Finalist-PhilBlogAwards 2010

Finalist-PhilBlogAwards 2010
Finalist for society, politics, history blogs

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Friday, May 15, 2015

THE OLIGARCHY QUESTION



THE OLIGARCHY QUESTION


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

What should the nation do to the oligarchs? Remember that the constitution and strengthening of the nation-state, as clearly indicated by historical accounts, involved the class factor, to wit: the various middle and lower classes forged a united front to overthrow the trilateral alliance of the monarch-nobility-priesthood. Nationhood was and will always be a struggle against predatory oligarchs, as exemplified by the violent overthrow of the gentry (monarchy, priesthood/Church, nobility) to be able to advance the gains of the French Revolution. Likewise did the socialist revolutions in various countries resulted to the strengthening of the nation-state, a strengthening that was achieved precisely through the institutional decapitation of the oligarchy, the physical elimination of many of its members and the seizure of their assets.

In the Philippine case, the oligarchy is represented by (a) the landlord-capitalist oligarchs  and (b) the Catholic Church. The landlord-capitalists were the products of the commercial era of the 19th century up through the industrializing era of 20th centry, while the oligarchic Church exists as a carry-over from the feudal Hispanic era. On the one hand, the landlord-capitalists have begun to preach ‘corporate social responsibility’ coupled with Santa Claus dole-outs handed over to ‘shirtless folks’, many of whom are shanty residents. On the other hand, the Church has been preaching a ‘preferential option for the poor’ as mandated by the post-Vatican II doctrines, coupled with ‘basic ecclesial organizing’ among communities aimed at contributing to ‘social capital’ and empowerment. The question is, do such sets of actions coming from the oligarchy suffice to redistribute wealth and contribute to poverty alleviation?

The maximalist solution is the one offered by Old Nationalism as a response to the question. The domestic Bolsheviks, whom we count among nationalists in the Philippine setting, are particularly hot on seizing the assets of the landlord-capitalists (‘comprador class’ as the Maoists labeled them collectively) and declaring these under state control. But the same (old) nationalists are silent about Church wealth, which is so enormous it is clear that Church oligarchism is a factor contributing to the ailments of our society. Is it because the Church had contributed immensely to the growth of the Left, by way of the politicization of many bishops, clergy, religious and ministers along the Maoist/Marxist way, and by the utilization of Church convents for such purposes? So now it seems that a Left seizure of power, if ever, is a surefire guarantee for perpetuating Church oligarchism, while landlord-capitalist wealth gets seized and declared as state assets, if not as Communist Party assets.

Neo-nationalism may very well consider the minimalist solution to the question. Sequestering assets by the large-scale and jailing/exterminating oligarchs may only be fruitful in the short-run. But if the value-base of possessive individualism, greed and predatory practices, including usury and rent-seeking, are not eradicated, oligarchs will again appear in the future, thus returning us all to where we were before, as billionaire oligarchs are now appearing by the dozens in post-Bolshevik Russia. “If you can’t beat them, join them!” is likewise unsound, as this is tantamount to capitulation to oligarchism. The minimalist way begins by declaring that oligarchs, when presented with sound options, can participate in the development game. With the strengthening of institutions, they will also begin to exhibit more accountability and responsibility, by first exhibiting truthfulness in their tax declarations and payments, henceforth fattening the public purse no end.

The structural landscape is now changing, and oligarchs are compelled by the exigencies of the times to recognize the winds of change. Gone were the days when oligarchs were as powerful as Zeus and His Olympian Entourage who can never be prosecuted for their crimes, inclusive of crimes of extracting unjust rent from people’s purses without public consent. As the Meralco case demonstrates, erring oligarchs do go punished, or at least the erring firm cannot just engage in criminal acts without being penalized. When civil society is strong and every kind of public interest group vigilantly watches the oligarchs’ acts with zeal, the Olympian stance of greedy oligarchs receive stunning blows by way of court litigations. Meanwhile, oligarchs in localities who commit heinous crimes, such as that of a former mayor in Southern Luzon, got jailed for such crimes, something that was unimaginable in the past. Institutions of justice are now galvanizing, thanks in part to a vigilant civil society and the synergy concurred by the state with it.

