Saturday, April 8, 2017

The “worldview” before the “how-to”

Let’s hold that thought and ask ourselves: are we jumping the gun and prescribing the “how-to” in our efforts to right the PH ship – take Federalism and PH Competitiveness, for example – without clarity in our sense of identity and purpose or philosophy or conception of the world?

It brings Trump to mind. And why majority of Americans disapprove of his conduct of the presidency and want to remind him that America is an idea – i.e., a hypothesis and an experiment – not a transaction, like a real estate transaction.

In other words, America is not a done deal – it is an expansive idea, i.e., people have unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And why the two other branches have disagreed with: (a) Trump’s executive order re immigration and (b) his first foray in legislation re health care.

On the other hand, when we Pinoys focus on the how-to, we can be mirroring Wall Street analysts that dish out advice that can move “hot-money” in and out of a host country like PH – and where the impact could be negative and unsettling. To these analysts, they are merely effecting transactions for their clients.

Not to be misunderstood, the writer takes advice from these analysts with a grain of salt – knowing full well that they need to justify to their financial institutions where and when they are to move “hot money.”

It is not personal. The writer’s family is a Wall Street friend, more than friends. The daughter and the son-in-law are Wall Street. One can imagine what goes around the dinner table. The wife does her own investing while the writer works with a couple of analysts.

Remember BRICS? And the other acronyms that followed to predict the next set of economic tigers? Yet, these analysts are just doing their job: to analyze. It is a craft – yet still of a different skill sets compared to the movers and shakers of the economy. For instance, listen to the periodic earnings calls or the grilling of Fortune 500 CEOs by these analysts. They know the spec questions but not necessarily what makes the efforts tick.

And think of Tatang Sy. The story goes he went up on a helicopter and saw the future SM North Edsa. It was teeming with commuters. How would an analyst gain such insights from his swivel chair? Tatang Sy had his “worldview” figured out, i.e., his sense of identity and purpose.

Analysts need to move “hot money” because they must demonstrate to their clients that they deliver great returns. And every month-end and quarter-end they move massive amounts around. That is their “how-to.” But it appears they failed to convince Buffett because not unlike Tatang Sy, he has his worldview down pat.

But let’s get back to the worldview before the how-to and test it against tax reforms, for example. The international institutions are pushing us to raise the government’s tax take as a percentage of GDP because we lag – again, and are we still surprised? – our neighbors. And the underlying reason is not a mystery to us. They have studies that say corrupt nations don’t collect the right levels of taxes – because taxpayers resent that their elected officials are stealing them.

And this is the kind of people that will populate a federalized PH? Are we in denial – or is it again Einstein and his definition of insanity? 

If PH is to be an idea, we don’t have to be an ape of America and instead be the next Asian Tiger. And in the case of these neighbors, the system of government wasn’t a dimension and driver of their rapid ascent to wealth – i.e., they were fueled by exports and rapid industrialization; and focused on exports, an educated populace and high savings rates.

What about PH competitiveness? From a taskforce-like initiative we’ve graduated to a commission. That is well and good. But then again, the worldview versus the how-to are incongruous, the dots don’t connect. In an oligarchic economy monopolies/duopolies [and such consequences of political patronage] are venerated and idolized. How in heaven’s name can we create a competitive environment?

And yet we wonder why we can’t attract the same levels of FDI as our neighbors! And we have yet to demonstrate the wherewithal to attain rapid industrialization.

And with due respect to the Agriculture Secretary, it is not food security but PH agribusiness competitiveness that must be the vision. In other words, it is not populism but economics. And if we could only look outward, there is Vietnam that can teach us a lesson or two.

And where are we on energy? We’re debating the how-to, not the worldview. A worldview is not a linear construct. It is connecting the dots – from the big picture it comes down to the real world. It is synergy. Synergy is what we must generate amongst energy, infrastructure development and industrialization – to attain competitive advantage.

For example, power rates in Singapore are not cheap but we are still more expensive. But let’s get to the bottom line: Our residential rate is 26% higher and to add insult to injury Singapore’s GDP per capita is over a thousand percent more. Ergo: power rates may not matter to a Singaporean but to Juan de la Cruz it is a burden.

While PH is the “goat of the [Asean] class” export-wise, Singapore’s exports are almost a thousand percent greater. And not surprisingly, their aggregate FDI is over a trillion US dollars, against our $62.8-B. It is beyond power rates. Singapore’s ecosystem augurs well [read that as “a truly competitive environment equates to a competitive advantage” as opposed to our oligarchic economy that reveres and rewards impunity] for commerce and industry and so everyone and his uncle irrespective of nationality is invested in Singapore.

Yet they consume less electricity than PH despite such levels of economic activity and output. Beyond their population being less than 10% of PH, their products and services are higher up in the value chain. It takes less electricity to produce Porsches at critical-mass levels than Hyundais, for example.

And finally compared to the regional average, PH electricity rate is over 1.8 times.

Why are we still debating if PH energy – and economic and development ecosystem – sucks?

Another example? PPP and infrastructure development. Have our legislators been acting like vultures wanting a piece of the action and why we can’t get anything of consequence going?

Who is kidding who? When are we going to get our act together? As they say in the private sector, “activity” and “outcome” are two different animals.

Should Juan de la Cruz learn from an Indonesian parent? Who told her high school daughter, “This is a developing country. It’s your job to develop it.”

That’s from USA Today (2nd Apr 2017.) The news is about Melinda Gates and her advocacy and family planning. But more to the point, an Indonesian mother has internalized development, beyond the war on poverty, for example, that we Pinoys are so emotional about – if not the war on drugs.

Are we yet to get our head together? What if we get our worldview clarified and crystallized before we jump the gun on the how-to? Think of the Indonesian woman that profoundly pronounced, it is our job to develop this country. Like, we want to be the next Asian Tiger not the regional laggard?

Because we don’t want to respect the Soviet-communist system – in case we’re still ideologically torn – that undid the law of nature, treated people like automatons, dissed the hierarchy of human needs and mandated against their growth and development.

They validated Darwin and went extinct.

“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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