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There is no quick fix to Hawaii’s economic problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot spend our way back to a robust economy. We can’t flip a switch and simply “restart” it as if there had never been a lockdown.

But there is a path forward that could help Hawaii prosper again.

Earlier this week, I was quoted in a Honolulu Star-Advertiser article about the governor’s so-called economic navigator. I agreed with legislators who were dubious about the role of the navigator, which seemed redundant and vaguely defined.

As I told reporter Allison Schaefers, “The best thing that the government can do is to lift the restrictions in a timely manner, reduce hurdles to business and restructure our tax system so that we let the markets function the way they should. Businesses themselves should determine demand and supply and the economy — it’s not something that government can do very well. It’s very possible that the office of the economic navigator could inadvertently end up hindering the natural recovery that the markets could bring about.”

In other words. we don’t need a government official telling us where to go and how to get there. We need only the freedom and opportunity to make those decisions for ourselves. Which is why the Grassroot Institute is releasing our “Road map to prosperity,” subtitled, “How Hawaii can recover and even excel after the coronavirus lockdown.” In it we outline steps and strategies that Hawaii’s leaders should embrace to help revitalize our state’s severely damaged economy.

You won’t find government projects or new regulations in our road map. On the contrary, we urge state policymakers to tighten their budget belts, remove regulations that handicap entrepreneurship, and reduce taxes for businesses recovering from the shutdown. To increase opportunity and labor mobility, we recommend loosening restrictions on home-based businesses and easing requirements for occupational licenses.

Not only do we want to make it easier for Hawaii residents to get back to work, we want to lower the cost of living and promote economic prosperity. Toward those ends, we recommend exempting food and medical services from the general excise tax, so people will get more buying power for their dollars. To increase housing, we would reform zoning laws and streamline the permitting process. More housing would also mean more construction jobs. 

Some policymakers say that our only hope is to diversify our economy. They claim that we need government spending to boost us out of the coronavirus depression. Their supposed “solutions” are actually an appeal to central planning, a strategy that is historically tied to failed economies and the loss of liberty.

A diversified economy less dependent on tourism is a worthy goal, but the only way to achieve it is to let it develop naturally in response to the market — not by government fiat, where politicians pick and choose which industries to support.

Likewise, relying on government spending to help your economy is like hiring an expensive, inefficient middle man to give people your money. The money has to come from somewhere, and ultimately, taxpayers are the ones left stuck with the bills.

Instead of injecting the government into the state’s economy, policymakers should be listening to what our state’s businesses really need. Even before the pandemic, Hawaii was notorious for its high regulations and high taxes. This is the time to start breaking down those obstacles to economic growth.

Our “Road Map to Prosperity” isn’t just about helping the state recover from the pandemic. It’s about embracing a philosophy that will let our state thrive. 

Why just rebuild when we can make things even better than before? All it takes is an approach that embraces economic freedom, which in turn expands opportunity and encourages entrepreneurship and innovation. 

If we work together, we can come through this crisis with a healthier, happier and more prosperous Hawaii.