Friday, January 20, 2012

With due respect

President Arroyo did not mind sounding condescending in indicting a former student for supposedly mishandling the economy. But that is par for the course in our hierarchical culture? The teachers of Gates and Jobs wouldn’t even dare – question their opting to be college dropouts? With due respect to economists – which no doubt gives Mrs. Arroyo the confidence to sound as she sounded – we should be looking forward to our ‘nirvana’: to be a developed nation! As international agencies have confirmed, it would take over a generation to get there. But that is where we must be! HSBC also confirmed that it would take 38 years to get there. But it is not going to happen with Juan de la Cruz doing more of the same! Not with Juan Tamad waiting for the guava to drop!

Critics of President Aquino [Disclosure: the writer doesn’t know him nor has met him] are out in full force following the deceleration in government spending in 2011, and pointing to the higher GDP growth rates during the time of President Arroyo. It is reported that with the concerns raised in government audit reports especially covering major infrastructure projects, the administration, as part of its campaign against corruption, was in the process of correcting the protocols for these projects. In any case, if we are to truly be concerned, it is that we sorely lack the building blocks of an economy: adequate power supply at competitive rates, basic infrastructure and strategic industries – and where these industries deliver the biggest bang for the buck; that they are globally competitive because their products are preferred by target customers.

Put another way, development is not about exports per se – which we struggle to appreciate – but the ability of a nation to create higher value-added products because it is forward-thinking, productive, and an efficiently functioning economy. Thus it demands the ability to assemble and orchestrate the requisite dynamic amongst investment, technology, innovation and the development of talent, products and markets. Is the 21st century in our consciousness yet? Or is our parochialism so overpowering? Are we still wedded to the old where development is founded on 'comparative advantage' – i.e., what is inherent – when the challenge has been elevated to 'competitive advantage – i.e., what is created?

The more intriguing point from Mrs. Arroyo is the slanted reference to the issue of corruption. Is it another way of saying “Why are we being prosecuted?” Have we, Filipinos, finally realized that enough is enough? If President Aquino commands favorable ratings it is because people support his doggedness in fighting corruption. We’re proud of our faith and if indeed we are, corruption is something we must not tolerate!

The 10 million OFWs – specifically their $20+/- billion in remittances – are the ones keeping us afloat. And the fact that we did not suffer simultaneously the 2008/09 recession with our neighbors is simply because we are out of sync and out of step with the 21st century – a non-entity! And so it is not even to be proud about – it means we are simply sinking deeper into our Dutch disease that is unsustainable, and won’t lift us up economically! Einstein said it best: “Insanity is doing the exact same thing yet expecting a different outcome!”

What is worrisome, given decades of mediocre economic performance, is if our psyche has lost the ‘vision thing,’ and thus oblivious that we should be looking forward to our ‘nirvana’: to be a developed nation! There are winners and there are losers and it is critical that we move from being losers to being winners! While leadership is indispensable, we all have a stake in moving the Philippines forward! German-born social psychologist Kurt Lewin postulates that change demands unlearning or unfreezing a group’s strongly held beliefs in order to make room for new learning or change, and then to refreeze. Until a nation does, it would be improbable for them to objectively figure out what factors would help or hinder efforts to move forward.

Every young person would remember being asked: what would you want to be when you grow up? And the young person would then figure out how he or she would pursue that vision. The good thing with young people is they don’t carry a baggage. And so we say ignorance is bliss – even condescending?

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