Beyond spending it, Filipinos do not know what else to do with wealth. Equipped with a better understanding of the nature of capital, we now begin to grasp the role played by imagination in the game of wealth management. Most of this book all but demonstrated how little of this imagination Philippine society possesses. The symptoms of our society’s utter lack of imagination are all around us for everyone to see. The quality of our cinema and the mediocre products we produce, are obvious demonstrations. More subtle would be our inability to see the intangible value in our natural resources. Our forests were exported as logs rather than turned into fine art and architecture or left as is to preserve the natural beauty of the islands. Romblon’s craftsmen flooded the market with tonnes of lapida (tombstones) rather than think of better (and more valuable) uses for the almost inexhaustible resource they were blessed with.
The ultimate failure of imagination is the way Philippine society consumes (rather than capitalises on) what is now its greatest resource – its people. Having all but depleted its forests and commoditised its minerals and farm produce, Philippine society is now turning to burning human capital. Like Romblon marble and our forests of decades past (we thought), Filipino people are potentially an inexhaustible resource. So we are now exporting raw the premium elements of this resource – doctors, engineers, nurses, technicians, computer programmers, and entertainers – without investing in sustaining this resource (through education and healthcare). Like the once magnificent Philippine forests, Filipino humanity is being harvested and exported raw. Even if the supply is being physically replenished by the country’s embarrassingly high birth rate, the product (an entire generation of under-educated and partially-parented Filipino youth) is of significantly inferior quality to the current generation being exported. Public spending on education and healthcare have sharply dropped (or not improved) in the last 50 years, and consumer goods that divert young minds to unproductive endeavours have become widely available and affordable.
Philippine society has been hopelessly incapable of creating domestic business entities with lucrative proprietary rights to the distribution of pure human capital the way entertainment companies and industries like Walt Disney and Bollywood, big-name professional services firms like Accenture, publishing companies like Random House, and content providers like Time-Warner have made billions primarily on the intellect and talents of the people they employ. Even the Philippine Army, despite decades of experience in jungle warfare and counter-terrorism operations, continues to be a net importer of foreign expertise. The value generated by the human capital of advanced societies is purchased worldwide, but their physical assets (the people themselves) are largely based in their respective hometowns, generously contributing to their local economies – and raising their children right. Compare that to Filipino human capital. Filipinos are physically at their customers’ sites, adding value to their employers’ businesses, and remitting earnings to a generation of aimless half-parented youth.
Ironically, most of the funds islands Filipinos receive from their overseas-employed “heroes” are channelled back into the bank accounts of the very same multinational companies that employ their heroes. Three situations account for this tragic state of affairs. Firstly, the capital base of the Philippine economy that supports a large chunk of three of the most basic of human needs – food production and distribution, clothing, and energy – is now funded largely by foreign investment rather than domestic enterprise. Second, desirable consumer goods such as mobile phones, branded clothing and personal accessories, and other electronic equipment – also produced and distributed by multinational companies – have become affordable and readily available to Filipino consumers because of globalisation. Third, and this slightly overlaps with the second, imported products – including food – have all but flooded the Philippine market for non-durable goods. With an abundance of goods and activities beckoning the easy dollars of OFW’s kids and relatives, an ethic of saving – much less investment opportunities – simply cannot compete. Furthermore, funds released into the economy by spending in consumption are raked in primarily by foreign enterprise which do not necessarily channel these funds back into the Philippine economy.
It can be of course argued that advanced societies are just as pre-occupied with showbiz as Filipinos. However, even without these distractions, Filipinos have never had a track record of technological advancement and the innovative application of technology. As seen in the previous section on Technology, 60% of the collective intellect of Filipinos seems to be pre-occupied with showbiz, even as the Information Age serves up a vast menu of other things to do – or at the very least talk about – on the Internet.
Indeed the way capital is created and used in a society reflects how imaginative that society is. The nature of the simple relationship between imagination and capitalisation had already been implicitly threshed out in the earlier parts of this chapter using very simple examples. This section described the relationship explicitly. From here we then step back and view the broader implications of our lack of imagination and inability to capitalise wealth from the perspective of our country’s mediocre politics, vacuous approach to governance, and short-sighted regard for national development.
Back in the 1950’s Lee Kuan Yew had the audacity to envision a Great Singapore – great in stature, achievement, and power. This was at a time when Singapore was still a small mosquito-infested backwater province that just recently seceded from the far more powerful Malay Federation. Nevertheless he marshalled his society towards that vision of greatness and the results speak for themselves today. In contrast, Filipinos pride themselves in being a quaint society of people “doing their individual little parts”. The hope is that an agglomeration of the little and the quaint can eventually come together to form the big and the great. This is a hope that is nowhere near being fulfilled.
The audacity to dream and imagine fuels the exploitation of opportunities. It took leaps of imagination to prompt kings and financiers to send ships halfway around the world to discover new lands and treasures, for Einstein to undertake the monumental work involved in formulating his Theory of Relativity, for Steven Jobs to develop a product around the idea that ordinary people can use powerful computers. Ideas borne out of leaps of imagination are powerful motivators for risky behaviour. If Filipinos cannot even imagine a fundamentally different society that will underpin a prosperous future, there can be no inspiration to drive deep systemic change. We have delegated the courage to dream and work at fulfilling these dreams to politics and our politicians. This is a monumental tragedy because Filipinos lack any context to hold to account the politicians they elect to office. This contextual void in Philippine society is reflected in the lack of any thought leadership in any of the mainstream political parties in the Philippines. Political parties in the Philippines do not stand for anything. In Philippine society, political parties are created and dissolved at the drop of a hat and politicians readily hop from one party to another to suit the personal agendas of the powerful. This is a situation that is blatantly obvious but routinely escapes the attention of most Filipinos. Ordinary Filipinos cannot grasp the degree to which democracy has been perverted in the Philippines by such a state of affairs simply because they lack the conceptual tools to comprehend it.
Instead of framing our politics around a clear vision of where we want to see ourselves in five to ten years, we will forever trapped by a complex that is content with merely surviving one crisis at a time and from one term of office to another. Very little imagination is required to do just that.Tags: investing