How’s the economy? For whom?


The “money-men”—the professionals in finance—always see a rapidly growing gross national product (GNP) as healthy. Those in the government emphasize GNP since they will enjoy tax revenues from the growth in domestic production and international trade. They depend on the quarterly GNP statistics provided by the Philippine Statistical Authority.

Those in private banks and stock trading will enjoy business from the growth in financial transactions among the producers and the consumers, regardless of which sectors grow the most or have the best outlooks. Their business is highly correlated to the GNP; thus, many banks do their own forecasts of GNP.

For Filipinos in general, however, GNP hardly matters. Most of them—most of us, I should say—don’t know what the term means. The reason why GNP needs to grow is to keep up, at least, with population growth; on this, it usually succeeds.

The main problem is the uneven sharing of the benefits from aggregate economic growth. In September 2023, only 28 percent of Filipinos said they got better off in the past 12 months, whereas 30 percent said they got worse off, and 42 percent said their quality of life did not change.

Losers exceeded Gainers among all those who did not finish junior high school, among the poor, and among the hungry (“Throwback to loser-dominance,” 12/2/23). In 150 national surveys since 1983, Losers exceeded Gainers 126 times, whereas Gainers were dominant only 24 times.

Although gross national income (GNI, a derivative of GNP) divided by the population at least doubled in the last four decades, Self-Rated Poor families fell only slightly, from 53 percent at the very start in 1983, to 48 percent in September 2023. In 140 national surveys between those two points, poverty was highly volatile, with a peak of 74 percent in 1985, and a low point of 38 percent in 2019.

(GNI per capita merely computes what each person would have under the pie-in-the-sky assumption of equal division of GNI. What people commonly get would be better measured by median income, which divides them into two halves, 50-50. On the other hand, the statistics of GNI per capita probably mark off the upper 25-30 percent from the lower 70-75 percent.)Over a quarter-century, the national proportion of families experiencing involuntary hunger barely improved; it was 11 percent in 1998, and 9.8 percent last September. Social Weather Stations (SWS) did 100 quarterly surveys during 1998-2023; hunger was in double-digits throughout 2004-2018, before it simmered down. Then it rocketed to 30 percent of families in the pandemic/lockdown of 2020.The trends in poverty, hunger, and gainers/losers all collapsed in pandemic years 2020-22. As of now they have almost, but not quite, recovered to the pre-pandemic times of 2018-19.Assess the economy by focusing on the economically deprived. The top four Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, are: 1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 3. Good health, and 4. Quality education. They are expressed in terms of inclusivity, i.e. “no one left behind,” and consistent with, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren …”

It makes sense to assess public health by counting, not the number of healthy, but the number of ill/dead from preventable illnesses. Consider, the infant mortality rate (IMR), the most widely-used health indicator. The Philippine target IMR for 2030 is 9.0 deaths per 1,000 live births, but its latest achievement was only 21.0 (as of 2017). The only target on track for SDG 3 is universal health coverage (“Where are we in achieving good health for all? An initial stocktake,”, 4/7/23).Pertinent to SDG 4 are the SWS September survey’s findings on adult schooling levels: (a) incomplete elementary, 11 percent; (b) incomplete junior high school (JHS), 28 percent; (c) JHS grads, 31 percent; (d) senior high school (SHS) grads, 19 percent; and (e) college grads, 11 percent. I think groups (a) and (b) cannot hope for decent wages. I recommend target percentages of: (a) zero, (b) 10, (c) 30, (d) 40, and (e) 20, aiming for 90 percent JHS grads and 60 percent SHS grads, as soon as feasible.

Await the SWS December survey. The fieldwork of the final SWS quarterly survey for 2023 is set for completion next week. It will keep tracking the core indicators of economic deprivation mentioned above, of course. I think its agenda includes happiness and satisfaction with life, which we normally look at annually.

For several years now, SWS’ final survey has asked whether people expect their Christmas to be a happy one or a sad one, and whether they look toward the coming new year with hope or with fear. The data processing is prioritized so as to report the findings by Dec. 25 and Dec. 31. The reports may also help answer the question, “How’s the economy?”