Entitled unemployment

is my Trade Tripper column in this weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

There are now 12.1 million unemployed Filipinos. MalacaƱang apparently thinks it an appalling development. So much so that it immediately called for a press conference to announce that President Aquino wants his cabinet members to be “pro-active” in implementing “strategies with spatial and sectoral dimensions.” The problem is that it’s this government’s policies that “inspire” unemployment.

First: the myths. It is misleading to talk about “jobless growth.” As economist Nonoy Oplas pointed out, “The term ‘jobless growth’ is wrong. Growth means more or additional output from (a) more workers and entrepreneurs employed, or (b) the same number of workers and entrepreneurs producing more from the same input (ie, higher productivity). If (b) happens, then higher productivity people will create new jobs elsewhere.”

Finally, to blame unemployment on the recent natural disasters, including Yolanda, is to be disingenuous. The economic conditions for joblessness were already in place before that. Even Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan would himself say: “We are on track with respect to our economic targets, but we lag with respect to our social outcomes.”

Which is something many economists and policy observers already noted about the Philippines’ recent economic performance: the skewed social policies effectively render whatever economic improvement we have to benefit only a few elite families. To the detriment of the greater part of our population, which fall under the poverty and hunger levels.

The 27.5% joblessness rate is tragic. It represents, in just one three month period, an additional 2.5 million unemployed Filipinos. It is wrong, however, as the left are wont to do, to blame trade liberalization and globalization. These proven economic drivers, which take place at the point of the border, have done their bit and these can be seen in the improved economic numbers. It’s the socialistic policies adopted by this government that make the poor remain poor.

Simply put: not only is this government lousy at creating jobs, it also encourages people not to work.

The disincentives to work are plenty: why work if you’ve been told by academics and policy makers that you’re entitled to receive money in exchange for nothing via the Conditional Cash Transfer? Why work hard if you have the Kasambahay Law that entitles you to a professional’s benefits but without the need to act professionally?

Oh, and by the way, because you’re poor you’re excused from following the law.

These policies, borrowing the words of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, essentially tell people: “do not bother about wanting to work hard and acting with honor and integrity and ingenuity because we’ll take care of you.”

Olympic skater Michael Christian Martinez would have had greater chances of getting government support if he had sat on his butt all day, stayed content with mediocrity, and whined. Instead he unforgivably took initiative, worked hard, and showed talent.

This column has warned repeatedly about the dangers of an entitlement culture. Obviously, we do need social legislation to help alleviate our poor. But while you have Singapore allocating a huge portion of its budget on social protection, nevertheless, it will not tolerate squatting or any sort of criminality, with everyone encouraged (“compelled?”) to put in their fair share for Singapore.

Contrast that with the Philippines, where the extended family, immediate community, employers and the government are all expected to provide anything on demand but without any concomitant responsibility required of the citizen. “You don’t like the way we do our job? Fine, we’ll abandon it.” And screw duty or the rule of law.

To compound all that, to those Filipinos who reject a paternalistic, entitlement culture for the country, the government seems intent on proving that any smart and hard work they do are for naught.

To start, for a country of recognized talented people, we have among the lowest paid workers. In a 2012 International Labor Organization survey on employee income, out of 72 countries, the Philippines ranked 70th. That we lag behind Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia is old news. But then we also lag behind Bosnia, Jamaica, Serbia, Botswana, Mauritius, Kazakhstan, Syria, Mongolia, and India.

The foregoing is within the context of the Filipino working among the longest hours. And those work hours do not include the two- to four-hour commute to and from work that many Filipinos go through every day, commuting hours that will get longer (according to the government itself) by 55% due to 12 simultaneous infrastructure projects starting this month, all undertaken without any accompanying detailed vehicular, traffic rerouting, revised work hour, or public transportation plans.

For Filipinos who want to go into business, there’s congested traffic there too built by the government in the form of endless red tape (amongst the most tedious in the world). Add to that high energy, transportation, and raw material costs.

So much for the left’s and Karl Marx’s ideal society where workers can “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner.”


