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What is progress? Are we progressing?

By: Fernando Fajardo - CDN Digital | January 08,2020 - 07:38 AM

I had the chance to visit many urban centers in the country last year and talked to many people I met in the streets, in the bus, airports, hotels, and just almost everywhere including taxi drivers, salespersons, elevator attendants, and so forth. I also read local newspapers to see how local development is reported by way of what local politicians and businesspeople say about the progress of their respected localities.

From my observations, its seems that many people in many places that I visited last year in Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao talked of development mainly in terms of the coming of new physical structures like large shopping malls, high rise condominiums, swanky hotels and restaurants, and other physical symbols of urban prosperity.

Many people I met also talked of rapid development when they see many new models of cars plying around the city’s streets and the horrendous traffic they create to the great consternation of everyone to which the government normally respond simply by widening existing roads or constructing new ones, including under and overpasses, which along with high rise concrete buildings on their sides, make cities look like an urban jungles.

Economists used to measure development in terms of the size of the country’s total final output of goods and services (excludes intermediate products), the so-called Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and its per capita equivalent. It was not long, however, when they found out how inadequate their measure was when, after reporting rapid GDP growth in the development decades of the fifties and sixties, they still find many people in poverty, jobless or underemployed, and living in squalid homes, if not homeless.

Now economists prefer to measure development in terms of direct reduction or elimination of poverty, inequality, and unemployment within the context of a growing economy. For indeed it is true that without GDP growth it is hard to see any progress at all in combating poverty like what China recently did or in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan earlier.

Thus, for less developed or developing economies like the Philippines, a well-managed and progressive economy should be seen as one that succeeds in improving the well-being of its people measured in terms of how many of the unemployed are now employed, how many of the homeless now have homes, and how many of the hungry now are fully feed.

In one of my previous columns I wrote that in 2015, we crossed the 100 million mark in our population. In this, we ranked number 12 among all the nations in the world. In size of the nominal Gross Domestic Product, however, we ranked only number 39. In per capita income, we ranked number 123.

This is not very impressive because in the same year, among the original five member nations of the ASEAN, our per capita income at $2,865 was the lowest. Compared to ours, Indonesia had 1.2 times larger GDP per capita, Thailand, 2.0 times, Malaysia 3.3 times, and Singapore, 18.5 times. Has this improved lately? How fast?

Before China shifted to an economy based on the market system from the one based on command, China had a per capita income very much smaller than ours. Growing its national output rapidly at 10 percent more or less annually since 1980 up to the last decade, China now has a per capita income almost three times than ours.

Why did we perform poorly?

The answer as I wrote before was our lackluster economic growth coupled with our inability to control our fast growing population.

Our lackluster performance could not be blamed entirely on what Rizal called the indolence of the Filipinos as a product of the way we were run by the Spaniards for three centuries. That was more than a century away already when the Spaniards left. There must be more than our indolence. Perhaps this is due to Manuel L. Quezon who preferred to see the Philippines run by Filipinos like hell rather than by Americans like heaven.

Therefore, if ever, the blame should be put on our own leaders who failed in their tasks of navigating our economy to higher level of development after we achieved independence. That is on their failure to make and implement the appropriate policies, programs, and projects needed to spur our development that is both equitable and sustainable.

For what see now, as in the past, are still more corruption, more corruption, and more corruption or of people wanting to be in government power not to serve the will of the people but their own hidden insatiable greed.

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