Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Climbing out of grief: the five stages

“The stages of grief are universal . . . The key to understanding the stages is not to feel like you must go through every one of them, in precise order. Instead, it's more helpful to look at them as guides . . . to help you understand and put into context where you are: (1) Denial and isolation; (2) Anger; (3) Bargaining; (4) Depression; (5) Acceptance.”[psychcentral.com]
Grief is not confined to families; in the private sector, enterprises that find themselves unable to sustain their undertakings likewise experience grief – and why, for example, they would pursue restructuring. And even nations do; it is how they deal with grief that matters. For instance, Vietnam needed help during the Vietnam War – and PHL sent a contingent of engineers. Yet more recently, Vietnam's fundamental economic metrics are turning to look more promising than ours. And in the case of China, over thirty years ago, Deng Xiaoping begged the West: we need your wealth and technology if we are to lift our people from poverty.

Clearly, Deng demonstrated that he was not stuck in denial; and the nation's leaders mirrored the same mood of acceptance. They were hard bargainers but stayed true to their goal of embracing Western wealth and technology. And my old MNC regional team experienced it firsthand when we negotiated a couple of joint ventures in two different cities. To be sure, economies go in cycles, but China has already lifted tens of millions from poverty. Sadly, in PHL, as friends would explain in true Pinoy fashion, amid laughter over sumptuous dinner [and I’m paraphrasing but cutting out the expletives]: “Assuming foreigners introduced us to corruption, the reality is we enabled it by giving a wink and a nod while we got a piece of the action – and why elections even at the barangay level mean buying votes. While supposedly restricting them to Pinoys, we’ve sold our forests, our institutions, our laws and our future to the highest bidders. The evidence: look around, who own the pillars of the economy? Pinoys, but not only; call it Pinoy plus.”

And not surprisingly, we’re left with putting a good spin on our woes: PHL has a lot of money; we are not really underdeveloped; etc., etc.? To be able to move beyond denial, individuals have the option to see a shrink. A nation like China needed leadership and found it in Deng Xiaoping. Almost a year ago, the OECD came out with a report that was picked up by the local press: “PH seen still lagging behind peers.” [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24th Mar 2013.] “The Philippines is lagging behind most of the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in many economic and development indicators, and without sufficient improvement, it may be overtaken by the newer, less developed neighbors.”

And with ASEAN integration in front of us, events calling one and all to be prepared abound. But as officials of DTI have been saying, the sky will not fall in 2015 because tariffs have already been coming down over the last two decades. Still, we're like students cramming for the exams. What is reality? The sky may not fall but it really doesn't matter since Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have already dominated regional trade. And as though to stress the obvious, the OECD came out with the unflattering report.

“The major policy challenge the Philippine faces in its Medium-Term Development Plan is improving its infrastructure, access to education and development resources, and ensuring jobs for all. Both road transport and power are critical to a more closely integrated Philippine economy, helping to attract widely dispersed private-sector investment.”[Structural policy challenges - Philippines, Southeast Asian Economic Outlook 2013, OECD]

How straightforward is that? How could we not be all on the same page reading something we typically call “as clear as mud”? “Both road transport and power are critical to a more closely integrated Philippine economy, helping to attract widely dispersed private-sector investment.” Amen! Behind the criticalness of road transport and power is the reality that PHL lags in investment – which we can’t simply pay lip service to if we are not to be left behind by our neighbors and, as importantly, to narrow the gap between the elite class and Juan de la Cruz. Wrote Raul V, Fabella, Green shoots, Introspective, Business World, 9th Feb 2014: “Our investment rate (Capital formation over GDP) still stands at about 19% in 2013 in a region where 30% is normal.”

This blog constantly talks about the imperative of focus – but Juan de la Cruz can't focus on road transport and power, for instance, and the imperative of FDIs? Do we hope to be lucky because China is losing its luster? It is, but foreign investors have gone to Indonesia, for example. The evidence: Indonesia’s stock of foreign direct investment is now over 6 times more than ours. Will the turmoil in Thailand bring investors to us? We can keep our fingers crossed but that means we have yet to internalize nation building? Luck is always possible but nation building as our neighbors have demonstrated is more deliberate? See below re seven pillars of Western wisdom and how our neighbors figured out what enabled the West to succeed.

But we’re Christians, compassionate and proud of CCT? Yet we have no choice but pursue such a stop gap until we raise our average income? The problem with a habit is inertia . . . and stop gap becomes permanent? The evidence: OFWs and BPOs. And because they’ve kept our economy growing we have contracted our own “Dutch disease"? And it's classic Pinoy abilidad – and so we celebrate sub-optimized outcomes? And as my Bulgarian friends would say, “there is no total happiness in this country.” Until they would realize that even when perfection is not of this world, the future is for them to make. And when they look not that far back, they couldn't even imagine they were in the pits. What changed? For 8 years they were focused on margins. It was a struggle but the hurdles they had to overcome schooled them on the imperatives of the 21st century world. The moral of the story: no pain, no gain – that beyond investment, they had to be committed to technology and innovation as well as product, people and market development.

But we Pinoys are in the tropics and have the luxury of taking it easy, calling it “quality of life . . . to die for”? Hopefully, we’re coming around given the realities of ASEAN integration. Sometime ago, I posted the following: “A Singaporean scholar (Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the School of public policy at the National University of Singapore and former Singaporean ambassador to the UN, and author) argues that: “China (and most of Asia) has finally figured out the 7 pillars of Western wisdom, which enabled the West to succeed:

1.      Free market economics: the Chinese are deeply committed to free market economics, one reason why China (while still an autocratic regime) was very keen to join the WTO is because they believe that by complying with those standards it will become the most competitive economy in the world. (Russia felt the WTO rules were an imposition on them; the Chinese believed they're a gift to them).
2.      Science and technology: Europe became dominant for centuries because it surged ahead in its mastery of science and tech. But if you extrapolate from what you see on campuses and colleges today, by 2010 70-90% of all new PhDs in science and engineering will be held by Asians.
3.      Meritocracy: why is Brazil a soccer superpower but economically a medium power? Because when it comes to soccer, they look everywhere, they search for the best players in cities as well as in slums; but when they look for economic talent, they only look to the upper or medium class. Asians have discovered that the millions of brains that were not used for centuries are now being used. In India, even the "untouchables" are being given education and are integrated into the economy, it's a silent revolution.
4.      Pragmatism: it's an ancient Western practice. Asians have become the best copycat nations in the world. As Deng Xiaoping said: "it doesn't matter if a cat is white or black, if it catches mice". In most of Asia, the ideological debates are left behind.
5.      Culture of peace: In the region where we saw the biggest war since WW2, the guns are now silent.  Asians have not got to the "zero prospect of war" that Europe has achieved, but it's moving in the right direction.
6.      Rule of law: the country that is producing the largest number of new laws in the world is China.
7.      Education: the hunger for education in Asia is phenomenal. In many ways, the gold standard for education now is being set by Asian countries, starting with Singapore.”

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