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With Due Respect

Saving democracy and capitalism

The violent riots by the partisans of former United States (US) president Donald Trump in the US Capitol last Jan. 6 marked a heretofore unthinkable assault on democracy and capitalism.

Though this kind of attack had been seen in other countries, this was the first time it happened in the very temple where the American brand of liberalism, freedom, and private initiative is worshipped, practiced, and exported.

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Discontent morphs into insurrection when the gap between the poor and the rich becomes unconscionably wide, aggravated by an arrogant display of profligacy (private jets, luxury yachts, flamboyant sports cars, mansions galore, red diamonds). The populace becomes desperate and embraces strong, populist demagogues like Trump who promise deliverance via force, intimidation, and whatever methods.

Defenders of Lincoln’s democracy and Smith’s capitalism warn that unless the corporates share their profits, the reliance on authoritarians will persist. The world needs a new kind of capitalism that uplifts the marginalized.

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Karl Marx’s old answer on wealth distribution has utterly failed. The staunchest communists abandoned it long ago. The Soviet Union collapsed and its former satellites embraced democracy and capitalism. The best current example is China which used capitalism and private initiative to propel itself into becoming the second largest (and soon, the largest) economy in the world in barely three decades.

Internationally, Netflix’s “Saving Capitalism” and “A New Capitalism” captured the trend to close the chasm between the haves and have-nots, and cited efforts to enable the latter to be entrepreneurs and to avail themselves of the health services of the rich.

Examples of these corporate inclusiveness include the (1) Grameen Bank of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh that lends without collateral to poor entrepreneurs and yet has an enviable track record of on-time repayments; (2) Aravind Eye Hospital in India where doctors replace cataracts (to minimize blindness) of all patients regardless of economic status and yet has remained self-sustainable; and (3) InfoGeekie which, a decade ago, started bonding digital technology with personalized learning.

Here, I know of similar efforts by corporates and their affiliate foundations to save democracy and to share the fruits of capitalism, like the (1) Jollibee Group Foundation’s “Farmer Entrepreneurship Program” that assists smallholder farmers to become productive agro-entrepreneurs and to help sell their produce to Jollibee stores and other outlets; (2) BPI’s “BanKo” that promotes financial inclusion by loaning to self-employed micro entrepreneurs who do not have access to regular banks; (3) Jaime Aristotle Alip’s “CARD MRI” that, like the Grameen Bank, empowers countryside enterprises with collateral-free loans and related facilities via IT and AI; (4) Metrobank Foundation’s Manila Doctors Hospital that plows back its earnings to continue improving its services; (5) Lopez Group’s longstanding “Green” advocacies; and (6) Metro Pacific’s “GabayKabuhayan” that promotes local livelihood and environmental protection.

On education, the conglos have wisely taken over private universities to sustain their service to the poor despite hard times, like the (7) University of the East by Lucio Tan’s Tan Yan Kee Foundation; (8) Mapua University and the University of Nueva

Caceres by the Yuchengco and Ayala Groups; (9) National University by the SM Group; (10) Eight institutions nationwide by the Phinma Group, and (11) PLDT’s “GabayGuro” that trains and provides digital knowledge to tens of thousands of teachers.

To alleviate the COVID-19 emergency, conglomerates have responded magnificently, led by San Miguel Corp. which, aside from its many benevolent activities, budgeted P1 billion to purchase vaccines for its 70,000 employees.

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In sum, I believe that liberal democracy and performance-driven capitalism are still the best catalysts for liberty and prosperity, but they must scale up and intensify the inclusion of the poor and powerless.

Moreover, the best way of governing is to govern the least and to allow people to freely use their innovation and initiative, interfering only to check avarice and to level the playing field. The primary role of government is to create just societies; to improve access to the basic necessities (food, water, education, infrastructure, health care, decent incomes and jobs); to encourage philanthropy; to honor commitments; and to protect property rights.

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TAGS: Artemio V. Panganiban, capitalism, democracy, With Due Respect
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