Sunday, April 30, 2017

Nation building and the rule of law

Rule of law is the rock that the wise man builds upon. While the foolish man builds upon the sand. [Mathew 7:26-27] In other words, the war on drugs is foolish not wise; if we still haven’t figured it out? Because it undermines the rule of law. It is tyrannical.

“The history of growth should be all about recessions,” The Economist, 8th Apr 2017. ‘THROUGHOUT history, poverty is the normal condition of man,’ wrote Robert Heinlein, a science-fiction writer.

“Until the 18th century, global GDP per person was stuck, around the same income level as the World Bank’s current poverty line of $1.90 a day. But global income levels per person have since accelerated, from around $1,100 in 1800 to $3,600 in 1950, and over $10,000 today.

“Economists have long tried to explain this sudden surge in output. Most theories have focused on the factors driving long-term economic growth such as the quantity and productivity of labor and capital . . . But a new paper [Growing, Shrinking and Long Run Economic Performance: Historical Perspectives on Economic Development, by Stephen Broadberry of Oxford University and John Wallis of the University of Maryland] takes a different tack: faster growth is not due to bigger booms, but to less shrinking in recessions.

“To their surprise, they found that growth during years of economic expansion has fallen in the recent era . . . even though average growth across all years in those two periods increased . . . [S]horter and shallower slumps led to rising long-term growth. Output fell in a third of years between 1820 and 1870 but in only 12% of those since 1950. The rate of decline per recession year has fallen too . . . In another paper the same authors find that conventional explanations—such as demographic change or a sectoral shift from volatile agriculture to the more stable services sector—do not fully explain the shift.

“More important is the rise of the rule of law, enabling disputes to be settled by impartial courts. Before the modern era, elites would fight between themselves for the spoils of growth and send the economy back to square one through wars, corruption and the like. Respect for courts to resolve disputes prevents this from happening.”

But we have a model in Davao. That speaks volumes, a confirmation of our insularity. We must raise our aspirations and imagine and visualize a true model. And we don’t have to go far. The Asian Tigers are a model to the world, but not to Juan de la Cruz? As some would know, Davao is near and dear to the heart of the writer. He still takes the family for visits when they are in the Philippines. And tells stories from the 18 months he lived and worked in Davao, including logging camps and where he learned what colleagues in the industry called “jungle management.” It was handy for his stint in the “jungle” of New York. 

What about Dutertenomics? The war on drugs undermines Dutertenomics. It is premised on a judgment call – of evil – while the latter is premised on good. And why Francis very profoundly asks, who am I to judge. On the other hand, our ambivalence or reluctance to call out the war on drugs for what it is reveals our hierarchical and paternalistic instincts.

More to the point, EJK is meant to instill fear, not the imperative of community and the common good. Community and the common good is the predicate of the rule of law that we Pinoys have yet to internalize. And to borrow from Franciscan theology, EJK is dualism and binary. Meaning, that the creator is a judgmental God, not a God of love. We don’t see it because tyranny is us as Rizal puts it.

Would we Pinoys be surprised that the US Chief Justice is indeed fine-grained? “U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts took issue on Wednesday with the Trump administration’s stance in an immigration case, saying it could make it too easy for the government to strip people of citizenship for lying about minor infractions.” [U.S. chief justice alarmed at Trump administration immigration case stance, Lawrence Hurley, Reuters, 27th Apr 2017]

In other words, security doesn’t mean “building a wall” if America hasn’t taken down the Statue of Liberty yet. The world hasn’t totally recovered from the 2008 Great Recession, and America must not forget the role of greed, fear and oligarchs that brought it about. It undermined American exceptionalism that it cannot then flirt with the beginning of its end by turning its back on its ideals. Not surprisingly, there is an effort to impeach Trump. And weren’t we Pinoys among those that blamed the West for their greed?