I would now boldly declare a forecast that in the long run, transcendent values would permeate the private sphere so greatly, resulting to greater compassion and the return to simple lifestyles. Eventually, the oligarchs will voluntarily share an immense portion of their wealth to the people, through stock sharing schemes, donating large stockholdings to social enterprises, and funding the equity components or even the working capital of social enterprise ventures. Other more exemplary acts will be in the offing too, benign acts that are truly redistributive and not just rhetorical clichés of ‘corporate citizenship’.

Correspondingly, a more radical organizational culture will crystallize, such that, during times of crisis, Big Business will no longer have to downsize in order to continue to gain profits and declare dividends. Rather, the remedial step will be to cut down on the working hours and temporarily cut down on wages and pay scales, so that no one gets unemployed in the process. That is because the personnel are also co-owners of the physical assets. Furthermore, as already suggested earlier, new accounting systems will arise that will more than highlight human assets as the most important assets in the agency, thus eradicating notions of downsizing or expelling people during crisis periods. The ‘corporate citizen’ will therefore become a living organism, unlike today when the concept is simply a strategy to evade taxes by diverting profits to corporate foundations.

Should we follow the Bolshevik way, it means that eventually the local Bolsheviks would become the new oligarchs. The Communist Party becomes the all-powerful economic Santa Claus owning vast assets, while the branches of government controlled by the Party, such as the army and parliament, will also respectively own vast assets, utilized for earning profits that will fatten the purses not only of the said organizations but of their CEOs’ as well. And when market reforms will be undertaken as Bolshevik dirigism can no longer be sustained, new capitalist-landlord oligarchs will emerge, blessed by the all-powerful partocrats with the mandate to “let a thousand millionaires bloom!” As the party oligarchy and the new landlord-capitalists enrich their purses, multitudes will continue to live the lives of paupers, homeless and jobless, cared by no one other than by howling winds of uncertainties and stray dogs who keep them company. Surely, this maximalist route is not the most pro-active route to counterveil against oligarchism, but is in fact a most reactionary route, the stuff of outdated Victorian-era vampire formulas of sucking rent from out of the toiling folks. 

As to the Church assets, which will be luckily retained in the advent of a delusional Bolshevik victory, the key is the Bishopric. Bishops are the power-wielders of the Church, and are necessarily the biggest obstacles to change within the Church. “In the long run, we shall all be dead!” declared Keynes than, and such will be the state of the bishops: the Old World bishops will be dead soon, as new generation bishops take their place. Not only are the same Old World bishops—due precisely to their feudalistic, sexist and Victorian-era prudish (pretending) mindsets—the stewards of the vast assets of the Church, their ranks are also replete with narratives of sexual misconduct, corruption and every type of scandalous misconducts from cryptic figures. Hopefully, the new generation bishops will go beyond mouthing ‘preferential option’ discourses to uplift the poor, and move soon enough to redistribute the vast Church assets by proclaiming their utilization for developmental purposes. Such assets can be used to collateralize credit as well as for loans that should be offered at very low interest rates, thus converting the Church into a ‘white knight’ at last.

Meanwhile, the Old Nationalists who are still waving the insurrectionary flag can still recoup by joining the legal stream, as some entrenched leaders of communist front organizations are now doing. Their party groups can join political society, while their mass movements and NGOs will continue to operate as civil society groups, and become part, hopefully, of those forces that will popularize to our people the ‘rule of law’ and ‘rule of reason’, in other words become authentic modernizing forces. Such is a very welcome move by the insurrectos, and is in fact the forecast pathway for the concerned rebel forces.


