Three Vital Steps for Kazakhstan to Become the Center and Capital of a Eurasia Economic Zone
As we venture into 2013, with current international discussions of the possibility of creating a Eurasian Economic Zone, Kazakhstan with its geographic location, has an incredible opportunity knocking at its door. Such a zone would certainly benefit the economies of Europe and Asia at the same time providing Kazakhstan an amazing opportunity to serve as the economic capitol for such a zone. However there are three major points of development which I believe must be implemented in order for Kazakhstan to fulfill this possibility.
The Critical Necessity of Moral Character for a Nation
First and most fundamentally, as well articulated by President Nazarbayev in his most recent national address, we are in desperate need for the development of moral character in the lives of people, especially our young people. Indeed, many of our social problems and hindrances to economic development can be traced back to moral problems such as selfishness, greed and dishonesty. This lack of ethics has resulted in a “survival of the fittest” mentality which pervades our society and shackles our true economic potential.
Here it is important to be honest and willing to analyze how we got into this situation where lawlessness and corruption so rampant. Indeed, we must analyze the foundational ideas and presuppositions underlying society, for ideas have consequences.
In reality, our problems with lawlessness and corruption are the natural logical consequence of Soviet ideological presuppositions. Lenin built the Soviet Union upon an atheistic Marxism which was diametrically opposed to and viciously incompatible with religion. Lenin wrote:
“There is nothing more abominable than religion,”
and that under communism:
“God does not exist, cannot exist, and must not exist.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky prophetically wrote:
“if there is no God, then everything is permissible. Crime will be inevitable.”
Dostoyevsky properly understood that in the absence of God and the conviction of a higher natural law, the logical consequence will be the mentality of “every man for himself” and “survival of the fittest”, rather than an interpretation of justice based upon a higher principle and rule of law. Atheism removed this basis and moral authority of rule of law, personal responsibility and accountability for behavior before God as well as society. Atheism removed any higher moral authority than one’s own.
Dostoyevsky understood that if there is no God, then ultimately there can be no basis for morality and law, or for human rights. If there is no God, then we are just animals engaged in the Darwinist struggle: “survival of the fittest.” In such case, there is no higher standard or natural law which serves as the transcendent moral authority to protect people’s rights and property. In such case, law is then simply determined by power, money, or influence. This can only result in lawlessness, corruption, and injustice; which will ultimately lead to discontent, unrest, apathy, and economic stagnation.
Perhaps this can account for the lawlessness throughout the CIS, where mafia and corruption is so rampant. Georgian gangster and godfather of the Russian mafia Otari Kvantrishvili stated:
“It was Vladimir Lenin who was the real organizer of the mafia and set up the criminal state.”
The Role of the Church in Society
Kazakhstan is a nation with great promise and potential. While Kazakhstan enjoys a wealth of natural resources, we must also realize that in order to truly be successful, we cannot deny the need of a moral and spiritual foundation upon which success and prosperity can be achieved. This is the God-given role of the church in society, to serve the nation by providing the moral and spiritual support for all people, serving as a light and a guide in national morals and principles.
In 2003, South Korean businessmen and diplomats brilliantly argued in defense of Christianity at the Protestant Forum sponsored by the Turkish Institute in Almaty. They explained that as people in South Korean turned to Christianity, this produced an atmosphere which led to the huge growth in the South Korean economy. As Christianity permeated the culture, people transformed to law-abiding citizens who lived honestly and subsequently become more productive. This moral climate created prime conditions for economic prosperity.
I followed closely the case of Makset Djabbarbergenov, the Uzbek pastor who was jailed in Almaty and threatened with deportation to Uzbekistan where he was charged with crimes merely for preaching Christianity. While I personally applaud Kazakhstan for releasing him to the UNHCR to relocate in Europe, fundamentally we still fail to recognize the value of the work of such people. This man had been faithfully teaching the moral instruction of the Bible and serving people as a pastor to various churches.
This moral instruction of the society, meeting the spiritual needs of the people, is one of the most important perquisites to economic development and success. Moral training will only result in a better citizenry, which will be led by principles of love and service to their fellow man. This is the answer for Kazakhstan. American founding father, Daniel Webster stated:
“Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.”
