The economy “in the time of a Marcos presidency” is a tired go-to theme of today’s little child-economists

Consider this recent piece “One Year In, Marcos Jr. Struggles to Govern” written jointly by Cleve Arguelles of the Department of Political Science and Development Studies, De La Salle University, Manila and Jose Miguelito Enriquez who sports a “M. Sc.” in international relations from S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. Makes you wonder how two academics could come up with such a shallow analysis of the current situation.

This is the trouble when the focus remains again on the neoliberal agenda and any attempt at “analysis” uses that as its starting point. Arguelles and Enriquez work through their assessment by treading the easy path of referencing President Bongbong Marcos’s election promises…

The possibilities for wide-ranging reform appeared boundless. A triumphant Marcos Jr. had promised Filipino families cost-of-living relief – that a kilo of rice would be as cheap as PHP 20 (AUD 0.55) – and an inclusive post-pandemic recovery.

…after which they proceed to shoot at these easy targets citing how testimonies of “dispirited Marcos loyalists easily go viral nowadays” supposedly because “for all the Restoration ambitions that took more than three decades of brewing, Marcos Jr.’s first year in power is remarkably unremarkable.” This is then followed by a litany of cherry-picked statistics to “prove” that thesis.

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Slow clap.

There’s more beyond “facts and figures” that more mature observers can glean if they pay enough attention. Leadership is required in governance and the perception that Marcos is weak is fueled by his inability to grasp the bull by the horns. Marcos avoids conflict as much as possible which is why it took him some time to get control of the government. This is in contrast to former President Rodrigo Duterte who had a cohort of friends and colleagues who had government experience.

If inflation is to come down, Marcos must crack down on the cartels and smugglers. Unfortunately, he isn’t taken seriously because while he speaks softly, there’s no counterpart big stick to enforce his pronouncement. The pressure is on him because the Q2 economic results are below forecast and government under-spent instead of leading in spending. This means the budget isn’t being spent as it should be. However, government spending isn’t a guarantee of growth either. There has to be an equilibrium which can’t be achieved with high inflation and high interest rates. It doesn’t help that sovereign debt is still at 63%. It’s hard to spend your way out of slow growth cycle when you can’t afford to borrow much.

Marcos hasn’t talked about a cabinet revamp yet but it might be time he reconsider the composition of his economic team given by the breadth which they missed their target. Maybe by 2025 but from the looks of it, he isn’t letting go of Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Arsenio Balisacan, Secretary of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) any time soon.

A good grounding on realpolitik makes for a well-rounded stocktake of the situation. Arguelles and Enriquez sophomoric take on things is fodder for the analysis mills of today’s struggling institutions of “research” and “journalism”. Much of the bureaucratic minefield Marcos — or any president for that matter — navigates (usually learning on the job in their first year) — is a reality that came about over multiple administrations. Doing an “analysis” of economies “in the time of a Marcos” falls flat when important context is left out.

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