Marianas Variety

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Variations: The Nathan report

IN the 1960s, Robert A. Nathan Associates was one of Washington, D.C.’s “most highly regarded consulting firms, with major clients and assignments around the world.” In 1965-66, it was hired by the Trust Territory government, which was administered by the U.S., to conduct “the first systematic economic survey” of the TT whose capital was Saipan.

The Nathan report was prepared by a team of three U.S. economists, and it was submitted to the TT high commissioner in Dec. 1966. The crystal-clear report was based on their “on-the-spot investigations and analyses of conditions, problems, and possibilities.” The Nathan team spent “more than 7 man-months traveling in the districts (outside Saipan). All district center islands, and at least ten other islands in the [TT] have been visited one or more times by one or more members of the Team.” They also consulted “unpublished information and data,” and over 100 people in the U.S. government, the TT government, island, business, community and religious leaders, writers, professors, researchers among many others “who have some interest” in the TT.

Anyone who wants to understand the history of the NMI since then should read the Nathan report. But only a few are aware that it even exists. In D.C., it seems that for some key U.S. lawmakers whose decisions can make or unmake these islands’ future, CNMI history started and ended with the garment industry and Jack Abramoff.

Among the many nuggets of wisdom offered by the Nathan report is this undeniable, but seldom accepted, fact: “[F]ive-year projections can only be presented in general terms or with full recognition of wide margins for error to prevent the illusion of accuracy.”

The Nathan report suggested an economic development plan based on several assumptions, among which:

• There will be a steadily increasing population and labor force.

• There will be relatively free access to the outside capital, management and labor resources necessary for economic expansion.

More sage (and seldom heeded) advice:

“Realistic economic development planning must begin with the conditions which actually exist, not with the conditions which one might wish for or like to assume. Neither geography nor history has been good to [the islands] from the point of view of building economic development potential.”

According to the report, the “geographic and natural conditions of [the islands] are interesting, attractive, and unique…. [L]ooked at carefully and considered as a unit…the Trust Territory shows up as a geographic entity without parallel anywhere in the world.”

Hence, “many conditions, which in modern economies are so ‘natural’ that they are implicitly assumed, do not exist in the Trust Territory. The ‘mental re-orientation’ necessary to think and plan intelligently…is not easy for the outsider to achieve. Careful and thoughtful study of the evolution and present patterns of economic and related conditions and institutions is essential.”

Today, however, it seems that an ability to Google-search is what passes for “careful and thoughtful study” on the part of those who propose drastic measures for the NMI without any regard for their actual consequences that will affect thousands of real people.

The Nathan report also recounted the islands’ history. During the Japanese administration, it states, “many agricultural, fisheries, manufacturing and processing industries were established with Japanese capital and management, and with imported Japanese, Okinawan and some Korean labor.” The islanders “benefited considerably. They enjoyed wider varieties of goods and services, greater sources of income, and greater opportunities to develop abilities, and to get jobs than they ever experienced before or, in many instances, since.”

Twelve years later, a Seattle Times reporter who visited Saipan and the other Micronesian islands reported that the islands’ economy “was in better shape under the Japanese than it has been since.”

On Nov. 3, 1978, Variety published a full-page ad paid by the “Committee to Assist Financial Crisis of the Northern Marianas.” It indicated that there were only three choices: “more taxes, casino gambling, superport.”

To be continued

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