Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Expectations, paternalism and oligarchy

Parochialism started us on the path of low expectations, nurtured by paternalism – thus reinforcing our cacique structure? And still our rites of passage scream hierarchy: gated communities, exclusive schools, proprietary country clubs, monopoly power – not to be proud of yet we are, i.e., hierarchy and abuse are two sides of the same coin?

Flying from Eastern Europe to Munich, the wife is next to an American. And as typical the conversation goes: ‘what brings you to this part of the world’? “Back in the States we think these are small, underdeveloped nations if not exactly in the dark ages; but in this particular case, they produce world-class arms that we in the defense industry need.” And then on the leg to Paris, a Frenchman in the energy business says he visits a subsidiary regularly: “They welcome us with open arms!”

While no longer as fit as 20 years ago when they last rode a bike, the writer and wife thought they could still handle a town in Normandy. About a dozen others felt similarly; and while most came from the US, there was a young Malaysian-Chinese who rode with the group. “I’m on a weekend holiday from Berlin, where we had acquired a German enterprise.” The writer assumed they were a typical Asian conglomerate. “We’re quite focused and intent on developing global competitiveness and industry leadership – which is why we acquired the same business in the West. I am the only Malaysian in the Berlin office. It’s amazing how a truly developed environment could be lulled into complacency. Their ways are consistent as a way of life, which is probably what is demanded by the surroundings, but to explore something more innovative does not come naturally.” Are they a straightforward lesson in ‘transparent competitiveness’ – as opposed to the Filipino bias for oligarchy? Valuing hierarchy is inconsistent with economic development, i.e., authentic development promotes an egalitarian ecosystem? Unsurprisingly, only one Filipino enterprise made it to the Forbes Asia’s Fab 50 or best publicly-traded companies?

How fast the world has changed! The writer spent a decade covering Malaysia and felt exactly as this Malaysian. “We can use help, if you could focus on Malaysia in the meantime,” intimated the general manager when the writer first visited. [At around that time, an employers’ group had visited Malaysia and told Marcos that the expanding road (rubberized, for a softer, more pleasant ride) network of Malaysia was something to behold. Is it any wonder that in the tropics simply providing the means to get from point A to point B would make them tops in tourism?] And the wife couldn’t help: “How far are we going to tolerate being left behind?” We’re so parochial that we’ve set our expectations so low – compared to the rest of the world – and expect to be nurtured by paternalistic leaders, unwittingly perpetuating our cacique structure?

We’re against an initiative if it demands sacrifice – because we’ve suffered for so long? ‘One step back, two steps forward?’ The bottom line: we would rather maintain the status quo, and yet wonder why we’re economic laggards? We never imagined we could be an industrial powerhouse to begin with – ‘we’re just the little brown brothers’? Our expectations were merely to be left alone, never mind if we’d run the country like hell? Our perspective hasn’t changed over generations and yet we expect a different outcome? ‘Insanity is doing the exact same thing yet expecting a different result,’ so says Einstein?

Arguably the Irish prime minister was over the top in his criticism of the Vatican: “With the church failing in its moral responsibility, we can’t allow them to have authority over our schools”! Eastern Europeans, Malaysians, the Irish . . . and everyone else . . . has moved on except Juan de la Cruz? Our dailies don’t say we’re from the dark ages, but neither do they say that we’re of the 21st century? There is dissonance in our perspective about an open economy attracting investments – as well as technology and innovation that in turn elevate a nation’s capacity in talent, product and market development? We’re still about a bias for local investment despite the glaring shortfall in our capability in technology and innovation? And even more fundamentally, we’re still about patrimony? If there is one island that has what we need – and can freely dig investments and competitiveness – we could be an island unto ourselves? And so man in order to survive learned to barter – even without the benefit of prior knowledge?

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