The Christmas Spirit Revisited

Editor’s Note: This article is inspired by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s vision for Kazakhstan, as discussed in his recent interview with It explores economic policies and societal changes in the context of his ambitions for economic transformation. The piece reflects on the challenges and strategies of implementing these reforms.

Christmas in England is a time for those of faith to reflect on the birth of Jesus, and for others to enjoy the togetherness of family. It is also, typically, a time for family fights over turkey and all the trimmings: A meal reinforcing the magnetic principle that at a certain point, attraction turns to repulsion.

Photo credit: Pixabay/Boztay Akimkhan.

My fight came on Boxing Day, not named after the pugilism of the festive period, but after the boxes given by the gentry to their servants as they returned to their homes for St. Stephen’s Day.

Professor Mark Beer OBE.

At lunch we debated the triumvirate – Brexit, Covid and Immigration. The Farage ‘phree, to those in the know.

My brother-in-law, a person who has only ever worked in the institutions of government, and who makes Lenin look right-wing, argued that Society can have open immigration and a welfare state. I asked how a nation can have open borders and universal entitlements such as free healthcare, public tertiary education, housing, etc., etc. In short, how could such a nation ‘balance its books’?

‘Ah ha’ came the response. ‘Balancing the books is a Western construct’ and not a universal principle. 

‘A Western construct?’ I quizzed? ‘What??!!.’ At this stage, the table had gone quiet and I anticipated a carefully placed kick in the shins from my wife. But none came. I suspect her foot was sore from the preceding days’ lunch conversations.

So, does the West balance its books?

Reagan said in 1981 “Government has only two ways of getting money other than raising taxes. It can go into the money market and borrow, competing with its own citizens and driving up interest rates… or it can print money… Both methods are inflationary.”

He, as well as Nobel Prize-winning economist and liberty advocate Milton Friedman, would be turning in their graves if they saw the way that major Western economies have not only increased tax burdens to the highest for 70 years (like the UK) but also borrowed to the highest levels in history, with US National Debt now over $33 trillion, and printing money like confetti ($5.2 trillion printed in the US for Covid, and a quadrupling of money supply to $20 trillion in recent years). And don’t get me started in the EU…

Indeed, rather than ‘balancing the books’ being a Western construct, it appears to be one abandoned by the West and adopted by the East, with China barely increasing money supply.

So, coming back to the discussion over lunch – should a country balance its books? Should it run its economy conservatively, rather like a business. With expenses correlating to income. Cutting its cloth according to its means, and rewarding productivity, efficiency and contribution?

Or should a Government run an economy on the never never? Extend and pretend that debt taken out, and money printed, today will not have a negative impact in the future?

My brother-in-law has lived through a period in which the global debt collector has never knocked on the door. To his mind the best way to deal with declining productivity and income is to print money and borrow more – what gamblers call the ‘double down’ strategy. Indeed, when my six-year-old son is told he can’t have something, he suggests we visit the machine in the wall that hands out money – one day he may become Chancellor. To many of us, this myth of the economic miracle is a madness that is set to crush generations to come, inflating value out of the economy, denying opportunities and taking away citizens’ hopes that their children will have a better future.

I was therefore pleased to read in President Tokayev’s January interview with of his desire to move to a new economic model and to double Kazakhstan’s gross domestic product by 2029. He spoke, as he did in his September 1st address to the nation, of the need for economic self-sufficiency and diversification. He has also spoken of the need to address the crushing debt load on many Kazakh citizens, something which will require careful State intervention.

All that the President said in his January interview makes sense, both domestically and internationally. It is a clear, logical and astute blueprint for the evolution of Kazakhstan. Bringing stability and a better life to all, not just the few. But what are the challenges to the fulfillment of the President’s wishes?

They do not lie in the vision of its Head of State: He is recognized worldwide for his strength, poise and diplomacy. He shows compassion when deserved, and strength when needed. He has the vision, and the ability to design the pathways towards achieving the vision.

Instead, commentators have suggested that the challenge Kazakhstan faces is the ability of its Government to implement that vision and to do so at pace.

This was as much a problem for the first President and his 100 Concrete Steps, as it is for President Tokayev’s ‘new economic model.’

Such a situation is not unfamiliar. Just look at what Lee Kuan Yew needed to do to get his Government to deliver on his vision, or Mohammed Bin Rashid in Dubai. Indeed, his line that “The world belongs to those who can imagine it, design it and execute it” is as true for Kazakhstan as it was for Dubai. And I take the point that Dubai is not a democracy, but is Kazakhstan any more a democracy than Singapore?

As John Donne wrote ‘No man is an island’, and no President can execute on his or her vision without surrounding themselves with people that can, above all, deliver. Kazakhstan’s success, and that of its citizens and residents, lies not in the ability of the President to envision the future, but rather on the ability of his team to deliver that vision.

Just as the UN Secretary General has said “The United Nations must focus on delivery rather than process and on people rather than bureaucracy.” I hope that the New Year’s Resolution of every Minister in Kazakhstan is to do the same, and to build a better future for all citizens. 

The author is Professor Mark Beer OBE, the chairman of the Metis Institute, which advises governments on the implementation of legal and judicial reforms that promote citizen-centricity. He is also co-founder of Seven Pillars Law in Kazakhstan, a visiting fellow at Oxford University, a visiting professor at Shanghai University for Political Science and Law and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Expert Network.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Astana Times. 

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