I have seen America’s future. It looks a lot like Hawaii.
The future includes internal travel restrictions—on Americans moving around inside their own country—never before thought possible, or even constitutional. Hawaii, an American state, had to decide if they accepted American me, much as a foreign country controls its borders and decides which outsiders may enter.
Despite my two vaccinations, Hawaii required a very specific $119 COVID test, which, after I clicked “Accept” several times, sent my DNA information to everyone buried in the Terms of Service. For them who don’t think good, today it’s a COVID test, tomorrow other criteria may be applied. Aloha!
The future includes restrictions that once in place never go away. After the health screening, when I finally got to the TSA bomb detecting set up at the airport, I felt nostalgic. Just like the good old days when we worried about Muslim terrorists instead of each other turning our planes into flying death tubes. It felt…quaint…to remove my shoes, all because some knucklehead failed to explode his shoe bomb and was subdued by other passengers 12 years ago. For old times’ sake I prepared mentally to subdue my cabin mates.
You encounter the future in Hawaii as soon as you clear the airport. The homeless population is up 12 percent on Oahu. Coming from NYC I am not surprised by the zombie armies, but these people live outside. You can’t escape them by surrendering control of the subway system. The Hawaiian homeless live in tents, some in gleefully third world shacks made of found materials, others in government-built shanties creatively called “tiny houses.”
Some create mini-Burning Man encampments in public parks. I’d like to say these resemble the migratory camps in Grapes of Wrath, but the Joad family could at least afford an old jalopy. The Joads were also headed to find work. These people are burrowed in, with laundry hanging out amid rats and bugs happily exploring the host-parasite relationship. Whether a homeless person will hassle you depends on which drug he favors, the kind that makes him aggressive and drool or the kind that makes him sleep standing up at the bus stop and drool.
The future is built around the homeless, literally. I was in the Kakaako area, once a warehouse district between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, now home to a dozen or more 40 story condos. They are built like fortresses against the homeless. Each tower sits on a pedestal with parking inside, such that the street face of many places is a four story wall. There is an entrance (with security) but in fact the “first floor” of apartments is already four floors above ground. The top of the pedestal usually features a pool and a kiddie play area, all safely out of reach from whatever ugly is going on down below.
If you look out the windows from the upper, most expensive floors, you can see the ocean and sand but not the now tiny homeless people. They become invisible if you’re rich enough. Don’t be offended or shocked—what did you think runaway economic inequality was going to end up doing to us? For most of the wealthy the issue isn’t confronting the reality of inequality, it is navigating the society it has created. Never mind stuff like those bars on park benches that make it impossible to lay down. The architects in Kakaako have stepped it up.
These heavily defended apartments run millions of dollars, with most owners either coming from the mainland U.S. or Asia. They will live a nice life. Most of them work remotely elsewhere, or own businesses elsewhere, which is good, because the future in Hawaii does not look sunny for the 99 percent below. Very little is made here. As steel left the Midwest in the late 20th century, so did Hawaii’s old agricultural economy. It became cheaper to grow food elsewhere, so the bulk of pineapple consumed in the United States now comes from Mexico, Central, and South America, same as steel now comes from China. Most of the few pineapple fields left in Hawaii are for tourists.
Hawaii’s future now depends on two industries: tourism and defense spending. Both are controlled by government.
Tourism once accounted for 24 percent of the state’s economy. The industry, however, currently does not exist in viable form due to over-zealous government-imposed COVID restrictions crushing arrivals down 75 percent. Imagine a government purposefully putting its people out of work, saying it is all for their own good.
That leaves unemployment Hawaii-wide at 24 percent, much more if you add in those who long ago gave up looking or are underemployed frying burgers. Will those restrictions ever recede? No one knows. When might things get better? No one knows. The decisions behind the “emergency proclamations” that control their lives are made in secret by the governor or “scientists” and are not subject to public debate or a state congressional vote.
Everyone knows Pearl Harbor, not only once a major tourist destination but also a part of direct Pentagon spending which pumps $7.2 billion into Hawaii’s economy, about 7.7 percent of the state’s GDP. Hawaii is second in the United States for the highest defense spending as a share of state GDP, and that’s just the overt stuff. Rumor has it the NSA has multiple facilities strewn around western Oahu with thousands of employees practicing their Chinese.
All those government personnel, uniformed or covert, do a lot of overt personal spending in the local economy, much as they do in the towns which ring American bases abroad. Everyone relies on local utilities, and bases need engineers, plumbers, electricians, and others. Many are local residents either directly employed by DOD or working as contractors. Even more than tourism, this sector of the economy is controlled by the government. At least they’re still working.
Another important sector of the Hawaiian economy is also government controlled, those who live entirely on public benefits. Benefits in Democrat-dominated Hawaii are the highest in the nation, an average of $49,175, and untaxed. For the last 9 years Hawaii spent more on public welfare benefits, about 20 percent of the state budget, then it did on education. More than one out 10 people in Hawaii get food stamps (SNAP), though the number is higher if you include free lunches at school and for the elderly. Fewer working people means fewer tax-paying people, so this is unsustainable into the future. Hawaii already vies with California for the nation’s highest state income tax.
The government in Hawaii also owns the land. The Federal government holds about 20 percent of everything, and the state of Hawaii owns some 50 percent of the rest. “Do Not Enter – U.S. Government Property” signs are everywhere if you take a drive out of town. There are also plenty of private roads and gated communities to separate the rich from the poor, but the prize goes to Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who owns almost the entire island of Lanai, serving as a gatekeeper inside another gatekeeper’s turf. For the rest of the people, homeownership rates in Hawaii are some of the lowest in the nation.
The good news (for some…) is in the future whites will be a minority race in all of America. They already are in Hawaii. Asians not including Native Hawaiians make up 37 percent of the population, with whites tagging in at 25 percent. Local government, (already some 55 percent of the jobs) is dominated by people of Japanese heritage. Japanese heritage people also have the highest percentage of homeownership, 70 percent.
The well-loved mainland concept of “people of color” fades quickly in Hawaii, with those Japanese-colored people a majority. And unlike in some minds, people in Hawaii are very aware the concept of “Asian” is racist as hell, and know the differences among the Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese. Things are such that Hawaii’s Caucasian Democratic Congressman Ed Case said he was an “Asian trapped in a white body” and meant it as, and was understood in Hawaii as, a good thing.
White supremacy has clearly been defeated here, though one is not sure BLM would be happy with how that actually worked out without them. On a personal note, I will say as a white-identifying minority I was well-treated by the police and others. I was not forced to wear one of those goofy shirts or add an apostrophe to words while in Hawai’i against my cultural mores, so there may be hope yet in the future after all.
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.