Summer Heat and Indolence

Sta. Ana coordinates for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in two parts. Part 1 was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad column of BusinessWorld, April 21,2008 edition, pages S1/4 – S1/5. Part 2 came out on April 28 in the same column, pages S1/4 – S1/5.

The heat is terrible; it enervates and drives me crazy.  I have not been productive lately because of Manila’s hot weather. A temperature of 37 degrees Celsius is no impetus to leave home and proceed to work, much less to attend anti-Gloria activities.

No wonder, some anti-Gloria protesters journeyed to pleasant Baguio. They found an excuse to enjoy Baguio’s refreshing weather: a mobilization at the Supreme Court, which holds session in the summer capital every April.

Gloria benefits from the intense heat, because it saps the energy of the anti- Gloria movement.  When the temperature soars to 37 degrees Celsius, even the fiercest firebrand loses the vitality to pound the pavement and chant slogans.

Perhaps an indication that Gloria has found reprieve from the unintended consequences of a hotter summer is her relaxed appearance, at least in a press photo taken during her visit to a resort in Siargao. She looked less hostile, less anxious, as she posed on the beach, wearing a spaghetti-strapped sundress (or was it a duster?) and padded flip-flops (or was it a pair of platform shoes?).  Well, this woman has chutzpah—for maximum effect, why didn’t she put on a bikini for the paparazzi, in a manner that made Madame Ségolène Royal of France the fantasy of middle-aged men all over the world?

But for many, the Philippine summer of 2008 is unbearable, apart from its confluence with the food crisis and the rise in prices.  Surely, a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius has adverse effects on the temperament and productivity of public utility drivers, the workers they transport, the managers and executives who are still exposed to the heat as they go out of their air-conditioned offices and transfer to cafes, golf courses, hotel suites, and motel rooms to conduct business.  And the farmers, too, deserve longer siestas to compensate for the bigger amount of expended energy during the hot season.

Perhaps, instead of signing unpopular and reactionary Executive Orders (EOs), Gloria can for once sign a decree that might even be begrudgingly accepted by her fiercest critics.  How about an EO that will install an air-conditioning system throughout the Philippines?  It has been said that Lee Kwan Yew actually did put in place such a plan for the city-state of Singapore.  If that can’t be replicated for the whole Philippines, then at the very least, Gloria can instruct Bayani Fernand— the pink fascist, as described by the bubbly journalist Patricia Evangelista— to implement this in Metro Manila.

Gloria can also use the oppressive heat to explain away the backwardness of the Philippines.  Don’t blame her but the weather and the geography.  The hot weather is not conducive to hard work, productivity, and innovation.  The tropical weather encourages rent-seeking, corruption, and plunder. That’s a better line than blaming the system for corruption; the system arose from geographical factors. Besides, blaming the system is to admit her culpability because she is part of the system.

To buttress this kind of reasoning, Gloria can call upon the works of scholars like Jared Diamond; John Gallup, Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Mellinger; Robert Hall and Charles Jones. These scholars say that geographical features determine the growth and development of countries. Being near the equator is bad for development; being in the temperate zone is good.

Following this line of thought, we can say with finality that making the Philippines the 51st state of the USA is for naught. Better to intensify the current practice of exporting the Pinoys to temperate zones. Hasn’t James Fallows observed that Pinoys with a damaged culture at home become responsible citizens when relocated to North America?  The argument that the climate predicts prosperity is as good as the argument posited by my friend M. Buencamino, in response to Fallows, that it is the difference in drinking water that accounts for the contrasting behavior of Pinoys in the Philippines and the Flips in the USA.

Alas, to reduce development and prosperity to a question of geography makes us helpless. No need to follow the bishops’ call for discernment, no need to pursue reforms, no more need for economists and other social scientists to give prescriptions on societal change.  And no need to ask for Gloria’s resignation.  Noli or whoever will replace Gloria cannot promise a better Philippines by legislating climate change.

