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HORIZONS

Marcosnomics: The ‘best and brightest’ Cabinet?

The Greeks have a term for it. They call it “kakistocracy,” namely a state governed by the most incompetent and least scrupulous. The Athenian democracy, for instance, was specifically designed to avoid this outcome by ensuring that all citizens — namely, males who underwent prior intellectual and moral training — have a crack at governance on a rotational basis.

As the third maxim carved above the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi put it: “certainty brings insanity.” In ancient times, the certainty of tyranny often brought about ruin to even the most glorious empires. In a nod to the maxim’s infinite wisdom, the Athenians embraced the dynamism of democratic governance and responsible citizenship.

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The problem, however, is that even the Athenian democracy, which excluded the vast majority of people, was itself far from immune to “insanity.” After all, it was the same “democracy” that opted to execute Socrates, who, in the interest of reasoned public discourse, bravely questioned the foundational prejudices of his countrymen.

This largely explains the antipathy of Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle toward democracy. The former described democracy as “a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike,” while the latter dismiss[ed] democracy as an adulterated form of governance, “analogous to tyranny, where law has ceased to be sovereign and the notion of a constitution has practically disappeared.”

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According to Plato, democracies are inherently susceptible to a process of “degeneration,” which, in turn, empowers demagogues, who promise overnight salvation to disenchanted citizens. This is precisely why Aristotle preferred a “mixed” political system, which balances egalitarianism against meritocracy in order to transcend both mob rule and tyranny.

Now, dear reader, why is this relevant to “Marcosnomics,” namely the economic agenda of the incoming President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.? Let me explain.

We are facing similar dilemmas as our ancient forebearers. Partly thanks to the advent of networked disinformation, but also due to the profusion of nontraditional challenges in governance, political degeneration is the common theme across all major democracies across the world.

And in the case of the Philippines, there are growing concerns that, should current trend lines persist, we may end up with our own version of kakistocracy. After all, a few political dynasties, our penultimate version of oligarchs, have effectively cornered elected offices for the foreseeable future.

To put things into context: great statesmen like Jovito Salonga, a Yale-trained human rights lawyer, used to top our Senate races; today, it’s a radically different picture.

And this is precisely where Aristotle’s “mixed system” comes into picture: Popularity, or rather populist antics, may have determined the outcome of our elections, but meritocracy will have to be the basis of managing our economy.

Outgoing President Duterte, who oversaw a record five-quarter economic contraction, is leaving behind a macroeconomic quandary. Last year, our outstanding debt rose by 20 percent year-on-year to P11. 73 trillion, thus reaching a 16-year high debt-to-gross domestic product ratio of 60.5 percent.

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And growing budget deficit coupled with inflation concerns are going to pose their own challenges for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the incoming Marcos Jr. administration will inherit as many as 88 big-ticket infrastructure projects, with 35 of them set for completion next year and 20 others still up for review. Vast majority are hard infrastructure projects, which will require skillful implementation and significant financing. None of these macroeconomic indicators are a cause for panic per se, but there is a reason why outgoing Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III is calling for “fiscal consolidation.”

Fantastical claims may have helped Marcos Jr. win the presidency. But now he needs to let adults run the show on the economic front. Taking a page from his father’s playbook, Marcos Jr. has assembled an A-list cluster of technocrats, almost all exclusively affiliated with the University of the Philippines’ prestigious School of Economics.

Sen. Maria “Imee” Imelda Marcos recently declared that her family wouldn’t want to waste a “second chance” to vindicate their legacy. Well, one way for them to get this right is to let good economics, rather than bad politics, determine the thrust of the incoming administration’s policy agenda.

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TAGS: Ferdinand Marcos Jr, Horizons, Marcos Cabinet, Marcos economic policies, Richard Heydarian
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