Saturday, February 23, 2008

Let's tax the Church!

Should we tax the Church? Why not? It’s high time!

Church officials—bishops, ulamas, pastors, priests—based on their rhetorics, are always holier than thou, especially when it comes to failure of government to provide economic opportunities for the poor. But does the Church really do something about it besides prayers and few charities? If they want to help the country, the poor, the best thing they could do is pay taxes for the Church properties, lands, and universities to generate resources for economic and social development. Church-owned schools charge the highest tuitions fees in the land, thus accumulating so much money. Since they don’t pay taxes, they hardly give anything in return to society.

The premise about separation of Church and State, about religion and politics, has always been fiction. The Church—be it the Catholic Church, Iglesia ni Cristo, El Shaddai—has always been a very active political animal in the country. When told not to meddle in politics, the Church authorities would say, they can’t help it because the realm of politics has moral dimensions, which the Church has a lot to say. Well, every thing has moral dimension.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Barack Obama's "Asian problem?"

Does Barack Obama have an "Asian problem?" I think so, given the huge support Asians are giving to Hillary Clinton. Is it racism, as what some “analysts” would like to think? I don’t think so.

This is my take: the rise of China, India, and the rapid economic growth of countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines, is significantly caused by foreign policy pursued by the Clinton administration. It was Bill Clinton’s leadership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) that led to the Bogor Declaration envisioning a global free trade by 2020. That one really pressured the Europeans to relent on the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations, thus paving the way for the birth of the World Trade Organization. WTO is not a perfect treaty but that one really opened lots of markets for Asia’s exports, this boosting the economies in the Asia-Pacific region. Globalization in general in which the Asia-Pacific region is a major beneficiary accelerated during the time of the Clintons in the White House. So Asians have a generally warm view of the Clintons, including Hillary.

After Iowa, Obama issued statements against “the violence of outsourcing” and swore to adopt measures against the practice, a move that drew criticisms from the Asia-Pacific region. Hillary of course also seems to pander to the protectionist sentiments among the American electorates, but given the Clintons’ track record, Asians tend to look at those pronouncements as a message addressed largely to the home political market.

Plus Asian's in general don't have hang ups about having females as top political leaders.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Middle class getting back to the protest business?

I just had an hour or two with finance guys this morning in Makati and know what—they are joining the anti-GMA rally in Makati. I thought all along these money guys hate joining such activities. But they are and, I guess, it all boils down to what I call “middle class values.” The core issue of course is corruption that reaches up the highest echelons of government, and corruption is certainly bad for business. Yeah, its high time the middle class should be part of this struggle for a better society. Mabuhay kayo!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Rethinking John Rambo

It’s easy to think of John Rambo as a brute who does the dirty work for America, someone whom the types of George Bush would send to fight in Uncle Sam’s crazy little wars. I used to think that way. But hey, that’s actually not an accurate description of the character.

In fact, Rambo—at least the one I knew in First Blood, the first Rambo movie—was more of a victim. In First Blood, he was an ex-Green Beret guy with post-traumatic stress disorder in search of peace and quite in small town America, until a power tripping Sheriff treated him badly. In Part 2, he was stupid enough to agree to go inside Vietnam to take photos of supposed POWs only to be abandoned by the US Armed Forces when politicians realized the mission would have political repercussions. He was captured, tortured, survived and ended up saving some of the POWs. Since then he never returned to America.

He stayed in Thailand among the simple folks to live a humble and quiet life, only to be deceived once more into going inside Afghanistan (in Part 3), not for America, but for his friend and mentor who was captured by the Russians. In Part 4 entitled John Rambo: To Hell and Back, he went to Burma from Thailand to help his friends who were captured by the Burmese military (although I’m simply too busy to watch this one).

He hates politicians. He hates the military top brass. His actions were always about his friends. He had to do it because others wont.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Philippines "rejoins" the Asia-Pacific region

I was in Laguna Technopark last Thursday when the government announced the Philippine economy grew by 7.3 percent in 2007, boosted by the 7.4 percent fourth quarter surge, the highest rate since 1976. I say not bad! Finally, we have “rejoined” the Asian community of fast growing countries.

I say “rejoined” because analysts always thought the Philippines seems to have been behaving like a Latin American country, with our politics prone to coups attempts and instability and economy that tended to enjoy sudden boom and busts. Now, we have reached a new level, 7 percent, after starting at a 5-6 percent GDP growth band from 2003 until 2006.

As expected, some practitioners of the Dismal Science were quick to downplay the numbers, saying the country’s economic performance this year might not be sustainable given the continuing risks posed by rising crude prices and the looming economic recession, an economic slowdown, in the US.

There is this economist from the UP School of Economics who has been going around since 2004 that the country could never achieve beyond 4 percent. He has been proven wrong all the time, but this time after hearing that the country’s GDP reached 7.4 in the fourth quarter, he stressed the country would achieve just around 4 percent in 2008. Here we go again!

The matter about economic recession in America is certainly a serious question. Unfortunately, even economist in the US are at a loss whether or not there is indeed a recession, how serious is it going to be, and whether or not it’s going to bring the global economy down. “When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold,” says the old dictum. And it was true then because when Americans stopped buying shirts, food, cars, gadgets, or just about anything, the factories from the rest of the world stopped humming, thus rendering thousands, if not millions, of workers jobless.

That nugget of wisdom, however, may not be true today because the world is no longer the same place that it was two or three decades ago. Now, analysts worldwide talks about “decoupling” or the capability of other economies in the world, including emerging economies like China and India, to growth despite the weak American economy. These countries could take on the role of growth drivers in the same manner that China has been boosting the economy of Japan and Australia through her rising imports of machines and raw materials iron ore, petroleum products, coal and other commodities. China now has also become a major destination for Philippine exports, a market that has become almost as huge as the America.

And more importantly, while emerging economies are riding on the wave of global trade expansion, many of them, including the Philippines, has been growing largely on the strength of domestic demand. It’s even true for China and India as much as it is for the Philippines. So the conclusion here is that, the recession in the US may or may not cause colds in the Philippines, and if it does, it might not be so severe co cause serious complications.

Realistically though, the number crunchers at the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) believe that a full-blown recession could indeed affect us significantly. Augusto Santos, acting director general of Neda, says should America suffers a one-percentage point contraction from its current growth rate, the Philippines gross national product will shrink by 1.764 percentage points. That is huge.

But that’s assuming that neither America will do anything to lick the recession nor the Philippines address to boost the local economy and cushion the impact. But who knows, US President George Bush’s $150 billion stimulus package, wherein government will mail checks to Americans for them to spend it and prop up the American economy, might just work? And if we do our homework here, say continue spending for badly economic infrastructure, as we should, as we are doing right now, the Philippine economy might just get out of this in a decent shape.

One interesting thing about recessions is that statisticians, and therefore policy makers and the general public, know about it only when it’s long underway. It’s because of the time lag in the collection of statistics. So if there’s a recession in America, the Philippines should already feel it.

The GDP figures seem to show that with the 3.7 percent contraction in exports from a growth of 2.2 percent last year. “Net factor income from abroad” that measures remittances of Filipino expatriates working abroad also has declined. And yet the Philippine economy managed to surge to a 7.4 percent growth rate in the fourth quarter, on the strength of other sources of growth (eg., domestic demand, mining, construction, agriculture and fishery, outsourcing, among others). There are even signs of recovery in investments from the private sector as shown by the rise in fixed capital formation—an indication that business are constructing buildings, buying machines for the factories, and upgrading their equipment.

So let’s see!