[From: Erle Frayne D. Argonza, “New Nationalism: Grandeur and Glory at Work!”. August 2004.  For the Office of External Affairs – Political Cabinet Cluster, Office of the President, Malacaňan Palace.]

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

NEO-NATIONALISM’S PREMISES & CONTENTIONS / Reform the international financial system

NEO-NATIONALISM’S PREMISES & CONTENTIONS / Reform the international financial system

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

The global financial system is indubitably a homestead of predatory financiers. Usury and global speculation, the masterpieces of financiers, are the enemies of nations. Usury in international finance is at an all-time high, raising questions about the legality and moral propriety of   current lending practices. Incidentally, the said financiers are the ones who exercise the clout within the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, whose chiefs have always been CEOs from the bank headquarters of the financiers. The said banks have always acted out as the marketing agents of financial cartels, even as many nations that have followed the austere ‘structural adjustments’ imposed by them have been reduced to paupers.

It is high time for ‘white knights’ to appear in global finance, lending money accordingly for developmental and investment purposes at very low interest rates (lower than 1.5% annually) and at very long-term payments (25-50 years). Such institutions are now beginning to appear, but creditors remain cautious about their moves. Such institutions are autonomous from the power orbits of the Western financial cartels, are well niched in Asia (e.g. China), and appear to be creditor-friendly.

The reform though should go beyond the ‘white knight’ route. We must actively participate in Asia’s establishment of its own monetary fund and a single-currency regime, and take a leading role if opportunities allow. It may prove beneficial yet to re-institute a regime of gold reserve standard, which should back up the Asian currency. This same monetary fund will then serve as the regional ‘white knight’ that will provide credit to nations in need in the region and continent. The actions will also accelerate the economic cum political integration of the ASEAN and the economic integration for the entire East Asia, steps that will further stabilize the national economies and continuously sustain their respective growth. Meanwhile, a regional currency can stabilize soon enough upon its launching, that it would be a difficult job for criminal financiers to manipulate it, such as the success of the ‘Euro’ now exhibits to the globe.

Still another key intervention measure is the control of predatory speculation through a ‘Tobin tax’ on cross-border currency and related purchases (J. Tobin’s proposal in the early 70s). A tax of 0.75% alone on the current cross-border exchanges, which amounts to $300 Trillions annually, would generate $2.25 Trillions. The said money will then be used to fund the operations of international organizations such as the United Nations, UNDP and authentic international NGOs for social development purposes. The money can also be used by ‘white knight’ financing institutions of international scale. This set of actions will then induce reforms in the other institutions, with chain reaction effects leading to declining speculation in the long run, as the oligarchic  bankers/financiers adjust their rates to more competitive rates in the face of challenges coming from global ‘white knights’.


[From: Erle Frayne D. Argonza, “New Nationalism: Grandeur and Glory at Work!”. August 2004.  For the Office of External Affairs – Political Cabinet Cluster, Office of the President, Malacaňan Palace.]


Saturday, April 25, 2015

NEO-NATIONALISM’S PREMISES & CONTENTIONS / Strengthen national banking and the monetary system



NEO-NATIONALISM’S PREMISES & CONTENTIONS / Strengthen national banking and the monetary system

Erle Frayne D. Argonza


Economic stability at all levels demands the strengthening of a national banking system, and concomitantly the strengthening of monetary system with sovereignty-backed parameters and rules. First and foremost of monetary missions is the re-assertion of the powers of the Constitution of the Republic over the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Needless to say, the country today faces a weak national bank, and necessarily a weak monetary system engendered by it. Sovereignty questions impede the effective operations of national banking in the country, as indicated by the excessive meddling of the International Monetary Fund, acting as agent of the global financial cartels, in the Bangko Sentral’s operations. The first step should be a thorough investigation by the Congress of the Republic to determine precisely who owns and controls the Bangko Sentral, and conduct related oversight functions to assess the entire consolidated assets of the said bank inclusive of unaccounted precious metals.

