Thursday, June 26, 2014

Survival of the fittest . . .

We are against . . . and it sounds kind and compassionate? Or are we Pinoys unknowingly rationalizing our assumptions? For example, we don’t truly embrace free market because it is unkind to the weak? [60-40 ownership rule hit anew, Lenie Lectura, Business Mirror, 17th June 2014. British companies are seriously looking at pouring more money into the Philippines, provided the government will relax the restrictions on foreign ownership of companies in certain industries, the United Kingdom (UK) mission to Manila said.”] But if we push that as far as we can, what is reality? It is preserving the old order that was archaic, as in man didn’t know any better? And which was in fact the age of ‘survival of the fittest’?

Translation: The old order was hierarchical where the lion was king of the jungle. In more modern times they were the fat cats and in old Russia they were the tsars who in reality were beholden to a bigger monster, oligarchy? But nature compensates; for example, oligarchy thrived in cacique cultures creating a mirage of an equilibrium courtesy of paternalism – and thus explains the longevity of oligarchy?

Is that one way of capturing the reality of PHL? But there is another element that has contributed to our archaic model? And it’s no other than the church? And it precisely has successfully mirrored a mirage of equilibrium courtesy of compassion to the poor and the weak? Of course, it isn’t a secret except that it would take a Francis to call a spade a spade?

Having been born and raised in an environment where we defer to hierarchy – either our cacique masters or the church – did we Pinoys miss learning responsibility? While our kuro-kuro culture could be loud and reaches far and wide, at the end of the day, no one is responsible? For instance, a culture of impunity can’t be nurtured if we the Filipino people are non-participants – as in see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil? And the same applies to political patronage? “. . . Filipinos in general must engage in soul-searching and in communal examination of consciences to discern the status of the Filipino culture and how it can be ‘purified’ . . . I just wish that we would set it in a wider context, not only in the politicians but of the whole country and the whole Filipino culture . . .” [Parents plant seeds of corruption–Tagle, Jocelyn R. UyPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 11th June 2014]

In fairness, it isn't confined to us Pinoys. It is human nature to take the path of least resistance or to be subsumed by the status quo because it represents a comfort zone. It is a great lesson in the art or challenge of execution. Or why “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”

“I really want to figure out their personality. If someone has left a few jobs, I’ll ask why they left. If people are complaining too much, then you start seeing either an attitude of, ‘When things happen, it’s not really me; it’s the world around me.’ Or maybe they’ll talk instead about things in a way that clearly says, ‘Listen, there are always circumstances, but you make your own destiny; you make your own choices.’” [Victor Allis, CEO of Quintiq (a planning software company); Stumped? Invoke the 5-Minute Rule, Adam Bryant, Corner Office, The New York Times, 7th June 2014]

“I’m looking for someone in a leadership position who feels that when someone deals you a hand, sometimes it’s a good hand, and sometimes it’s a bad hand. But it’s not about the hand. It’s how you play it . . . It takes a little while to figure it out, but you’re trying to understand, at their core, how they behave in life. Will they be a team player? Will they be the person who can handle some adversity and actually likes the challenge? Those are the most important characteristics.”

If we are to turn a big ship like PHL even a fraction of a degree, we need leadership that recognizes that “it's not about the hand. It's how you play it.” And leadership doesn't mean one individual. Leadership is the ones at the top of the enterprise or economy or nation. If we apply Pareto's 80-20 rule, they are the 20 that generate the bulk of the results. And in PHL they are the elite class. If in the US the conservatives seem unable to put up a big umbrella to embrace a far larger agenda or one that matters to mainstream America, in PHL the elite class has successfully raised a truly big umbrella. Thus despite the differences between and amongst its different elements, the elite class has preserved the status quo? 

And so what makes up the commonality? First is it's hierarchical. And it starts when we send our children to exclusive schools; and they're Catholic, obviously. And a school bus is so “commoner” so to be chauffeured is preferred; correction, the prim and proper way. And between the gated-community and the country club that make up their milieu, they learn early in life there is such a thing as a network amongst the elite class; and so it’s not uncommon that they go together on holidays to the latest “talk-of-the-town” destinations locally or abroad? What about college; it has to be in an Ivy, where else?

And so what do the local media cover? The world of the elite class, what else? But we're compassionate and so we must fight poverty? The elite class is the fittest and so they survive – with plenty to spare the downtrodden – despite PHL's standing in the region and in the world, the nation equated to OFWs that cover the world, near and far. And that has given us a very robust foreign exchange reserves and thus the ability to manage our finances better.

Admittedly we are thankful for our OFWs' efforts because they are the direct and proximate cause of our better economic footing. But because of this good fortune, we contracted our own Dutch disease, unable to assemble and put together the building blocks of a sustainable and inclusive economy? Because we have yet to truly commit and deliver on good governance and world-class infrastructure and a free market and a regionally (and globally) competitive industry?

And while on the one hand we instinctively reject such straightforward initiatives since we believe a complex challenge demands a complex solution, on the other hand we readily want to paint a positive prognosis? For example, that PHL GDP in 2014 will continue to grow at a robust clip – albeit slower than last year – conveniently forgetting that we are deficient in the above critical areas: of good governance and free market and thus the negative impact on investment, infrastructure development and competitiveness, among others. And that it would take us at least a generation to approximate a developed economy.

And in the meantime we have yet to recognize the imperatives of: (a) setting and espousing a vision, (b) leadership and (c) focus; while caught up in our archaic model which in our heart of hearts we wish to preserve? We have an abundance of smart people jostling and offering the silver bullet to overcome PHL underdevelopment and poverty but do we need visionaries too that can set a crystal clear goal (which could be as simple as to be a developed economy?) that would rally Juan de la Cruz?

Still, a vision demands leadership and focus; and focus is something that we need to dig from our toolkit – as in the wisdom behind ‘The Great Commandment’ or Pareto’s 80-20 rule. But instead, perhaps unwittingly, we've been preoccupied raising the progress and development attained by our neighbors as a bogeyman in order to preserve our self-esteem, if not our rank in PHL hierarchy? 

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