The economy, rated in people units
The democratic way of rating an entire economy is in terms of the number of people that are benefiting from it, rather than the gross financial values of its production and the earnings thereof. The nation as a whole cannot have economic progress if the progress is enjoyed only by a few.
One should regularly count the gainers (not their gains), and count the losers (not their losses), and see which side dominates. The times when gainers outnumber losers—which are still historically rare—are occasions of minimally inclusive economic progress (“Count people, not production,” Opinion, 8/17/19).
The Philippine economy did alright in the last four quarters, as significantly more people got better off, compared to those that got worse off. In the September 2019 Social Weather Survey of adults, 36 percent said their quality of life (uri ng pamumuhay) improved from the year before, while 25 percent said it worsened, giving a Net Gainers score of +11. The gainers were an estimated 24 million persons; the losers were an estimated 17 million. That’s a surplus of 7 million, out of a national total of 67 million adults.
As surveyed in June 2019, gainers were 36 percent and losers were 22 percent, giving Net Gainers of +13 (correctly rounded). In March 2019, the percentages of gainers and losers were 38 and 21, or Net +17. In December 2018, gainers versus losers were 37 and 25, or Net +12. Four quarters of significantly positive net numbers make a full year of progress (“Third Quarter 2019 Social Weather Survey: Net Gainers, Net Personal Optimists, and Net Economic Optimists all down slightly,” www.sws.org.ph, 11/16/19).
The year before, progress was less steady. The SWS surveys had Net Gainers at +23 in December 2017 and +20 in March 2018, but saw these fall to +5 in June 2018 and -2 in September 2018. For SWS, net scores of +20 and up are Excellent; this has happened in only 2 percent of the 133 surveys recorded since 1983.
SWS refers to scores of +10 to +19 as Very High, +1 to +9 as High, -9 to zero as Fair, -19 to -10 as Mediocre, -29 to -20 as Low, and -30 or worse as Very Low. The median score in the entire SWS survey history is Mediocre. It is above Mediocre in 33 percent, and below Mediocre in 46 percent, of the history.
The sad fact is that the Net Gainers score was negative for decades. It has now been positive since March 2015, i.e., it was during Noynoy Aquino’s time that economic inclusivity began. For this, we should thank the general mildness in consumer price inflation in the last five years.
Keeping the price of rice under control via the policy reform of decontrolling rice imports has played a big role in taming inflation. Bear in mind that over 90 percent of Filipinos are rice consumers, and less than 10 percent are rice farmers (also). Removing rice imports from the grip of the National Food Authority was the key. Tariffing the imports actually softens the blow on farmers; it would be even better for consumers to have no tariff at all.
How spread out are the gainers? In the last two quarters, the Net Gainers scores have been positive in the main geographical areas of the SWS surveys. They are lower in rural than in urban areas, but still positive. They decrease with age, and get near zero among people of age 55 or more.
Access to basic education is the key to becoming a gainer. The 40 percent of Filipino adults who lack junior high school (JHS) have very little chance of betterment. In September 2019, net gaining was -1 among elementary dropouts, +2 among JHS dropouts, +20 among JHS graduates, +22 for those reaching senior high school, and +22 also for college graduates.
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