The common good

was my Trade Tripper column in the recent weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

One legal and political concept that has been ignored in today’s public debates relating to law and policy is that of the "common good." The disregard could be due to simple ignorance or to deliberate ideological calculation. But whatever the reason, the failure to remember what the common good is has led undoubtedly to a discernable state of confusion in public debates.

It really doesn’t matter if one is "progressive," liberal, or conservative. Those are political labels fit for another discussion. What is important at this point is to determine the difference between truth or reality from those which are essentially manufactured to achieve a political end.

Many academics now seem to want to make us believe that the proper direction of the country is their version of a secularized, pluralistic society moving along Rawlsian lines. What this in essence means is that they seek to construct policies that utilize the technique of the "veil of ignorance," whereby the "justness" of a policy is seen by ignoring one’s position, talent, properties, interests, or preferences within society.

Now the merits of John Rawl’s ideas on political thought is not the issue here (although Alasdair MacIntyre may have something to say about it). The point is that our society was simply not constructed along Rawlsian thinking. To impose such, as some legal or political thought academics are advocating), causes a disconnect between what our society is and how it’s supposed to react, and at the same time removing from the people their sovereign function of designing what our society is to be.

The identity of what our society is can be seen in our Constitution. And our society (and its constitution) were both created not within a vacuum or through a veil of ignorance, but with a peculiar context, circumstance, and history.

It’s a given that our Constitution borrows heavily from the US Constitution. Clearly, the people who wrote our Constitution knew the context in which they were writing it (particularly coming off the Martial Law experience, as an example) but also the context in which the US Constitution was written.

One particular context that must be considered is the background of the US Constitutional Convention delegates: of the 55, around 29 served in the military, a substantial majority had experience in constitutional law drafting (at least at the federal State level), in fact a majority of them were lawyers (with the rest being landholding farmers, businessmen, bankers, and doctors).

Significantly, almost all of the delegates would also sign the other fundamental documents of the US: the Articles of Confederation and -- more importantly -- the Declaration of Independence. The consistency of thought in their founding political documents is therefore there.

Another context is the religious and philosophical beliefs of the delegates: most were Christians (only two were Catholics, the rest were Protestants). At the very least, all believed in a deity or were theists of some sort.

Also, the delegates were certainly quite aware of Aristotelian thought, and quite definitely the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke and Rousseau. That would mean then that the US Constitution was framed with the idea of man’s telos or purpose, of self-evident natural rights, and of the common good (or "general will").

Interestingly, the US Constitution’s preamble contained the phrase "general welfare" instead of the "common good." But again, context: the two were seen as interchangeable, at least in the eyes of the delegates. "General welfare" would also appear in prior Philippine constitutions. However, within the context of the present Philippine Constitution, the use of the phrase "common good" was done deliberately, as Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, attests:

"An attempt to restore the phrase ‘general welfare’ in place of the Committee’s phrase ‘common good’ was not accepted. The change from ‘general welfare’ to ‘common good’ was intended to project the idea of a social order that enables every citizen to attain his or her fullest development economically, politically, culturally and spiritually. The rejection of the phrase ‘general welfare’ was based on the apprehension that the phrase could be interpreted as meaning the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ even if what the greater number wants does violence to human dignity, as for instance when the greater majority might want the extermination of those who are considered as belonging to an inferior race. It was thought that the phrase ‘common good’ would guarantee that mob rule would not prevail and that the majority would not persecute the minority." (see Fr. Bernas; The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, 2009)

The preamble lays down the purpose of the Constitution. It also, as Fr. Bernas points out, is a "manifestation of the sovereign will of the Filipino people." Our laws, therefore, must always be made with the "common good" (as defined and understood within its context and history) in mind. To do otherwise could result in a law made with "grave abuse of discretion."


UA&P Law

my Trade Tripper column for this weekend's issue of BusinessWorld:

Your Trade Tripper has been busy the past few months. The reason being my involvement with the University of Asia and the Pacific's School of Law and Governance (slg.uap.asia), which just opened its doors to law students for the coming school year starting June. It's exciting work and the project of producing ethical, cultured, global, and professionally versatile lawyers radiates a pioneering feel.

