Economy and morality

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in the weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

The reason for the title is because whenever the word “morality” crops up, a substantial number of readers immediately become dismissive, anticipating it leading to boring “moralizing” (pun intended) or just plain garden-variety naíve idealism. Hence my tying up the issue of morals with economics. Because if people can’t be made concerned with the degradation of society, the youth’s sense of entitlement, our adult’s lack of responsibility, the vulgarity of popular culture, then surely (at least) we might show concern for what’s happening to our own wallets.

Nowadays, of course, it’s quite fashionable to complain about corruption and pork barrels. But your friendly Trade Tripper was never much into fashion anyway. And so it was with some gratitude that he heard some much needed sanity into this public debate, this time coming from Cardinal Chito Tagle: “... political solutions only provide a temporary answer to the problem of corruption. This is a cultural problem. It will only be eradicated through moral transformation and behavioral change to be led by parents in their households.”

Spot on. This is what I’ve been pointing out as well through various media. This doesn’t mean that people should be passive politically but rather be more discerning regarding their actions and to focus on what the real problem is that needs to be solved. If people want to make a nuisance of themselves in the streets and dress up in silly costumes, fine. But the ills of our society arise from serious fundamental problems that demand utterly serious thinking from a politically mature and serious people.

Is it then so hard to accept the idea that the problem of corruption, bad governance, absence of national vision, fundamentally lies with our people’s character and morals? That the problems are so deeply ingrained that no amount of angry rallying can solve, as EDSA 1 (which deposed a Marcos for an Aquino) or EDSA 2 (which removed an Estrada for an Arroyo) have shown? And if people are now shrieking about the “crooks in Congress” (or the Executive), shouldn’t the blame fall on those who voted them into office a mere four months ago?

Indeed. All this just goes to prove what we’ve been saying all along: if we want a better economy, leaders, and country, we simply must have better voters. Or to paraphrase from US President Barack Obama: change will not come from Malacañang, change has to come to Malacañang.

Of course, the default excuse is to blame the lack of education for our people’s propensity to vote criminals, plunderers, or traitors into public office. But how can this be when public spending on education constitutes between 15-17% of overall expenditure and when our country’s literacy rate, particularly in the last two decades or so, hovers around the 95% mark?

Inevitably, it’s because public debate on education ignores the fact that education is not limited to the classroom. What the student learns outside it is equally as important, if not actually more so. From there one can now grasp the true significance of the family, media, and the Internet.

So if the family is being rendered unstable (what with promiscuity, same-sex marriage, and divorce all touted as the new normal), and media and the Internet carelessly flouting pornography and the if-it-feels-good-then-do-it mindset, what effect would that have on our people’s overall education, which means the development of our people’s skills, productivity, and integrity, and consequently the economy? Devastating, as Charles Murray (Coming Apart, Crown Forum, 2013) and Mary Eberstadt (How the West Really Lost God, Templeton Press, 2013) amply demonstrated.

As I wrote in a previous article, both convincingly show that the breakdown in people’s religiosity, traditional marriage, and the family lead to “enormous” economic costs. 2012 research reveals that the high US divorce rates “perpetually inhibits growth of the U.S. economy.” This is backed up by Nick Schulze (Home Economics, Aei Press, 2013), he declaring the link between “divorces and out-of-wedlock births in America” and economic wellbeing as indeed substantial.

Which is why the local academe’s, the media’s, and policy makers’ unquestioning over-infatuation with John Rawls, as well as secular progressivism, is utterly baffling.

As JL Liedl wrote for Ethika Politika (“Want a Good Economy? Try Virtue”; 4 September 2013): “The dehumanizing theorems and charts of the economist have done us enough harm already. Their consistent failures and the general increase in global misery under their watchful guidance should be enough to convince us that modern economics has been tried and found wanting. Man does not live by bread alone, a truth that must be acknowledged, perhaps especially acknowledged, when considering how man produces and obtains bread. There is something metaphysical in play here, and it must be observed even when dealing with the nitty-gritty, physical practicalities of capital and labor. Virtue, more than anything else, more than economic theories or fiscal policy, is what a society needs to have a good and just economy.”