I STOPPED and smelled some roses, so to speak.
While I was away from the keyboard these past several months, there was plenty of time to get busy by walking around, doing nothing. However, this was not necessarily an occasion for idling where one is listless or zestless.
Instead, this was idling that got me around to think — which is a luxury — about things that I found hard to dismiss, especially those that exaggerate the norm.
In October last year, for example, news broke out that some 433 Philippine lotto bettors thrashed unthinkable odds to win a P236-million jackpot. A university mathematics professor commented that the probability of having 433 winners was “1 out of 1 followed by 1,224 zeros.” The closest probability ratio for a single bettor to win the jackpot is about 1 in 29 million.
I am hard-pressed not to think that winning a lotto jackpot in any manner requires not only beating insurmountable odds, it also requires beating the remote likelihood of thieves taking a day off.
Congress was reported to have itched for an investigation. Nothing much came of it, however — at least one that is publicly known. Its honorable members seem to be what Cicero had referred to when he suggested some four centuries ago that there is honor even among thieves (a phrase which means, according to grammarist.com, that “even criminals have a code of conduct among themselves, such as to not steal from each other.)
There were other obscenities that, in my conceited view, were simply hard to ignore. The price of onions for end consumers during the holidays peaked at around P700 per kilogram. I thought this was atrocious, especially considering that local farmers hardly benefited from what appeared to be a manipulated pricing surge.
Then there was this more recent report (titled “Survival of the Richest” by Oxfam International) that says that “9 richest billionaires in the Philippines have more wealth than half of the country's population.”
The curse of income inequality is of course not endemic to the Philippines or any one particular country. Same report (published on the opening day of this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland) in fact rues that the “richest 1 percent bag nearly twice as much wealth as the rest of the world.”
Neither is it a fresh indictment against governments who, by force of what early political thinkers have termed as social contract, have to assume the multifarious and often difficult tasks of social leveling. Data presented by ourworldindata.org indicate that the income share of the richest 10 percent of the population from 1985 to 2021 averaged at around 30 to 35 percent.
Regardless of who the individual leaders are, or whether governments operate under democratic or authoritarian regimes, and regardless of which economic model is applied — controlled, market-driven or hybrid, for example — the pervasiveness of social inequities remains the same. Not a few have been driven to a life of desperation and taken up arms, ready to kill and be killed, hunting the ogre that never dies.
Yet far from giving up on what can be viewed as a conundrum in social development, the student in me continues to feel the urge of academic arousal. I refer to my notes and find that my biases for the following approaches have hardly changed over the years:
1. Beyond the individual attributes of leaders (they count — integrity and competence being two of the most compelling examples), there is a need to sustain public support for the more important agenda of fortifying the moorings of a good governance culture and institutionalizing the legal frameworks that buttress it.
2. While development processes are time-consuming and bumpy, raising human capital among the general population is one slow yet sure way of lifting the overall social well-being, one generation at a time. Inputs that have been proven to work include quality education for all and universal health care programs. In cases where abject poverty still prevents certain segments of the population from accessing these services, cash transfers will still need to be promoted and supported.
3. The rich need to pay more taxes. It is not only because tax systems have historically been regressive, but also because through rent-seeking, bribery and other corrupt practices, they either hoard or free-ride on public goods and services. Examples:
– Public services such as facilitation of judicial processes (where the rich are acquitted while the poor get killed), checking peace and order (where the rich can pay for motor-riding escorts while the poor are searched and red-tagged), providing agrarian services (where land use conversions price out tenants and small farmers vital resource bases), generating leadership opportunities (access to which must pass through political dynasties), etc.
– Public goods such as infrastructure and facilities, mineral resources, marine resources, open public spaces, etc. are being exploited for commercial ends. Even farm-to-market-roads, hyped up in congressional budget hearings as responsive to countryside development needs, tend to benefit the rich traders more than they do the poor farmers.
Looking back, one could see that the overall outlook has been tough for both taxpayers and their stewards in government. Here is thus wishing that for the rest of 2023, we continue to multiply ourselves, both in our readiness to laugh as well as in our capacity to bear our sorrows.
As I reclaim my keyboard, my idling has ended, and my dreaming begins again.
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