In one of the more impressive political performances this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used three words—democracy, demography and demand–before 20,000 Indian Americans at the Madison Square Garden in New York City last September to describe India’s “strengths.” It was a tour de force. No recent political speech has made as much impact upon thoughtful audiences around the world.
Modi, whose phenomenal parliamentary victory in May gave Delhi its first big- majority government in thirty years and virtually extinguished the old political dynasty that began with the great Jawaharlal Nehru, was not just trying to sell a vision or a dream. He was describing an awesome political reality, and calling every Indian everywhere to proudly take part in it.
It was a great nationalist mobilization on a global scale, launched from the world center of modern communication. From that standpoint alone, it seemed a stunning success. Only one other Indian could probably claim a better record–V. K. Krishna Menon, Nehru’s defense minister, who spoke for seven hours and 48 minutes before the UN Security Council in 1957 in defense of India’s sovereign claim over Kashmir. Menon collapsed in the course of that “filibuster,” and had to be rushed to hospital, but he resumed his speech for another hour as soon as he was back in the hall. As a result of his historic speech–unsurpassed in length to this day at the UN–the Soviet Union vetoed the UN Security Council resolution that would have given to Pakistan sovereignty and control over Kashmir.
Modi did not try to join Menon in Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s listing of “argumentative Indians;” he spoke for not more than half an hour. But he spoke in a language that gave Indians everywhere, and the world at large, a clear view of what their country had and could become.
America, he said, is the oldest democracy, but India is the largest. People from all over the world are in America, but Indians are settled all around the world. This is India’s first strength, Modi said.
By 2020, most of the industrial nations will be peopled by men and women, 65 years old and above. India on the other hand will have more young people than old. There will be a global demand for a large workforce, and India will be one of the few countries that could supply the demand. India’s demographic dividend is its second strength, Modi said.
What is demographic dividend? An online article by Ronald Lee and Andrew Mason says this occurs after a largely agrarian society with high fertility and mortality rates is transformed into a predominantly urban society with low fertility and mortality rates. During the transition, fertility rates fall, leading to fewer mouths to feed. Then the labor force grows more rapidly than the population it supports, permitting more resources to be invested in family welfare and economic development. Per capita income rises more rapidly, as a result. This is the first dividend.
The demographic dividend period could last five decades or more, says the article. But eventually lower fertility reduces the growth rate of the labor force, while improvements in health care prolong the lives of the elderly. Now, other things being equal, per capita income grows more slowly and the first dividend turns negative.
But a second dividend is possible, according to the article. Faced with an extended period of retirement, an older working population will tend to accumulate assets–unless it is confident that families or government will provide for its needs. National income will rise when these assets are properly invested. Thus the first dividend yields a temporary bonus, and the second transforms that bonus into greater assets and sustainable development, says the Lee and Mason article.
Modi was not the first one to talk to the world recently about this. In his bestselling 2009 book, Imagining India: The Idea Of A Nation Renewed, Nandan Nilekani, co- founder of Infosys, one of India’s biggest information technology firms, writes that “at a time when the rest of the world is growing gray, India has one of the youngest populations in the world with a median age of 23 and the second-largest reservoir of skilled labor in the world.” It has transformed its problem of 1.25 billion people into a mega asset of 1.25 billion people.
India’s second strength is also its third. The population, which with information technology has turned India into a leading IT center of the world, has also, with dramatically improved personal incomes, turned India into a robust consumer of the world’s products. It consumes as vigorously as it produces; therefore demand has become its third strength.
“No other nation has these strengths,” Modi said. And this is not easy to contradict. China, with its 1.354 billion people and its phenomenal two-digit economic growth rate for years, has India’s third strength, but not its first two. It has no aspiration to become a democracy; the latest democratization attempts in Hong Kong were initiated from outside the government, and against its wishes, and have now stalled.
As for its demographic destiny, Beijing’s one-child policy in favor of the male child is said to have created a generation of at least 40 million males without any prospective spouses, and a large and ever-expanding layer of seniors, not all of them able to support themselves, and not followed by young people after them either. China’s workforce is ten years older than India’s, its median age being 35.2 (as of 2010), as against India’s 25.9.
