Entitled unemployment

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

There are now 12.1 million unemployed Filipinos. Malacañang 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.”