Should there be a need to institute maximum monetary controls, the national bank should be mandated by the Congress precisely to exercise such controls through a regime of currency controls, where found warranted. In no way should our national currency be subjected to attacks by predatory financier speculators, as what the latter have been doing from the mid-1997 onwards. Money is the lifeblood of the economy, and rendering our money under a regime of free exchange rates and free trade leaves us extremely vulnerable to the machinations of such greedy forces, further weakening our national economy. Monetary controls are the best antidotes to the ailment of a weak currency. Were it possible to revive a system of gold reserve standard, then let such a strategy be studied and enforced, to ensure stability in monetary concerns and the currency markets.

The interest rate controls should likewise continue, but the state must see to it that the rate regimes are within the bounds of sovereignty parameters, representing thereof the national interest and the subsidiary interests of the various social sectors. And, should conditions warrant, our national bank should be among the key initiators for constituting new supra-national institutions, such as an Asian Monetary Fund, thus signaling our participation in reforming the entire financial & monetary system (see below). Our involvement in an Asian Monetary Fund could be a fitful strategy to finally exit from the International Monetary Fund, further strengthening our national banking and monetary system.


[From: Erle Frayne D. Argonza, “New Nationalism: Grandeur and Glory at Work!”. August 2004.  For the Office of External Affairs – Political Cabinet Cluster, Office of the President, Malacaňan Palace.]

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

NEO-NATIONALISM’S PREMISES & CONTENTIONS / Concur co-stewardships with communities affected by extractive industries




NEO-NATIONALISM’S PREMISES & CONTENTIONS / Concur co-stewardships with communities affected by extractive industries

Erle Frayne D. Argonza


Our mining sector had been in the doldrums for quite some time now. The production levels of both (a) base metals and (b) precious metals have surely been at lackluster levels. Meantime, logging has been totally banned to arrest further deforestration and its accompanying desertification and soil erosion. It is only in the energy sector where extraction has been impressively high, and the sector is appreciably a very dynamic one even in terms of R&D considerations. We are now at the crossroads concerning such sectors as mining and forest resources, where a revivified extraction is in the pipelines but couldn’t move because of constitutional and/or statutory constraints.

Note that most of the country’s natural resources for extraction are habituated by (a) tribal peoples and (b) migratory slash & burn peasants. Such populations have long ‘guarded’ the resource-rich habitats. It would surely be a faulty policy to drive them away—hidden under the euphemism of ‘relocation’—in order to give way to a mining concessionaire. Likewise would it be unsound to merely integrate some of their members as wage laborers for the extraction operations. Such actions, derived from regarding the people as ‘high disutility’ entities, are plain reactionary, even as they push the populations to the limits, leading to the folks to constitute hostile millennial movements and rebel separatists. The moves are reactionary as they contribute to the weakening of the nation, to the fragmentation of the national community.

The most pro-active path to address the concerned issue is to design and concur stewardship arrangements with the said populations. Three things are addressed by the stewardship: (1) the people will stay in the area, with better housing and amenities, who in turn will monitor and safeguard the entire operational sites; (2) where necessary, the same folks will be employed in the operations and administrative jobs where applicable, on a first priority basis; and, (3) the people will be co-owners of the firm, with equity/stock participation derived through a calibration of their productivity potency, historical role in stewardship of the area, and other variables. It is argued that this stewardship path is the win/win formula for the state, investors (market), and the communities concerned (‘social capital’/civil society). Consequently, the contribution to the GDP through resource extraction jumps up to a historic high level.


[From: Erle Frayne D. Argonza, “New Nationalism: Grandeur and Glory at Work!”. August 2004.  For the Office of External Affairs – Political Cabinet Cluster, Office of the President, Malacaňan Palace.]