As we pointed out in a previous column ("Suites 2.0, 07 November 2013), it's really a fallacy to say that 'there are too many lawyers". Indeed, the changed reality of the modern legal profession is such that a huge number of todays lawyers are not even into traditional law firm work.

Most instead successfully parlayed their law studies as a more rigorous alternative to a Master’s degree in other fields to advance in careers in corporate management, entrepreneurship, academe, government, or international economic or financial institutions.

Incidentally, it's probably due indeed to the limited number of lawyers actually into trial work that probably explains (among other things) the country’s high legal costs.

In any event, the trend of lawyers achieving professional success beyond the courtroom is certainly significant.

I've noted that just in the recent past, the world's top economic institutions were all headed not by economists or bankers but by lawyers: Pascal Lamy (for the WTO), Robert Zoellick (World Bank), Christine Laggard (IMF). Also noticeable is the fact that the recent most effective US Treasury Secretaries (our equivalent of the Department of Finance) were both lawyers: James Baker III and Robert Rubin.

But this development is not limited to public institutions. Legalweek.com reported of astudy carried out by Reed Smith and KPMG, which found that top British and American corporations increasingly look to the legal profession to fill senior management roles: "This study indicates that businesses, whether on a global or national stage, listed or private, have increasingly appointed those with a legal background to provide institutional leadership through CEO roles. Such a development suggests that a legal mind provides the ability, skills and experience to take up leadership roles across the breadth 
of organizations. This study invites the legal community to recognize the value that is placed on its broader involvement in the leadership of organizations."

Indeed, "CEOs with a legal background are currently represented on the boards of a broad range of industries including aerospace, pharma, publishing, retail, and oil and gas." (New study shows rising prominence of lawyers in corporate CEO roles, legalweek.com, 26 March 2013)

The list of companies headed (or recently headed) by lawyers is impressive: Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Cisco, Toys 'R Us, Nokia, Home Depot, Burger King, Pfizer, Fannie Mae, Delta Airlines, amongst others. Locally, GMA7 is a good example.

Hence why James Bradford, Dean of the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, understandably says: "The law degree is today’s renaissance degree.”

So, it’s how to adapt and improve – not the quantity of – lawyers that’s crucial. Which leads to the matter as to what kind of legal education is most fitting.

UA&P's response to this: a law training that is deeply rooted in the humanities, providing a true liberal arts education. In doing so, not only are the law students trained in the technical aspects of the law but also gain a clearer understanding of the self, human nature, and the human condition. All of which (coupled with another benefit of a classic liberal education: training to attain self-mastery) should certainly go a long way in priming students for leadership not only in the profession but business, the academe, and – ultimately – in society.

And this thinking has certainly caught on. Columbia Law School Dean David Schizer (in a recent interview with the Financial Times, 10 November 2013) points out that: "You want the people who run the organization to think like lawyers; and you want the lawyers to think like people who run the organization." This, he argues, "should inform how the law is taught because graduates often end up not as practicing lawyers but running businesses."

Furthermore, UA&P's School of Law and Governance has "governance" in its name for a reason. Borrowing from Dean Schizer: "lawyers play a critical role in policy, particularly when it comes to shaping the rules that govern business practices."

Of course one humongous fact always looms for every law student: the Bar exams. While a competent faculty is de rigueur for any law school, UA&P goes a step further in this regard: individual personal mentoring.

Mirroring PAREF schools’ highly successful system of “one-on-one mentoring”, each student will be assigned a mentor he/she regularly chats with, forming a supportive relationship that develops the student’s personality, character, and over-all potential. In any given semester, a UA&P law student could expect to be closely coached by a law expert, judge or justice, or former top government official.

So, ethical lawyers that can move beyond the courtroom, unconstrained by borders? Pioneering indeed.


