Thursday, April 19, 2012

To be best in class: an Easter wish

There is a clear chasm between our value system and the realities of the 21st century? The writer understands and cherishes the goodies that come with hierarchy and thus sees why it is the albatross around our neck. As behavioral economists have quantified, the fear of loss overpowers the potential for gain. Simply, many in the upper tiers of society won’t consider undoing our way of life. And what makes it a harder nut to crack is we take it as a matter of national pride – as when it is defined as respect for elders, and thus demanded by our faith, for example.

And unwittingly reinforcing our defense mechanism, we have successfully pointed to the failings of others instead of addressing our shortcomings. And given that objectivity is not a nation’s strongest suit, its problem-solving perspective is suspect. And that is not unique to us. Individuals develop intuitions that become the model in their problem-solving, which may not necessarily pass the test of rationality. And again, behavioral economists have developed a body of knowledge to make the conclusion. And managers involved in hiring and firing can readily relate to it.

And thus it is not surprising that the bishops call ours a ‘split-level Christianity.’ Hierarchy and the aristocracy that defined old Europe, for example, was supposed to have been supplanted by Christianity and its mandate of equality. And Christian equality would then find expression in the democratic system. Unsurprisingly, the Americans have defined their democratic experiment accordingly. Equally unsurprising are the yardsticks embraced by the global community to measure human progress and development. Their object: an egalitarian community. Sadly, we rank poorly. Beyond intellectualizing these yardsticks we need to recognize the spirit behind them. Talk – like "inclusive" – is cheap!

Nature- or God-given gifts are meant to be used for good. Simply, an egalitarian community is founded on meritocracy, not aristocracy. It is the 21st century and yet we acquiesce if not celebrate an economy dominated by half-a-dozen entities. That is not only so yesterday . . . it is so ancient! That backwardness explains why we struggle to even have a prayer and turn the Philippines into a competitive economy! Simply, hierarchy is the albatross around our neck. Whatever gifts we have must be instruments of good. Instead of a sprinkling of concerned citizens championing an open economy – or in removing the restrictive provisions of our Constitution – those of us blessed with these gifts especially those who effectively control the economy must be the ones doing the championing. In addition, we must recognize that our mindset is yet to be geared to development characterized by competitiveness and innovation.

Outsiders, especially development thinkers, have noted that our large enterprises see growth through making deals – or expansion via unrelated acquisitions or simply muscle-flexing instead of innovation and true value-creation – and within organizations there is the lack of curiosity and inquisitiveness. Ergo: we have been awarded the least patents in the region. As the writer has witnessed in Eastern Europe, the Communist hierarchy had robbed them of the sense of community and worse, the value of progress and development; and survival has become the ethos. Their hurdle – which also applies to us? – is to nurture young people, educate them in outside-the-box-thinking, school them in innovation and give them challenging responsibility early.

And outside-the-box-thinking means more than the Central Bank governor – as well as the rest of us – encouraging our OFWs to invest? It does not address the structural weaknesses of our economy. The fiscal health that we proudly claim applies more to a developed nation than an underdeveloped economy like ours. It can keep a functioning economy going benefiting its participants – unfortunately narrow in an underdeveloped economy – thus it doesn’t address the reality that while the world has drastically reduced poverty, ours remain high. The pie, as President Ramos has repeatedly said, is simply too small. The $20 billion that our OFWs bring in is already a major element in the generation of our economic output. And at a GDP per capita of $3500, we are simply doing the equivalent of a tenth that of developed economies. Indeed, the pie is too small.

What we want is to be like an Ateneo or a La Salle basketball team. And that means getting the fundamentals – i.e., power generation, basic infrastructure and a handful of strategic industries – and the mindset right – i.e., geared to be competitive by innovation – and be like winners, not a cellar-dweller.

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