Making our own future economic path
There is an expression in development policy that there are advantages to coming late to market-based economic development. Recent economic development surges in non-Western nations such as Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia and India are given as examples. Modernization or economic development theory and policy is derived from the European and American experiences and economic history. Only in the last 50 years have most non-Western nations begun to participate in the emerging world market as market participants rather than subjects of Western colonial and economic domination.
The current era is one where many nations and cultures around the world are entering the world market system as entrepreneurs and owners of their own resources. The model for market-based economic development for non-Western nations is not the same as the U.S. and European experience. Rather, non-Western nations are in a position to respond to an emergent and increasingly intensive world market system, but with economic, cultural and political institutions that are not designed to manage Western views of private property, market economic ethics and separation of government, community and culture from economic organization.
Most, if not all, indigenous, or more generally non-Western, nations are confronted with a relatively competitive world market not of their own making. Non-Western, in particular indigenous, nations retain values, institutional relations, and non-market forms of economic organization and distribution that have little match with the cultural and institutional relations that have evolved in the Europe and the United States in support of national and international market systems. In the United States, the U.S. Constitution explicitly delegates to the federal government printing of money, regulation of a national market beyond the states and rules for international market participation.
What can we learn from this scenario of the development of a competitive world market? From an indigenous point of view, we may not agree that we are latecomers to economic self-sufficiency, which most nations enjoyed for thousands of years before European market expansion. Furthermore, the extension of nation-states and the world market has had much to do with the creation of economic dependency and marginalization now found throughout much of the indigenous Americas.
Only in recent years have American Indians begun to reclaim control over their own economic assets and recover the ability to make economic decisions and confront the demands of the market as individuals and communities. In the contemporary world, the market system is the main means of economic production and distribution, and American Indian communities need to choose how they are going to approach economic production and market participation.
The bad news may be that there are limited choices for recovering economic self-sufficiency outside of participation in national and international markets. The good news may be that indigenous peoples retain considerable continuity in culture, community organization and values that can inform choices that will use markets as a means to economic self-sufficiency that will avoid the dependency and economic marginalization of the past century, and provide an economic platform for renewed political and cultural autonomy. Market participation can be a means to indigenous cultural and national renewal, while market participation aimed primarily for private accumulation may be a road to assimilation. The emerging and increasingly free market system may provide increased opportunities to indigenous nations for regaining economic self-sufficiency and greater exercise of political and cultural autonomy.