Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lost: Labor and Love

Big news for the day is the 12 peso a day wage hike that labor groups are denigrating as “alms” next to the 125 peso increase they had been demanding. Both Lee Kuan Yu and Henry Ford advised paying your employees well in order to increase productivity. Ay there’s the rub, fair wages, land reform, universal healthcare and free education are all predicated on the principle that in order to produce competitive and productive and happy citizens, essential investments will have to be made with the costs borne by everybody. You want a First World country, everybody will have to chip in. Let’s face it, even if our 4 billionaire Filipinos and all the millionaires were to donate their entire estates to the national patrimony, we still will not be able to achieve significant gains in standard of living because apart from pushing the few mightily motivated people into hibernation the underlying problem of under productivity will continue to drag us all down.

We are able to build plush new residences only because these developments are prepaid with overseas remittances. Our shopping malls are full and there is a big market out there for gyms and spas because from all the money pouring from all those service-related jobs. Nothing wrong with this but we have to accept the reality that unless we are all prepared to sacrifice (and I know this sounds a bit unfeeling because how do you expect the many poor to sacrifice even more?) we can never hope to attract the potential billions of dollars that foreign direct investments bring. Why should you invest in our country when the peso is strong, the bureaucracy corrupt, the highways congested and crumbling, the electricity expensive and the minimum pay in Metro Manila is close to $8 a day, against Thailand’s $6.35, Beijing’s $3.43, Indonesia’s $3.25 and Vietnam’s $1.27?

It doesn’t have to be this way. We had a larger economy than South Korea in 1970. In 20 years, South Korea vaulted into the top 10 economies in the world. No new economic thought was required. There wasn’t a secret formula they stumbled into. All that it took was a different way and a new group of committed people to conduct an already existing orchestra to produce harmonious music. And, as in a ceasefire, we need people with credibility to coax us into entering an arena with mutual trust and a clear understanding that in order to build a nation of character we must all sacrifice together.

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