Georgia faces unique difficulties—namely, how to bridge the gap between decades of “Communist” rule and present-day demands for an internationally oriented, capitalist world order. While its extremely problematic to switch from an aging, broken leftist system to one of free market enterprise, most NIS nations, including Georgia, have tried to make the change.
Here, as elsewhere across the former Soviet Union, these efforts have met with rising unemployment, increased poverty, ethnic strife (Ossetia, Abkhazia) and lack of access to basic services, like medical care and consistent electricity. Such results perhaps indicate that Georgia’s current policies don’t best address the needs of its people.
In 1991, a newly independent Georgia rushed to ally itself with Western superpowers. The aid money, military protection, international prestige and potential business advantages implicit in such relationships held great sway with a government trying to develop its economy and distance itself from Russia. Countries like the United States were similarly interested in forging Georgian partnerships. Between Russia and the Middle East, Georgia was of great strategic importance. It represented new markets for American and European-based business conglomerates, and was a boon for oil companies.
Targeted towards increased “democratic participation
‘ and minimized business barriers, U.S. and European aid packages seem admirable. Yet their promotion of Western values and institutions in a Caucasian nation facilitates not popular economic development or independence, but the entry of foreign-based business enterprise to the Georgian economy. Georgia’s recently promulgated constitution, laws protecting foreign investment, and even increased attention to the very Western idea of human rights (evidenced by the proliferation of advocacy groups) reflect its acquiescence to this orientation; eager to reap the benefits of Western ties, the Georgian government mortgages itself to outside interests. International corporations in turn make inroads into Georgian markets, peddling everything from soft drinks to cars and computers.
While generating some degree of employment and capital, foreign presence in Georgian commerce is in several respects detrimental. The dearth of domestic Georgian industry allows international corporations to operate in a vacuum, dictating prices, consumption patterns, and, to a certain extent, values. Their monopolization of the market discourages others from starting Georgian-based enterprises, while their American and European-based investments simultaneously channel profits away from Caucasus communities.
While newly written Georgian laws encourage indigenous business ventures, capital and precedent are lacking. Legislation and democracy- or foreign industry-directed dollars can’t jump start an economy without first laying basic building blocks. Georgia’s many and varied resources, highly educated population, savvy foreign connections and experience with different political models are keys to this endeavor.
Georgian-generated capital can best promote national stability and prosperity. Increased customs duties (like airport entry and departure fees for non-citizens), income taxes (levied on the wealthiest Georgians), land rentals (leasing territory for military purposes, scientific study, etc.) and transit fees (for pipeline oil) would domestically generate workable income. This in turn could foster industry (like mining, or mineral extraction and export) and business enterprises (wine, water, bread and cheese exports, regional tourist ventures, etc.). Government incentives (like free generators for tax-paying hoteliers) would speed the process. Promotional activities, like hosting international sports events, festivals or competitions, and encouraging foreign exchanges would produce additional income and worldwide prestige for all of Georgia.
Nationally run interests are best situated to help Georgia. The employment, domestically invested profits and important products they provide fuel the economy, reduce international dependency and increase at-home stability. Such effects are passed to Georgians, whose increased job prospects, security, and material clout will reflect benefits unattainable through foreign corporations and a government excessively tuned to them.