As I write this, there is some sort of symposium conducted by “PhD Candidate” JC Punongbayan of the UP School of Economics dubbed “Numbers don’t lie, people do: Dissecting the Philippine economy in the time of Marcos and Duterte” currently in progress. One does not really need to attend this event seeing the title and the person conducting it clearly have a political agenda. Is this really “economics” as it is supposed to be presented? Real economics does not distinguish between presidential terms. Specially in the Philippine setting where presidential terms are too short to to be of true strategic consequence, any effort to correlate movements in economic indicators to specific presidents is intellectually dishonest at best.
The key principle that debunks the premise of this quaint soiree is the flawed notion that causation can be concluded from mere correlation. The title of Punongbayan’s symposium aims to lure its audience into arriving at that perverted conclusion — that economic indicators that marked the administrations of Ferdinand Marcos and Rodrigo Duterte constitute proof that they caused the economic conditions these indicators described. This is bald dishonest use of data — feeding it into a patently rigged algorithm or evaluation method and publishing a conclusion that is not subject to critical evaluation by qualified people.
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In short, Punongbayan uses the age-old mass-persuasion methodology of none other than mainstream news media — where data is cobbled together by unqualified “analysts” into a “report” which then gets passed off as “news”. Did we mention that Punongbayan writes for Rappler? Food for thought there.
The trouble with Punongbayan is that he is an aspiring “doctor” of “economics”. You’d think one could expect a bit more mathematical rigour of a doctor of a “science” of sorts. In implying causation between a set of factors and the ebbs and flows of a national economy, there really are far more data points needed to establish a model that one could rely on to arrive at conclusions with an acceptable level of confidence. Punongbayan implies that he only needs two such data points: (1) whoever happens to be president over a given period and (2) inflation and GDP movements over said period. You would need a lot less than a 30-by-40 cell spreadsheet (the default dimension of an Excel spreadsheet when first opened on a standard-size monitor) to come up with a model for Punongbayan’s thesis.
What Punongbayan is essentially leading Filipinos to believe is akin to the construct that given that Typhoon Haiyan struck in November of 2013 and Noynoy Aquino happened to be president at the time, Filipinos should avoid electing an Aquino at all costs. Like a national economy, the weather has lots of variables. But humanity only needs guys like Punongbayan to assure them that “wisdom” to guide their fortune-seeking is only an “economics” symposium away.
For that matter, why even limit a discussion on the Philippine economy to “the time of Marcos and Duterte”? Step back far enough from petty Yellowtard politics and you will find that what ails the Philippine economy has nothing to do with politics and a lot more to do with the character of Philippine society. At the very heart of the matter is the Filipino’s lack of a tradition of scientific and technological achievement and a sorry record of accumulating capital. Stated simply, Filipinos are (1) incapable of scientifically thinking their way out of paper bags and (2) cannot save (much more invest) for a rainy day if their future lives depended on it.
Prosperity is driven by advancements in thinking and problem solving. It began when man found a way to tame fire and use it to cook, keep himself from freezing to death, turning the heat it generates into mechanical energy, and, eventually, finding other processes that generate heat, like nuclear energy (after realising that fire fouls up the air he breathes). Thus, in order for a national economy to grow sustainably, it needs to be backed by that all-important capital-building enabler: the scientific method.
What hope do Filipinos have if even “economists” like JC Punongbayan cannot be bothered to apply a proper scientific approach to arriving at sound conclusions much more properly frame the problem they are trying to solve first?
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.