Posted tagged ‘social theory’

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (CSR): CORPORATE DEODORANT OF ‘LATE’ CAPITALISM

September 26, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Good afternoon from Manila!

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines’ most brilliant and deviously cunning chief executive, was so elated one day during his tyrannical incumbency. The reason for the unusual elation was this: his soldiers captured Bernabe Buscayno, the first national head of the Maoist insurgent group New People’s Army or NPA, who was a prized catch for the strong man. After some military interrogation, Buscayno was directed to be brought to the presidential palace to face Marcos, who at one point in the encounter, asked Buscayno for a remark. Obliging like a school boy, Buscayno replied that “no matter how evil a person can be, s/he can still be transformed into a good person.”

The enormously witty man Marcos was dumbfounded by the witty remark from the Maoist rebel, for that comment made its mark so clear: Marcos is evil, yet he can still be reformed. Probably pissed off by the stubborn rebel, who never the least conceded to defeat so as to bow in obeisance in recognition of the chief executive, Marcos made sure that Buscayno will suffer miserably inside the prison cell.

You see, I cited that story of Buscayno, as a matter of reflecting on the rationale behind Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR. Buscayno, who has been active in the cooperative movement in the Philippines after his release from prison in 1986 (the year Marcos was overthrown), could very well repeat his witty line when asked about CSR, with a curt reply that “CSR, no matter what evil may be behind it, can be reformed.”

Asians put greater stress on ‘becoming’ as a category more than ‘being’ (Westerner’s granite category), that is why we Asians are inclined to see positive reformations of things or beings whose evils may be irredeemable. And this I can say of CSR: it is an ideological deodorant for Big Business greed, but somehow it can be reformed. To use Organization Development language, it can be ‘re-engineered’.

CSR is already a re-engineering of philanthropy in fact, and belongs squarely to ‘late’ capitalism. Old fogey philanthropy operated with a Victorian underpinning: I possess the money, and you recipient are a Beggar who came to me. You are lucky enough because I am giving you part of my purse, for I have none reserved for you folks save for the theatres, performers and socialite circles thay may the better be served by my extra monies for posterity’s sake. …

Well, Big Business was able to re-engineer its image precisely by reformatting old-fogey philanthropy (which was a reformatted version of medieval charity of the pretentious church Orders or ‘corporations’). CSR appropriated the ‘social development’ practices (social technologies) of NGOs and peoples’ organizations or POs, stressed the supposedly core element of ‘compassion’, and voila! CSR was born! How effable, how sweet, how infinitely Angelic and Godly is this ‘new way’ of helping people by the Gods of Corporate World! Hail capitalism! Hail beneficent Gods!

Deodorant, pure deodorant! Take a look at Lucio Tan, who at one time was the top landlord-capitalist oligarch in the Philippines. A one-time Marcos croney, Tan made enormous fortunes from Marcos’ time to the present, probably with start-up capital coming from the dictator’s purse (but which Tan refuses to admit in public). Tan’s fortunes made him land in the Fortune 500 (world’s richest), yet he was also found wanting in the manner of paying taxes. His unpaid taxes may be worth P80 Billion (almost $2 Billion) today, and is still growing, yet not a single cent was paid to the state by this notorious oligarch for those ‘tax evasion’ cases…Yet Tan has captured the eyes of fund recipients from his CSR give-away items, even as he is fondly regarded as an angelic patron by the same armies of beggar recipients. (Beggar here means not the literal beggar, but the condescending image of oligarchs on recipients: filthy Eaters, ‘useless eaters’).

Capitalism is a system that is founded on greed and hoarding, and no sagely or wise personage, or the most evolved beings could ever rationalize capitalism as a system that will sustain the drive towards Nirvana or represents the final liberation of humans from their subhumanizing hovels of dense life. Besides, this current phase of capitalism—‘late’ capitalism—is now DEAD, and the dead system is rapidly crashing down. Only those materialistic ‘eaters’ whose perceptions are as delimited as their own astigmatic perceptions of reality principles can ever justify that capitalism is still working, for the reality we have today is that of ‘virtual economy’ of the most perverted, evil greed of all.

If CSR would have to survive the times, as ‘late’ capitalism is now DEAD, then now is the time to refurbish its image. Because its life is deeply embedded in the corporate purses, this image-change is hard to imagine at all. But being of the Asian-yogic way of life, being a mystic and development expert at the same time (though now in the twilight of social development engagements), I wish to give CSR a chance and see it grow along the trajectory of the hereafter that was declared by Buscayno: transformed from ‘evil’ to ‘good’.

