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[OPINION] The economic tradeoffs of discord and distraction

With everything going on under this administration, many are asking, “Who’s in charge?” The confusion is reminiscent of the famous “Who’s on first?” routine between comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

The antics of clowns and comedians often provide welcome comic relief to the daily drudgery of life. Pitting a straight man against a fool produces humorous contrasts founded on disagreement, dissonance, even light discord. Arithmetically, the equation results in a zero sum.

Considering the billions entrusted to politicians, zero sums are results we cannot afford, especially in a crisis.

If one should make an accounting of burning economic issues, the top concerns range from the colossal incompetence bearing down on the agriculture portfolio that catalyzed the highest rates of food inflation, followed by serious cracks within a team that ironically seized our government on the basis of unity.

While these are questions of partisan politics, they nevertheless impact our economic welfare, or its utter absence. Straddling the braggadocio of unity is a concealed conflict that explains part of the debilitating inflation inflicted on us.

Allow us to quickly analyze a litany of contradictory positions taken by players who belong to the Marcos Unity Team. Note their fundamental arguments that range from the intelligent to the inane, from brilliance to buffoonery. Finally, when an accounting is made, do the math. Zero sums are the best we can hope for. Otherwise, the net total would be a negative.

Burning our pocketbooks as it impacts directly on kitchen table economics is government’s lazy default policy to import everything perceived with a shortage. Whether these are table-top condiments like salt and sugar, to principal agricultural products like rice, garlic, fish, chicken, and now, even mungo beans. Oblivious of the absurdities, absent in-depth studies of systemic causes, importation is government’s one-size-fits-all solution.

Now note a fundamental disagreement. Discerning the real problem behind the importation palliative, the Senate Committee on Agriculture advised the Executive Branch to first prioritize the welfare of the farmers and the rest of the already victimized agricultural community ahead of importers.

Another burning issue that impacts on our economic welfare is the remnant aftertaste of the China-centric focus of the previous administration. Discern the optics. The Marcos administration seems to be walking back from a policy pirouette to increase dependence on Communist China.

Where foreign policy is a presidential prerogative, the China-centric focus impacted on such arenas as nominal taxation revenues arrayed against legal issues surrounding our active promotion of gambling practices banned in China. Think dirty. Imagine the revenues a prostitute earns from a decidedly illegal profession as an apt allegory.

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Rather than continue prostituting ourselves to the Chinese, our latent realignments might be justifiable under certain circumstances. Note other economic entanglements and costly compromises where infrastructure initiatives are bankrolled by Chinese creditors following their Belt and Road Initiative, which severely compromised similarly debt-ridden economies from Sri Lanka to continental Africa.

Add to the analysis displaced local labor in favor of importing undocumented Chinese workers among construction and factory rank-and-file for Chinese-funded investments. Add the illegal quarrying of our rivers and coastal areas as well as the illegal mining of nickel ore. Also add the grand distortions in property valuations created by Chinese gambling operators who use office and residential space to establish communal havens. Finally, add the immeasurable costs of cultural dysfunctionality from human trafficking, prostitution, imported organized crime, and kidnapping.

As in all equations, the turn-around has its costs.

The re-pivot to the United States is exemplified by overtures to increase investments to counter Chinese economic and political hegemony. To sweeten the pie, the government increased areas under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. While this attracts retail investments and spurs development around strategic military areas, this likewise attracts hostile aggression from China.

Note a third instance of disagreement.

How important to the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments is a fictional B-movie depiction in rebel-infested communities where the absence of law and order is the perceived norm?

It is a question of prioritization. The juggernaut of constitutional tinkerers at the Lower House contrasts with the lukewarm interest at the Senate, whose champion seems to be the Committee on Constitutional Amendments chairperson.

It is frightening. He appears clueless about any compelling need to alter the constitutions economic provisions. If we factor-in hidden agenda where expanding term limits and diluting anti-authoritarian safeguards might likewise be altered, should the tinkering proceed, then there exists a fundamentally darker and deeper dissonance between us and our representatives.

Allow us a fourth episode with added doses of distracting trivial pursuits.

Note the prioritization to legitimize the importation and sale of dead people’s clothing and other “ukay-ukay” by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy.

Never mind that his committee has yet to tackle the divestments and loss of two global deep sea oil and gas exploration conglomerates in favor of others who have yet to explore, develop, and operate a deep water rig. Already, given that offshore gas accounts from 20% to 30% of our energy requirements, the recent derating of precious assets once entrusted to technically qualified investors directly caused sudden albeit avoidable spikes in electricity tariffs.

Like falsehoods founding our democracy, specters remain as disembodied as a count supporting an incredulous majority. Solutions to crises will be as flighty as the smoke and mirrors that got us to where we are.

When we lose the capacity to determine what is true, we also lose our sense of priorities, because truth imposes imperatives that require prioritization. Others are backburnered. Some, totally buried.

Consider this. In Abbott and Costello’s baseball sketch, the shortstop is a player named, “I don’t care.” –


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