PNoy’s keyboards can’t type ‘inequality.’

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

Marlen V. Ronquillo

It will take just a few clicks— and we won’t even break a sweat—to find these out.

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That India, one of the much-ballyhooed success stories of late, often posts aggregate growth through gains at the very top of that caste-ridden society. In 2010, the top 100 families had a combined wealth of $300 billion, or a quarter of that year’s GDP.

But there is another side to that story. Around 90 percent of the work force, those in agriculture and the so-called informal sectors, had stagnant wage and income growths.

Michael Walton, a Harvard-based economist, called this kind of growth  “disequalizing“ or simply causing more inequality. Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize winner in economics who had published path-breaking work on the great divide in his native country, had called India’s growth a “daft and alienated way of judging economic progress.” Sen said that in 1983 yet and the problem has taken a turn for the worse.

The poverty at the bottom and low quality of life were such that, according to health findings, half of India’s population still practiced open defecation in 2011. And that poor Bangladesh, the country of famine and  natural disasters, has—in some select quality-of-life metrics—better data than India.

London, the great city that once dispatched the ruling Rajs to India, has a more depressing data: the top 10 percent of Londoners own 270 times more than the city’s  poorest 10 percent. And that the residents of One Hyde Park, reportedly the glitziest, most expensive address in the world, does not know about the ghettoes that exist just a few miles away.

The French duo of Thomas  Pikkety and Emmanuel  Saez  are now considered the foremost researchers on American inequality. In fact, the UC Berkeley–based Saez became a Bates awardee (a recognition for economists under 40 with brilliant work in a specific economic field) for  his work and researches on inequality.

From 2009 to 2012, according to the two, the incomes of those in the top 1 percent grew by 31.4 percent while the incomes of ordinary families grew by a meager 6.0 percent.

Trickle-down gains a lie
An updated report from the two said that in 2012 the top 10 percent took more than half of the country’s income. The top 1 percent took one fifth. The US is in some sort of a new Gilded Age even as President Obama has described the problem of inequality as the “defining challenge of our time.”  Pope Francis has weighed in, saying that “trickle-down“ economics—in which gains from the top move down into the bottom sectors of society to lift all lives, is a myth.

If you try to get data on the poverty and income inequality in the Philippines, what do we get? On top of the listing for income inequality is a 1998 report with data on the 1994 income distribution: that the top 20 percent received 52 percent of the country’s total income that year. Poverty rate was constantly high and the income gains was generally skewed toward the top economic earners.

The Wiki page cited official government data from 2005 yet.
Like the snail, inhuman pace by which poverty is being dented, the churning out of official, verifiable data on income distribution and inequality has been a low priority concern in this sad sack of a country. There is a general absence of public/private enthusiasm to study the issue and know the hard truths. The keyboards of President Aquino’s computer cannot type the word “inequality.”

And the reasons for this are very obvious.

It is common practice in this country to deify the rich and ignore the concerns of the poor and the very poor, the struggling middle class even. The first, and seemingly the only concern, of any leadership is to look at the regulatory framework and incentive structures for the big investors, then make sure that the frameworks are  tailored to their liking.

In a sense, the welfare state, the nanny state has a reverse definition here. It is to give sustenance and comfort to the major economic players. From tax incentives to the turning a blind eye to their salary schemes, it is the super rich that gets the pampering here. The plan to tax to death the mining giants has gone nowhere because they might pull out their investments. The giant mall operators offer salaries that can’t feed a family of three, and employment is for workers that can’t organize into unions. The fury of the labor inspectors, meanwhile, is trained at the sweatshops—which often pay more decent wages than the dollar billionaires.

Just look at this very simple comparison: land awards to the major developers either via lease or auction versus the peripheral concern for mass housing. A sleight-of-hand contract presented to government by a major developer would merit a long-term lease on prime metropolitan lands.

And take note of the raw lands where the squatters are being relocated.

Again, let us not forget the PPP, where the major investments are. It is for the rich, by the rich and of the rich.
Right now, inequality is the most dominant issue in the developed world. In our context, not a word is being mentioned about it as if—we are repeating this—the keyboards of the presidential computer has  blanked out the world inequality. More, what fuels the conversation about inequality in other settings is a vigorous class of public intellectuals that turn out the data—and step up the pressure—so that inequality becomes the top agenda, the “defining challenge of our time.“

Here, as I have sadly noted, the so-called public intellectuals hector us without let up on graft and corruption and morality, perhaps to drown out the defining issue of our time—the skewed income distribution that, on one hand, create a Gilded Age-living plutocrats, and on the other, a kind of people that often sell their body organs to have food on the table.

Or, these public intellectuals are too busy being made up so they can bloviate on TV.

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3 Comments

  1. florentino maddara on

    Dont worry Mr. Ronquillo, there is a saying in the Bible ‘The more you have materially in this short and temporary life the more the difficulty to enter the gate of Heaven’, di ba, Sir?

  2. Good article, but what is the solution? A partial solution is to educate the poor better, so that they at least have a chance to improve their lot. If that proves only partially successful then maybe they will see and understand what the plutocrats are doing and vote them out. If only!

    • How can you educate the poor if they are further pushed down to be poor. Why? Because the administration has no concrete plan, objectives and vision how poor could be uplifted. It concentrates on impeaching rather than strengthening the equal branches of government; blaming instead of planning, and collaborating rather than bribing. Two good concepts are to change the constitution banning dynasty to eradicate same political families embezzling government funds like the estradas, change the tax system requiring all people to file taxes and give refunds to the low income people. With this, poor people could feel importance and belongingness – that they are part of government. Everybody will work because they will expect refunds from tax; economy will reactivate. Change political system allowing more votes to those who contribute more to the economy and those who give honor to our country. Change political structure to federal system to promote competition among federal states. I remember Albay was once pleading for help because the province would be cut off of its electricity for non payment of bills. It should not happen in federal system because Tiwi, Albay is the supplier of power for Luzon including Makati who gain more of power from Tiwi, Albay. Sana ganito gawin natin.