I’d end this piece by clarifying to you a reality we know among mystics: demons can also return to the Path of Light. Yes, Fellows, those Belzeebub abominations, those Asuras or Demonyos, those Diaboli, or whatever term you may use for the same species of evil demented beings, many of those abominations have already returned to the state-of-balance and are now taking the Path of Light back to the Almighty I Am Presence (God)! Yes! CSR can!

[28 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

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‘LATE’ CAPITALISM ENDS IN CRASHING BLOW POST-‘MAD ECONOMICS’

September 12, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Good afternoon!

At this moment, I’m sipping coffee contained in a pack that is sold for worth P130, or $3.00. The pack is one of the domestic brands of brewed coffee blends, ready for the drip coffee maker, of the Arabica and/or Robusta varieties. In economic parlance, this coffee is a commodity because (a) it was intended for exchange and not for the coffee producer’s consumption alone, and (b) money was used to acquire (purchase) it.

I have such deep fondness for coffee, as I acquired my coffee-drinking behavior as a childhood habit yet. In my hometown of Tuguegarao (city), Cagayan province (North Philippines), coffee beans were grounded into powder form and sold right inside the ‘wet’ market, was brewed using the local decoction techniques, and was consumed by people of all ages from pre-school to senior’s age. That was then, and that was how I learned to drink this beverage at age 5 more or less. I was hooked to the habit since then, even as I continued to drink milk that I still do till now. Both coffee and milk are among my health formulas, and both are commodities.

The question I’m asking now is, will commodity-based economics survive the times ahead? Both coffee and milk will survive for sure, but will the money economy that underpins them survive as well? As to the broader world system of capitalism, will it survive too or is it in fact on its death knell today?

Capitalism was the last of the world systems that embodied the ‘money economy’ to which it properly belongs. With the opening of the 20th century, the socialist world system appeared on the social landscape and attempted to serve as an alternative to capitalism, but this experienced its early demise as its implementers found out that it cannot be sustained after all. Both capitalism and socialism are embodiments of the ‘money economy’ as it later turned out to be, they are just but two sides of the same coin: the ‘money economy’.

Socialism is gone, and no matter what attempts there may arrive to survive it in some other forms, this variant of the ‘money economy’ is gone. Now capitalism is all alone, and it is getting more real than virtual that it too is bound to crash a catastrophic end, and with its demise, the “last of the (economic) Mojicans” is bound to disappear (my apologies to Mojicans if my note sounds ethnically incorrect). And with capitalism’s demise, the whole of the ‘money economy’ folds up like unto a book that had reached its last chapter, and deserves more to be consigned to the archives of history.

The Frankfurt school thinkers, notably Jurgen Habermas, cogitated that capitalism’s life span was extended somehow, and was dubbed as ‘late’ capitalism in this last phase of the world system. In this phase, state planning and interventionism were infused into the system to extend its life. Before ‘late’ capital came the mercantile, free enterprise, and monopoly phases of this world system. Will there be another phase to capitalism after ‘late’ capital?

Before I answer that extension of life span, let me stress that ‘late’ capitalism shall end in the following process and manner:

·        The re-introduction of liberalization—of free market and free trade principles—into ‘late’ capital shifted engagements away from production, the real foundation of the economy, to the sphere of predatory finance, thus producing the gargantuan ‘bubble economy’. The ‘physical economy’ of production transmogrified into the ‘virtual economy’ that produces no real value other than imaginary or delusional values. It is ‘mad economics’ in operation, no longer the ‘rational economics’ of mercantilists, classicists and neo-classicists.

 

·        The ‘mad economics’ led to the yawning gap between actually produced values and the aggregates of financial derivatives and debts combined, to the extent that the former shrinks at a rapid rate relative to the latter. As bubbles burst from one commodity sector to another, leading eventually to a crisis of gargantuan proportion, all the more will production shrink, unable to produce values that can input into the demand functions for fresh money to pay for aggregate credits, primary debts, secondary debt obligations, and so on.

 

·        The crisis will then move on to the further shrinking of production, tightening of credit sources, and hyperinflationary situation in utilities (notably gas & power), food, base metals and other vital commodities. Total economic collapse results from the foregoing.

