Carvajal: Poor people, rich land

Break Point

“The wealth of a nation is based on innovation, knowledge, productivity, creativity, basic research.”--Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winner for economics, 2001

WE HAVE always considered ourselves rich in natural resources and have argued that our problem of mass poverty stems from the self-serving exploitation of our resources by the country’s politico-economic elite.

Mr. Stiglitz would judge us wrong on two counts. A nation’s wealth is not its natural resources. Accordingly, a nation’s progress does not depend on how leaders rule but on how an educated and productive people impose their will on leaders.

Japan was never rich in natural resources. It even had to go to war to get what it needed to fuel its economy. Devastated by war, Japan had nothing left but a disciplined, creative and innovative people that eventually brought it to the lofty economic heights it has since reached.

After World War II, the Jews did not even have a homeland. And when they got one it was just a small patch of desert. Yet Jewish creativity and productivity have made the desert bloom with fruits and vegetables and created a heavily industrialized economy out of scarce resources.

Hence, by Mr. Stiglitz’s theory, our problem is that as a nation we are not educated, creative, innovative and productive enough to demand integrity and competence from our leaders. Instead, we have allowed them to impose their greed and incompetence on us. We blame them for our troubles yet we stupidly keep electing them into power.

How can we keep pace with the progress of our neighbors when, according to World Population Review, Filipinos have the lowest IQ among ASEAN nations? We need our educational system to stop simply stuffing our brains with data and start training us how to think critically and how to rely on our innate and acquired talents to create and innovate with whatever data and resources are at hand.

It doesn’t help that Filipino-style Catholicism enjoins us to be poor in spirit and to rely more on God and less on reason to solve our life’s problems. Progress and development must be based on science, on reason, without necessarily tossing faith in God aside.

The choice is not between democracy and authoritarianism, not between political parties. The choice is between self-reliance and dependence, between acting and blaming. Whatever the system of government and whichever party is in power, there can be no real progress if we are not educated, self-reliant, creative and productive.

Unless we start relying on our own productivity and stop listening to leaders who do nothing much more than ask us to pray to God for their solution, we will continue to suffer the irony of being poor in a rich country.


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