When critics of any sitting Philippine government see money being spent on public works, the first thought always goes to “that money could have been spent helping the poor”. That’s just plain palamunin (mooch) mentality. This comes from a nefarious thinking habit of those liberal types who dominate much of the Philippine Opposition today — that the poor are entitled to cash dole outs. This can’t be farther from the truth. A capitalist free market society rewards efficient allocation of capital. Money therefore flows to where returns are highest. And although public spending is not usually driven by free market forces, it is the duty of a state’s economic managers to ensure it goes to initiatives that benefit the greater public good.
According to estimates published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), only 17 percent of Filipinos live in poverty. Seventeen percent is not representative of the greater Filipino public. As such, the idea that the poor be top of mind when allocating public funds is a ludicrous one.
That’s not to say that prioritising large infrastructure projects that benefit the greater good necessarily impacts the poor negatively. Indeed, far from it, large projects create a lot of employment and benefit businesses that supply materials to these projects which in turn create more employment up the supply chain. Furthermore, big public works projects more often than not create facilities that deliver large labour productivity gains overall. For example, modern railways and highways improve the speed and efficiency with which people and products are moved from one point of the country to another which translates to an elevated quality of life overall and reduced prices. These then contribute to a more competitive economy and on to inducing more business enterprises to proliferate.
It cannot be emphasized enough that labour productivity gains are ultimately what result in higher individual incomes overall. Labour productivity can only be increased when workers are equipped with the right machines and tools and can avail of modern public services and facilities to go about making a living. Farmers who have to contend with tingi– (small-scale) style transport (such as tricycles and jeepneys) of their produce to market over decrepit roads will never be able to compete with farmers in modern societies who have access to modern storage, good roads, large trucks, and freight trains to transport their produce in bulk.
Particularly important in these times of COVID-19 pandemic are open public spaces. Metro Manila which is the Philippines’ biggest urban cesspool suffers from a lack of open public space that could provide safe space for ordinary Filipinos to alleviate the personal stresses of prolonged isolation. Expenditure on recreation and beautification facilities are often derided by leftists and “woke activists” as frivolous and unnecessary undertakings that deprive “the poor” of their entitlements. This is the sort of short-sighted thinking that keeps many Filipinos impoverished and their capital city a renowned global eyesore. Facilities that uplift personal well-being are just as important contributions to improving labour productivity and are therefore worthwhile investments to allocate public funds to.
Filipinos need to demand that their “activists” and their Opposition “thought leaders” apply more modern thinking in the positions they take on key national issues and spend less time on destructive noise filled with pointless emotionalism and not enough critical evaluation. If we aspire to a more mature democracy, key to this lies in an intelligent Opposition and not the clueless bunch of clucking hens we see today.
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