How imagination capitalises wealth

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.

[Excerpt from the book Get Real Philippines Book 1 which can be downloaded for free here.]

18 Comments on “How imagination capitalises wealth”

    1. The Filipino is so full of contradictions. They are full of themselves but they have nothing to show for. The worse part is that they cannot admit when they are wrong. They have an answer for everything and blame everyone but themselves for their misery.

        1. Of course we can blame Juan, Joshua.

          Juan does not use his critical analysis properly. Juan cares too much about what others will think so he would rather not stand out like a sore thumb. He’d rather take up a nursing course even though he is good at something else and could do more for himself and the society.

      1. Defeatism, in short, right? I would rather tell Juan his wrongs with or without angering him than not notifying him of the said wrongs at all.

    2. @Joshua, no one individual, group, or sector in Philippine society can account wholly for the lack of motivation to learn or aspire for great things in the Filipino we observe. This attitude and behaviour is an emergent property that is an outcome of collective factors that each individual in the society contributes to in ways that cannot be measured directly.

      1. “This attitude and behaviour is an emergent property that is an outcome of collective factors that each individual in the society contributes to in ways that cannot be measured directly.”

        So, basically, we’ll never know for sure who or what is behind the current state of thinking that the Filipino is experiencing, am I wrong on this?

      2. It means the factors should be viewed from a collective viewpoint and not from an individual perspective. This is important because solutions that address cultural issues are necessarily macro in scale as well and, as such, should be applicable to a generalised representation of the Filipino.

  1. The current system doesn’t value the education and well-being of the country’s current population, folks, and that’s why the said population lacked the capability to imagine things.

  2. This is why I do not expect to see the Philippines achieve any significant measure of prosperity within my own generation’s lifetime.

    The heritage of smallness has been reinforced in my generation by the fall of the Marcos regime. In a sense, any grand ambition in this Animal Farm is tantamount to bringing back Farmer Jones and must be thwarted by the collective efforts of the people.

    The defense of the status quo is the only time that the Filipino people can muster the effort to really mobilize.

    As such, as the Filipino people insist on enjoying this unimaginative status quo, so shall people like us – their rejects – have every reason to feel vindicated when they eventually reap their “reward” in a generation or two’s time.

    1. The problem needs to be seen as a system and as such, the solution needs to be regarded as a system of inter-related initiatives. As such, we can rely only so much on private movement and advocacies. Flawed thinking and outdated traditions and belief systems somehow need to be rooted out of the national consciousness. Media has a strong role to play, but unfortunately wields a double-edged sword — possessing both the means to build and the power to undermine progress in thinking.

      1. I would think that the system change of “inter-related initiatives” would end up being consumed and subsumed by the combined lack of initiative and above all – as you put it – commitment almost subliminally ingrained in our society.

        They either don’t see these problems as something worth tackling and feel it’s delegated to someone else, whether politicians, MPs, etc.

        Perhaps the problem needs to worsen to the point where they need to see that it actually is a problem that affects all of them.

      2. That is what it seems is happening, Frank. Since a lack of imagination and initiative is a character trait possessed by the vast majority, every innovative initiative to move forward will be up against an immense moment of non-action and non-appreciation.

        Democracy in the way it’s been perverted in the Philippines provides a convenient channel for delegating personal responsibility to politicians.

      3. That’s why I’ve been saying that the only way for the Filipino people and culture to totally grasp the consequences of where their current system is leading them is to actually, firsthand, come to grips those consequences at such a magnitude that they realize they are all “in this together.”

        Natural disasters such as flooding, earthquakes and volcanoes have been successfully “isolated” to their respective regions by the media. That the Filipino people’s part in aggravating global warming to bring about extreme weather is beside the point; these disasters strike often without warning and with relatively little consequence.

        An action more fitting of the “consequences” would be something less dependent on the luck of the natural draw. Something perhaps like the complete closure of the economy to foreign investment.

        Doing the math with an online currency converter, that’s only $500 million in FDI where others reap billions easily.

  3. So true! It merely reinforced what I got from that Nick Joaquin article critiquing the Philippines’ “Heritage of Smallness” which was embarrassing to read as a Filipino but very true in so many ways.

    Anyway, I think its high time (or overdue) for the Filipinos to aim high, far and wide and not just in politics, showbiz and sports. Without this desire and drive, there’s no way we can go far as a nation! Besides there would be NO better way to honor our nations’ heroes and achievers than by dreaming big goals, working towards and attaining them in our own unique ways in far bigger numbers than we see today!

    Best article so far in Get Real Philippines! This post (and that Nick Joaquin article) should be made mandatory reading for all Filipinos. 🙂

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