We constantly hear and read the messages that Ukraine is definitely meant to win, go through all the hurdles and thrive if only… Politicians seem to have a perfect understanding of what a “good life” is. There is only one problem to articulate a step-by-step algorithm of transition from point A (poverty, corruption, inflation) to point B (thriving economy and welfare of citizens). If only … what? Opinions are utterly different, but they all lead to a positive outcome, according to their authors. At this point a joke comes to mind about miserable mice, who in efforts to change their lives received a brilliant advice from an owl – become hedgehogs. Of course, this would solve all of their problems, but, unfortunately, the wise owl skipped the part where she would explain how to do it. The same is true about Ukraine: in order to become rich and happy, we need to improve ourselves dramatically. Today I would like to talk not about a new economic panacea, but rather about ways to implement this panacea. Furthermore, I will focus on “self-reinvention” on the basis of a new national idea.
Highly competitive Japan
Alike Ukraine, many countries experienced the need to rethink their place in the world. Their governments compiled programs, but only in separate countries, which have become prosperous by now, these programs were established at the level of national ideas. In this regard, post-war Japan serves a great example. Having lost the war, Japan decided to win the economy. Initially, the Japanese overwhelmingly demonstrated their victim mentality. Such-like victimity is inherent to all nations at different stages and to Ukrainians, in particular. The task of political elites in this context is to give its people a chance for a better future, and a new vector for further efforts to make. In Japan, competitiveness was chosen as such a vector, a basis for a national idea. Japan ambitiously aimed at becoming as competitive as the USA (remember – mice should ultimately become hedgehogs). Although, American system of values was imposed on the Japanese, but, at the same time, economic institutions (Japan Productivity Center and Japanese Economic Quartet), monitoring the implementation of American practices and innovations in production, inspired the Japanese with the idea that they were the best; children at home and at school were convinced of being superior to Americans. Productivity centers were tracking all world tendencies in order to come up with some recommendations on the sectors that need to be developed to increase Japan’s competitiveness. People were talked to stop spending money on useless purchases of goods made in other countries; instead, they were convinced of the need to invest their tiny assets in technology products. This is exactly how Sony and Fuji developed from garage projects into giant companies.
South Korea national idea was formulated in the book by the authoritative leader Park Chung-hee “Korean Way” – economic growth, welfare of citizens and industrial development. Sounds complex! But only if you view it from a scientific point of view. Confucian Canon, according to which one should first achieve economic freedom and only afterwards think about freedom of spirit, was brought to the fore. In other words, economic prosperity is to be a priority for every single citizen and for the country at large. With that in mind, the state constantly encouraged private industry, welcomed innovations and supported exporting companies (Korea National Export Day, state holiday, was established). South Korea’s obsession with the idea of economic growth was also explained by the dire necessity to defend itself against threats posed by North Korea. South Koreans were driven by the hope that someday they will manage to free their northern neighbors of communism. In this respect, it was vital to develop a prosperous society, based on alternative values.
Security, democracy, social protection
Another good example of a successful nation that managed to overcome victimity and transform it into the source of economic growth was Israel. Extremely aggressive environment in which Israelis built their state and developed their economy had no margin for mistakes. Israel’s recipe for success lay in the focus on security and competitiveness in the face of a destruction threat from the Arab world.
The foundation of the national idea of the United States of America is democracy. The value of democracy has been proven by the existence of a prosperous American society. American democracy has been numerously “sold” worldwide attracting the most hard-working employees, successful entrepreneurs, innovative minds and creative genius.
European countries use social protection as their “selling” national idea.
Raw materials sell-off
Unfortunately, in Ukraine democracy is only at the initial stage of its establishment while real social protection is impossible due to an underdeveloped, uncompetitive economy. Ukraine is trying to offer the world a new type of “democracy without leadership”, supported only by horizontal communities. However, Ukraine is unable to prove efficiency of such a political regime. All efforts to export our civilizational “advantages” turn out to be not more than inconvertible forms of self-deception. Ukraine won’t be able to “sell” to a civilized community something that didn’t work to make Ukrainians more successful, however good it sounds in theory.
