Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Stuck in the status quo

“METRO Manila’s traffic crisis did not arrive like a thief in the night. It has been predicted by several studies—stretching back to the 1980s . . . Very few of the things needed to avoid the crisis got implemented in the past two decades. While cities in other parts of the world managed to follow the “ideal trend” by investing in their transport infrastructures on time, if not ahead of needs, Metro Manila procrastinated.” [Easing Metro Manila traffic congestion, Rene S. SantiagoPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 10th Jan 2016]

“Having talent and good ideas is only part of the equation. The next step – the harder step – is the doing, taking the responsibility for designing success . . .” [Introduction, The achievement habit: stop wishing, start doing, and take command of your life, Bernard Roth, Harper Business, 2015]

“‘We are all capable of reinvention,’ says Dr. Roth, a founder of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford and author of the book, ‘The Achievement Habit.’“ [‘Design Thinking’ for a Better You, Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, 4th Jan 2016]

But important to note: “Once we are aware of a problem, we tend to plunge ahead in search of a solution, yet we'd do better to first reconsider the question. Reframing problems can lead to better solutions. Mental health professionals also use reframing; it is a powerful therapeutic technique. The basic idea behind reframing is to introduce a change of perspective into your thinking.” [Roth, op. cit.]

For example, because we have persistent poverty we assume that social programs are nirvana – even when the billions spent on CCT haven’t made a dent? [Recall Einstein? See below.]

Wittingly or not we nurture a vicious cycle – not a virtuous one – when we applaud populist appeals like those that Binay makes – and, in fairness, others too. As though we have billions more to even step up CCT?

The big picture. Given how extensive poverty is, indeed we must keep body and soul (of Juan de la Cruz) together. That’s a given. Then comes the challenge. The taxes that fund CCT must come from somewhere, principally our economic output of goods and services. [A lesson not lost to this writer’s Eastern European friends – rather belatedly when their daily rations of basic commodities, including bread, came to a halt. That indeed there’s no free lunch. “I was a little boy and with my playmates we thought we weren't going to let our families go without bread. We had to hassle our way to the front of the line but to no avail; there was not enough bread for our neighborhood,” the writer’s former assistant would recall every now and again.]

In the case of the Philippines, we have yet to bring the imperative of industrial development into our consciousness – if we are to raise our average income (above underdeveloped levels.) And which our neighbors did and practically wiped out poverty. But it's not as profound a lesson as Eastern Europeans learned that we Pinoys are still stuck in the status quo?

A year ago the writer attended two economic briefings in Makati conducted by two of our premier universities. Both briefings gave the sense that there’s reason to be positive. (Yet as we now know from the Great Recession, financial models and the like no matter how smart-sounding still need risk assessment; and a decade prior even the ones developed by two Nobel Prize winners would bring financial ruin.) And so the comments the writer made in the open forum would have sounded off-base? The reality is this blog (began in 2009 after being egged by friends and relations given our state of affairs) has sounded out of left field?

This blog consistently talks about: (a) our version of the Dutch disease, that is, OFW remittances and the BPO industry comprise our principal income streams and made us a consumption economy instead of an investment-driven and an industrialized economy; and (b) the prognosis of the international institutions that even at 7% annual GDP growth it will take us a generation to attain developed-nation status.

Recall Einstein’s “I just stay at a problem longer than most” and “to keep doing the same thing over and over isn't the way to seek a different outcome”? While we recognized the downsides of OFW remittances given their social costs on families, we haven’t had the must debate re industrial development. For example, this administration has been silent about Arangkada Philippines – the 7 industry winners proposed by the JFC. And as a nation we have succumbed to groupthink that the silence is deafening? Which is to say we suffer from our own Dutch disease.

What will impel Juan de la Cruz to pursue a “new economy” – or economic model – for PH? With due respect to the CB, numbers alone don’t comprise strong economic fundamentals. Of course they are to the less than 1% of our enterprises! And why we say that we need an “inclusive economy.”

The writer’s old MNC company knows strong economic fundamentals full well; and 33 years ago it was expected of him to make the company a preferred employer in the Philippines and lo and behold they were recognized the employer of the year. As he indicated before, such events are par for the course and not to brag about. Because in a universe of less than 1% it’s a gimme. It’s about the odds or why Warren Buffett makes big investment decisions on the back of an envelope.

And a converse to that is the odds of the next president fixing the infrastructure challenge of Metro Manila – which is nil. Yet do we feel as though we’re going through an advent-like period and why politics consumes our lives while industrialization, much less economic development, is not what the national conversation is about?

Inclusive in the case of PH is a structural challenge otherwise it’s motherhood. More to the point, CCT is a stopgap – or what Rizal called “palliative” as distinguished from “radical remedy.”

But of course we only like good news and, not surprisingly, are stuck in the status quo? Not that long ago this writer also had a bias for good news. Until his late Jesuit friend bent his ear (and their Friday group) about reality. And it still took him time to appreciate the message – that we Pinoys tended to be unreal – i.e., “plastik” (his word)?

Consider: “The National Economic and Development Authority, with the help of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, crafted a Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure that would banish traffic congestion by 2030. A bold plan, indeed, as it also implies effective management of urban land use and expansion to Regions 3 and 4.  [Santiago, op. cit.]

“It is a tall (if not impossible) order. Its key strategy is to shift travel demand to railways—from the current 6-percent to 37-percent modal share of the trip markets. To do that, more than 160 km of new rail lines will have to be built, aside from additional urban expressways three times more than what we now have.

“Although adopted officially as a joint game plan for the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Transportation and Communications, and MMDA, the prognosis for its realization is bleak.

“The capacity to implement is the main obstacle, rather than money. Short-term projects like expansion of Light Rail Transit (LRT) 1, LRT 2, Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3 and Philippine National Railways commuter are already delayed by three to five years. Road projects are buffeted by right-of-way issues and prevalence of NIMBYs (not-in-my-backyard) resistance.

“Besides, if all the projects are constructed in order to meet the 2030 deadline, massive traffic disruptions across the metropolis will occur.”

If people, commerce, trade and industry can’t be accommodated given our infrastructure deficiencies – and broader structural failings – we can’t be a new or an industrialized economy. Sadly as it stands today, “inclusive economy” is but an empty slogan! Worse, we’re perpetuating the status quo and our ecosystem, comprised of parochialism, paternalism, hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy. In denial or not, the reality is poverty comes with it despite CCT!

“As a major component for the education and reorientation of our people, mainstream media – their reporters, writers, photographers, columnists and editors – have an obligation to this country . . .” [Era of documented irrelevance: Mainstream media, critics and protesters, Homobono A. Adaza, The Manila Times, 25th Nov 2015]

“Development [is informed by a people’s] worldview, cognitive capacity, values, moral development, self-identity, spirituality, and leadership . . .” [Frederic Laloux, Reinventing organizations, Nelson Parker, 2014]

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