Saturday, May 31, 2014

History is to learn from, not an excuse

There was a recent column that pointed out that the Chinoys make up present-day Philippine oligarchy, no longer the brand-name families of old. [The realities of Philippine oligarchy, Ej Lopez, The Manila Times, 15th May 2014] Put another way, these Filipinos are not like many of us that have invoked history as a crutch instead of playing the cards we were dealt with?

Consider how history could conveniently be an excuse: “The history of Ottoman Bulgaria spans nearly 500 years, from the conquest by the Ottoman Empire . . . The Ottoman rule was a period marked by oppression and misgovernment and represents a deviation of Bulgaria's development as a Christian European state.” [Wikipedia]

“After World War II, Bulgaria became a Communist state, dominated by Todor Zhivkov for a period of 35 years. Bulgaria's economic advancement during the era came to an end in the 1980s, and the collapse of the Communist system in Eastern Europe marked a turning point for the country's development. A series of crises in the 1990s left much of Bulgaria's industry and agriculture in shambles . . .”  

That would confirm personal notes I took over ten years ago when I came to do development work in Bulgaria. Recalling the times I joined demonstrations as a student against ‘American imperialism’ (and would proudly hold a copy of Mao’s Red Book, but not actually reading it; I was a lazy student and didn’t truly read my textbooks) the opportunity was pretty intriguing. Ironically I was tapped because of my MNC background. The West, beyond monetary assistance, wanted to provide help in kind, as in showing the Bulgarians and the Romanians the ropes as their nations prepared for accession into the EU – and to compete with Western behemoths.

In PHL though, is it true that even our large enterprises would prefer government assistance – thus reinforcing and perpetuating our tradition of political patronage? Bulgaria today has former commissars (turned oligarchs) that took advantage of the transition to free market, yet the private sector while rallying and protesting against this reality acknowledges that they have been left with elbow room to develop private enterprise. And the Chinoys would say “ditto”?
In other words, we have to overcome “victimhood” – i.e., winners don’t feel, think, believe and behave like victims? And, as importantly, we have to learn to be forward-looking? With due respect to our economic managers, are we wondering why, for example, we seem to be among the least prepared for ASEAN integration?

As my wife would say it, “mahilig tayo sa libre” – we love freebees if we don’t seek it all the time? To overcome victimhood, governments must be committed to good governance and ours has been but – acknowledging though that President Aquino has made the world believe his leadership? Nonetheless, free enterprise presupposes personal initiative and it mustn’t be foreign to us given our faith, i.e., we were made into the image and likeness of The Creator – and driving Adam and Eve out of Eden has demonstrated man’s superiority over the rest of the animal kingdom? (Alms-giving to the less fortunate is another thing – for example, in the US they generate over $300 billion in charity funds; and while foreign aid has declined as a percentage of GDP, it is still substantial as we witnessed in Yolanda.)

This blog often talks about my development work in Eastern Europe and from the get-go they had to understand that the assistance from our group was in kind. For instance, if they would not respond to the new thinking brought to them, the efforts would fail.

In PHL, we’ve had similar efforts from the West yet after decades we Pinoys continue to be prone to dependency? Consider, with my Bulgarian friends, from a cottage industry eleven years ago, today they have seven modern manufacturing facilities. And the confidence to build even more comes from a commitment to develop globally competitive products. And Western private financial institutions realized how compelling their business model was and thus have pledged to support them. For example, they just set up their US subsidiary, and as a newcomer they’re experiencing firsthand the reality, the high costs of living and of doing business in this market. Yet, inherent in their value system is developing people, products and markets, and so they are absorbing these higher costs with no subsidy from their government or wherever – like the magnitude they have to spend behind [Madison Avenue’s] advertising agencies . . . on top of the sales force and retail-level promotional expenses they are incurring.

Why aren’t we in PHL competitive? Is it because among the first questions we want to ask is: where are the BOI incentives? When it should be: where is our commitment to globally competitive products – and which can only come from a commitment to investment, technology, innovation as well as people and market development? And, not surprisingly, we feel, think, believe and behave like victims?

But aren’t we proud of our capacity – especially technical – and intellect? “Technical knowledge is the sort of information that can be put in a recipe book in a cookbook. Practical knowledge is what the master chef actually knows: the skills, habits, intuitions and traditions of the craft. Practical knowledge exists only in use; it can be imparted but not taught. Technocrats and ideologues possess abstract technical knowledge and think that is all there is.” [David Brooks, Really good books; Rationalism in politics by Michael Oakeshott, The New York Times, 22nd May 2014]

Translation: we can analyze why we're not globally competitive and thus unable to attract foreign investment until we're blue in the face, but until we truly commit to good governance and rapidly pursue infrastructure development and dismantle oligopoly, we don't have a prayer or a ghost of a chance?

“We see vested interest masquerading as national interest. We should learn to distinguish between the two.” Ouch! That's from ADB's Stephen Groff at the World Economic Forum on East Asia summit. [Bettina Faye V. Roc, Better approaches said needed to address infrastructure gap, Business World, 23rd May 2014]

No comments:

Post a Comment