Sunday, April 05, 2015

NEO-NATIONALISM’S PREMISES & CONTENTIONS / Continuously open the market to external investors



NEO-NATIONALISM’S PREMISES & CONTENTIONS / Continuously open the market to external investors

Erle Frayne D. Argonza


National savings continue to hover at a pathetically low rate of seventeen percent (17%), which is significant but is way below the minimum of thirty percent (30%) to render it as ‘critical mass’, like that of our neighbors’. The problem cannot be addressed sufficiently than through a continuing inflow of capital from external investors. Note that in today’s global context, the term ‘foreign capital’ has already lost its meaning, as the boundary between ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ has been effectively erased. The cross-country partnering cum out-sourcing arrangements among diverse firms have become the norm of today’s business, rendering obsolete the previously sacrosanct notions of ‘domestic’ capital and ‘foreign’ direct investments. Not only that. Latest researches have verified that transnational corporations or TNCs now tend to create more values within their host countries and reinvest the profits locally than remit them back to their ‘home country’ (a term that has also begun to lost meaning).

This doesn’t mean though that such investors should be served ‘free lunch’, through very long regimes of tax havens or through spurious ‘strike-free zones’ (read: haven for wage freeze) which makes our laborers appear like wild jackals who need to be perpetually gagged. Some forms of valves (capital controls) should also be instituted, so that the capital investments and profits wouldn’t just flow out like hemorrhage the moment that the economy hits cyclical crisis. Surely, pro-active measures can be devised to let the said investors stay, more so for those that truly re-invest their ROI for their original and diversified business concerns, as well as to those that conduct dynamic R&D and truly transfer technology.

In today’s globalizing context, corporate ‘national champions’ have become obsolete. The  bygone era of ‘national champions’ can still be observed in the names of certain firms, such as in the names Philippine Airlines, Philippine Long Distance Telephone, or in Bank of America, American Express. Asset re-structuring is the norm, and large corporations are becoming rapidly globalized. Mergers and de-mergers are happening at rapidly ‘chaotic’ paces. The circumstances challenge investors/stockholders to quickly grasp the lesson of   ‘thriving on chaos’ or else their ventures would face bankruptcies and foreclosures as what befell many former large ventures, inclusive of former ‘national champions’.

The thought that “foreign capital might harm national interest” is simply passé and out-of-context, in as much as the term ‘foreign’ has lost its meaning save for the antiquarian Old Nationalists who regard foreign things as essentially dangerous (but are they not using foreign frameworks in their perceptions of foreign things?). Let the investors come in, recombine their assets with our domestic investors’, extend their stock participation beyond the forty percent (40%) constitutional limit. Note that “our very own” big corporations are participating in ‘foreign’ countries, and their levels of investment participation go beyond forty percent (40%). It is high time that we readjust our thinking about the matter.


[From: Erle Frayne D. Argonza, “New Nationalism: Grandeur and Glory at Work!”. August 2004.  For the Office of External Affairs – Political Cabinet Cluster, Office of the President, Malacaňan Palace.]

Thursday, March 26, 2015

NEO-NATIONALISM’S PREMISES & CONTENTIONS / Let ‘unbridled free trade’ give way to ‘fair trade’



NEO-NATIONALISM’S PREMISES & CONTENTIONS / Let ‘unbridled free trade’ give way to ‘fair trade’

Erle Frayne D. Argonza


In the international trade scene, the President had declared it emphatically: “no to unbridled free trade!” Fair trade should be the game in trade, not free trade. This does not mean a full return to protectionism, which proved counterproductive in the past. Protectionism had only served rent-seekers, who did not engage in full-scale S&T innovations that could have propelled us to advance in product development, achieving world-class standards in many of our articles of industry & trade quite early. Returning to a regime of protectionism is surely out of the question.