But let's get back to the Philippines. Recall that from as far back as 1952 – and it’s now the 21st century – we have been fixated by subsistence farming while our neighbors (the latest being Vietnam despite suffering from the Vietnam War) continued to progress, to scale and specialization. It is one of the imperatives in the journey from poverty to prosperity postulated by the course of the same title at Oxford University. 

Again, it speaks volumes: after decades, we remain underdeveloped and poverty makes us confuse paternalism for compassion. Not surprisingly, we endure building upon the sand. 

Recall The ACCFA Financing Program. In recognition of the strategic position occupied by our farmers in the social structure and economic development of the country, the Congress of the Philippines in 1952 enacted Republic Act 821. This law established a system of liberal credit which is specially designed to meet the needs of the small farmer.

And there’s more to it. “The goal of rice self-sufficiency has been the hallmark of all presidents since the creation of the NFA, from Ferdinand E. Marcos to Benigno S. Aquino III. Oddly, while growth in the agricultural sector declined, a 97-percent self-sufficiency in rice was achieved.

“In effect, this attention-getting but short-sighted policy only permanently jacked up domestic prices above the world levels . . . The gradually increasing food prices, especially rice, can explain the higher inflation rate this year. This price increase affects the poor household consumers particularly, since a substantial proportion of their incomes is spent on food, especially rice. 

“Because of the high cost of production, most of the rice farmers purchase some of their daily rice needs in the markets, and so, they too are adversely affected by this policy . . . The role of the DA is, therefore, to determine the products that are highly demanded in other countries that we can produce here at a lower cost. We may have the advantage in producing certain tropical fruits and vegetables and fish, which are in high demand in other countries.

“Like all industrialized countries, export earnings from agriculture and fishery, as well as earnings from industry and services, can provide us the means to import food for our daily needs.” [Self-sufficiency in rice policy leads to economic slowdown and poverty,Leonardo A. Lanzona Jr., Eagle Watch, Business Mirror, 27th Apr 2017]

But Dutertenomics is build, build, build. We know about the Greece bankruptcy. Build, build, build does not get to the root of our structural problems. Which Greece likewise took for granted. The Greeks awed the world with their 21st century infrastructure system that greeted the athletes to the 2004 Olympics. To be sure, Greece has had structural problems that were magnified by the enormity of their Olympic debt. Awed the writer was when he explored Athens via their Metro. How liberating compared to the New York subway system!

PH has its own structural problems if we go by the metrics that the world applauds in the Asian Tigers. For example, we take pride in our demographics – that PH is in a sweet spot – given the size of our millennials compared to our seniors. And that we have an ATM machine in our backyard represented by over 10 million OFWs.

Yet we are missing what fueled the Asian Tigers, i.e., exports and rapid industrialization. And that they shared common characteristics that include: (a) a focus on exports, (b) an educated populace and (c) high savings rates. More to the point, while we rely on oligarchy and the over 10 million OFWs, the collective wealth of our billionaires won’t approximate the FDIs our neighbors have amassed and the exports they generate.

Build. Build. Build. Yes, we must. But upon the rock not the sand. And why the rule of law. Ignore it at our peril.
Now we want to pursue security via arms and soldiers and the stockpiling of food? Think of the USSR or North Korea or Iraq or Libya. InDnipropetrovsk (Ukraine) the USSR had a space center, imagine NASA's Houston but underground, that housed a force of 10,000 and so designed to protect it from aerial attack. But people know more about the Chernobyl disaster if not the bread crisis and the rioting that killed countless. And today, Ukraine remains underdeveloped.

With our GDP per capita at such an underdeveloped level, we believe we’re the wiser to think security but not the rule of law? It’s called banana republic.

“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]

“National prosperity is created, not inherited. It does not grow out of a country’s natural endowments, its labor pool, its interest rates, or its currency’s value, as classical economics insists . . . A nation’s competitiveness depends on the capacity of its industry to innovate and upgrade.” [The Competitive Advantage of Nations, Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business Review, March–April 1990]

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” [William Pollard, 1911-1989, physicist-priest, Manhattan Project]

“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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