“Libertad, libertad, libertad!” chanted thousands of Cubans as they stormed the streets, protesting for change. Libertad (freedom) is proclaimed by the masses as many Cubans yearn for both political and economic freedom. Only 400 miles southeast of Cuba is Haiti, a country that is also in turmoil. The poor economic conditions of its people followed by the assassination of its president have brought turbulence and unrest. As I watched the chaos unfold before my eyes, I realized that these are grim realities of the danger that can occur when economic progress is hindered. To make matters worse, the current pandemic has impeded economic progress for many developing countries by shifting policymaker’s attention to public health instead of economic growth.
If there’s one aspect of the pandemic that has affected the world uniformly, it is the heavy economic toll that many countries have suffered. While these disruptions are evident in all countries and know no borders, developing countries are hit the hardest. With limited resources, many developing countries are in shambles due to the destructive nature of the virus. Whether it is the exponential increase in cases, lockdowns, recessions, or, most importantly, the loss of individual lives, many developing countries struggle to overcome these challenges. This reality is an ever-present reason for people, especially Christians, to take action in economic development.
At its core, the reality of poverty is one that is clearly incompatible with the Christian faith. The Imago Dei, which sees mankind as formed in the image of the Creator is a view that believes in the worth of an individual. Thus, poverty and material deprivation disregard this notion. If humans are created as worthy of being, then they must be treated as so. With that said, economic development is not a choice, but rather a responsibility that Christians must fulfill.
The Summer Honors Program opened my eyes to various perspectives. Prior coming to this program, I knew that AEI was known to cultivate an open space for people of different backgrounds and ideological beliefs to exchange ideas. Led by Dr. Stephen Smith, an expert in economic development, we wrestled with many contemporary issues and approaches that would best bring about human flourishing.
Some of these conversations encompassed contemporary issues such as the role of the government, the existence of sweatshops and fair-trade goods, foreign aid, and even the environment. In all honesty, I came to these discussions hoping that there would be a one-size-fits-all solution that would solve all of the problems — but that is far from the truth. To my surprise, many of the discussions left all of us with greater awareness about the issues discussed, allowing us to realize that it is not so black and white after all. Dr. Smith states it best: there are “no ideal solutions, only tradeoffs”.
Some may see this as a reason to despair and avoid taking action, but that is wrong. The students in our cohort all had different opinions on a wide array of issues, but we all left the program with the same conviction. I was shocked to see that no matter how different we were, we all admitted the importance of economic development. I believe this is the lens through which the world must see economic development. Yes, people can disagree about which policies to take, but we must never forget that at the end of the day, we should all agree on developing countries.
Knowing the gravitas of this pressing matter, economic development is an important issue with far reaching effects. Events occurring in the two weeks after the program reinforced this belief. Seeing the conditions of Cuba and Haiti made me realize that the week we spent talking about economic development is not merely theory, but rather a reality. For these countries (and many others), the time for economic development is now.
Raymond Chahyadi is a recent graduate of Union University. He was a participant in the 2021 Summer Honors Program course “International Economic Development: Why Institutions Matter,” taught by Dr. Stephen Smith.