Why does the Philippine economy persist in failing to generate enough wealth to cut into the nation's deep poverty? It is not a monetary issue, this persistently laggard struggle. It has little to do with numbers. It is social. It is the people infrastructure that relentlessly sucks the life from wealth-building.
"Hey, Joe! Whatchu drivin' at?"
Well, corruption is a social drain. It is one of the more tangible. But it is not so damaging. Consider when a government contract is let for an amount greater than the true value of the project. The excess covers kickbacks, padding, and "expenses" like travel first class in luxury resorts. The illegal money that stays in the Philippines works to support the Philippine economy. It is not lost. What is lost are the projects that don't get done because the budget is eaten away by the bloated, overbid projects. So the infrastructure that could be built is only partially built. Year after year, lagging, lagging, lagging . . .
Small corruption, the P100 under the table to the LTO lady to get on the top of her stack of paper, is generally spent in the Philippines. It is not lost. It is just "value creation" that is not taxed.
Everyone understands that corruption is bad. But it is not the main reason for the weak Philippine economy. Indeed, fighting corruption represents a distraction. Leaders get complacent and happy with their showboat achievements on corruption and don't do anything about the more fundamental problems.
Here are the three barriers to wealth-generation that are bigger than corruption:
- Weak employment practices. Gigantic damage. Much bigger than corruption. It's just that you can't see the tangible shortfall so clearly. Hiring favorites, friends and family instead of hiring for competence. Blocking top performers by giving someone's uncle a job. Not nurturing productivity. No performance reviews. No promotions. No merit increases. No innovation. No fast-tracking of top producers. These good disciplines don't happen enough here. Managers are autocratic straw bosses, not motivators. This simply sucks the good thinking and productive work out of the drive for profit, for wealth. The Philippines flat out lacks the dynamic drive for productivity and success that you can see in the United States. And everyone just shrugs . . . "it's the way we do it, Joe . . ."
Yes it is.
- Catholic values keep the nation forever poor as the over-birthing masses eat away the jobs the economy is trying to generate. This is easy to fix, but no one has the nerve to go against the Great Protector of dark age Philippine morality. Its is not about abortion; that is a flame-thrower the Church uses to blast away well-intended opponents. It is about telling the people it is important that they have small families, for the good of the nation. So simple to fix. So impossible to do, given what appears to be a lack of commitment in the Executive Office to get the birth rate down.
- Education that does not inspire kids to look forward (plan, organize and make good decisions), look outward (ingenuity), or look inward (healthy self esteem). Kids are subjects for authoritarians to rule over. Memorize this. Upchuck that. Sit down, shut up. That capitalistic fire in the belly, the competitive zeal and commitment to achieve, is dead out. Snuffed, grades 1-12. Filipinos create little, invent little, innovate few new processes that are productive. They don't learn how.
"It's the way we do it, Joe."
Yep. You do.
Those are the big three. The big dawgs of economic impotence.
Oh, there are other social flaws as well, but they are not as pronounced in dragging the economy down.
Women are held in check by a warped puritanical morality that says education about birth control is bad because it may encourage sex outside of marriage. As if coat hanger abortions were irrelevant, or as if it were okay that 12 women die daily because of unhealthy pregnancies. Women are held in check by marriage contracts that have no termination clause. So husbands can beat them, have relationships with other women, abandon the wife and kids, and any woman who wants out will found herself attacked in the courts like she is some fiendish criminal. What a waste of judicial resources, what a misguided morality.
Backward is as backward is. Sorry, ladies.
But that's the way it is . . .
The courts are horrible at handing out quick, precise justice. So the wrongs that damage society are never corrected, fostering a slow bleeding of vibrancy from the economy. Case law is so tainted by favoritism that it has the legal weight of a stack of comic books.
Too bad the bar is stocked with drinks instead of attorneys with a fine sense of right and wrong and the honorableness to pursue right with a vengeance.
Some day we will have a Rizal kind of president. A guy with depth of vision who can see what is really going on around here. Not a continuation of the line of presidents who are locked into the very culture that holds the Philippines back. Who are blind to the ways their culture is assured of being mediocre, or even backward.
A president who can see that the Philippines would flourish with employment practices that energize productivity, with social values that free Filipinos instead of hold them in dark age limbo, and with education that brings fresh, bright thinking to the nation.
Some day . . . it won't be the way it is . . .