Permit articles of imports to come in, employ this strategy to meet ‘commodity security’ and keep prices at competitive rates, while minimizing the possibility of shocks. This should also challenge domestic market players to become more competitive, precisely by engaging in dynamic research & development or R&D, resulting to higher-level product innovations (intended for the domestic market). Meanwhile, continue to institute a regime of ‘safety nets’ and strengthen those that have already been erected. However, where ‘infantile enterprises’ are barely out of the take-off stage, e.g. petrochemicals and upstream steel, provide certain tariff protection, but set limits up to that point when dynamic R & D have made production more cost-efficient, permitting thereafter competitiveness in both the domestic and global market. The latest move of government to provide the greatest incentives on upstream steel, for instance, is a right move, as it will entice market forces to install our long-delayed integrated steelworks.


[From: Erle Frayne D. Argonza, “New Nationalism: Grandeur and Glory at Work!”. August 2004.  For the Office of External Affairs – Political Cabinet Cluster, Office of the President, Malacaňan Palace.]

Monday, March 16, 2015

NEO-NATIONALISM’S PREMISES & CONTENTIONS / Generate wealth from both external and domestic markets



NEO-NATIONALISM’S PREMISES & CONTENTIONS / Generate wealth from both external and domestic markets

Erle Frayne D. Argonza


Various stakeholders in the past were divided along the question of what should be the driver of growth & development (demand-side discourse): the external, or internal market? The followers of the ‘externalists’ were the ones behind the export-oriented development strategy, whose rationalizations for massive exports were quite poor recycles of the mercantilist contention that wealth should be produced more from out of the external markets (colonies during the time of empires). The ‘internalists’ were the ones behind import-substitution strategies, whose rationalizations were poor photocopies of Keynesian demand-side formulations.

In today’s context, it is wiser to view both the external and domestic markets as synergistic spheres for accumulating national wealth and meeting head-on the demands for delivering welfare. The external market discourse can work only in circumstances where a domestic demand has failed to develop, which in our case was the pre-1990s economy. By the late 1990s, it was clear that a significant change had taken place on the demand side of our economy, as folks were buying a lot of articles of commerce at a time of crisis. The middle class population is rising relative to the entire population, whose households’ needs have become more differentiated and have leaped beyond the bounds of ‘rice-and-galunggong’ expenditures. Today, Filipino families purchase around fifty-three percentum (53%) of their household needs from supermarkets, malls and large retail centers, even as the wet markets and sari-sari stores are declining in importance. These changes are real, and we cannot be blind to them by continuing to harp on an export-driven growth.

We must then fast-track large-scale redistribution schemes, such as to witness the rise in purchasing powers of our own people. This cannot be done outright during the next three (3) years, as we face a fiscal dilemma of crisis proportions. But beyond 2007 lies new opportunity fields. The fiscal route to stabilization will have been solidly achieved by then, and the nation can embark on more ambitious endeavors aimed at increasing incomes, reducing unemployment and poverty and increasing domestic consumption.

As the domestic market catches up in stabilizing the economy and producing national wealth, stakeholders shouldn’t be remiss in improving the competitiveness of our export products. Our great advantage is that we have ample supplies of skilled labor, with wages still relatively low. The power sector is also quite rich in supply of electricity, even as new projects are now being planned to neutralize possible supply problems in the short run. Hopefully, power supply would stabilize and electricity cost would decrease, contributing thus to rendering our exportable articles more competitive enough. Save for capital goods and petroleum, large volumes of which our producers continue to import, the other factors of production are within our hands to control and manipulate, inclusive of rent and interest rate. It is hereby argued that, with such factors controllable enough, we can optimize conditions for rendering our exportable articles maximally competitive and continue to permit the external market to be a source of substantial wealth. What more if we produce all of our essential capital goods, thus further bringing down the cost of production, given that the price of other factor inputs also go down?


[From: Erle Frayne D. Argonza, “New Nationalism: Grandeur and Glory at Work!”. August 2004.  For the Office of External Affairs – Political Cabinet Cluster, Office of the President, Malacaňan Palace.]