 

·        The economic then leads to social unrests, turmoil, upheavals, civil wars, food wars, water wars, and possibly intercontinental wars such as another 3rd world war. The clash of world powers and their surrogate emerging markets will become the flames of a possible long war akin to the 30 Years War (c.1618-48).  

Let me now end at that instance. Suffice me to proclaim that the death knell of ‘late’ capitalism and the whole of the ‘money economy’ of the last 2000 years or so are ending. The ‘non-cognitive economics’ of the Roman to feudal era, the ‘rational economics’ of the Renaissance to monopoly capital era, and the ‘mad economics’ of ‘late’ capital were markedly the underpinning mediation processes of that entire 2000-year epoch. The epoch and its last phase of capitalism is rapidly drawing to a close.

[Writ 22 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila.]  

SMITH-RICARDIAN ‘FREE TRADE’ JUSTIFIED SLAVE TRADE

September 9, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

To continue on the theme of laissez faire, a doctrine started by the French physiocrats and systematized further by the Scots, let it be known that the principle of ‘free trade’ generated by physiocracy was largely a doctrinal defense of slave trade. [Physiocrats were philosophers who focused on economic problems, while philosophes who focused on political, ethical, and epistemological problems.]  

I already elaborated in a previous briefer that Adam Smith was an ‘intellectual prostitute’ whose services were procured by the British East India Company, precisely for the purpose of crafting in theoretical form the ‘free trade’ doctrine that was to justify, though subtly, the slave trade of that historic juncture. I gained the information about this rather shady background of Smith from a fellow political economist, Butch Valdez, a Fellow in the defunct Independent Review circle of 1990s Manila.

The physiocrats were already quite sophisticated in their modeling of economic reality then existing, and from out of that physiocratic subculture emerged Adam Smith whose synthesis of the existing doctrines of his time produced the Wealth of Nations. In the same book and related philosophical writings, Smith discoursed both on micro and macroeconomics, explaining in physiocratic terms the source of national income (termed ‘wealth’ at that time) from out of domestic engagements by landlords, capitalists and laborers, as well as international operations notably those accruing from overseas colonies’ operations.

It was from the latter that David Ricardo, disciple of Smith, took off to articulate the principle of ‘comparative advantage’. In the writings of Ricardo, the discipline of political economy moved much closer to empirical science, a feat that I myself had come to admire. David Ricardo was hardly any ‘intellectual prostitute’ to reckon with, but rather was he a financier who engaged in the evolving bourse and speculative pursuits of his own time. But slave trade was very much alive during his time, and there could be no doubt on his part that his theory of international trade served in no small measure to justify the conduct of slave trade.

In my youth yet did I come to learn, from the likes of Alejandro ‘Ding’ Lichauco, a Harvard-schooled economist and corporate executive, that free trade couldn’t be enforced without imperialism. It was a perfect income-generating strategy for Britain particularly since this world power had an entire empire to manage. Absent that Empire, and free trade will collapse. (Ding Lichauco was later a leading Fellow of the Independent Review in the 1990s.)

However, it was only much later that I was able to connect free trade directly to slave trade practices, thanks to my Fellows in the Independent Review, notably Butch Valdez. Slave traders were legion around the years 1700-1850, or up to the decade preceding the US Civil War and China’s Taiping Rebellion, and at one time British traders alone owned over 20,000 ships plying the oceans to market African slaves. Within America, Portugal and Spain both engaged in the same trade, though including Indians aside from Blacks, often with the blessings of the Vatican. It was huge bucks, this slave trade, more so that the bourses began to factor slave availability and chattel quality in the valuation of certain cash crops, which then factored in the valuation of main stock trading articles and nascent insurance forms.

The very same slave traders had in their employ not only those early stock traders in London and elsewhere, but also lobby groups and journalists whose tasks included bribing legislators and bureaucrats to keep them blind about the noxious trading of human chattel. There was no way that slave trade could survive in a policy environment of high regulation, more so in a context of ‘activist state’ intervening so heavily in investment areas (dirigist development).

It was only in a state with least regulations did slave trade flourish, the only regulations it seems coming from God Almighty (who would punish the traders for their sins post mortem). But even God Almighty had a long-drawn policy of non-interventionism in the physical plane, a laissez faire attitude that favored the physiocrats and their notorious slave trader sponsors. As far as Earth was concerned, it was the oligarchs who are gods till now, and so they define which doctrine to advance at every turn of epochs, historic periods and cyclical episodes.

