Sunday, April 15, 2012

The charade continues

Many years ago the writer was on the phone (the email was still unheard of) with a country manager (and was then covering Asia) and the elevated voice of the wife (unaware of the moment) got to his ear. “Must be time for your next chore, I could hear the better-half’s voice,” his amusement palpable. “It’s Tuesday night and I must not forget the recycling drill and get those colored bins out by the driveway.” In the Philippines we call country managers CEOs – and their regional bosses as approximating demigods? Walking the six blocks from the Grand Central Station (being train commuters, not chauffeured around like in Manila) to their headquarters, the writer was with the (former) Asia Pacific president who always enjoyed a dig: “Now you know what the real world is like,” followed by a big laugh! “Tell the folks back home that after the Philippines everything is downhill!” He was twice assigned to the Philippines, and had a daughter born in Manila. What a truism he had uttered; because today every Tuesday evening the writer still goes through the recycling drill!

The Philippines is a Shangri-la to expatriates. (And unsurprisingly the writer’s family keeps a home.) But Juan de la Cruz has to contend with controversies like: (a) “The Supreme Court awarded the 24-percent SMC shares to the government for the benefit of the country’s coconut farmers but in an April 12, 2011 decision, the high court gave Cojuangco the 20-percent block, saying the businessman was not a Marcos crony and that he did not use the levy funds to buy the shares.” [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 1st April]. And (b) “The power crisis sweeping Mindanao is not borne out of inept leadership, but one of conspiracy. Maybe President Aquino can fire all his officials headed by Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, but that would not solve the problem of power outage that last daily from four to eight hours. The problem is the result of strong lobby by the country’s top oligarchs to privatize the power plants that still remain in the hands of the National Power Corporation and to make sure all future power plants will firmly remain in their hands.” [Manila Standard Today, 30th March]. Privatization should have made the electric power sector more efficient but the only thing it accomplished was taking away the state subsidy on power rates . . . We practically guarantee the windfall profits of power generators and distributors because we pay for all their expenses and losses without us having any stake in their companies.” [Business Mirror, 2nd April]

Writes Thomas L. Friedman, NY Times, 31st March: “Co-authored by the M.I.T. economist Daron Acemoglu and the Harvard political scientist James A. Robinson, “Why Nations Fail” argues that the key differentiator between countries is “institutions.” Nations thrive when they develop “inclusive” political and economic institutions, and they fail when those institutions become “extractive” and concentrate power and opportunity in the hands of only a few . . . Inclusive economic institutions that enforce property rights, create a level playing field, and encourage investments in new technologies and skills are more conducive to economic growth than extractive economic institutions that are structured to extract resources from the many by the few,” they write.

Inclusive economic institutions, are in turn supported by, and support, inclusive political institutions,” which “distribute political power widely in a pluralistic manner and are able to achieve some amount of political centralization so as to establish law and order, the foundations of secure property rights, and an inclusive market economy.” Conversely, extractive political institutions that concentrate power in the hands of a few reinforce extractive economic institutions to hold power . . . Acemoglu explained in an interview that their core point is that countries thrive when they build political and economic institutions that “unleash,” empower and protect the full potential of each citizen to innovate, invest and develop.”

Why do the bishops call ours a ‘split-level Christianity’? And why have we become an economic laggard? Does our value system veer to the hierarchical aristocratic ancient world and not to the essence of humanity brought about by Christian humility and equality? And where morality is founded on liberty as opposed to nature – because humanity cannot be divided between the gifted and the less gifted? Thus it is about meritocracy not aristocracy, as postulated by contemporary French philosopher, Ferry Luc?

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