on a hostile government, driven by shadows of the plantation days and the resultant stranglehold of the unions. The Legislature is not just dominated by Democrats, it is dominated by members whose resumes look remarkably alike: UH law school, then government attorney, then legislator. Never worked in the private sector. Never saw the vitality and integrity of the vast majority of business people. Never met a payroll. Never really created a job for anyone. These people are blind to their own biases, which include deep distrust of profit and a profound faith that government -- especially the state government -- can fix anything. They are afraid to let go and let capitalism work.

The result is the same as it has been everywhere around the world: overly regulated economies can't compete, don't grow and lose the best and the brightest (I claim neither status, by the way). This is a completely logical outcome, and has been demonstrated repeatedly, both inside and outside the United States. As the world shrinks, the economies that cling to government intervention will be bypassed at an increasing rate, so a radical course change is needed.

First and foremost, the people of Hawaii need to raise their eyes to the horizon and realize there is a bigger picture that they need to get into focus. Holding the Bishop Estate trustees accountable is a good start. Now get rid of all those who voted against openness and progress (e.g.: those who voted against Margery Bronster's re-appointment). Elect those who will get out of the way: cut government and taxes and red tape for businesses. Reduce the truly outrageous cost of government regulation that's quietly built into every new home. Learn to celebrate economic growth and success, not be jealous of those who "make it." Get rid of the mindset that "the nail that stands tall gets hammered down."

I love Hawaii and want it to succeed; I miss so much about it and so many of the people. But living on the mainland gives one a feeling of much greater freedom, and the resultant optimism. Hawaii has all the raw material to succeed, but the people need to openly confront the unions and Democrats who are holding them -- and their children -- in a prison of limited opportunity.

Thomas J. Kappock, 55, is a resident of
Hillsborough, Calif. He left Hawaii in 1995.

More articles in this series can be accessed here.

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