Since the slave traders then had to reckon with powerful mercantilist doctrinaires such as Colbert, whose writings influenced France’s intellectual and governance circles and US’ policy makers notably A. Hamilton, there was no way that slave trade would fail to catch the eyes of politicians and libertarian groups, and before long the same trading ‘best practices’ would be criminalized as malpractices. The same mercantilist policy makers, who were dirigists and regulationists, swarmed the Kings’ courts everywhere, who didn’t mince words in attacking slave trade and slandering the traders before the nobles and mediocre bureaucrats (who always needed some godfather thinkers as mentor-guides for their actions).  

That was why physiocracy failed to gain foothold in its own home ground of France, and had to be exported to the neighboring British Isle where it obtained further fertilization. Finally, upon the further expansion of the British Empire, physiocracy caught the eyes of the nobles, politicians and bureaucrats. At that moment of convergence of interests for laissez faire, Smith was already ripe for the picking, via the British East India Company, whose satisfactory work was vigorously propagandized by the coteries of doctrinal converts.

Smith gained not only fame but also great following, and among his followers emerged David Ricardo and Thomas Malthus. The works of Smith and his contemporaries, five to seven decades later, inspired another coterie of philosophers, the Classical Evolutionists (Darwin, Spencer, Morgan, Tylor, Frazer, etc), whose theories of ‘natural selection’ (Darwin’s) and/or ‘survival of the fittest’ (Spencer’s) were defended via the physiocratic principles of scarcity and competition.

With a fairly equal number of free market-free trade theorists at hand, promoted in public and private circles by an emerging financier class that was awash with money and enjoyed wide social networks among the elites, free trade came to challenge and demolish mercantilist doctrines in shock waves of mighty discourses. Needless to say, for a certain period, the slave traders celebrated to the highest heavens their shallow victory for seeing their candidate doctrine ascend the intellectual pinnacle, their intoxication behooving them into believing perhaps that they were Gods of Olympus, a deluded image inherited by their financier pedigrees of today.  

That was then. Till slavery in its old form eroded. Free trade declined at the inception of the 20th century, but was later revived by the Chicago school and its adherents. Are we then ready to slide back into another round of slavery? What would be the forms of slavery this time, if the old form refuses justification and public acceptance? Isn’t the trading of human labor overseas a mere disguise for slave labor? Isn’t the privatization of jails—currently being experimented in the USA—an undisguised slavery as the prisoners will be considered chattel of Big Business, the same corporate groups that fund the purses of ‘corporate social responsibility’?

I’d end this piece right here. A pleasant day to everyone.

[21 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila.]

ADAM SMITH: ‘INTELLECTUAL PROSTITUTE’ FOR BRITISH EAST INDIA & SLAVE TRADERS

September 8, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Amigos y Amigas, Buenos dias! Magandang umaga! Good morning!

The title of this briefer may come as a shock to all those who pretend to know Adam Smith and, more so, for those who revere Mr. Smith as a cult Icon. Just to clarify to everyone, being a political economist and ‘economic sociologist’, I hold Smith personally in high esteem as an intellectual, and this briefer is not meant to flaunt irreverence on this gentleman. Smith’s place in economic history is already granite rock, no matter if laissez faire or physiocracy has become obsolete before World War II yet.

The thing is, fact of all facts, contemporary thinkers such as those guys from the ‘Chicago school’, led by Nobel notable J. Friedman (weren’t there Nobel winners who were demented, nay demonic in mindset? E.g biologist Watson, who claimed that Blacks are genetically inferior in mental intelligence). The revival of laissez faire, as one can see, was responsible for flawed policy regimes that led to the series of short cycle crisis since the early 70s yet, and which is now leading finally to the Great Depression that will mark the death blow to liberal capitalism that is now on its terminal phase. From this point of time onwards, there can be no more return to laissez faire without bringing back humanity to a catastrophic Dark Age reminiscent of that demonic age of the Medieval Era when sanity fled humanity for nigh 200 year at least.

I used to be a Fellow of the Independent Review circle here in Manila, a circle of eminent and illustrious intellectuals and business leaders (I was the only humble fellow here in the 1990s).  Unfortunately, this group disbanded in 2002, due perhaps to methodological differences (I was active only till 2001 when I left for the USA for about a year). Entry to this group was by invitation, and that was how I got wind up of it: a female student of mine at the De La Salle University (DLSU Manila) had some of my articles (readings in class) read by his father, the Undersecretary Butch Valdez (Dept of Education) who in turn extended the invitation to the Independent Review circle thru her daughter.