“If you can’t accept me at my worst ..."

is my Trade Tripper column in this weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

I am sure many of you have seen this inane meme on social media, you know the one with the words: “If you can’t accept me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best.” Somehow that thought never settled well with me, although I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. But recently reading what passes for news nowadays, I realized that the reason for the quote’s popularity was the increasing number of self-absorbed flaky people and their “advocacy” to have flakiness be accepted as the new normal.

In a recent article -- which I absolutely encourage everyone to read -- by blogger, social commentator Matt Walsh (http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/01/23/if-i-cant-accept-you-at-your-worst-then-maybe-you-should-stop-being-so-horrible/), he ably put forward the real implications of such sentiment:

“‘Yea I’m a b*tch but deal with it. I won’t be with anyone who cant accept all of who I am!!!
This was a grown woman. Apparently college educated. Older than me.
Out of all the profundities ever uttered, what does it say about our society that THIS is the quote we’ve decided to take to heart?
It says that we need to read more books.
Also, it says that we are horrible at relationships.
Yes, it’s true that, in a marriage, we must love our spouses in spite of their flaws. It’s also true that we all have flaws. But it’s ALSO true that only an infantile, spoiled, egotistical brat would ever treat a loved one with ‘her worst’ and expect them to deal with it because her ‘best’ will somehow compensate for it.
Newsflash: It’s not OK to be selfish, impatient, and out of control. These traits, while common, are UNacceptable. They should not be accepted, least of all by the people you claim to love. The onus is on YOU to change your behavior and your attitude, not on them to ‘handle it.’”

I have a theory: a country’s men can only be as good as its women. If women prefer their men infantilized, allowing them to remain as babies, letting them get fat, self-indulgent, loud, boorish, and insecure, then that’s exactly what we’ll get.

In one of his monologues on the hit show The Five, Greg Gutfeld commented on the self-destructive behavior of music star Justin Bieber. But in doing so, Gutfeld managed to say perhaps one of the most incisive and relevant observations in recent years, a point not necessarily new but something almost everyone forgot:

“I blame girls, look how he’s dressed... My point is no man will dress like that if girls didn’t approve, and that approval relinquishes their control over manliness. Women make men out of boys, and if they do not say grow up to a punk he never will grow up: like dump in public, cheat on spouses, spend cash on stupid clothes, drugs, and friends... This is not about Justin Bieber, it’s about all men and girls who expect so little from them. No wonder we’re a nation of babies sucking on the tweat of Twitter, exploding at perceived hurts online but you can’t bother to wear a belt. Women demand men.”

Unfortunately, to use Gutfeld’s words (from another monologue), if women prefer to “suspend critical thinking, replacing it with mindless euphoria driven by hormones and a desire for acceptance,” then what kind of men will we have?

We’ve been constantly bombarded with the message of “be yourself.” But that message, on its own, is inane. Left to ourselves, we’ll likely end up lazy, primitive, and dirty. It is because of our parents, family, and friends that we spur ourselves to “better ourselves.” Because being yourself is nothing if you don’t selflessly offer that self to others and hence the need to make what we offer be the best that can be.

Filipinos and Filipinas, however, need to again remember that bettering ourselves require effort, discipline, and perseverance. As Walsh points out: “We don’t emerge into the world as eternally entitled princes and princesses. We come into it as naked, crying, helpless babies. Our job is to grow out of that condition. And that will take a lot of changing and a lot of learning about what parts of us are unsuitable and insufficient and unacceptable. Sadly, some of us are unwilling to endure that process, so we never grow, and in failing to grow we fail to live. It’s a tragedy.”

This reminded me of a David Brooks’ article, “The Art of Growing Up,” regarding the maturation of Abraham Lincoln:

“In Lincoln’s day, to achieve maturity was to succeed in the conquest of the self. Human beings were born with sin, infected with dark passions and satanic temptations. The transition to adulthood consisted of achieving mastery over them.”

Alas, in today’s “feel good” social media culture or the academe’s obsession with Rawlsian thought, our people have chosen to ignore such commonsensical things as virtue, restraint, and self-discipline.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to turn ourselves around.