Pope Francis has introduced another commandment—“thou shall not introduce an economy of exclusion and inequality”. He describes this economy as one that kills, alienates and marginalizes people who are condemned to unemployment and resulting poverty. Living in this exclusive economy, those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are, he emphasizes, no longer even part of it – they are not the exploited but the outcasts and “leftovers.”
It is an economy, he states, that is based on the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed on the powerless. Under this “throw away” system even human beings are “considered consumer goods to be used and discarded,” he adds.
Commenting on the “trickle-down theory” in development economics which assumes that economic growth, encouraged by free markets, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater equity and inclusiveness in the world- an assumption unsupported by empirical data, Pope Francis scorns the naïve trust in the goodness of those who wield economic power who are insensitive to the plight of the poor.
The trickle-down theory was the mantra of the liberal economists of the eighties— the subscribers of Reaganomics or “supply side economics”. It assumed unrealistically that economic development followed traditional growth patterns with prosperity gradually seeping down to the least deprived. Under Reagan’s supply – side economics the rich by spending automatically raise the real incomes of the poor so that it would be best for the government to raise the incomes of the rich and upper income levels through the provision of tax breaks and other economic benefits.
Opponents of the theory point out to the robber barons with their “loot-and-plunder’’ business practices during the period preceding the great depression and before the anti-trust laws.
On this score, the recent Meralco “shock” is reminiscent of pre-war practices of US monopolists, oligopolists and cartels as well as those of the crony capitalists of Marcos time. A trickle-down theory sans a competition policy with its anti-trust legislation would only place the Filipino consumer in the hands of the architects of imperfect competition.
So what is the alternative to a trickle down approach? Obviously a “Growth with Equity” paradigm that is “trickle up”. The approach to this as the World Bank and the International Labor Organization has maintained all along, and introduced into the country by the team of Gustav Ranis in the mid-seventies calls for “rural-mindedness”, because it is in the provinces that we have the greatest concentration of the poor. Indeed the municipal fishermen, subsistence farmers and other rural folk are the most marginalized elements of Philippine society. Through higher public spending for rural infrastructure and social overhead investments (irrigation, power, farm-to-market roads, education and health), which should not be less than 5% of GNP, the poor families in this country, accounting for a third of total, can be freed from the yoke of poverty and integrated into the economy. This is the inclusive growth paradigm that Pope Francis talks about.
But what will oblige the Philippine government to rebalance its growth strategy from one that is financially driven, import and service – oriented and urban centered, to one that is productivity led and rural based? What structural changes are needed by an economy that sits on a one-legged tripod – kept afloat by OFW remittance and BPO? These are the major challenges facing the Aquino administration in the coming years!
There is a sense of urgency here because unless these economic challenges above are successfully met, the violent upheavals and political instabilities following from these as predicted by Pope Francis can follow.