Polynesian Paralysis, or the Vetocracy at Work

Among its other oddities, Hawaii has no water level travel between its islands.  If the inhabitants of four out of the five counties should wish to travel to Honolulu, they have to fly in a small plane and rent another car when they get there.  And the same applies to people from Honolulu wanting to visit the other islands, or for that matter anyone from any island wanting to visit any other [the exception; there is a pedestrian-only ferry between Lahaina, Maui, and Lana’i].  Try to imagine the inhabitants of Aarhus or Odense having to fly in a small plane and rent a car every time they want to go to Copenhagen, or the Copenhageners having to do the same if they ever want to go to Legoland or Ystad.  Try to imagine the people of Seattle having to take a small plane and rent a car every time they want to go to Bainbridge Island or Bremerton, or vice versa.

An attempt was actually made to launch a car ferry in 2007, but protesters in canoes and on boards blocked it from landing in Nawiliwili, Kaua’i.  There are, of course, also commercial interests that are threatened; the airlines and local car rental agencies, needless to say.  And we think Uber has troubles!

I will concede that Kaua’I has a point.  Despite the bucolic reputation of the place, traffic is heavy and slow moving all day there.  The same is true of most of Maui, and of the Hilo-Puna and Kona areas on the Big Island.  There are no freeways, no overpasses, and very few four lane roads outside O’ahu, the most populous island, which contains eighty per cent of the population of the state.  [The historical reason for this is that Honolulu offered the only safe anchorage for large ships in the whole archipelago; see my essay “Hawaii the bellwether for California.”]

This seems to be an extreme example of what Francis Fukuyama calls ‘vetocracy’, in which any one interest can veto all the others, and there is no concept left of the ‘common good’, or least the good of most.  In my essay I pointed out that Hawai’I anticipated California in most of the problems California is now having.  But it does seem to me that the people of Hawai’I are willing to put up with a remarkable level of inconvenience! [I wish I knew what the Hawaiian word for ‘inconvenience’ was.]

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