The waiter cleared the table to make way for desserts. A group of guitar-players moved on to serenade another table, leaving the school friends to their discussions.
“There was once a capitalist and a communist knocking on St Peter’s Gate.” Raoul began a joke before the succulent mangoes and ube ice cream arrived. “So St Peter came and asked the capitalist what he had done to deserve coming in through the Pearly doors. ‘I’ve worked hard and amassed a fortune along the way,’ the capitalist replied. St Peter looked the capitalist in the eye and said, ‘Whichever way you’re going, my friend, you won’t need your money with you.’ He then turned to the communist and asked him the same question. The communist replied, ‘I’ve controlled the basic means of production and distributed wealth equally among the people.’ St Peter sighed and said, ‘Stop playing God, my friend.’”
Several seconds passed, but no one managed a chuckle. “You economists have a hilarious sense of humour,” Kenneth noted.
“By the way, has anybody heard from Eric?” Pia asked.
“He’s a bacteriologist doing research on viral transmission in a medical laboratory somewhere in Europe,” Kenneth replied. “I read an article in a medical journal of findings he had made on a particular infectious disease, its origin found to be an animal to human transmission. It is latent in the animal but devastating in the human. It takes money to develop cures and he mentioned a need for financial assistance for certain costly clinical trials. I know Eric also tries to find time to participate in humanitarian work in those countries that do not have access to medical facilities. He loves to travel and his research brings him around the world, particularly to Africa and some Third World nations. I have great admiration for doctors and scientists like Eric.”
“Remember those school holiday trips he organised back in school?” Marites asked. “Eric would hire a bus and off we went to the beaches of Matabungkay and Nasugbu…”
“…or to Hidden Valley,” Raoul added, “exploring the rain forest inside a crater of an extinct volcano…”
“…or dancing in the streets during the Ati-atihan festival at Kalibo,” Kenneth recalled with mirth.
“And Eric was seldom with us during the day,” Pia observed. “Instead, he was going around the villages, talking with the peasants, playing basketball or chess with them. He is so attached to the country folks. They are so poor, he said, and yet so generous.”
“Eric enjoyed being in the provinces,” Marites noted, “and he wanted to share that with us. He remarked about the difference between the city-bred character and the provincial one. He said that it takes so little for the provincial to be happy. They go about their business, undisturbed by complexes, characteristic of city-bred Filipinos.”
“It takes so little,” Raoul said, “but there is at least a minimum required in order to be comfortable. Subsistence below the poverty line is not pleasant.”
“Raoul,” Kenneth asked, “then what sort of economy would generate a better quality of life? Is it capitalism or communism?”
“There is a third way,” Raoul said. Everyone sat up in their chairs and turned their attention to Raoul.
“I want to describe to you a system,” Raoul began, “but before I do so, I do not want it to be tarnished by moral judgments and preconceived ideas. Put your sentiments aside and see the values it holds.
“But the suppositions of an ideal economy and an ideal politic are too complex to cover in one sitting or in a single chapter of a book, and to some, this is a terribly fascinating subject. I will do my best to be as brief as possible. By the way, you must realise that politics and socio-economics work closely hand-in-hand. Let me begin with an Indian story of blind men describing an elephant.”
“I know that story,” Pia interrupted. “There were these blind men who had never seen an elephant before, of course, because they were blind. They were asked to feel an elephant and to describe the animal. One, who was touching its side, said that it was a flat and rough thing. Another, who was feeling its trunk, said it was a cylindrical beast. The one feeling its ears said it was a smooth and soft creature. All of them thought that the others were describing different animals, and they ended up arguing about which one of them was right.”
“So now I want you all,” Raoul asked, “to describe what you think a social market economy should be.”
“The juridical definition,” Marites replied, “of a social system is the notion of equality and justice for all.”
“It is a co-operative economic system,” Kenneth answered.
“It is both an economic system and a political structure whose aim is to improve the quality of life of all the people through a joint framework of economic policies and laws,” Pia added.
“Some will ask,” Raoul continued, “why must we think of the welfare of others? Is it not enough just to think of ourselves?”
“What does it mean to be civilised?” Marites answered with a question. “A civilised society is one with a government that takes care of the interests of all its citizens. By this definition then, we are a barbaric nation.”
“These same people will also ask, why reorganise the economy?” Raoul continued.
“Because the oligarchs of the country profit from this present disparate situation, and so they will criticise, disapprove, and censure anything they cannot manipulate for their benefit,” Marites replied.
“What are the principles of a social market economy that makes change an attractive option?” Kenneth asked.