But then, not even those who see the effect of geography on development would surrender the future of poor tropical countries to fate. Other scholars—the likes of Dani Rodrik, Arvind Subramanian and Francesco Trebbi as well as Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson and James Robinson—see geography as important only insofar it has indirect effects on economic outcomes. Geographic variables pass through channels that are the main determinants of long-term success.  These channels that are the proximate determinants of success pertain to institutional quality.

For example, colonies like the Philippines that were rich in extractive resources and conducive to a hacienda system of agriculture created institutions that abetted oppression, inequality, and patronage.

In gist, institutions, not geography, rule.

It was our very own Jose Rizal who had this insight long before the birth of modern econometrics. In La Indolencia de los Filipinos, Rizal tackled the bull by its horns: “Examining well, then, all the scenes and all the men that we have known from Childhood, and the life of our country, we believe that indolence does exist there. The Filipinos, who can measure up with the most active peoples in the world, will doubtless not repudiate this admission, for it is true that there one works and struggles against the climate, against nature and against men.” (Translation by Charles Derbyshire.)

Rizal further wrote: “A hot, climate requires of the individual quiet and rest, just as cold incites to labor and action. For this reason the Spaniard is more indolent than the Frenchman; the Frenchman more so than the German. The Europeans themselves who reproach the residents of the colonies so much (and I am not now speaking of the Spaniards but of the Germans and English themselves), how do they live in tropical countries? Surrounded by a numerous train of servants, never going afoot but riding in a carriage, needing servants not only to take off their shoes for them but even to fan them!”

But Rizal gave the qualification that even though “indolence does actually and positively exist there; only that, instead of holding it to be the cause of the backwardness and the trouble, we regard it as the effect of the trouble and the backwardness, by fostering the development of a lamentable predisposition.”

Before Spain colonized the Philippines, Rizal observed that that the “Filipinos, in spite of the climate…were not indolent creatures.”

Said Rizal: “Among men, as well as among nations, there exist not only aptitudes but also tendencies toward good and evil. To foster the good ones and aid them, as well as correct the evil and repress them, would be the duty of society and governments, if less noble thoughts did not occupy their attention. The evil is that the indolence in the Philippines is a magnified indolence, an indolence of the snowball type, if we may be permitted the expression, an evil that increases in direct proportion to the square of the periods of time, an effect of misgovernment and of backwardness, as we said, and not a cause thereof.”

Rizal blames Spanish rule for causing the “indolence of the snowball type.”  Among other things, Rizal wrote: “Of no little importance were the hindrances and obstacles that from the beginning were thrown in the farmers’ way by the rulers, who were influenced by childish fear and saw everywhere signs of conspiracies and uprisings. The natives were not allowed to go to their labors, that is, their farms, without permission of the governor, or of his agents and officers, and even of the priests.”

He also said that “(t)he sordid return the native gets from his work has the effect of discouraging him.”

Furthermore: “The pernicious example of the dominators in surrounding themselves with servants and despising manual or corporal labor as a thing unbecoming the nobility and chivalrous pride of the heroes of so many centuries; those lordly airs, which the natives have translated into tila ka castila, and the desire of the dominated to be the equal of the dominators, if not essentially, at least in their manners: all this had naturally to produce aversion to activity and fear or hatred of work.”

A sentence in Rizal’s essay struck me as particularly relevant nowadays: “With that lack of confidence in the future that uncertainty of reaping the reward of labor, as in a city stricken with the plague, everybody yields to fate, shuts himself in his house or goes about amusing himself in the attempt to spend the few days that remain to him in the least disagreeable way possible.”

Doesn’t this statement capture the current mood of many politically passive Filipinos?

And it has nothing to do with the debilitating effect of the hot summer.  We now face a new form of indolence, this time fostered by Gloria.  This indolence manifests itself in the acceptance of helplessness, cynicism, inaction, and de-politicization.  It certainly benefits Gloria, but it damages the country’s long-term development prospects.

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