Alternative indicators of economic progress | Inquirer Opinion

Alternative indicators of economic progress

Economists measure our country’s economic progress employing standards like gross national product (GNP), gross national income (GNI), per capita income, and similar authoritative sounding jargons. These standards of measurement, however, have a poor record of reflecting real conditions on the ground. Lumping together the income of the ultrawealthy and our impoverished multitude, and then coming up with an average income, give us a deceptive picture of progress in a country like ours where the gap between the rich and poor is deep and wide.


I see five alternative and nontraditional indicators which reflect real economic conditions on the ground.

First is the proliferation of the ukay-ukay and Japan surplus stores nationwide. Ukay-ukay stores refer to street retailers that sell used clothes, bags, shoes, and other apparel that are brought in from wealthy countries. Japan surplus stores refer to shops that sell secondhand household items and personal materials from Japan, such as plates, cups, furniture, home ornaments, bicycles, sports equipment, and the like. These stores proliferate in virtually every town in our country. They sell the refuse and discards of prosperous countries, and for as long as they extensively thrive in our midst, we are virtually a nation of mendicants, regardless of what our GNP figures say.


Second is the flourishing business of selling food and hygiene items in sachets. People buy stuff in sachets because goods in larger containers like bottles are beyond the purchasing power of the daily wages that they receive. For as long as there’s brisk business in sachet-contained merchandise, hand-to-mouth existence extensively pervades among our people, regardless of the rosy picture painted by our GNI figures.

Third is the continuing diaspora of our workers and professionals who take on manual labor abroad. For as long as our country heavily bleeds with talent because of the yearly exodus of tens of thousands of our workforce who endure muscle work abroad, reports of economic prosperity is a mirage. The exodus of so many of our countrymen to take on unwanted jobs abroad is a severe indictment of the lack of growth-induced opportunities in our country. In fact, there’s something off in including the remittances of our overseas Filipino workers as a factor of our country’s economic progress, when they are income induced by growth in foreign economies.

Fourth, is the proliferation of pseudoreligious groups that take advantage of the gullibility of the masses and that impoverish them even more, while making their leaders filthy rich. They’re like tumors caused by desperation and hopelessness. The more severe the economic hardship is that prevails among our people, the more pseudoreligious groups mushroom in number and expand in membership. When a country attains real economic progress, these pseudoreligions wither.

Fifth is the overwhelming predominance of elected leaders who win public posts because of patronage politics. These are leaders who use government funds and resources to buy electoral support. The fact that this kind of leaders flourish indicates the desperation of people who cling for survival on leaders who dispense economic favors. No matter how robust our per capita income numbers may be, if the leaders who are voted into office are patronage politicians, we have massive numbers of our electorate living in poverty. Dirty politics thrives when voters’ stomachs are empty. Clean politics flourishes when tummies are full.

The Marcos Jr. administration trumpets that before the end of its term in 2028, the Philippines will join the ranks of upper middle-income countries, which will presumably prove that we are bound to enjoy respectable prosperity. This is a goal and a boast that are utterly meaningless to people who will continue depending on ukay-ukay and Japanese surplus stores, who will survive daily on sachet-apportioned foodstuff, who will anchor hope on pseudoreligious groups, who will dream of migrating abroad, and who will continue to be indentured vassals of patronage leaders.


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