Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Competition is egalitarian

We can easily intellectualize the connection between competition and equality? Yet in our heart of hearts we value hierarchy? And we’re not alone. Many Eastern Europeans migrated to the West only to return – it’s just not the kind of culture we’re comfortable with. ‘It’s the quality of life, stupid!’ [Who would not want to be chauffeured around by Stefan or Stani or Hristo?] And now the new world order demands competition? “Better collect and hide the ID cards of our grandparents – so they can’t vote – and save the country.” It’s the running joke heard from Eastern Europeans. Their elders despite the dark ages they went through under communist rule could not imagine themselves in a world that demanded competition.

It is not surprising that people who see themselves within a hierarchy but not the leadership would behave as such: “You have to tell me what I must do. When you tell me to jump, I want to know how high!” It’s one of the unfortunate characteristics of hierarchy. The reality is competition, which is what the 21st century is about, presupposes that nations would see themselves paddling their own canoe. But we commiserate with relatives living in the West: “Our quality of life is much better and more desirable that yours!” Eastern Europeans feel the same way, and they are horrified when they watch German TV, for instance, and hear that 18-year olds are expected to be on their own!

It is encouraging that we are in serious studies figuring out the resolutions of nagging challenges – from electricity to mining to car manufacturing to name just a few. Yet, the fact that for practically half a century we were growing at a pathetic 1.4% would explain why we’re still troubled by these problems – especially when neighbors did as much as 6%! It’s painful but we have to face up to this sad reality! By German standards, we’re way pass being an 18-year old! And even Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden – expected to be on their own!

For almost half a century we were proudly tooting our quality of life! But what is even more frightening is if we’re still in la-la land – and don’t recognize the 18-year old rule? Which means that another half a century can elapse and we would still be blaming everyone and his uncle instead of paddling our own canoe?

It is no secret what created the West – i.e., the Protestant or Christian work ethic! Of course as the world now knows, they have forgotten the reason behind Thanksgiving, i.e., to be grateful for the fruit of their labor. Like the Golden Calf, the fruit became the be all and end all – the virtue of hard work was supplanted by the “value” of avarice.

But that does not give us license to be ‘holier-than-thou?’ In fairness, the West took the parable of the talents seriously? But did the church fail us or are we simply the referenced ‘not good soil?’ In fairness too, we have been doggedly addressing the elements of our dismal competitiveness rankings. But our competitiveness rankings simply reflect the outcomes of our economic, industrial, political, education, social and other institutional efforts. Put another way, they are a reflection of our values and our culture. And as long as we take our values and culture for granted – that they are in fact hard and fast and are a given – we would not be able to reinvent ourselves. Half a century of pathetic economic and human development simply points to the imperative: to reinvent Juan de la Cruz?

But what are we talking about – same old, same old? With our meager GDP person and no sustainable economic engine, we are back to our comfort zone – local consumption! We have grown the local economy to over $100 billion – comparably better than our neighbors – principally owing to OFW remittances. Unsurprisingly our basic industries (the favorite of oligarchy given that their bare bones equate to rent-seeking) will continue to prosper and reinforce our lopsided economy while Juan de la Cruz goes hungry! Aren’t we supposed to be smarter than that?

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