Friday, August 1, 2008

Land, Labor, Capital


In two days I try to teach new Peace Corps trainees what my experiences about doing business in Samoa is like. Below is my attempt at comparing how we look at the classical economic principles of land, labor, and capital verses how Samoans treat them.

We view land as a resource. We buy, sell, or lease it depending on our needs. If we don’t need it anymore, we sell it.
Samoans view land as a heritage. The land defines who they are and their roots. Relatives are buried in the front of their land to mark their right to it. Money is sent from relatives overseas to maintain a family member for the sole purpose of securing their heritage to the land. How the land is used , if at all, is secondary to its symbolic significance.

We buy and sell our labor. It is how we are able to live in an industrialized society. We have time clocks and annual reviews to measure how much our time is worth.
Samoans don’t sell their labor. They give it. Monetary inducements have only a minimal motivational elect. When Samoans want to do something or are told to do something, they do it quickly and well. If they don’t want to do it, they generally don’t do it.

We view capital as money to be saved for future use or reinvested to earn even more capital.
Samoans generally don’t think in terms of capital. They may have pigs, cows, and fine mats, which are akin to their concept of capital. These may be given away as part of a fa’alavelave, but have limited monetary value. Hoarding or saving money is almost an anathema. Money is to be shared, used for an immediate expense. Or given to the church in return for God’s grace.

As all abridged versions of life, the above is a gross generalization and may not reflect the views of anyone else. But, it is the way it is.

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