Sunday, February 17, 2013

Condescension and disrespect

The Communist propaganda that they had to live through in their previous life has made Eastern Europeans generally suspicious of authority even to the extent of preferring foreign ownership of media. And not surprising is the low expectations from and indifference to government they carry. "We don't expect government to be competent to provide our basic needs – like public services and public works, or even snow plowing." Because of their history of condescension they've in turn ceased to respect authority. Yet in the countries that have joined the EU, visible improvements are noticeable in major infrastructure, i.e., pan-European highway networks continue to be built as well as city-subway systems, for example; and in the soft elements like transparency and good governance through the introduction of the ombudsman program.

In the Philippines we didn’t have to swallow Communist propaganda, but have we picked up the art of the spin? It is expected of commentaries but has it migrated to news reporting and why alternative media like has come about? The human condition would explain why history repeats itself. For example, greed was behind the Great Depression and also the Great Recession, almost a century later. Professed patriotism that benefited the elite class was behind the emergence of communism in Europe that then spawned the Soviet empire. Today PHL is still faced with radical elements and communist adherents yet we take it for granted? There is a price for inequality. Nor is CCT or CSR equal to the task when the root of the problem manifested in widespread poverty is something more pernicious?

And so while media may report the good and the pretty, it appears that the rule of law has been but overturned by our culture of corruption. In fairness, great efforts are being expended by countless to right the many wrongs. Yet we can’t ignore the laws of physics: to counter a vicious force we have to tee up an equal if not a greater dynamic force. But we’re a patient and a compassionate culture – and thus a happy people? Or is denial a defense mechanism as in ignorance is bliss?

In more ways than one we mirror the seeming resignation of the Eastern Europeans to their plight as a people. Yet the more progressive of them couldn't miss the miracle that is Asia – like my Eastern European friends (in only 10 years) are deep into their efforts to partake of that miracle. And because their mental and business models are not about rent-seeking but rather competitiveness and innovation, their playing field is unhampered by parochial limitations. And in the process they've helped facilitate the development of support industries in their home country that in turn equipped them to compete beyond their shores.

That is not a unique model but replicates how Western MNCs have become global behemoths. In the Philippines we like to think "livelihood programs" and thus while the "one town one product" makes sense – instead of the old "flavor of the month" where everyone was in the "bangus" or shrimp or tilapia business – still, we have to move beyond and into understanding the bigger regional if not global market. And that means investing in the ecosystem: technology, innovation, talent or skill development as well as product and market development. That would entail developing support or industry clusters for strategic priority industries, not 50 but only a handful, the key being to attain expertise and thus global competitiveness.

Take coconut-derived products, as an example, how much investment are we committing to ensure that the supply side of the basic product is highly efficient, productive and sustainable? We have Philippine products in ethnic stores in the US and some of them have the potential to become “mainstream” if we think beyond targeting only Pinoys – and in manufacturing, beyond the model of electronics component outsourcing, for instance. And that means truly understanding the consumer as opposed to taking the posture of a contract manufacturer – which reinforces Third-World mentality. We're better than that?

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