Everytime I hear this and that initiative to “attract” foreign investment to the country and then see these touted as “solutions” aimed at uplifting Filipinos from the clutches of poverty and the setting of our economy on a “firm” path to prosperity, I find my eyes rolling up to the high heavens as if to ask: Why? Why do the hopes and aspirations of the Filipino rest on the Foreign Investment White Knight that we always look forward to seeing galloping in from the horizon?
The issue of why Filipinos remain trapped in Bangladeshi-levels of impoverishment in a region of East Asian high achievement needs to be re-framed. Seeing that we are in the midst of a media, social media, political, and religious circus surrounding the issue of reproductive health, I thought I’d use the core of contention of this chatter — population control — as the context for my argument on why foreign investment is not the fundamental cure for Filipino-style poverty.
Time and again, I have asserted my seminal definition of poverty:
Poverty is the outcome of a habitual entering into commitments that one is inherently incapable of honouring
Jumping off from the above, let us then start with this simple question:
Is the Filipino inherently capable of employing himself?
This refers to our ability as a people to create and grow capital indigenously. In a previous article where I explored the concept of wealth, I highlighted how capital wealth is something that ultimately originates from a people’s inherent creativity and inventiveness.
Wealth, in primitive times would have been attributed to simple things like a reduced chance of being eaten by a predator, an improved ability to survive a fight with another tribesman, and increased hunting performance among others. Over millennia, as the amount of humanity’s collective wealth increased this way the nature of wealth changed. The nature of wealth changed from merely surviving, to becoming more comfortable, healthier, smarter, more organised, and longer-lived. In modern times, the nature of wealth in advanced societies is now shifting from a form determined by control over physical resources to a form determined by control over information.
Are Filipinos known for being creative, innovative, and inventive?
History has so far shown that Filipinos utterly lack any aptitude for creating and building capital by inventing new technology, adopting foreign technology productively, harnessing natural resources sustainably, or applying new innovative ways to improve productivity and production capacity. The economic equation is simple: If we do not create the means to produce, we cannot produce. And if we cannot produce, we cannot feed nor employ. Simple.
This brings us to the next question:
If we are inherently incapable of creating the means to produce and therefore inherently incapable of producing enough, why do we keep multiplying?
Back in the Stone Age, there were natural means to keep humans (or any living organism for that matter) from overcommitting themselves to unsustainable numbers. People simply starved to death if there wasn’t enough food, or got killed when they weren’t clever enough to fend off predators. Human tribes couldn’t go around begging for “foreign investment” from wealthier tribes when their folk let slip one baby too many. Their numbers simply dropped to even the score with what their inherent production prowesses and Mother Nature’as bounty could deliver.
Back then, population management was a lot more brutal or cruel. If unwanted kiddos did not succumb to infanticide (desperate parents do desperate things, is what I heard), they succumbed to disease or malnutrition or were eaten by the neighbourhood sabre-toothed cat.
On the other hand, today, pre-meditated population management is within the reach of human technology. Humans no longer need to die violently in Mother Nature’s hands in order to balance the population budget. So doesn’t it make perfect sense to apply these technologies to the noble and responsible cause of managing our numbers? You’d think so. Unfortunately, some people beg to differ.
So here’s the thing…
Having shown that we lack the smarts to create the capital that we need to produce the goods that are essential to sustaining Filipino life, we can now approach with a fresh perspective this curious habit of ours of looking to foreign-originated capital for economic salvation.
I’m reminded of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I’m sure in between tapping on their mobile phones during the church services they dress in their Sunday best to attend, most Filipinos will have probably caught an earful of this story by now. The Prodigal Son is basically the story of the Filipino — but without the happy Hollywood ending. Whereas the biblical version of the story sees the Prodigal Son’s daddy killing the fattened calf to welcome him back, the Filipino, unfortunately, sees no such ending in sight.
The astounding poverty we see today in the Philippines is evidence of how our commitments to feed our lot vastly exceeded our inherent abilities to produce said feed. So now we go around convincing ourselves of our entitlement to capital created elsewhere and continue to multiply like cockroaches despite a lack of any means to assure ourselves that every new Filipino baby born may one day go on to create wondrous sources of employment for his country.
What we have instead is the Philippines — a massive factory churning out warm bodies whose aspirations cannot seem to go beyond a means of living built on the back of all things foreign.
Are Filipinos a “blessed” people? Last I heard, “blessings” are supposed to be more of a bonus earned after basic commitments are met. The thing with Filipinos is that we rely on blessings and bonuses to enable us to meet these basic commitments. And this is why we are, today, a people reduced to a laughable expertise — panhandling for foreign investment.