Human nature as a barrier to development

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MIKE WOOTTON

MIKE WOOTTON

Developing something on a moderate or large scale to provide what people need but which they struggle to afford–electricity, for example, medical care or education–is not an easy entrepreneurial initiative for a new entrant. There is risk to be assessed, there are permits and approvals to be obtained, money has to be found, designs done, contractors employed, land obtained and stakeholders to be informed and kept abreast of developments.

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If the bold [or foolhardy]entrepreneur actually manages to get through all these obstacles, then the venture will attract attention, much of which will be positive and encouraging. Alas, it will also attract less desirable attention from those who could not have done it themselves [or who simply do not view business as requiring any sort of effort or risk-taking]but who decide that once all that has to be achieved is done that they want it for themselves. Such people often have power and money and consequently can present difficulties for the new entrant. Of course, people know that trying to develop new things no matter how beneficial they may be to the community will become at some stage prey to the greed, envy and avarice of powerful self-interests.

The powerful, or those with lots of cash, will buy support for their position and unfortunately the new “supporters” will readily sell their consciences to the payer. It’s just like buying votes in an election–“Who cares if my relative dies because I sold my vote for P1,000 to somebody who had absolutely no intention of making health services more accessible, they just bought my vote to satisfy their own need for power and the consequent ability to dubiously make yet more money.”

The ability to cheat the well-intentioned principals of morally well-founded systems is everywhere; in the United States, in Europe and throughout the world. In the Philippines, it is almost an art form—“flipping it” is a tactic by which the new entrant can avoid the risk of being steamrollered by these powerful self-interested parties. To “flip it” is simply to obtain some concession or other, do some work on it, spend some money–preferably as little as possible and then sell the concession on, making more money than you have spent to some other group that will in all likelihood repeat the process. This is how the “smart entrepreneur” would go about things. At best, the approach causes massive delays in development, at worst things just never ever get developed. Nobody really cares about the end result as all interest is focused on how much can be made on the trade.

To try to develop, build and operate from a standing start is a gargantuan undertaking. Such an undertaking to stand any chance of success needs lots of support and it is another truism of the Philippines that lots of support for doing what is right is often available—there are so many right-minded people around who can make the difference between success of new ventures of benefit to all and failure and perpetuation of power for greed.

This is not the way it should be, it is the people’s right to demand that their elected representatives do what is best for the electorate, certainly not what is best for themselves as individuals. The elected representatives need to be in touch with the sentiments of their “bosses” and sometimes steer the people’s wishes to do what is in the people’s best interests, thanks to their position in society by which they are, accurately or not, believed to be endowed with greater knowledge, intellect and leadership capabilities.

Development should be led and enforced from the top but self-interest has too much influence in a society such as the Philippines that things get confused with all the pulling in opposite directions and this just leads to nothing much actually happening other than just making money. There should be much more to it than that, for making a pile just for its own sake is a most purposeless ambition.

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com.

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