The Astana Economic Forum seemed a great success. Many ideas were set forth to help Kazakhstan to fulfill its 2050 plan to become one of the top thirty economies in the world. Low corporate tax and other incentives will certain attract direct foreign investment. Yet Kazakhstan lacks one thing: the empowerment of the people of Kazakhstan to create small and medium enterprise. It is important to note that in the West, 95% of all business are SMEs and employ 65% of the population. SMEs represent the backbone of any developed economy.
But as President Nazarbayev stated in his speech, it is too frequently only those who have connections or are related to government officials have the ability to create businesses. Or if one is permitted to start a business, they must run the gauntlet of routine bribes, fees, fines and hurdle insurmountable obstacles set by the same. While senior government officials are saying the right things, particularly as outlined in the 2050 plan, the reality we still face significant problems with corruption and other barriers which are holding back the ordinary citizen from creating small and medium enterprises.
Kazakhstan’s inability to tackle this problem cost severely in the lost potential of becoming one of the top economies in the world. No amount of police could ever adequately restrain a culture of corruption. American founder John Adams stated it well, when he wrote: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Lord Acton wrote if people do not do what is right, motivated by an internal sense of duty fostered through religious conviction, they can only be forced by an external sense of fear. But there is a better way.
President Nazarbayev correctly stated that the greatest need in Kazakhstan is the character development of its youth. This is precisely what Kazakhstan needs in order to fulfill the desire to eradicate corruption – the greatest obstacle to Kazakhstan fulfilling its full economic potential.
As Nazarbayev recently stated, the most developed economies in the world is where you see the influence of Protestant Christianity. The standards of justice and protections of the rights and freedoms of its citizens – the natural prerequisites to economic development – were historically engendered through the influence of Judeo-Christian values permeating Western culture. The input on moral and character formation, provided through the institution of the Church, has served to create a just and civil population which has respect for the rights and property of all peoples. The presuppositions of the Judeo-Christian faith provide the moral authority to the concepts of rule of law and human rights, which in turn foster the atmosphere for human flourishing and entrepreneurial venture.
The true economic potential of Kazakhstan is not found in its oil, gas or natural resources. Rather the true economic potential of Kazakhstan is the people. A just and moral people, who respect the rights and property of others, can generate far more wealth and economy than any amount of natural resources. The people must be empowered by good education, good infrastructure, and most importantly the protection of rights and property of the ordinary citizen. The role of government is to serve the people and to protect the rights and property of its citizens, who represent this potential.
Truly it is time to forever cast off Soviet-era thinking and the mistrust of faith in culture. Kazakhstan’s economic potential is far greater than even the most optimistic person can imagine and this is the one missing element. I am convinced that Kazakhstan can achieve this potential, but it must include the moral dimension of society. Faith and economic development are inseparable.