Within the circle, it was Butch Valdez, the eminent Principal of the Valdez & Co that is one of the Philippines’ top auditing firms, who studied with intensity the physiocratic paradigm. He came across various readings about the life and works of Adam Smith, and wrote series of articles in the Independent Review (a journal-type magazine) in ‘97 and ‘98. Being among DLSU’s privileged coterie of most brilliant alumni, Valdez’s most revealing inquiry—Smith’s being a paid intellectual for the slave traders—did come as a shock to me, though it doesn’t shock me anymore that intellectuals do prostitute themselves before high paying clients (Antonio Gramsi and Edward Said devoted kilometric pages about intellectuals, both the ‘organic’ and the ‘autonomous’ types).

The research findings of Mr. Valdez concerning Mr. Smith can be summed up as follows:

·         Previous to the years before the ascent to eminence of Smith, slave trade and the British East India Co or BEIC were among the accepted economic modalities. Needless to say, the BEIC was engaged in the trading of slaves. [Actually, my research went beyond that, as the same BEIC was also engaged in the DRUG TRADE, in the opium trade, and had an army of its own separate yet from the King’s army.]

 

·         Physiocracy, which bannered ‘free enterprise’, was especially important for the BEIC and related monopolistic imperial groups since the paradigm promoted ‘free trade’ as well. Laissez faire was in a clash with mercantilism’s dirigist policy regime, remember, as it was also opposed to mercantilism’s promotion of industrialism even as laissez faire championed agriculturalism and the ulterior interests of the landlord class. Needless to say, physiocracy championed the cause of the gentry or big planter landlord and was scornful of the industrial class (in the Philippines there is nary a disjunction between ‘landlord’ and ‘industrial’ interests anyway, they are in conjunct.)

 

·         At that historic juncture when the British Empire was expanding and eclipsing its power, the BEIC desired to optimize its profits from out of diverse trading engagements, most of all for optimizing the slave trade. It need not belabored that slaves were tied up to colonial plantations, and plantation economy was the only modality permitted by the British Monarchy as the definitive economic formation for the ‘4th world’ peripheries (colonies). The BEIC engagements’ optimization can best be done by procuring the services of intellectual mercenaries who could articulate in sophistical vogue the very doctrinal expectations of the Lords of the BEIC Hierarchy  (a ‘Committee of 300’, per my research findings).

 

·         It was precisely at that juncture of expanded slave trade when the BEIC’s talent scouts eyed the services of a Scottish gentleman, named Adam Smith, who could fit into the mental Pied Piper prototype for BEIC enslavement pursuits.  It would be no wise to contend that Smith was a mental robot or ‘Manchurian Candidate’ controlled by overlords behind the scenes, for Smith was a man of his own mind, and up to the last instance he was indeed that ‘organic intellectual’ for the slave traders. He just couldn’t qualify as ‘independent intellectual’ though, for Smith was, in the yardsticks of the autonomous intellectuals, a ‘prostituted intellectual’ or ‘intellectual prostitute’.

The rest was history. Both the erudite and simpleton among the schooled populations of Earth know what Smith’s economic doctrine is all about. And many folks today are aware that the neo-liberal policy regime of the moment was a rehash of the same Smithian physiocracy.

I do wish that I could converse with Antonio Gramsci face-to-face today and request this noblesse thinker whether the term ‘intellectual prostitute’ is appropriate an inference for Adam Smith. I might have erred in judgement. Mr. Smith was a willing party to the enslavement, plunder and looting by the British oligarchs, and this ‘willing party to’ aspect may cancel out my inference altogether. Sous rapture, to quote Jacques Derrida.

At any rate, I have shared my notes, and thanks to the gentleman Butch Valdez for his inquiries shared to our circle. Thanks to Gramsci and Said too for their recondite peregrinations about intellectuals. Fellows, I hereby leave the inferential option to you, to decide whether Smith was indeed ‘intellectual prostitute’. Have a nice day!

[Writ 21 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila.]

FIND LIGHT & PEACE IN BRO. ERLE ARGONZA’S BLOGS

May 8, 2008

FIND LIGHT & PEACE IN BRO. ERLE ARGONZA’S BLOGS

Gracious Day to all friends, partners in development, fellows in the Path!

