Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Man does not live by rice alone

True, man does not live by rice alone, but democracy can really get problematic when the great mass of sovereign particles cannot get past subsistence level to be free from want. So when the needy bargain with their votes or go blindly by the bidding of their political lords (because power over basic needs is power over will) the free expression of the sovereign will is violated.

This is where we're stuck today: The Philippine economy is not growing enough to create surplus not only to provide and hold economic safety nets but also pay for certain essential infrastructure, physical and social, such as a meaningful program for a high-quality universal education in order to produce a large population geared up for a modern economy and an enlightened citizenry, the essential ingredient for a working democracy.

Creating the good society that democracy aims to pull off often involves a decision to conserve long-held beliefs, values, traditions and institutions, or, otherwise, revolutionize them. Whether to undergo transformation or not, it could be driven either by fear of a change for the worse or by hope for the better. Those with something or so much to lose will most likely lean toward conservatism and those with little or nothing to lose but their blighted station will veer toward radicalism. There are however well-intentioned individuals from across the political and social spectrum who will not shun adventurism to experiment on other pathways to progress.

At this stage of nation-building however, the burden of resolving, sans violent upheaval, the economic scarcity the country is facing is upon the laps of those with effective power or those who have access to various institutional sources of power. These powerholders are essentially the society's elites, who may have experienced some sort of Pauline conversion in secular sense, the way Filipinos in diaspora have been to some extent remade attitudinally, having been uprooted into new ways of doing things.

The change agents could in fact be new breed of productive men who must feel relatively deprived, not materially but morally, because they are challenged (or humiliated) out of individual and national pride for being elites in an economic basket case. Once this self-importance or sense of country is stirred, the decision to attain modernity will come easier such as on what approach to take in employing the country's resources to attain economic growth and development or how to allocate the economic surplus if and when created, depending on what ways of thinking they are willing to keep or unsettle. Even more specifically, on whether goods and services should be produced according to the autonomous decision of the individual wealth producers and entrepreneurs or government bureaucrats and specialists drawn in into those decisions in the context of public/private sectors coordination or partnership?

The looming "rice crisis" in the Philippines that threatens to destabilize the Arroyo government anew if it spins out of control is one such instance where the critical choice should have been decisively made long time ago. Today, the continuing breakdown of imagination is a telling reminder of failure to marry proven traditional practices with science in order to transition to modernity. We need not fall for or completely write off some doomsday "conspiracy theories" about giant corporate seed breeders controlling the food chain. Still a successful strategy for sustained agricultural surpluses in the area of rice production (possibly in conjunction with the development of the extractive sector) can be understood to pick up a good portion of the bill for the transition (e.g., foreign exchange from rice exports and similar agricultural supplies would help meet the need for imported capital goods necessary for industrialization).

If the political and entrepreneurial will on the part of those with effective power and resources held sway, there ought to be no excuse, given our equivalent natural and human resources, not to be competitive with rice exporting countries like our peers Thailand and Vietnam. But as it is, we are faced today with the humiliating reality of having botched big time to achieve and maintain food security for our growing population if only, at minimum, to keep their human dignity, or beyond which, for rational and free citizens of a surplus society to be actively involved in dealing with the many human problems that impact the system.

On the other hand, when only a handful of people perpetually hold power over the necessities of the many, our democracy, any democracy, is gravely imperiled.

The Hitlerian misadventures of Ferdinand Marcos that have turned upside down what's left of our democratic experiment and whose profligacy has vastly contributed to the morass we are in today will continue to haunt many Filipinos. Interestingly, however, it was during Marcos that the highest productivity level in agriculture has been observed. Since then, we have yet to see any substantive agenda to revolutionize our agriculture in terms of productivity-enhancing investments, such as research and development and infrastructure buildup. Any such policy redirection has apparently been eclipsed by the strategic focus on labor export and ultimately blindsided by the lure of OFW remittances of enormous worth. Now, in response even to this phenomenal stimulus, what novel ways of doing things have so far been agreed upon and pursued with a view to generating internally economic surpluses?

In the face of tendentiousness in favor of the old rent-collectors and money capitalists, real estate-based entrepreneurs and shopping mall taipans, without creating an adequate manufacturing base, general economic abundance and positive liberty for individuals in the service of democracy are unlikely to come about in the immediate future. Certainly, not when the legitimacy of the present political leadership remains in question.


Blogger DJB Rizalist said...

Don't know if you've done it already, but a critical look at the effect of CARP on the long term prospects you've been considering here is surely in order.

April 30, 2008 11:03 PM  
Blogger Abe N. Margallo said...

A “critical look”? Yes, I will probably to that Dean. Thanks.

May 01, 2008 11:31 PM  
Anonymous ano nymous said...

Such a "critical" look at Philippine agricultural policy must distinguish co-incidental from strongly correlated events and tone down romantic wishful thinking biases. As it stands right now, a possible conclusion from the "critical look" is that the Philippines needs another male Hitlerian president to replicate "....the highest productivity level in agriculture" that has been observed.

Admittedly, though, Abe's post above is more level-headed (in my opinion) than his more romantic 2007 and 2006 blogpost entries. The post above recognizes that even rights (already guaranteed by, or that should be) guaranteed by the Constitution (e.g. high-quality universal education) do cost money.

May 02, 2008 12:59 PM  
Blogger Abe N. Margallo said...

Dean, below is my answer to a couple of comments in on the same piece above which I have also caused to be published there. I want to share it with you (and anonie as well) here because it touches somehow on your(and anonie's) observations.

I have written the above piece actually in reaction, FIRST, to fellow traveler Benigno’s one liner at mlq3’s blog to this effect: How can we talk of civil disobedience while we stand in line for NFA rice? and SECOND, to a series of comments also at mlq3’s (yours, if I recall correctly, UPn's, nash's, Bencard's, etc.) essentially attributing the “rice crises” in RP to the supposed lack of effective program for population control.

So I though it behooves to distinguish between human problems and animal (basic) needs. Food, for instance, is an animal need but solving food shortage is a human problem. My take is: For real democracy (i.e., not merely democracy of the upper and middle classes) to work, the people in general have to get past first the problem of want of basic necessities before they could even be expected to grapple rationally with human problems (food shortage, graft and corruption, patronage politics or, maybe, forms of government).

To me, the hierarchy of solutions looks like the following: First, overcoming economic scarcity; Second, use of economic surplus, if successfully created, to build up infrastructure - physical (roads, communications, power, transport, etc) and social (education, law, etc.); and Third, letting a democracy of enlightened citizenry take care on an ongoing basis human problems.

On population, please note that in “development discourse,” population is a very contested issue. For instance, as far as I know, Keynesian theory has suggested that the Great Depression of the 1930s was in part due to decline in births. There are of course contrarian views which have somehow prevailed when Kennedy and then Lyndon Johnson made “aid” (as an instrument of foreign policy) contingent on fertility control by recipient countries. Now, the Sleeping Giant may still be considered half-awake even at this stage because of population problem. But think of the social capital China will accumulate (it could be as huge as those of US’s, Europe’s and Japan’s combined) if at least half of the Chinese in the mainland today are “educated,” trained, and have the purchasing power for the next round of global economy.

On the other hand, our CARP (agricultural reform) may be imperfect both in conceptual design and in implementation. But there are reliable studies that have come out attesting to the fact that land ownership by former tenants increases agricultural productivity, alleviates poverty and improves their general well-being. Why this has not developed the way it did so in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan (in a manner that was instrumental to the economic takeoff of these nations) and now Thailand and Vietnam is what we need to find out.

May 02, 2008 3:54 PM  
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