People – The Real Economic Potential of a Nation
Secondly, we need leadership at every level of society which understands their role is to serve the nation, to work to protect the rights and property of the people and empower the people to be able to use their talents to develop the economy. Responsible freedom of religion, speech and press are the instruments which can help ensure public accountability of all citizens and help create a culture where every citizen feels empowered by having a voice in public affairs. This will in turn encourage personal responsibility, civic duty and ultimately entrepreneurialism.
Though improving, there still exists a failure of business to appreciate the value of the individual and what he or she can bring to the company. People – when empowered with respect, fair wages, protection of their ideas and property – can create far, far more economy than any amount of oil, gas and precious raw materials. The true economic potential of the nation is not its natural resources, but rather its people. If people are empowered with freedom and protected by rule of law and human rights, they will create far more economy than any amount of natural resources.
One of the best strategies to empower the people would be to implement a fair minimum wage law. While caution should be exercised to avoid impeding free market reform, a minimum wage law may help develop a middle class. Currently the ordinary citizen works 50-60 hours per week making minimal earnings. Consequently, people do not have purchasing power which would create the demand for new products, goods and services.
Another important issue which must be aggressively addressed is the issue of continued corruption. One such example is a young Kazakh man who I will name “Alibek” to protect his true identity. This talented young man who studied abroad opened a business investing $40,000. Within a few years, his business grew to ten times that in value. Then two individuals from the government came to him with pictures of his children and told him that if he did not sell to them his business for $40,000, he would “have problems.” In order to protect his family, he sold his business.
Within one year, that business failed. The people who stole his business did not possess the competence and talent of this young man. Consequently all the workers lost their jobs. However, most tragically this extremely talented young Kazakh is leaving his nation and is going to the West where his ideas and property will be protected. Like the founder of Google, who is a Russian immigrant, this Kazakh young man will take his talents and help build America’s economy to an even greater extent.
Future entrepreneurs find their dreams dashed by the realities of injustice from an early age. Hard working students find all of their efforts rendered meaningless as they are asked to pay a bribe to their professors to achieve the grade they rightfully earned, while lazy and unproductive students who pay bribes earn high marks while doing nothing. Graduates entering the workforce are further degraded, finding that they are required to pay a bribe to obtain the job for which they have worked hard. Consequently it is not the most qualified people entering various professions, but rather those who have the money to pay bribes.
This is a devastating lesson to future entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan. While capable of creating enormous wealth for the nation, they will instead either grind away at trivial low-paying jobs in order to simply survive. Or most tragically they may someday choose to leave Kazakhstan and live somewhere else where they can fulfill their dreams and aspirations. Consequently the future economic potential of the nation suffers at the hands of greedy individuals who failed to recognize the valuable contribution these young people can offer the nation if empowered and protected by rule of law.
Because of such problems, we are not witnessing the emergence of the many successful entrepreneurs. In an environment shackled by corruption, talented entrepreneurs are not able to freely and safely use their gifts and talents to generate wealth and economy for their families and ultimately their nation. Instead such talented people are shackled with fear, and are reduced to only doing just enough to survive in order to avoid becoming a target. If these people were empowered by freedom and protection of their rights, property as well as intellectual property; they would soar.
When people are empowered, they would be able to create wealth and good paying jobs for enormous numbers of people. As the economy grows, people have more purchasing power which in turn creates a greater demand for new products, goods and services, which in turn provides opportunity for new business. In other words: as people purchase more because they have more income, they create the demand for new businesses.
All along, tax revenues are generated as everyone pays their share which in turn provides better roads, schools, medical facilities and other infrastructure which will enhance the atmosphere for businesses to prosper and operate more efficiently. Everybody wins. And most importantly, people are using their God-given gifts and talents and helping build a better nation and home for their children. When people’s rights and freedoms are protected, they feel a sense of belonging and ownership, which in turn fosters civic responsibility and duty. Indeed it is people, when empowered, who make a great nation.
It is important here to note that all of these ideas stem very naturally from the tenants of the Christian faith. “Do unto others, as you would have them do to you.” These are the words of Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew. If this axiom was inculcated and adopted in society rather than the “survival of the fittest” axiom of Marxist atheism, then we would have a citizenry guided by higher moral principle, resulting in a more just and civil society, which in turn empowers people to generate wealth for themselves and the nation.