 

You’re all invited to relish moments of Light-seeking reflections, call to relevant actions and self-development thoughts with me, through my blogs:

 

Development, Economics, Better World: https://unladtau.wordpress.com

 

Seekers’ Lessons, Freethought, Yoga, Self-Development:

 http://erleargonza.blogspot.com, http://raefdargon.mysticblogs.com

 

Poetry for Inspirational Living: http://erleargonza.wordpress.com

 

Happy Reading!

 

Bro. Erle Frayne Argonza / Guru Ra Efdargon

NEW NATIONALISM: BASIC CONTENTIONS

April 28, 2008

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

 

[Culled from: E. Argonza, “New Nationalism: Grandeur and Glory at Work!”]

 

Being an advocate of new nationalism or neo-nationalism, I outlined in the original article a number of contentions about this emerging ideology. I would prefer to treat the body of ideas as ‘policy framework’ than as ideology, given the new trend to veer away today from anything ideological.

 

1.      Strong nation can thrive and grow amid globalization.

2.      Make room for value-based and integrated frameworks.

3.      Go back to basic needs.

4.      Shift intervention from the ‘provider state’ to the ‘enabler state’.

5.      Promote synergy with civil society in the development path.

6.      People are the most important assets, revise accounting systems.

7.      Evolve from ‘capitalist markets’ to ‘social markets’.

8.      Continue to stimulate growth through the ‘physical economy’.

9.      Generate wealth from both external and domestic markets.

10.  Let ‘unbridled free trade’ give way to ‘fair trade’.

11.  Continuously open the market to external investors.

12.  Concur stewardships with communities affected by extractive industries.

13.  Strengthen national banking and the monetary system.

14.  Reform the international financial system.

 

I will elaborate on each of these contentions in some other pages later.

THE NEO-NATIONALIST THEME

April 28, 2008

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

 

[Excerpts. Revised edition, Quezon City, Feb. 2008. Original version writ August 2004.]

 

 

ECHOING THE NEO-NATIONALIST THEME

 

This paper echoes the emerging discourse referred to as New Nationalism. Note that various writers have formulated theories anchored on New Nationalism. Their theories out-rightly impact on public policy and development practice, such as the framework articulated by Robert Reich (see The Work of Nations). Here at home, economists such as Emmanuel De Dios have begun to echo themes of harmonizing nationalism and globalization.  

 

The framework base of this paper will be (a) political economy combined with (b) institutionalism. The current approach of comparative political economy had proved to be a very instructive one, this being the most central framework in development studies and public policy studies, with its analytics carried out through cross-national methodology. This approach will also be integrated with the emerging cross-disciplinal trend of institutionalism, a framework that was actually started by sociologists, and is particularly strong in studies on civil society & development, state-society synergy and organization theory.

 

Being an Asian, this analyst will also liberally subscribe to core tenets of Asian thinkers, notably Mahatma Gandhi’s. New Nationalism should as much as possible integrate the Eastern and Western theoretical streams to be able to find meaningful anchorage in the whole of the Asian continent.

 

It is hoped that the article will be of use to various end-users for reflective purposes, particularly to advocacy groups and state agencies that are in the process of rethinking   paradigms & issues revolving around public policy.

 

SCARCITY VERSUS ABUNDANCE: THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE

 

The Continental Divide—between Euro-America (Europe, North America, Latin America) and Asia-Pacific—is no mere geographical cleavage, but more importantly cultural-civilizational. In economic doctrines, the division lies in the core premise that underpins all other economic variables and the social class arrangements that constitute the base for appropriating the values of the totality of efforts of production, distribution, consumption and exchange. While Western thinkers premise economic realities on scarcity, the Eastern thinkers notably sages presuppose the same on abundance.

 

The foundational doctrines of Western political economy—mercantilism and physiocracy—were both premised on scarcity. All other doctrines that emerged thereafter, inclusive of socialism, neo-classicism and marginalism, proceeded from the same premise. The most popular socialist thinker, K. Marx, envisioned a society of abundance, rationalizing such a vision on the presumed reality of scarcity (of resources) and its attendant effect, mitigated by social structures, of pauperization on the proletariat. This ‘scarcity premise’ is indubitably a hallmark of Western discourse.

