Friday, August 12, 2011

The human spirit gone astray

Humans can call upon the human spirit, raise their ‘pain threshold’ and accomplish super-human feats! But when vested interests are able to mask reality, the human spirit goes astray? Washington clearly could not raise its pain threshold given the compromise they struck on the debt ceiling. It’s not rocket science that reducing entitlements – i.e., Medicare and Social Security – and raising revenues – i.e., taxes – were required to drastically cut US deficits. Washington needed to step up to the plate: make the tough call, i.e., take the savings where they must and step up spending where it made sense to fuel the economy. The private sector does it all the time – and thus calling upon the human spirit becomes second nature! Put another way, innovation and competitiveness are learned by doing. And Pacquiao knows it better than most – while politician Harry Reid who befriended him missed the doing piece!

Politicians have very little capacity for pain – because the pain, especially when shared by voters, would be disastrous to a politician’s electability. And which explains why only half, if not less, of American voters exercise their right to vote. In the meantime, over 15% of Americans get by only because of food stamps. It’s a catch 22: Americans remain in denial unable to accept that cherished entitlements are no longer affordable – while unwittingly keeping the economy anemic for the foreseeable future. Unsurprisingly, S&P lowered the US debt rating! In the meantime, the Democrats believe that the object of the opposition is to make Obama a one-term president. The bad news is with Europe also in economic limbo, the global economy will remain feeble – and most likely bedevil also the next US administration, even if it’s Republican. China, as the next largest economy, thus needs to play a global leadership role but they’re new in the game – and they have their own concerns, i.e., how to spread wealth more equitably especially with inflation rearing its ugly head, and as they rely on the local economy to take up the slack from a weak global demand. Not surprising, US legislators are calling for a halt in aid to China – i.e., China today is still a US-aid recipient.

Asia remains the silver lining but unlike Europe with long-established institutions, Asia is characterized by sub-optimization – i.e., its culture of ‘relationship first’ (as opposed to the ideals of meritocracy) undermines the strengthening of institutions. We are well aware of this phenomenon and which is why President Aquino remains steadfast against the ‘wang-wang’ culture? Yet nation-building demands more!

Indeed relationships (beyond their role in human existence) are at the core of human endeavors – which the writer experienced first-hand covering the region for a decade, i.e., his being Asian opened doors. But there is a line that cannot be crossed especially when the personal means turning one’s back to principle. For instance, delivering bad news is always a discomfort but that is why there is such a thing as leadership. Unfortunately, the desire to be liked could undo leadership. Why can’t we get basic initiatives right even when much has been embarrassingly reported about our failings in governance and competitiveness, for instance? And the manifestations are for all to see – e.g., it’s the 21st century and our infrastructure remains underdeveloped, for example? And to add insult to injury, corruption throws us farther back – e.g., how many more major infrastructure projects do we have to abort before we realize why foreign investors aren’t coming?

We would not be accepting of the string of 'loose ends' before us if it would stereo-type us as one exotic Pacific archipelago – and thus would seek closure instead? But does the comfort that comes with our hierarchical structure give the impulse that the way forward is through Christian charity instead of economic development? Unwittingly, it is reinforcing of an economy that is skewed to benefit a few? For so long as our economy is driven by OFW remittances, industries would be rewarded (even handsomely, according to Forbes) for responding to their consumption needs? And that would undermine (a.k.a. 'Dutch disease') our capacity as a nation to gear up and advance in technology, innovation and competitiveness – thus the prospect of rising poverty – especially as the global competitive hurdle is raised even higher by harder economic times?

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