Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Beyond “inclusive”

Inclusive, like the Sunday collection, can’t simply be a token? Or dictated by political correctness? Modern-day buzzwords have become part of our lexicon and saw how we would throw around Millennium Development Goals or MDGs, for example, or Sustainable Development? What we don’t want is to be callous that could come with consistently missing these yardsticks? Where will the desire for self-improvement come from? And as the Greeks learned the hard way, the vacuum would attract leaders that will pander to the people – until the nation becomes ungovernable! For example, we like to talk about Binay; is he a reformer or a panderer? And given we Pinoys like ‘tsismis,’ many Fil-Ams have expressed concern (similar to the ‘tsimis’ that circulated about Villar before) about his rags-to-riches story. But they also believe in redemption – is he one to be believed in?

We’re 50 years behind in economic development. And the writer remembers the first time he and the wife flew in to Eastern Europe (i.e., Sofia, Bulgaria) on business. [Early on the family visited China and Eastern Europe on holiday.] And it was a dreary afternoon with the first snowfall of the season coming down as their plane was taxiing to the gate. And the decades of Soviet rule palpable from the dilapidated structures that dotted the way to the terminal building. It was the pits! But the writer had responded to the call for volunteerism following 9/11; and one month was all he was giving what he then thought was an adventure. And that was just ten years ago. “How could these people build a modern airport while we can’t”? The wife wondered aloud as they were waiting for their flight, traveling back to New York recently. [We like blaming others except ourselves and consequently we’re half a century behind in development?]

They squandered 20 years transitioning to democracy. We’ve squandered over 20 years since People Power. They still have corruption and organized crime (and against which the prime minister is waging war with help – i.e., resources and expertise – from the EU) but they have participated in and tapped what the world has to offer. Their showcase office/residence park is a German investment; and the individual who headed the local subsidiary is today the country’s president. And his challenge is to replicate the success of the project in the country’s infrastructure program – and the EU is behind the efforts too. They saw how Hong Kong and Singapore employed taxation to attract foreign investments and so they set their income tax rate at a flat 10%.

And as the locals would share with the writer: “Before it was all about mother Russia that we saw on government TV, but today the prime minister is fighting Russian oil interests – to ensure they pay the correct taxes – and even the Russian-sponsored green field nuclear facility; because there is a more cost-effective option, i.e., expanding the capacity of an existing facility. And we see more US personalities on TV, including the US ambassador. And those brands – from food to technology – that we only associated with the West have made investments here.” There is not much parochial thinking there? To them inclusive is not about livelihood projects but pursuing economic development, based on an open economy. They know what a closed economy brought them over decades. Of course, the older folks find the loss of their daily ration of bread and vegetables from their communist rulers disconcerting. But the younger set has effectively taken over.

The writer still remembers the decade he covered Asia. And these Eastern Europeans clearly are following the Asian template. But we Filipinos are still debating whether Lee Kuan Yew or Mahathir is right or wrong? We want to replicate our last 50 years? Because that is what Philippine-style democracy and economic development is about? If a tiny country with less than 10% our population can generate almost twice in foreign direct investments or > $25 billion more, what do we call our efforts – a reflection of our cacique culture? How can we expect to be “inclusive” when we know full well that we don’t have the requisite levels of investment and technology? More to the point, “inclusive” comes from an open economy – until then, we’re simply paying lip service? "Within groups selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals . . . Individual selection promoted sin, while group selection promoted virtue," writes Edward O. Wilson, professor emeritus, Harvard University; Evolution and our inner conflict, NY Times, 24th Jun 2012.

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