Monday, April 28, 2008

On GMA's P5-B subsidy to the Poor

Offhand I think it is perverted (you heard it, PERVERTED) for the Catholic Church to be opposing government financial assistance to the poor. But the spokesperson from the Church-backed Caritas who raised concerns about the government P5 billion aid package is no pervert. He is in fact a good cooperative leader and someone I respect and care about. Sometimes it is better just to shrug our shoulders and endure in silence when Justice Raul Gonzales, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and other nitwits in government open their mouths. But when we seem to disagree with people from our own ranks (OUR OWN being that active and vocal section of our society concerned about social justice), then we should thresh out matters a bit more thoroughly.

I can understand if they (THEY, the Church as a community of the faithfu) are worried about the targeting methods used and the possibility that the not-so-poor might instead benefit from the dole out package announced by the government. This is the problem of leakage and moral hazard. I can understand if they are worried about the degree to which those who are able to work and can find work would be dissuaded from working because of the dole out. This is the problem of perverse incentives. It is understandable if they raise concerns about how Gloria and the ruling coalition aim to capitalize on the assistance program for the next electoral confrontation in 2010. This is the problem of how vote-maximizing politicians shape their public choices. Or how to make the program sustainable and over time cover more and more of the poor who actually need the dole out.

But what do we hear? Without mentioning relevant data, Fr. Anton Pascual said "The government, through this subsidy, only teaches the poor to be lazy and depend on the government or on other people for their daily needs," as the news said.

There are poor people and there are poor people. The next step, it seems to me, is to find out when and where and whom it is needed to give fish and when to teach how to fish. When to provide food and when to run seminars on micro-financing and cooperatives to help them acquire their needs on their own.

We don't teach a drowning person how to swim. At the very least, standing on the banks of the river we should scream to tell him how to stay afloat until the rescuers come or throw whatever we can for him to hang on to if we ourselves do not know how to swim, or plunge to the water even on the slightest confidence that we ourselves can stay afloat.

The idea behind giving dole outs to the very poor I believe is a sound one. It prepares them for more life-saving and life-improving opportunities the moment they can think well instead of hallucinating about heaven and the savior that will bring them there. It spurs local demand for local products, since the most immediate demand of the poor would be food and the most available and cheapest food they can find in their locality. It can drive up the starvation wages in the informal sector offered to the poorest unemployed. It can radicalize their options by not giving up, for instance, on the primary schooling of their children.

It can give them HOPE, and this is the most precious commodity around due to the sheer shortage of it. I suspect that when the hopeless hear that there is in fact hope, they as human beings as rational as you and I will restart seeing that improving one's self, saving for one's self and family, and finding work are much, much more worthwhile than wasting away in silence, or for some wasting away in style through gin, gambling and gangsterism (the three Gs of the poor, not to mention druGs and ruGby) as your children subsist on a tiny piece of GalunGGonG every other day. Luckier people still don't get why the poor waste their few pesos on vice. Think about it? Why? Dahil ba sa GaGo at GunGGong sila? Come on, think harder.

How about the prescription that "The present administration should cooperate with non-government organizations, non-profit organizations, cooperatives, micro-finance institutions, faith-based and church groups successful in livelihood, education, health and housing programs and social entrepreneurship" ?

Imagine yourself as a decision-maker in government as a Cabinet official or as a Congressman wanting to do good. Should you recommend to the President to give funds to these organizations so they can run their programs? Maybe you should, but this has been tried before and until now I wonder how the P500 million Lingap sa Mahirap Program under Erap, transferred to the poor through co-ops, created a dent in poverty alleviation. Until co-ops can offer something better on how to use micro-financing funds then public authorities will be justified in trying other methods. Maybe we should argue for something similar to Lingap, but co-ops should first publish an evaluation of their experiences under that program.

The next anti-GMA ruling coalition of the elites to capture power in 2010 must think about how to improve and expand the emergency financial assistance for the poor initiated by the GMA government. Although thoroughly discredited, GMA can still do good things being the President, and this is one.



Gypsy said...

basically, the poor (the majority) are left to themselves, and there will always be a dividing line between those who can-afford and those who cannot. our leaders belong to the former, and will never know nor implement a governance that works for the poor...
this last aid, however, would benefit most Lucky Me & competitors.

erik v. said...

you don't see that giving subsidies to the poor will help them? and when they have the money to buy food, you don't think they should be able to choose what food to buy?

i share your exasperation. most of our present and past leaders indeed belong to those who can-afford and on balance have not seemed to know what works for the poor. but to say that our leaders will never know that is a bit too do you know that?

i do not believe that Philippine elites who are able to gain political power are better or worse than the rulers of, say, poor Burma or rich korea. however, i believe something changed that allowed koreans to prosper even while their politicians had remained as self-seeking as they were before...