Our own positive experience must become the best evidence of success of the national idea we are promoting, as it was in the experience of the abovementioned countries with their national ideas driven them to the world leaders. Thus, a national idea cannot be fully disconnected from reality and exist only in the minds of patriots, philosophers and numerous groups of activists. A national idea must have practical application and “contagious” uniting potential, triggering chain reaction in the transformation of society, which ultimately will make it eligible for export worldwide. Another daunting tendency is “simplification” of a national idea. Politicians should eliminate unsustainable national ideas depicting Ukrainians as freedom-loving grain-growers or “transit-tourists”. Such-like ideas demonstrate Ukraine’s inability to reinvent its economic potential in the modern world. Raw materials sell-off that has already become a steady country concept causes the nation to fall deeper into the realm of poverty. Memories of the country’s back agrarian success (being part of different empires – breadbasket of Europe) still raise hopes of adherents of currently unsustainable ideas of Ukraine’s agrarian future. Meanwhile, victimity of Ukrainians – victims of their own failures – is further being cultivated.
Global experience demonstrates that victimity can be transformed into a positive trigger of political and economic revival. Therefore, Ukrainian political elites must come up with an action plan of transition from the state of a victim-nation that is “independent from” metropolitan countries, external threats, comprador elites to a self-aware nation that assembles individuals united by mutual goals. In the outcome, Ukraine will get “independence for” creativity, competitiveness and improvement, instead of “independence against something”.
We are challenged by a responsible task – to form an optimistic national idea for Ukraine, and I envisage Ukrainians as an exporter nation, or, to be more precise, - exporter citizen. Focus on export as a mobilizing idea would encourage growth of GDP and increase of people’s welfare. Fast result, achieved by the most active citizens, would be noticed and picked up by the entire nation, which, in its turn, would improve the level and quality of life. Production of goods with high added value and its further export may become the trigger for Ukraine’s reinvention in the global economy. As part of implementation of the new national idea, we need to define drivers of economic growth, create chains of independent private manufacturers, being part of innovative location clusters, welcome and encourage competitive advantages of exporting companies. Having found our niche alongside with other European countries, we will get an opportunity to become part of trading schemes to ship products to the third markets.
Advantage of such a national idea lies in the possibility to measure it. Success of any transformation program depends on trust between political forces and society. Clear goals and commitment of political reformers will enable to reload economy with Ukrainians being directly involved into the process. The idea of exporting economic identity of Ukraine has a considerable uniting potential. Every single Ukrainian is able to become an exporter. Even if the input of a single Ukrainian amounts to producing a screw for a rocket engine exported abroad, it will already make him a part of the country’s national idea.
Ability to survive and adapt to difficult conditions has always been inherent to Ukrainians. And we are currently facing a challenge that will define our vector of further development over decades. The challenge lies in the following: we either manage to incorporate into existing value chains with competitive commodities and services or stay on the margin of global markets with agricultural- and ore- economy.
Many people remember what it was like to be exporters back in the 1990s – University professors felt no shame to sell teapots on flea markets all over Europe, which was forced by the dire necessity of the days. For some people it turned out to be a success, for others – a total flop. Some people who smalltraded in Turkey found ways to stay there to get an education. Later, they managed to find an engineering job in a respectable company and ultimately returned home after 10 years. Back in Ukraine, there were much more opportunities to become an entrepreneur, but not an employed worker, to produce all the same goods, but, this time, at a much lower price, and, again, export them to European markets. This is a much higher level. And finally – tens of thousands of students from Korea, Japan and China went to study technologies in prestigious universities and returned home in order to recreate these technologies and start their own businesses. Currently students from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are doing the same thing.
We are not only in need of smart development programs (although, we cannot do without them), but also in need of deep faith that, on one occasion, every one of us would become an exporter. Not a grain-grower or a bright ideas-generator of an unstructured society, but an exporter. Maybe some modern Ukrainian artists could add a bit of Slavonic shade to this English word, or even find a more appropriate one. However, the most important thing about it is just to really want to do it.