Monday, November 7, 2016

“America had lost its way”

“I heard it often, traveling around Europe as a journalist . . . ‘What is going on in the United States?’ The rest of the world already seemed to be going off the rails. It couldn’t afford to have America follow.

“I didn’t really know how to respond. I hadn’t lived in the United States since 2003, when The New York Times moved me to Beijing as a foreign correspondent, along with my wife and two kids.

“We weren’t completely cut off. Most summers, we visited family and friends in the States; the kids streamed the American shows; my wife listened to ‘Morning Edition.’

“Yet as the years passed, I realized that I had lost touch, that the country I left was no longer the same . . . I witnessed from the other side the global forces that would bring profound changes to America.

“I visited industrial regions of southern China where the ground seemed to vibrate under the weight and bustle of all the countless new factories. Once iPhones had been invented, it was Chinese workers who assembled them. I watched Bangladeshi seamstresses stitch clothes sold at Walmart. American consumers benefited from the cheaper goods, but American manufacturers did not. Between January 2000 and December 2014, the United States lost roughly five million manufacturing jobs.

“Then I moved to Rome and watched the European Union grow ineffective and paralyzed, as the dream of a vibrant, unified Europe seemed to wither. Democracy was losing ground in Hungary and the Philippines; it had all but surrendered in Russia. Syria became a slaughterhouse. The Islamic State dispatched terrorists around the world. China’s politics became more oppressive, as President Xi Jinping cracked down on dissent and nurtured a Maoist-style cult of personality. Economic globalization was supposed to accelerate political liberalization around the world, but instead authoritarianism appeared to be on the rise. The West, it seemed, had failed to anticipate the possibility that globalization could contribute to the destabilization of — or pose a threat to — democracy, even in the United States.

“Globalization may have ravaged blue-collar America, but artificial intelligence could cut through the white-collar professions in much the same way.

“Reid Hoffman [who founded LinkedIn] said the reactions to artificial intelligence range from utopian to dystopian. The utopians predict huge productivity gains and rapid advances in medicine, genetic sequencing, fighting climate change and other areas. The dystopians predict a ‘Robocalypse’ in which machines supplant people and, possibly, threaten humanity itself. ‘My point of view,’ he said, ‘is that it is a massive transformation and does really impact the future of humanity, but that we can steer it more toward utopia rather than dystopia with intelligence and diligence.’

“Either way, another major economic shift is coming, perhaps sooner than people realize. Hoffman said that many of the jobs in today’s economy will change fundamentally during the next 20 years.” [An American in a Strange Land, Jim Yardley, The New York Times, 4th Nov 2016]

As some would know, the writer (who keeps a home in the Philippines) can very well relate to the reflections of Mr. Yardley. A Filipino expatriate over the last three decades who calls the New York metro area home yet lived and worked in Eastern Europe for most of the last 13 years, and being in the eye of the storm of “globalization” – where there is a sense of calmness.

And being intimately involved with the “hows and whys” of globalization. Which would remind him of Darwin; and a conversation with Maryknoll sisters, committed to “saving the planet,” that at the end of the day, a person’s lifetime is a mere speck against the backdrop of the universe and creation and evolution.

The writer is into his senior years. And he thought he was meant to enjoy a life of leisure post-career when the call for volunteerism (post 9/11) in the US came. Had he not heeded the call, he would probably be ruing globalization today. 

Long story short, while he was called in as an “expert” to assist a group of Eastern Europeans navigate their path into the free market, even his supposed expertise would today be outmoded if he had in fact chosen a life of leisure. Education cannot cease.

Yet, experience is still the best teacher as his Eastern European friends would recognize. Says Steve Jobs: “You can’t connect the dots looking ahead, but you can when you’ve been there and done that.”

It is when man is frozen in time that the march of time – and progress – would run him over. Not surprisingly, Bill Gates espouses a “growth mindset” as distinguished from a “fixed mindset.”

Globalization is the march of time and progress; and why Darwin remains contemporaneous.

