Monday, August 1, 2011

The common good . . .

It is undermined in societies infused in hierarchy and parochialism, and characterized by oligarchy – as experienced by many developing countries. Unsurprisingly, the phenomenon has been examined and incorporated into a body of knowledge by economists – e.g., Dani Rodrik of Harvard University, and cited by Dennis Botman, IMF resident representative for the Philippines.

. . . Greater trust could lead to improved governance,” writes Dennis Botman, Business World, Jul 12th, “ . . . by creating greater accountability and less political polarization and stimulating reform momentum by reducing catering to vested interests . . . Trust is associated with less corruption . . . Countries with high levels of trust have grown faster in recent decades than other comparable countries . . . The standard trust indicator that is used is the proportion of a population that answers yes to the question: “In general, do you think that most people can be trusted, or can’t you be too careful?”

In the Philippines the vast majority suggests that one “can’t be too careful” (93%) compared to the average of the 84 advanced, emerging, and developing countries surveyed of 70% being less trustworthy . . . More equal societies have greater social trust and that these are mutually reinforcing . . . Equality promotes the vision of a shared fate, where others are part of your “moral community.” In contrast, in an unequal world, people will be reluctant to take risks in dealing with people who might be different from themselves. They will press for closed markets and work within their own sub cultures-and will tolerate corruption . . . Thankfully, reducing inequality and strengthening education are key pillars of President Aquino’s social contract with the Filipino people, which augers well for rebuilding social trust and economic growth in the period ahead.”

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Is the ‘señora’ the cause of the ‘majordoma’s’ (or the driver’s) egregious behavior or is it the other way around? With friends – from the expat community – enjoying the breezy veranda in the country club (in one of our gated communities), the writer and wife hear an earful. “Corruption seems to appear at every level: from non-seniors presenting senior-citizen cards to filing suits heard by ‘friendly judges’ to holding vital machinery at the Customs until the palm is greased, among others. And so inefficiency (and poor customer service) even in high-profile, technology-based businesses is to be expected.” Separately, over lunch in Fort Bonifacio, the writer is told: “Since the time of Marcos, we seem to have elevated ‘dummy capitalism’ to an art form!” [And Ernesto M. Maceda writes, PhilStar, Jul 19th, “Yes, it can be accurately claimed that the whole government was plundered,” enumerating 13 instances of alleged plunder.]

Sensing an opportunity to get back to the sumptuous meal, the writer tells the restaurant owner that the ‘pork sinigang’ is to die for! And he promises to come again, and is told they would open another outlet in one of Makati’s desirable residential complexes. And in these circles, poverty is invisible? Decades ago, the writer then based in Manila, had his eyes opened by visiting friends: “Nation-building is an uphill battle when poverty is invisible – and when people are able to shut out the inefficiencies creeping into a life of supposed luxury.”

Does the ‘common good’ appear, but rather vaguely, in our horizon? And it brings to mind the writer’s Eastern European friends: “We’ve lived through so much frustration that we’d simply accept things as they come – like fate!” And it leaves a bad taste in the mouth as visitors and investors, especially – who swear to their love of the Philippines – watch the horrors inherent in our ‘uncompetitive business environment’. And so we wonder why despite our best efforts – e.g., GK, ‘Go Negosyo’, CITEM, BPO’s, etc. – we remain economic laggards?

The writer is with an educator and they’re discussing a graduate course re human behavior in organization: If major enterprises, say, 200 of the country’s top 1,000 corporations, can take the lead and follow the example of MAP – in monitoring President Aquino’s fight against corruption – while driving integrity and competitiveness within their respective organizations, we should be able to make some baby steps in search of the common good?

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