 

Eastern discourse raises questions about such a premise. Among all Eastern thinkers, it was Gandhi who most succinctly articulated the difference. To the folks of the East, daily living is a reality of abundance, such an abundance abetted by continuous resource materialization and allocation as graces from the transcendent spheres. With the caveat, to note, that people live according to their needs. Accordingly, the planet has more than enough for everyone’s needs, but not enough for everyone’s greed. What could be wiser today than the said dictum, so simple in structure yet so profound in substance? (Review also Buddhist economics, Sarkar’s ‘progressive utilization theory’, Sri Aurobindo’s vedic economics, Baha’i economics, Vivekananda’s socialist visions.)

 

I couldn’t but agree more with the Eastern discursive stream than with the Western ones. Why, let us query, do  Filipinos keep on eating the whole day, sliding inputs down their stomachs as much as five (5) times a day? And why don’t the Filipinos save surplus money at all (many folks don’t even maintain back accounts)? That is because deep within their psyche, in the antechambers of their ‘collective unconscious’, resides the presupposition of abundance. Mother earth provides, the country provides, so why save for tomorrow, and why not consume that which is offered unto you when you arrive as a visitor amongst the town & country folks, such offerings being graces from God and His most divine minions?

 

Among ancient islanders, it was a vice to store resources (savings) for oneself, as this is a hoarding practice. Reciprocity then was the economic norm of behavior. When a household cooks nilupak, and a surplus of the delicacy is gathered after the eating, then the virtuous behavior is to share the excess nilupak among neighbors and kins rather than hoard it; and, conversely, it was a vice (read: very bad behavior) to throw away (surplus) that which has been provided for by Bathala and the anitos.

 

Surely, economic theorizing that is so deeply steeped in Western streams will never get to the bottom of the reality of Filipino economic behavior. Flawed premises breed flawed models that consequently produce flawed explanatory constructs and flawed practices on the developmental sphere. To a great extent, the Filipinos continue to retain, rather unconsciously, the reciprocity-based ‘systems’ of antiquity, contributing in no small measure to their bayanihan mode of adaptation. This reciprocity helps them to survive disasters and permits them to adapt quickly to new environments that are strongly cash-based, such as urban centers. It is also the basis for creating Filipino ‘social capital’ (Peter Evans had articulated well on the principle) as human asset accretions arising from networks of volunteer social groups (civil society), the kind of capital that is a catalytic factor in various development endeavors.

 

New Nationalism may have to find an effective bridge between the two. What is sure for now is that the exchange systems of redistribution (feudalism) and markets (capitalism), both  imposed upon the islanders by Western empires, have undermined the Asian or ‘Islander Way’ of reciprocity premised on abundance. During the time of Gat J. Rizal, the islands were able to provide more than enough for everyone else, no matter how harsh the Latin-Hispanic feudal system was to the folks who were subsumed in its enclaves. Today, with over eighty (80) million people populating the archipelago, reality had assumed the scarcity mode, making us believe that scarcity has been the premise since antiquity.

 

The bridge between the East and West will be institutionalized through the popularization of a needs-based philosophy. However, the consumerism that is the hallmark of a revivified market strongly erodes a needs-based discourse. There surely is a dynamic tension between ‘basic needs’ and consumerism, and such a tension will be a chief definer of the premise’s compass in the succeeding decades.

 

LAISSEZ FAIRE VERSUS DIRIGISM: PARADIGMS AND FAIRY TALES

 

Across the continents, where markets have predominance in the economic sphere, there has always been the antipodal tendentialities of laissez faire and dirigisme. The bone of contention has been the state’s role in the economy. These tendentialities have surely represented two (2) hard-line oppositional streams.

 

Mercantilism, the progenitor of dirigism, contended that regulation should govern production, distribution, consumption and exchange. The (interventionist) state should be at the center of regulation, with the central goal of all economic pursuits being the accumulation of the wealth for King. Old Nationalism had held on to this contention, with the revision that wealth should be accumulated for the nation as a whole and no longer merely for the King, wealth that is correspondingly allocated to the folks in the form of wages and welfare (this ‘wealth for nation’ line is admittedly a concession to the Smithian physiocracy, a competitor discourse). Only the state, not the market, can best perform redistributive responsibilities for welfare, jobs and wages. Necessarily, development should be undertaken with strong state regulations in the four intervention areas mentioned. The Keynesian revolution revived the dirigist contention, using a demand-side premise, and held sway across the globe for around half a century since its inception.