And so the writer continues to work with his Eastern European friends to sharpen their innovation and competitiveness instincts. And his greatest thrill is seeing these young people become experts in their own right. And that includes beating Western competition. 

How do these things relate to the Philippines? Have we been frozen in time? Many Americans have been frozen in time – “America had lost its way,” so says Jim Yardley.

Now some of us want socialism or communism? We know that the Communist system collapsed in Eastern Europe? Is Federalism the equivalent of Communism 2.0 and it will succeed in the Philippines – because we have an ex-priest that is socialist-leaning if not a member of the CPP that will lead the drive to federalism? The writer has many ex-socialist friends. Ex, if we know what it means – and why?

Have we spelled out the hypothesis of federalism and the requisite protocol of an experiment that will confirm the hypothesis? For example, the writer and his Eastern European friends had to spell out the hypothesis to compete and win against the world’s biggest brand in the industry and the requisite protocol of the experiment. Because their biggest risk was being gobbled up and going extinct.

And in our case, to do a “con-ass” and a referendum is not the acid test. See how confused the Brits are following the Brexit vote.

Meanwhile, how do we solve the traffic problem in Metro Manila or address PHL's energy challenge/crisis? Yet we believe we must pursue a new system of government that is alien to us? That it is the answer to our underdevelopment – and poverty?

Is that the common denominator if we benchmarked against the Asian tigers? Is this state of denial (that is, where we stand from FDI to infrastructure to a competitive industry base to good governance – the building blocks of an economy) pushing us all over the map confused as ever? Confused? FDI? What would Jesus do – with due respect to some of our religious? Recall the Good Samaritan, a foreigner, not a Jew: “Give me a drink.” Deng like Lee and Mahathir asked for it too? What planet are we from?

We know that the US chose to federalize in order to pursue the common good being once separate states? “Seeking independence from England and the British Crown, thirteen American colonies declared themselves sovereign and independent states.” [World Atlas.]

And we are going against the grain? Do we value community and the common good – more or less than “crab mentality”? Is the response to Imperial Manila more of crab mentality?

An operating principle for practitioners of “change management” says it all. Start with the familiar. Let’s solve one major problem first before we bite more than we can chew? We can’t bank on “Pinoy abilidad” because it hasn’t worked for us – being myopic at best? That we’re the regional laggard is the evidence?

Even in the private sector major structural initiatives aren't guaranteed success. Think Yahoo and how much it has unraveled! Or do we really, truly love tyranny? “He who submits to tyranny loves it,” says Rizal. That is the root of our problems! And tyranny Philippine-style like its politics is both local and national. And tyranny at either level is not the way to community and the common good! 

With due respect to our chattering classes, when will we learn to look beyond the horizon – that embracing foreign investment, for example, is not unpatriotic? We detest oligarchy yet we protect them? He who submits to tyranny loves it! In other words, tyranny is us! [Who has read about the cabinet member who asked for 150 free tickets to a musical and two pairs of designer shoes? Good governance, anyone?]

Beyond investment is technology – and know-how and forward-thinking. On the other hand, tyranny and insularity feed on each other – in a race to the bottom. If some of us are having second thoughts about Du30, is it a reminder that in a democracy we get the leadership that we deserve?

What is the endpoint of the war on drugs? That is a leadership question. Where do we want to be? How do we get there? Leadership cannot wash its hands of EJK and its criminality. Leadership is accountability! 

It is not myopic but seeks the virtuous circle. It goes beyond “inclusive” as we define it – which is akin to paternalism and populism and entitlement.

It is about growth and development. And finding our place in the sun.

But we see Du30 as the Second Coming? We’re proud to be “the only Christian nation in Asia” but are we forgetting what the First Coming is about? Summarized succinctly by Francis, “who am I to judge”?

If America had lost its way, how about Juan de la Cruz?

“Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow? And that they will be such is not to be doubted, for he who submits to tyranny loves it.” [We are ruled by Rizal’s ‘tyrants of tomorrow,’ Editorial, The Manila Times, 29th Dec 2015]

“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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