Sunday, February 6, 2011

Economics 101

First, the good news.
According to government data, the country’s economy, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), grew by 7.3 percent in 2010, the highest in 24 years.

This development has sent many, particularly those in the Aquino III administration, to convulse with excitement about the prospect of life in this Republic. To them, this means life might be getting better.

The bad news is that not everyone in the room understands what 7.3 percent GDP growth means. So, it is left to those who analyze the news to explain this specialist economic term in the language of the masses. I will try.

Gross domestic product, as my professor at the University of the East explained during the dreamy days shortly before the EDSA Revolution of 1986, means the total value of goods and services produced in the country in a certain period, say one year.

Measuring this value is a tricky, often complex, proposition. So, economists and financial specialists who devote their time to crunching numbers classified the economy into three major sectors, namely, (1) industry; (2) services; and (3) agriculture, fishery, and forestry (AFF).

The industry sector grew by 3.9 percent last year. This growth, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), was driven by increases in manufacturing, mining and quarrying, and water, gas, and electricity. We manufactured more goods, mined more gold and copper, quarried more gravel and sand, and generated more water, gas, and electricity. That’s what it meant.

For the services sector, the growth of 3.3 percent was pushed by increases in trade, private services, and finance. It means that last year, there were a lot of economic activities involving buying and selling of goods; building and repairs; manicure or pedicure; vulcanizing; business consulting; training; lending and pawnshop operations, etc. These are all samples of trade, private services, and finance activities.

The AFF sector in 2010 registered a growth record of only one percent. A little explanation is in order here.

Actually, the AFF, which is supposed to be the backbone of the economy because the Philippines is largely agricultural, declined by 2.9 percent in 2009. But a strong rebound of 5.4 percent in 2010 offset this decline because the country experienced fewer typhoons in the last year, so that we produced more rice, fish, corn, poultry, and livestock. The data showed that we produced less forest products, sugarcane, and coconut.

Going by the record, it would show that the economy is faring well. And when the economy is doing good, that means there are more jobs, thus more income; more food on the table, thus less hunger; more potable water, thus, less thirst; more medicines and health care services, thus healthier citizens. Is that it?

Wait. It isn’t that simple, according to my experience in the real world. This experience actually is the best barometer of life; better than the equations, number measurements, and scientific projections of armchair economists. This experience is what the people really encounter—see, hear, and smell—and feel while they are alive—living—in this archipelago.

Which means that to measure up whether life is getting better or getting worse, our economists and government leaders must also take into account the stories, feelings, and experiences of people who have no jobs, shelter, food, potable water, electricity, healthcare, and tuition money.

There are plenty of these stories and experiences all over. In Romblon, even without looking into official data, I can say that these stories and experiences of economic want—rather than economic success—are the norm rather than the exception.

Which plainly means Romblon is not growing economically, regardless of what Gov. Lolong Firmalo or Rep. Budoy Madrona, or other provincial politicians of lower positions, will say, or proclaim, in their speeches during fiestas or in colorful tarpaulins.

And now that I have conducted this mini-lecture on Economics 101, let me offer a few clues to buttress my claim.

When Firmalo or Madrona or a lesser potentate belies my claim and say that Romblon’s economy is growing, let me pose the challenge: explain the brownouts in Tablas, or show me the numbers that we are NOT importing rice from Mindoro, or that children of school age are in school this year, rather than out there in the fields helping their parents.

I would be eager to eat my words if I am shown that we had more doctors and nurses healing the sick in 2010 than in 2009, or more Romblomanons engaging in income-generating activities rather than falling in line outside some factories in Batangas or Laguna looking for wage-paid employment.

If I can be convinced that the provincial government has jailed—or dismissed from the service—some corrupt officials who lorded it over the province during the time of Natalio Beltran, Jr., or that the murderer of Armin Marin and the brains behind the dastardly act have been charged in court, or that the venalities at the Romblon State University and other government offices have abated, with the perpetrators called to account, then and only then I am willing to consider my view that Romblon, my one and only province, is not going to the dogs.

I will then concede the point that Romblon is poised to experience economic growth rather than economic decay; that the miners sponsored by some greedy politicians who lie through their teeth are going to give us jobs rather than poison us with mercury.

Were I too harsh discussing economic matters? No, actually. But wait when I discuss Politics 101.

No comments: