POLITICAL actors have traditionally been classified as “left-leaning or right-wing” and at times “centrist” based on their positions on major governance issues such as: role and size of government, welfare policies, production and delivery of public goods, stance towards the private sector and human rights, among other governance issues.
Since the re-start of the Philippines’ life as an independent nation in 1946, we might say that there wasn’t much difference with the two main parties formed, the Nacionalista and Liberal parties, in terms of where they stood in the spectrum. And more telling, the Filipino on the street probably couldn’t tell the difference no matter which political party or mix thereof governed the country.
The Communist Party of the Philippines, while not participating in elections, has long held out a political vision that would be at the other end (leftism) of the spectrum but seeks to govern by victory from a “protracted revolution” to become the governors of the Philippines.
Left-right no polar opposites
The left-right political spectrum is aligned with the idea that communism and capitalism are polar opposites where communism represents the left and capitalism the right. But if we take it from the experience of the common citizen, it might seem that both communism and capitalism, the so-called opposite ends of the spectrum of left and right politics, are actually quite similar in many aspects.
First, both political models are deeply rooted in the idea that society needs powerful, even non-democratic, institutions to create a state that can serve the interests of its citizens. Capitalism uses the non-democratic private corporation as the dominant force to mobilize the state’s resources to create an economy and a certain kind of society with built-in inequalities. Communism also uses non-democratic political institutions and non-democratic state enterprises to do the same thing.
While the means might be different (state planning and allocation of capital vs. private allocation of capital based on “market” prices), in many situations the result is the same: monopoly/oligopoly power, elitism, large gap between the haves and the have nots, information manipulation and a kind of contempt for the ordinary citizen (that their interests are not the same as the interests of the rulers necessarily and theirs can go hang).
Second, both communism and capitalism have little regard for natural and social capital putting these secondary to the need to strengthen the basic institutions like their corporations and the state enterprises. This disregard is formalized in the economic sector through the reliance of the use of the gross domestic product (GDP) growth as a proxy for the performance of the whole state and only secondarily with the resulting welfare of the people and the environment. Since GDP is calculated primarily from the income accounts of the corporations and the state enterprises, it is but natural that both political visions will adopt priority policies to grow GDP. And the primary question now is “how to empower corporations and state enterprises to have more value-added or income in the ensuing year”.
If this increased corporate and enterprise income should come in the form of ripping up nature and marginalizing communities wholesale (logging and mining), then so be it as anyway these things are not counted in coming up with the GDP figures, but certainly the corporate and enterprise profits will be.
Thus, there is a need to articulate a different political spectrum in a way that truly represents polar opposites of each other (and where “centrist” then gets redefined too).
Bottom-up vs trickle-down
In my view, the better definition of a more relevant political spectrum is “bottom-up” versus “trickle-down”. It is vertical rather than the left-right horizontal spectrum. I submit that both capitalism and communism are at the same end of the spectrum: both are trickle-down due to their use of the GDP growth measurement and acknowledgment of corporate/enterprise accounts as primary and community and environment as secondary.
The new political spectrum would pit proponents of policies geared towards either “area development” or its opposite, “sectoral development”. Area development measures the success of the state in making the households generate more and more networth and at the same time the natural capital in the area to be used is as well conserved for future generations without significant degradation. More importantly, area development looks at the growth of the “stock” rather than just the “flows” as sector development does.
To explain this more clearly, if your household has say five citizens in it and is located in a beautiful, nature-endowed village, would the household be counting its progress simply by the amount of income it generated for the year without accounting for the impact on the “stock” or assets of the household in creating that income? If the answer is yes, then sectoral development with its focus on income flows is the dominant political paradigm. If the answer is no, that it matters that the stocks have been degraded, then the political paradigm is aligned with that of area development.
You see, the income (sector dev) could have come from drawing down on the “stock” of the household. Sector dev policies would encourage the conversion of the household’s assets into income flows by, say, removing and selling the trees in the garden, scrapping the top and subsoil and sending it to China as “mineral ore,” selling the work animals, sending the wife abroad to work as an OFW, etc. These would all result in higher family GDP without acknowledging the basic unsustainability of these flows once all the assets or stocks are degraded to the point of dysfunction.
As the world of today only knows of sector development, it is no wonder that there is a great political imbalance (only sectorism) and an illusion of democracy when in fact the people around the world, but most especially here, are being fed only one end of the political spectrum resulting in great social and environmental distress.
It is time to recognize the “bottom-up (area) versus trickle-down (sector)” as the more relevant definition of the political spectrum to have a much clearer democratic choice and better policies that save humanity and planet earth from the madness that only comes with reliance on the singular sectoral development paradigm.
Politics based on area development will result in totally different policies from that of sectoral development and this is why it is important to shift our understanding and appreciation of the political spectrum. With this understanding will come a clearer appreciation of the need for relevant political parties that align themselves along the real political spectrum.