I heard two forecasts last week. Mayor Ramon Piang was afraid that his town, Upi in Maguindanao may have zero development next year. Resources that used to be devoted to socio-economic infrastructure will now be allocated to health and social amelioration.
In a virtual conference with Civil society organizations (CSOs), Director Changyong Rhee of the International Monetary Fund gave a forecast of 0 growth for Asia .
Development and growth are not synonymous. Growth is measured in terms of the money value of output and services that our economy produces. The bigger the sum, the better. Probably, this is one reason why we give so much importance to revenues and profit. We have come to equate having more money with being developed. But a growing GDP also comes with traffic, emission of greenhouse gases, depletion of natural resources, mothers leaving their families to earn income abroad, cut- throat competition, rat race to the top, production of junk food and worthless TV shows, and a host of other products that do not add to our welfare. We spend most of our time working, worrying on how to earn more and producing more, getting sick because of tension and pollution, becoming selfish and self-centered. We have less and less time to converse with one another, to reflect, to read, take leisurely walks, and visit museums. We think of spending our time in shopping at malls as our favorite pastime. A high GDP means a growing consumerism. The more goods we have, the better.
Growth does not consider equity. It does happen that most of the goods and services are only in the hands of a few, like our case in the Philippines. More than 35% of our national income goes to the highest decile or 10% of our population. While the rest of the population have to contend with what remains.
Development on the other hand is more than the number and value of goods we produce. It is about the quality of our life. It is about welfare and our sense of well-being. It is about a high sense of self-esteem and a feeling of satisfaction with our lives. Access to more goods and services leads to growth, but development is not just about access. It includes our sense of justice, governance, safety and contentment. Consider for example that the Happiness Index observes a lower average feeling of well being in the largest cities in the world. The study affirms that people tend to be happier when they are closer to nature, and away from the hustle and bustle in the metropolis.
So, I would tell Mayor Piang not to be so glum about a 0 growth. It does suggest that we may experience a steady state in our incomes. But there are many ways through which we can give our people a strong sense of well being aside from road and building construction and the provision of freebies. For one, the fact that there is a 0 case of infection in Upi boosts the feeling of safety and confidence of the residents in their government. Mayor Raul of Concepcion, Iloilo says that their children will perhaps be studying in UST, “Under the Santol tree”, but he says it with a smile. And why not? The children know that there is no COVID 19 in Concepcion, the poor have access to a feeding program, public places are sanitized, and that their Mayor is a good leader who will see to it that they are cared for.
The weeks of quarantine showed us that we are capable of thinking beyond the box and being satisfied with having just enough. We will have to redefine the composition of public goods and services that are basic and essential, and how their delivery can be transformed. It is time to re-read “Small is beautiful” to free ourselves from the paradigm that development can only be experienced in times of plenty. There can be happiness in being content with the little that we have.