Part 2 and conclusion of

Philippines’ shallow capitalism


SLOWLY but surely, the Philippines is beginning to resemble hyper-consumerist countries such as the United States, which have endlessly indulged in ever-increasing demand for goods and services on the back of decades of robust industrialization.

That was the case specifically during the Keynesian era, which lasted until the late-1970s, and massive borrowing from foreign creditors, particularly export-oriented economies such as China and Japan, in the age of neo-liberal globalization.
Today, the Philippines is simulating American-style consumerism without going through the “valley of tears” of state-led industrial development, high rates of household saving rates, and mass production of affordable exports — the very factors which allowed Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs) such as South Korea to get out of the cycle of poverty in recent times.

Illusion of prosperity

The mind-boggling expansion in the Philippines’ real estate sector has gone hand-in- hand with the perennially disappointing absence of modern public infrastructure.

There is hardly any massive “green” public park area (think of Singapore’s Botanic Gardens or New York’s Central Park), where Filipinos from all walks of life can safely and comfortably enjoy the wonders and serenity of nature in an ocean of congestion and pollution. Public spaces are often neglected by the authorities or vandalized by uncaring residents.

There is limited public space for (spiritual and physical) disengagement from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The Filipino state has basically outsourced such responsibilities to profit-driven enterprises. And this is precisely why the shopping malls have become the core of urban life in the Philippines. Meanwhile, shopping malls have been on the verge of extinction in other countries, especially in the US, where online shopping and urban picnics have captured the hearts and minds of many urban residents.

The Philippines, shaped by its colonial legacy, has emulated Western lifestyles and urban architectures. But it has not truly modernized, at least in the Weberian sense.

We are yet to see truly rational, impersonal state institutions, which stand beyond patronage and personalized politics. Even much of the business sector is dominated by a few old families, so it is preposterous to talk about “free market” competition.

The country’s public infrastructure is among the least developed in Asia, while the elite educational institutions have struggled to keep up with regional peers. With the exception of the country’s premiere university, the University of the Philippines, all other top Filipino universities have been rapidly falling behind their counterparts in other parts of Asia and the developing world.

Modernity isn’t about speaking English per se —or any global lingua franca for that matter. It is also not about having big shopping malls, wearing global brands, and preaching liberal socio-political values per se. Those are only manifestations of modernization, not the core of it. Modernity, above all, is about placing efficiency, meritocracy and knowledge above connections, patronage and discredited traditions.

This is precisely why many of the Philippines’ neighboring countries, which have held onto much of their cultural heritage, stand as significantly more modern and prosperous: social mobility, merit-based success, and knowledge-intensive productivity are incredibly more visible in places such as Taiwan or South Korea than in the Philippines.

More importantly, the Philippines’ rapid rates of economic growth in recent years haven’t brought about an egalitarian, modern form of capitalism, which is capable of generating waves of prosperity that lift all the boats regardless of gender, class, and ethnicity. Low-end services and speculative sectors such as real estate have been the backbone of recent economic growth, with multi-billion remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) fueling domestic consumption.

The tremendous lack of inclusive growth in the country is a reflection of the absence of modern state institutions which can efficiently provide public services and regulate overweening markets; the lack of investment in research and development (R&D) across educational and corporate institutions; and a centuries-old tradition of patronage-politics, as well as feudal economic institutions in rural areas, which have kept millions of Filipinos from realizing their great potential.

Perhaps it is time for the Filipino elite to rediscover the true meaning of modernity, democracy, and progress. And for the wider population to fight for genuine prosperity.
FB: Rigoberto Tiglao


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  1. Vicente Penetrante on

    I’m sorry, but I cannot get what you are trying to say. People of every century may have claimed to be modern, as we claim it now. Nobody knows what will happen to our country in another century. The issues of poverty, prosperity and government had been talked about again and again. Maybe the talk will continue in the future again and again, too.

    According to an unknown author, Aristotle said, “The best state will enable anyone to act in the best and live in the happiest manner.”

  2. Justaskingseriously on

    In our postmodern age, wouldn’t it be so easy to see a digital image of the Huffington blogger who is supposed to be taking a post grad course at UP? At bakit naman si Rigoberto Tiglao ay nagiging channel niya para sa kaniyang agenda? Kindred spirits yata sila upang maibalik ang rugged capitalism na masama para sa ating lupain? Tinatawag ko na “rugged” ang kaniyang sinasabi na wala sa Pilipinas ang “valley of tears” na dinaanan ng mga bansang naging “modern”.

  3. Our problem is that the 40 families who purportedly own 70% of the wealth continue lording it over…. Why change the structure when you are king? ….this inequality gap is unconscionable … And continues also with government assistance or apathy….. We only have our leadership to blame …… So sad that the lust for money has no limit…

  4. Hindi ba masama si Pres. Marcos? That’s what many of us thought about him including me. But Im now old and know better. He did try yo industrialize our nation but most of us was naloko of hate propaganda against him. So, what’s new Mr. Tiglao?

  5. The ruling class in the Philippines is all about themselves. They have no humanitarian projects to benefit the other classes. They see things as it is their job to hold the masses where they are and keep money as the number one goal. Henry Ford in the US increased his Ford workers salary so that they could buy cars. In China every factory built employee dormitories so they could have a place to sleep while they earn more money to keep for themselves. In our Philippines we have set up systems to keep money out of reach of the people. Our factories hire and fire the same people over and over again, just so they can be classified as probationary workers and paid a lower wage. Electricity, water, and taxes are based on the maximum amount that can be taken from the people and not based on cost. Government money is regularly taken out of improvement projects and diverted to the pockets of the corrupt. Just look at the latest tax, the rail fare increase, it will be “saved” and given to one of the gang to spend.

    What the ruling class does not understand is that it is better to one of the leaders of a good country than to be the chief of a backward country. Wake up.

    • VG you are very much correct and your comments are 100% accurate. However, you underestimate the callous indifference and egoism of the elite. They really don’t care if they are leaders of a backward nation. It is THEIR backward nation, theirs to plunder and abuse. They live as untouchables and are beyond the reach of the law. They can do what they want and take what they want.

  6. In short, what we have in our country is simply the trappings of economic progress without economic progress. Why? Aside from having shallow capitalism, we have shallow commitment, shallow goal, and most importantly a shallow spirit to pursue national progress. And worst we do not have any visible “Filipino culture” to guide us all.

    What we do is simply look to others across the seas and copy what they do as if we think like they do and hope to have “success” like they do. We must have our own “Filipino Formula” for success.

  7. This article and the shallowness of our capitalism hits a spot. Our landlord/rich/
    industrialists, will continue to hog the wealth, forgetting promised distribution like
    Hacienda Luisita. Ang old man, retired in Florida, exclaims” KAILAN PA KAYA TAYO MAGBAGO?