Saturday, March 3, 2012

Beyond intuition reason lies

To be fair, there are many positive things that we do; and for many years we’ve talked about our gray economy and our hardworking OFWs. And between them we proudly claimed that unlike our ‘export-dependent’ neighbors, we “performed better” in the face of the global recession. As Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman postulates in his book, ‘Thinking, fast and slow,’ perceptions like those are what he labels as ‘intuitive’ – as opposed to seriously considered ones which he describes as ‘rational.’ And the writer has talked about ‘the vital few’ (e.g., the Great Commandment and Pareto’s 80-20 rule) which has an inverse, ‘the trivial many.’

Since “it is more fun in the Philippines,” let’s go intuitive – and more on rational later. Just before the writer and wife’s periodic homecoming, the son-in-law was animatedly talking about Anthony Bourdain’s visit to the Philippines in 2008 that he saw on TV. And so the daughter, who was traveling to Bangkok, came to Manila and made lunch arrangements at ‘Bale Dutong’ (in Angeles), encouraged by how profusely Bourdain praised Claude Tayag’s (Filipino) cooking. The trek to Angeles and the almost 3-hour lunch (or degustation) was worth every bit of it. Mary Ann was in her elements and was as able in her commentaries – and quite entertaining – as her husband was with his cooking. Delight was in the faces of family and relatives alike; and the writer intoned that the marvelous experience could only be matched by his week in a French hotel in Africa, and where the chef ensured that guests would return because of how they were pampered. (Claude will represent the Philippines in the Memphis Festival in May via his culinary skills, with other aspects of Philippine culture that will be featured as well.)

On the same day, and with good reason to be fashionably late, the family also attended the engagement of a relative. And the pleasant surprise was that the bride-to-be, a lawyer who graduated from Ateneo, chose to pursue poverty-alleviation instead of a lucrative legal career. As the daughter quipped, “let’s leave it to our husbands to do the money-making.” She herself had left Wall Street after 8 years to be a volunteer teacher in a Manhattan charter school. And the writer, for his part, felt quite optimistic as a couple of friends shared how keen they were to pursue global competitiveness. And there were other news and stories – big and small – which gave a sense of comfort about our future.

The demand to be rational in problem-solving, however, can’t be swept under the carpet. The writer and wife were introduced to PF Chang’s in White Plains, New York many years ago, and it has become one of their favorites. Unfortunately, visiting the Alabang Town Center, they couldn’t believe that in what was once a parking area stood PF Chang’s. Tolerating such insult to injury reflects a lack of global competitive sense? We can't trumpet social responsibility while undermining our environment and thus our future – i.e., ‘impunity’ can apply beyond corruption in government? Writes David L. Balangue, “. . . The opinions [of the top minds in corporate Philippines] matter in that they can be more objective, unlike some radio, TV and newspaper commentators and reporters who are obviously paid lackeys,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17th Feb. On the other hand, what is Taiwan advertising? "Once [in]famous for its high levels of pollution, Kaoshiung has reinvented itself . . . the city center is now clean, modern, and it's bright spots exude an atmosphere that is fresh and youthful.”

And we all agree that “it’s more fun in the Philippines!” But try traveling between NAIA 1 and Resorts World, just a stone’s throw away. Sensible traffic management will enhance our environment thus global competitiveness! And so people couldn’t help notice how clueless a couple of cops were flagging vehicles along C-5 just before exiting towards White Plains, when they had turned a long stretch of the road into a virtual parking lot! And the Alabang-Zapote road remains a nightmare; not to mention Edsa – with the MRT barely a decent human option?

Competitiveness demands pragmatism, on top of our efforts to address our global comparative ratings. And rationality, beyond intuition that lifts our spirits, demands that we focus on the vital few – e.g., power generation, basic infrastructure and a handful of competitive strategic industries – because the “trivial many” (or our 'tingi' mentality) will only truly matter if these building blocks of the economy are in place and generating far greater economic output.

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