Listen to Joma

Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. This article came out in the June 8, 2009 edition  of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 and S1/5.


Jose Maria (Joma) Sison is not only a prolific writer; he also has an expert opinion on current events.  That is perhaps another reason to call him a professor, a title that he loves to hear.

Being a professor has the connotation of being learned.  That’s why common folks in the past called elementary schoolteachers propesora.  That was when schoolteachers were esteemed, at the heyday of the public school system when it produced quality education.

But a professor, according to the dictionary, has another meaning—a formal one: “somebody who professes a religion or other belief.”  And that definition befits Joma.  He’s the undisputed pope of a religion that has a bigger, more disciplined following than Mike Velarde’s El Shaddai.

Just like the Catholic pope who thinks his word is infallible, Joma churns out ideas that his disciples insist end all debate.  But unlike Joseph Ratzinger a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI, Joma has the freedom to talk about secular matters—topics that range from disco dancing and flirtation to globalization and the economic recession, not to mention socialism and revolution. His writing prolificacy matches the protractedness, or probably the interminability, of the revolution he is waging.

A recent Joma writing is about the global economic crisis.  The title is plain: What the people can and must do about the financial and economic crisis (30 January 2009).   Joma’s followers will assert that his is the most definitive analysis. A blogger describes Joma  as the Philippines’ Alan Greenspan (in the political sense).  A highly educated gentleman who honestly adheres to Joma’s politics is fascinated that the professor predicted the economic crash many years ago.

Call that prescience or foresight.  But the crystal ball will always favor Joma.  Someone who thinks that the country or the world for that matter is in chronic crisis and that capitalism has reached its terminal stage will at one point get his prediction right.

This reminds me of a lab experiment on randomness, involving mice and men and showing how mice can sometimes be more intelligent than men. In this experiment both mice and men perform the task of predicting the color of the ball that will come out from a container filled with red and green balls.  Red balls make up three-fourths of the total balls. So it becomes obvious that picking the red ball at every turn gives the predictor a 75 percent chance of getting the correct answer.

The mice have a simple strategy—always choose the red ball; in the end, they get a score of 75 percent. But humans think they are intelligent; they think they can get a better score than 75 percent.  The men look for patterns, and unlike mice whose choice becomes automatic, they make a calculated choice at every turn.  But as the experiment shows, this strategy usually backfires. The men’s average scores fall below 75 percent or closer to 60 percent.

Well, that experiment gives us a glimpse of Joma’s mind.  Either he has the intelligence of a rat or he always thinks red.

So what does Joma say about the global economic crisis?  What has to be done, to borrow Lenin’s rhetoric?

Don’t expect Joma to address the problems relating to sub-prime loans, derivatives, bubbles, market failure, regulatory capture, global imbalances, conflict of interest, perverse incentives, information asymmetry, adverse selection, moral hazard, and irrational behavior.  Joma is not Alan Greenspan, the economist; he’s just the political Greenspan in the Philippine pond, so says the blogger.  Well, even the real Greenspan is now being crucified for his culpability in sowing the seeds of the deep economic recession.

Joma’s version of what is to be done is not saturated with technocratic or academic jargon. It is easy to understand.  The tasks discussed in his paper are straightforward, namely information and education campaigns, organizational campaigns, and mass mobilizations.

How these tasks can reform or even transform the global economy is something beyond me.

But I still appreciate these tasks when applied to a totally different context.  Recently, a couple of colleagues attended a meeting of organizations opposed to Gloria Arroyo’s brazenly illegal plan to perpetuate power.  A lot of time in the meeting was eaten up by the presentation of a permutation of scenarios to keep Gloria in power.  But what we urgently need is collective action, not an intellectual playing of the ding-a-ling.

Joma’s call for information, education, organization, and mobilization hits the mark.  And I will gladly march shoulder to shoulder with the people, including Joma’s forces.   I am not bothered by Joma’s forces who always see red. Our main task, irrespective of the colors we choose, is to defeat the real threat of a Gloria dictatorship.

We must fight the Congress resolution to turn itself into an assembly to change the Constitution towards legitimizing Gloria’s extension of power.  Railroading the resolution is the classic act of braggadocios. But the resolution also shows that rats are more intelligent than most members of the House of Representatives.

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