Is That the Best You Can Do? A Tale of Two Micronesian Economies


Francis X. Hezel, SJ

Pacific Islands Policy, No. 1


Honolulu: East-West Center

Publication Date: 2006
ISBN: 978-0-86638-208-3 (print); 978-0-86638-209-0 (electronic)
Binding: paper
Pages: 41
Free Download: PDF


Francis X. Hezel has long been concerned with economic development in the Micronesian Islands that are in association with the United States. In particular, his analysis focuses on the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Both countries were part of the U.S. Trust Territory that was established under the United Nations trusteeship system after World War II.

In this report, Hezel reviews the history of development initiatives in the FSM and RMI. In early territorial days, funds were limited and little in the way of development was accomplished. Later, funding was dramatically increased, and conventional approaches were implemented. Investment in human resources was followed by a large push in infrastructure improvements. The overall results were disappointing, and the islands became heavily dependent on the United States.

In 1986, the FSM and RMI became self-governing nations that simultaneously established Compacts of Free Association with the United States. The island governments were provided substantial U.S. financial support for a period of 15 years with the hope that the Micronesians would chart their own course to achieve some measure of self-sustainability. At the end of the time frame, that goal proved as elusive as ever. Interim U.S. funding was provided until the second Compacts were implemented in 2004 for a period of twenty years. Direct assistance will end in 2024. In the likely event that self-sufficiency is not achieved by that date, the United States is establishing trust funds that hopefully will generate income sufficient to replace American subsidies.

Hezel is skeptical about the advice offered by development economists and other outside experts. The track record of conventional approaches to development has not been impressive. Recommendations offered by experts today are often in conflict with traditional cultures that emphasize communal values in the conduct of human relations and the inalienable quality of ancestral land. Drawing upon the work of other researchers in the Pacific, Hezel offers suggestions for alternative courses to development.

Is That the Best You Can Do? A Tale of Two Micronesian Economies is the inaugural issue in Pacific Islands Policy, a new East-West Center series. Pacific Islands Policy examines critical issues, problems, and opportunities that are relevant to the Pacific Islands region. The series is intended to influence the policy process, affect how people understand a range of contemporary Pacific issues, and help fashion solutions. A central aim of the series is to encourage scholarly analysis of economic, political, social, and cultural issues in a manner that will advance common understanding of current challenges and policy responses.

About the Author
Francis X. Hezel arrived in Micronesia in 1963 to teach high school in what was then Truk District, the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1969, he was ordained a priest in the Jesuit order, and in 1992 became the Regional Superior of the Jesuits in Micronesia.

In 1972, Hezel was appointed director of the Micronesian Seminar. Now located in Pohnpei State, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Micronesian Seminar is a nonprofit organization that serves the people of the four Micronesian states that emerged with the dissolution of the former trust territory: the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the Republics of the Marshall Islands and Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Hezel has published widely on Micronesia and serves as a consultant to government officials, educators, researchers, and development specialists. He has been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Guam and Fordham University, his alma mater.