India’s 3 strengths could also have been ours
Now, India’s “three strengths” could also have been those of the Philippines, even though on a much smaller scale. As a “democracy,” we declared our independence from Spain at least half a century before India declared its own independence from the British Raj. And for years we were proud to call ourselves “the oldest democracy in Asia.” But at this time when India is proudly showing everyone how a real democracy works, we seem to be doing our very best to show how to undermine, frustrate and falsify it, both in form and in substance.
We have allowed our institutions and processes to be totally corrupted, our Constitution to be reduced into a scrap of paper, and the tripartite system of government to be hijacked by a psychologically challenged president whose passion for digital games has replaced any desire to learn the responsibilities and functions of his office.
In what democracy anywhere could you find a head of state who manages to insult, abuse and add to the division of a long insulted, abused and divided people every time he opens his mouth? Or a Senate whose members have been bribed to demolish the enemies of the head of state, but who seem to believe no one could touch them for their own theft, corruption and plunder so long as they strut like belated reincarnations of Inspector Javert in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and brazenly use the Senate to investigate the alleged theft, corruption and plunder by others, without first having themselves investigated?
So the democracy, which India has transformed into a great strength, we have reduced into a revolting outrage. And we are expected to pay obeisance to those who have destroyed it.
Now, we have a population of 100 million Filipinos. At least 10 million of those work overseas, and feed the economy a dollar remittance of now $26 billion a year. Our agriculture is shot, our manufacturing is non-existent, the services sector alone, which includes our Overseas Filipino Workers, is all that keeps our economy afloat. Better than India, the median age of our labor force is 22.7 years, the youngest labor force outside of Africa, which has much younger labor forces. But our economic planners and policymakers do not even seem to know about it.
A couple of years ago, at the European Days celebration in Brussels, I heard several African heads of state say, “The future belongs to Africa, because this is where the young people still are.” It is the same thing Modi is saying for India. It is the same thing we could be saying and should be saying if we have any appreciation of the value of what we are, and what we have. You probably do, but our leaders don’t.
Like India, we should be benefiting from our “demographic dividend.” But we chose to throw it away. In a bout of insanity or madness, we need not impute malice, the Aquino administration decided to kill the goose that laid the golden egg by enacting a foreign-dictated law on population control, which seeks to reduce our population growth to zero or below. And the Supreme Court, in obvious obeisance to US AID, which provides it so much money, and had a vested interest in the law, declared it “not unconstitutional” despite its patent violation of the Constitution, which rejects population control, and prohibits the State, as protector of the unborn, from being the provider and promoter of contraception.
Instead of investing in the unborn, in the present and in the next generations of Filipinos through education, technology, and health care, the Aquino government has put hundreds of billions of pesos in highly questionable lump sums, in violation of the Supreme Court ruling declaring such lump sums unconstitutional.
Despite the direct Court order that all those involved in the unconstitutional pork barrel system, otherwise known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, be punished forthwith, not a single one has been touched by the Ombudsman, outside of three opposition senators who were specifically targeted by Malacañang.
Thus, our demographic dividend has been translated into “cash dividends” for our thieving politicians.
Finally, with a population of 100 million, we have a consumer society with an unmistakable purchasing power and demand, but without a common concept of development. To make sure that our purchasing power is used, we are now made to pay for every public good we use, such as roads, bridges and other facilities. The government is supposed to provide these for free, in exchange for its right to collect taxes. The taxes are still collected, even from the lowliest sidewalk vendor, but the government has engaged private providers to provide these public goods and to fleece the public for their use.
Aside from the lies, the b.s., and the arrogance we get from our officials, is there anything we still get for free from government? We are now guaranteed the most expensive power and water rates, transport services, food, shelter, medicines and other essential commodities, and a total absence of service from government.
To stimulate demand, the government uses its foreign exchange to support the importation of luxury items for the elite that owns 90 percent of the nation’s wealth, instead of using it to finance badly needed energy and water systems, irrigation and food production projects, dignified housing for the poor, reforestation, recreation parks, school houses, hospitals, satellite health clinics, sewerage systems and public toilets. Indeed, we use “demand” to promote naked consumption without any notion of development.
Whether we go forward or backward, advance or stagnate is now a function of leadership. In India, Modi seems determined to lead his country to the summit of achievement. Here, President B. S. Aquino 3rd seems determined to take us to the very abyss, in every respect.