On inequality, and the ever-growing chasm between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, this was said recently: “I think it’s one of the most important issues, and one of the most disturbing trends facing the nation at the present time. There are deep and disturbing long-term structural trends.”
I’ll throw in these questions: Was it President Aquino who said this? Secretary Purisima? Governor Tetangco? To recognize that we, as a society, is riven by a great divide? Where one man is worth $11 billion, while the struggling mass below often have to sell kidneys and eyes just to put something on the table? And that something urgent and radical has to be done to bridge the divide?
Do you know who said those words? Janet Yellen, who as the chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, is said to be the most powerful official of the world’s mightiest, though troubled, economy. Yellen’s first official appearance before the House touched on the fundamental problem of inequality, would you believe? Yellen’s congressional appearance – just to give you an idea on how important it was and how powerful she is – was monitored across the globe, as one off-key statement from her would send stock markets in places as diverse as Indonesia and Turkey gyrating.
Yellen did not only cover inequality. She went further ahead to express her solidarity with humanity: she recognized that the country’s employment picture is far from stable and took notice of her country’s unemployed and underemployed.
Of course, what she said was fully in sync with what President Obama said. That inequality is the “defining challenge of our time.” And what Pope Francis had described as the utter bankruptcy of “ trickle-down economics.” This is the economic theology that allows the plutocrats to thrive, and those below to languish in deprivation.
Another question: Do you know of any Filipino official, among the major ones who have spoken along these humanitarian lines? Who have spoken words of compassion when speaking about the unfortunate? Who have recognized that dealing with poverty should first be built on solidarity with their hopeless, wretched lives?
(God, our top officials can perfectly express solidarity without being emotional. Look at Yellen and read what she said in the Q&A session with the most obnoxious lawmakers. Yellen showed to us policy-setting factors in human lives, especially hopeless lives, and that you can rein in inflation and stabilize the economy while nurturing broken lives.)
The answer to the question ‘is there ever one who has truly commiserated with the hopeless and the faceless? No one.
In fairness to the Aquino government, however, it has three policies that are aimed at promoting meritocracy (the CCT) and promoting growth in the depressed areas (the bottoms-up approach to budgeting and the recent decision to invest heavily in the 30 poorest provinces). But the three are not the core strategies required to help ease the great divide.
If at all, building a more egalitarian society is a mere afterthought of the three programs. If egalitarianism comes out as a glorious by-product of the three programs, fine. If not, we will not lose a night’s sleep over this. Why I am saying this?
In the Eastern Visayas, for example, the heavy investments may actually fast-track the return of the region to the pre-Yolanda status. The damaged infrastructure may even be replaced by better quality infra. But without a targeted program to use the relief and rehabilitation as a tool to improve the lives of the poorest of the poor, Eastern Visayas would merely revert to what that region was before – a greatly unequal society where the wealthy (traditional families, mind you) would remain the wielder of economic and political power and the poverty-stricken mass below as their vassals.
Nothing would change and the copra gatherers would remain copra gatherers, albeit in an environment where they have new city and municipal halls.
Even an incremental increase in income would just expand the market for liquor and tobacco, making the tobacco and liquor companies the big winners of the incremental income gains.
An investment that would channel billions of pesos in R & D funds to the excellent agriculture-oriented public university there would do wonders. Producing a coconut variety that have all the attributes of a winner (can bear young coconut immediately, can produce excellent coir, can withstand typhoons less destructive than Yolanda, can multiply the saps that produce low-glycemic sugar alternatives) would spread out economic opportunities appropriately.
Coconut juice and coconut oil have been steadily making their marks on the global market, the government knows this very well, and it is time to cash in on the global popularity of the two products to help ease the grinding poverty in the coconut region.
The first step to help ease the divide is to feel the pain, genuinely, of the anguished regions and the people on the margin – then act on real, ground-level poverty easing programs. It is not the technical or the technocratic formulations that would matter and change lives.
The obsession with ushering in growth and the governing with personal integrity will do nothing to help ease the defining problem of our time. With technocracy triumphant, compassion for the underclass is surely bound for extinction.