“In a social market economic system,” Raoul explained, “the rights of the individual are paramount. Every citizen is socially equal before the law. The system embodies principles to safeguard competition, to provide incentives, to encourage enterprise and initiative, and to ensure an economic framework that is balanced and stable. These principles are formulated in policies of the social market economic system and the latter’s framework is defended by laws to ensure its proper functioning.
“In the Philippine context, the ordinary Filipino will have the right to education, housing, and health protection. Equal before the law, land redistribution will give the ordinary Filipino, property rights and with it, control over his own efforts and resources. This economic system will support the ordinary Filipino when he starts an enterprise–the small business is the core of an economy, and large industries have all had their beginnings in small enterprises. The ordinary Filipino is protected through a legal and political framework to ensure fair transactions, tax incentives, and less bureaucracy. Shifting wealth from those who use it productively to supporting the idle poor will stunt the growth of an economy. But through the social market economic system, the ordinary Filipino will be assisted, to a tremendous extent, to enable him–through his own initiative–to rise from poverty and be economically independent.”
“How can we effect this change?” Pia asked.
“Effecting change cannot be done by one man alone,” Raoul replied. “Each and every person has to contribute a chip on the monolith, as Kenneth said. That means each one of us, not somebody else.”
“How do we translate change in the economic and political spheres?” Marites asked.
“Change is translated through legislation. But the decision-making abilities in the party structure of our political system are limited. It is very unlikely that parties can solve our national problems. They do not represent the people, even if they say they do. Read their party platforms and you will find that they are as solid as onionskin. Instead, political life can be organised by way of what is customary, by way of conventional practices, and formulation of statutes. Our government should also decentralise, and leave decision-making at the regional roots. There are also limitations to a Constitutional form of government, and our country can do without one. Besides, no Constitution is fully applied and is time-consuming to modify. Great Britain is ruled without one.
“So legislation is the peaceful way and the chosen path of this economic system. But there is another recourse for translating change, which is not the way of this economic system, but is far more expedient. You see, political extremes gain the most support in countries with great economic problems. The faster way to translate change is through a revolution.
“An empty stomach is a natural force that speaks louder than words and acts before it thinks. Nobody wants a revolution so let us move to do it the peaceful way. But change has to be done quickly and efficiently. If legislatures act too slowly, remember that this other recourse is a faster way. Implementation is the crux of the matter, and this other recourse is also far more expeditious when it comes to implementation. One day, resentment by the masses will reach a peak and they will enforce reforms radically. The French Revolution brought to the guillotine many feudal lords and their families.
“A social market economy,” Raoul concluded, “would have accomplished its objectives when the quality of life of the people will have considerably improved.”
“I have a lot of work to do, then,” Marites the lawyer, concluded.
“What would be the ideal politic?” Pia asked.
“It would be presumptuous to give out ready-made solutions to such a complex issue as the ideal politic in just a few words, but the following view is worth exploring. We are a nation of one race, the Malay race, but of diverse cultures and languages. Unity in diversity can be achieved if the country were organised into autonomous communities in a federation, under a parliamentary system of government. In this way, the concept of nation preserves the characteristics of the regions and the minority communities, united under a national umbrella that represents them.
“A political system can be regarded as democratic if it has the participation of the people in the decision-making process. Soldiers are trained to kill the enemy, and Martial Law is not the answer to a civilian’s problems.”
Getting to the point, Raoul had come up with the economic and political solutions to this nation’s complex problems in a few succinct words. But, implementation would be the crux of the matter.
“So there were these two politicians, who were cousins,” Raoul concluded the dinner with another one of his jokes. “One was from the city and the other from the country. The country politician went to visit his cousin, the city politician.
“‘What a fantastic palace you have!’ said the country politician to the cousin. ‘They must pay you well in the city,’ he remarked.
“‘Come to the window,’ the city politician told his country cousin. ‘See that highway over there? I took a kickback from its construction budget to pay for this palace.’
“‘What’s a kickback?’ the country cousin asked.
“‘It’s a percentage skimmed off the budget outlay in order to get my signature of approval,’ answered the city cousin.
“Then after a brief stay, the country politician went home. Some time later, his cousin, the city politician came to visit him.
“‘What happened to your nipa hut?’ he asked his country cousin, as he looked around for the thatched-roof house. The shack was gone and in its place was a larger palace than his own.
“‘Come to the window,’ the country cousin told his city kin. ‘See that bridge over there, the one connecting this island to the other?’
“The city politician looked from one end of the horizon to the other. ‘What bridge?’ he asked, ‘I don’t see any bridge.’
“‘Well, thanks to that bridge, my dear city cousin, I have my country palace.’”
Several seconds passed, but no one managed even a chuckle.
“I have a lot of work to do,” Marites repeated.
“We all have.”