Why We Are Poor

A friend of mine sent an email that tries to explain the difference between rich countries and poor ones, and why the Philippines is poor. I don't know where he got this though. (Note to self: search for the source.) Here's the highlight of that email.

The difference between the poor countries and the rich ones is not the age of the country:

This can be shown by countries like India & Egypt, that are more than 2000 years old, but are poor. On the other hand, Canada, Australia & New Zealand, that 150 years ago were inexpressive, today are developed countries, and are rich.

The difference between poor & rich countries does not reside in the available natural resources. Japan has a limited territory, 80% mountainous, inadequate for agriculture & cattle raising, but it is the second world economy. The country is like an immense floating factory, importing raw material from the whole world and exporting manufactured products.

Another example is Switzerland, which does not plant cocoa but has the best chocolate of the world. In its little territory they raise animals and plant the soil during 4 months per year. Not enough, they produce dairy products of the best quality. It is a small country that transmits an image of security, order & labor, which made it the world's strongest, safest place.

Executives from rich countries who communicate with their counterparts in poor countries show that there is no significant intellectual difference. Race or skin color are also not important: immigrants labeled lazy in their countries of origin are the productive power in rich European countries.

What is the difference then?

The difference is the attitude of the people, framed along the years by the education & the culture. On analyzing the behavior of the people in rich & developed countries, we find that the great majority follow the following principles in their lives:

1. Ethics, as a basic principle.
2. Integrity.
3. Responsibility.
4. Respect to the laws & rules.
5. Respect to the rights of other citizens.
6. Work loving.
7. Strive for saving & investment.
8. Will of super action.
9. Punctuality.

In poor countries, only a minority follow these basic principles in their daily life. We are not poor because we lack natural resources or because nature was cruel to us.

We are poor because we lack the correct attitude. We lack the will to comply with and teach these functional principles of rich & developed societies.

I agree. But not quite. Here's what I wrote back.

I agree that Filipinos in general lack the proper attitude. But when we talk about the 'right attitudes' that rich/developed countries exemplify, you're not just dealing with self-realizations. The collective attitude developed by a society is largely – though not entirely – influenced by external factors. Books by Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse) suggest that the 'sucess' or 'failure' of a society is mostly affected by their natural environment, from climate to food supply to geography. (I'm oversimplifying the messages of the books and I'm pretending that I read them already.)

With regards to the Philippines, most people find it difficult – if not impossible – to abide by those principles mentioned because our present political, economic, and societal situation does not encourage it. When most people are dealing with everyday survival, one cannot expect – though you can always hope for – them to live out those principles. Also, the present dominating attitude of Filipinos has been greatly influenced by our history. There's this underlying idea that we've been kawawa for so long that people should give us some slack. And thus, we have people bending – if not breaking – rules left and right, and we have authorities who look the other way.

But we've been colonized and imperialized by 'great' nations for so long that one might expect that their constructive habits/attitudes would somehow rub off on our culture. But most people choose otherwise, I think. Contrary to the popular belief that our culture has been westernized (or taiwanized or koreanized), in terms of ugali, we have a culture that’s totally our own. As this Backstreet Boys song goes, I want it that way.

With regards to Metro Manila traffic, the problem not only lies with the individual and selfish wants of passengers. New York cab commuters have the same Mama,-para!-Para!-Jan-sa-tabi-lang! attitude. But our problem is more than that of course; it is volume – or rather, the density. There’s just far too many people and vehicles given the same roads and land area. Domestic migration and vehicle deployment increase almost exponentially every year, but we still use the same basic same road system that we’ve had since Kris Aquino was still innocent and Boy Abunda was still a boy. When you have that many people in such a small area, chaos is bound to happen – the tyranny of numbers.

If the problem lies in our lack of correct attitude, how do we solve it? How do we fix our culture and our history? How do we motivate the rest of the nation into changing? We try to eliminate the things that sustain the ’bad’ attitudes. You make and implement rules and regulations that encourage order and efficiency more than punishing wrong doers. You make them realize that it is for their own benefit. You may need to make them constructively ‘selfish.’

With regards to instant loading and unloading, you really can’t blame them. It’s the climate. The heat and humidity does not encourage walking long – or even short – distances. (See, environmental factor affecting habit/attitude.) Who wants to reach their destinations – office, home, Starbuck, or the local beerhouse – smelling like pawis? We have (or used to have) loading and unloading terminals. But they stretched so far they just called them EDSA, Quezon Ave., E. Rodriguez, etc. What we need are vendor-free, shaded, well-lit sidewalks that doesn’t have the color pink (because you get annoying green after-images if you stare too long) or some congressman’s name overtly painted on regular intervals.

You can apply the Broken Window theory [fixing the problem while it's small, prevents the escalation of the problem.] But if the problem persists, you can always shoot down the person before he/she breaks another window. Don’t fix. Prevent.

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