By addressing these two foundational issues, we can one day see a citizenry which is responsible, hardworking and law-abiding. In building our society upon righteousness and justice, we can proceed to build the legal infrastructure which will ensure the international business and investor community that Kazakhstan is a safe place for investment. In such an atmosphere where people’s rights and property are protected, economic development will thrive and make Kazakhstan an attractive capitol for business within a developing Eurasian Economic Zone.
Silkway Express – Eurasian Transportation Infrastructure
Thirdly, the vision of a Eurasian Economic Zone can best be realized with the creation of a fast and efficient transportation infrastructure connecting Europe with Asia. In this regard, Kazakhstan with its centralized geographical location, is presented with an extraordinary opportunity. Kazakhstan could serve as the prime mover for the development of a high speed rail infrastructure connecting Europe and Asia, with its geographic hub here.
A high speed rail network connecting Europe and Asia would allow the free flow of goods and services between Asia and Europe and provide huge development for Central Asian economies. With its geo-political position, Kazakhstan would be the greatest benefactor. With such a rail system, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian goods and services could be in European and Asian markets the next day. Such products could include crude oil, gas products as well as manufactured goods, agricultural products, natural resources and other commodities.
This infrastructure would provide the ability for European and Asian products, goods and services to freely traverse Central Asia and be in European and Asian markets within 2-3 days. One Asian economy which is certain to benefit is China. China currently relies on shipping its products by boat, which naturally excludes transportation of products with a short shelf-life. Reliable high speed rail infrastructure would eliminate such lengthy shipping time. Central Asian high speed rail infrastructure is a win-win situation for all economies of Eurasia.
High speed passenger rail service would dramatically benefit business development within Kazakhstan. High speed passenger rail service aboard a 300 km/hr train would reduce travel from Almaty to Astana to 5 hours, Almaty to Shemkent in 4 hours, Almaty to Atyrau in 8 hours, and travel to any Western European city within 24 hours. Such travel possibilities would great enhance economic development and such a project would pay for itself within 15 years with the commerce generated.
From a construction standpoint, such a project would require substantial investment. The development of such a system would include the construction of a high speed track which is built to the same size and specifications of European and Asian tracks. This would include building the appropriate barrier and bridge infrastructures to help ensure safety.
While the cost of such a project would be substantial, it would pave the way for viable modern silk-road commerce and pay for itself with the economy it would help generate. One suggested strategy for financing such a project might be a joint effort where 60% of the project would be financed by the governments of participating Eurasian countries, 20% by European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and other development agencies, and 20% by private investors and low-cost government bonds made available for the people of Kazakhstan.
A Central Asian high speed rail infrastructure would have extraordinary secondary benefits. In addition to providing the practical mechanism of a Eurasian Economic Zone, Kazakhstan with its central geographic location would have the incredible opportunity to become the financial and business capitol for the Eurasian Economic Zone. This would make Kazakhstan an ideal location for both European and Asian businesses to establish Eurasian headquarters and to build manufacturing facilities.
Indeed Kazakhstan has at its doorstep a great opportunity. But in order for this to become a reality, Kazakhstan will have to make a sincere commitment to international standards of rule of law and human rights, in order to foster a sense of trust in the international community that Kazakhstan is a good environment for business. Measures to help ensure this objective would include implementing the appropriate legal infrastructure and protections for such commerce. This would include relaxing restrictive customs and tariff barriers in order to encourage commerce. Finally, there must also be an environment of friendly cooperation between participating countries.
Indeed opportunity is knocking at the door of Kazakhstan. At this point, it is important to dream big and not be limited by former paradigms and old ways of thinking. In order to grow, we must invest. This opportunity will change to face of business in Eurasia and revive the Silk Road in ways we could only dream of. Let us not sleep and thereby miss this great opportunity knocking at our door. Let us open the door wide and allow Kazakhstan to achieve its full God-given potential as a nation and as a people.
Published in Exclusive Magazine, Kazakhstan. April 18, 2013.