Is there an inspired program to make the super rich, richer? And fast track the whole process of shifting to the plutocracy the portion of the national wealth and income that is not yet in their possession? And wipe out in the process the fast-vanishing middle class?
Then, this most crucial question: Is the government the abettor of this process of deepening the rich-poor divide?
Some say that the government, through its policies, cannot and would do this because its mandate is to protect the vulnerable. The Philippine Constitution and our laws are quite clear on the protection for the weak and the underclass. The central theme is justice and equity. But still evidence points out that if the government has any emancipation and amelioration policy at all, it is about making the super rich, richer. Empower the super rich and screw the rest of us.
Why is the issue of income inequality re-emerging in the national consciousness? What are the intervening events that made the people aware ( and agitated) by the growing economic divide? It is not solely the global context and the realization that across the Atlantic, it is still the plutocracy that reaped the gains from the post-recession growth. And the hedge fund managers remain king, despite the harm they had inflicted on the broader world.
Three reasons, and we hope that there is still some energy left in the tired, old body of the once fiery NEPA (National Economic Protectionism Association ), so it can look deeper into three policy areas of the state, namely investment priorities, tax and labor.
On investment priorities, represented by the big-ticket projects under the PPP, or public private partnership, there is overwhelming evidence that these have been designed for the Top one per cent. Corporate entities that are out of the Top 200 corporations cannot even hope to file bid papers with the PPP’s project management and bidding committees. Why? For the simple reason that they are not qualified financially to handle the projects as big as those under the PPP.
And that the free-wheeling, anything-can-happen bidding process for the regular public works projects are taboo in the PPP bids and awards process.
Even the Class AAA contractors not allied with the corporate giants are out of the bidding process. There is no PPP bidder that is a contractor in the strictest definition of the term. One corporate giant that has qualified as a bidder indeed, started out as a contractor, but it is now in power generation, water generation, property development and mining, among many other concerns. In short, a contractor-turned-corporate big leaguer.
The PPP projects can be summed up as “ for the top one percent, of the top one percent, by the top one percent.”
Why every aspect of the PPP was designed to promote the corporate giants is beyond us. Because there are ways to involve the traditional construction companies in the PPP under fairer and more equitable bidding terms. Because there are ways to break the stranglehold of the plutocracy over these multi-million dollar projects, the choicest government awards, bar none.
What about the tax holidays and tax breaks? What sectors enjoy the tax benefits/expenditures of government?
Ok, a Thai agri-business giant that invested in a very competitive and crowded field got one. But the story on what sectors, supposedly pioneering in nature and with massive investments, have been getting tax breaks under the state tax incentives program mostly dispensed with by the BOI is more heart-rending than that.
Because most of the “pioneering ventures” that applied for and had gotten tax breaks based on the benchmarks of the BOI have been “fresh and pioneering “ investment areas dominated by the corporate giants, the same entities that have cornered and about to corner 100 percent of the PPP awards.
The plutocracy is always several steps ahead. It has, at its disposal, the best legal and financial minds that can prepare the documentation required by the BOI people, including the most current of tax-break seeking jargon.
While running after tax-dodging pawnshop owners with Lamborghinis makes the headlines, the real area where the government is shafted of revenue due is in the massive grant of useless and unnecessary tax expenditures.
On the labor front, there are many brutal realities.
What are rising are low-paying jobs mostly in the service sector. There are job offerings, true, but the pay is barely enough for basic survival. It used to be that jobs are liberating and empowering. Now, the pay levels are barely enough to keep the workers’ body and soul together.
Many of the growth sectors are not job generators. Finance, especially.
The big companies thrive on unpaid internship, a global scourge. Free while collar work stints.
The weakening of the labor unions has contributed immensely to the stagnant pay of workers. Workers are severely underpaid but there is no institution that would fight for their basic economic rights. The government has institutionalized contractual labor, temps, graveyard shift workers without the commensurate protection and benefits. Wage increase petitions get trumped by the inutility and indecisiveness of the tripartite bodies that have the mandate to decide on regional wage petitions.
The BPO sector is not covered by the Labor Code.
As in the case of the PPP, today’s labor environment is suited to further prop up the rich and super rich and not empower a strong and a politically conscious salaried class.
As we all know from history, an eviscerated middle class deprives a society of a vibrant center. And when the center cannot hold, the results are mostly ugly.