 

Laissez faire, whose earliest articulators were the physiocrats, opposed dirigist doctrines with extreme zeal. Accordingly, the state should only intervene in matters of defense, justice and public works, and should keep its hands off the market. Accumulating wealth is a matter of private sector concern (industrialists and landlords), while free trade must be the condition of international exchange and distribution. Even matters of welfare must be left to market mechanisms to provide. Development efforts, i.e. the ones undertaken by ‘3rd world’ economies, must follow the laissez faire path. The logic behind the contention is that the market will produce the entrepreneurs who will be enticed to embark on bold ventures should they be left on their own to take off ‘infantile enterprises’.

 

The problem arises when, due to the predominance of non-market mechanisms, such as clientelist relations and redistribution-based exchange systems (haciendas, latifundia), development could hardly take off at all. In cases where entrepreneurs are of residual numbers, such as the one demonstrated by Philippine experience, laissez faire strategies would prove pathetic in results. This entrepreneurial scarcity had justified the adoption of dirigist policy frameworks, the principle ones being those that guided the ‘import substitution industrialization’ of 1947-1968. Various 3rd world states have sponsored the dirigist path, employing diverse models (socialist, mixed market-socialist), with fairly good results for many of them. The articulators of such states have argued that no country had ever prospered thru the laissez faire route, and that laissez faire can only work out when development had reached a highly mature level when consumerism propels growth, and where economic fundamentals are very strong and stable.

 

Many developing economies actually encountered tremendous snags as their states chiefly sponsored development efforts. Rent-seekers of every kind appeared on the scene, serving as barriers to the effective entry of possible investors from among potential competitors. In the Philippine case, asset reform in the agrarian sector had been a perennial failure, thus further complicating the already complex maize of structural problems. What happened, according to the defenders of laissez faire doctrines, was that dirigisme made the ensconced patrimonial groups become further entrenched, thus leading to a vicious cycle of slow growth, high poverty, high unemployment, and relative stagnation.

 

Such a situation served as the impetus for embracing neo-liberal reforms over the last twenty-five (25) years by the developing economies, the Philippines included. Laissez faire returned with a vengeance, popularizing free trade in the international sphere, and structural adjustments in the domestic sphere and public sector, to note: liberalization, deregulation, privatization, liberalized currency markets/devaluation, down-sizing, minimal/residual fiscal stimulus & budgets for social services, tax reforms and decentralization. Such a policy regime of ‘structural adjustments’ were instrumental in integrating national markets into a globalized one where there is freer flow of tradable goods, investments, information and labor. Not only that, the antipathy of foundational physiocracy towards manufacturing (biased for agriculture) returned, as cheap imports (owing to liberalized trade) destroyed established industries leading to ‘de-industrialization’. 

 

Where are we twenty-five (25) years after instituting market reforms under the aegis of ‘structural adjustments’ (note: we began through the ‘structural adjustment loans’ of the World Bank, c. 1979)? National income continues to grow at dismally low rates, poverty had increased during the latter phase of the reforms (decreased only recently), unemployment remains high amid positive growth, and our developmental stage continues to be stuck up in the ‘growth stage’ (failed to reach ‘maturity’). Globalization, with its attendant ‘structural adjustment’ policies, has weakened nations, even caused fragmentation in others, a fact that had likewise been replicated in the Philippines with its separatist movements. Free trade had destroyed domestic industries (the USA case was hit so hard by this one), as some had to fold up (Marikina shoes exemplifies the Philippine case) and transfer elsewhere (Procter & Gamble-Philippine is an example). With weak or nil ‘safety nets’, chances are that many producers (e.g. fruits, vegetables) will lose against cheaply-priced imports. One thing is clear for the case of many developing economies, including the Philippines: market reforms failed miserably to get them to development maturity, even as it set back the development path of others.

 

So if both dirigisme and laissez faire have been failing in making life better for the nation and the majority of the people, what discourse than can work out to salve the ailments of most developing states? Expectedly, a ‘renaissance of nation-states’ has become the wave of the present, with many of its articulators defending a return to dirigisme in its old form—in its highly protectionist form. I used to be among such articulators, even as I now argue that Old Nationalism can have deleterious results when pushed to the extremes. We can’t wish globalization away, it is here to stay and galvanize some more, even as it challenges us all to path-find the opportunities that it can offer while neutralizing the threats that could result from it. In other words, re-echoing Herr Reich’s and Mdm Arroyo’s elucidations on the subject, I am now wont to advocate for a New Nationalism or neo-nationalism, a discourse that advances beyond the narrow confines of extremist dirigisme and laissez faire.