Monday, May 13, 2019

Stupid, uneducated poor people are fucking up our country!

You hear that a lot when the "thinking" class' chosen candidates fail to win, with the assumption that those not in this class are not thinking. "Who else would vote for politicians known and jailed for corruption? Who else would reject very good candidates like human rights lawyers and people with Ivy League MBAs?"

Well, I have a few things to say about that.


I used to work in one of the more reputable socio-political polling companies. We also wondered why poor people would vote, in our view, against their clear economic interests. Why anyone would vote for a candidate "because he is handsome" or "because he was nice to me" or "because she is my idol's daughter" -- all things people from classes D and E actually said to our interviewers. Made no sense and seemed to reinforce thoughts about a hopelessly clueless poor electorate.

Then we dug deeper into our data, particularly the parts about personal vs national economic outlook as well as primary concerns and long-term planning. We found that the dissonance between personal and national outlook was starker among the poor; i.e., they don't see their personal economic outcome as necessarily tied to the national outcome. The country could go to the dogs but they will do ok, so most of the poor would say. They also had very immediate concerns about food and shelter and weren't thinking too far ahead -- something to be expected of people in poverty and living in very precarious situations.

All these pointed to cynicism among the poor: they did not believe in national institutions as doing anything good for them. They seemed to think that whoever was in power would not change their personal circumstances, and they only had themselves to rely on. They didn't see how changes in government -- and they've seen a few -- will change their economic circumstances. Whether the winner was red, yellow, blue, or whatever colour of the rainbow, the poor remained poor and had to fend for themselves. So they would vote for whoever made them feel good for the moment: the handsome one, the nice one, someone's daughter. They would vote for whoever gave them succor for the moment, the one who gave them groceries or medicines to get through the day. In their view, doing so is in their economic interests because whoever has been in power -- all of them elites of various parties and colours -- never delivered for them anyway.


Everyone who has ever led the country -- the shrewd lawyer, the widow, the general, the actor, the previous president's daughter, the previous president's son, the uncouth lawyer -- is a member of the elite. All the senators are elites and mostly from high-society families. Even the current occupier, who makes a big deal about preferring dried fish and mung bean pottage over foie gras and entrecote, had an elite upbringing outside Manila and studied in elite schools. Some of our leaders were preferred by elites, some were more popular among the poor, but all relied on elite machinery and patronage to get into power. And all have failed to make a significant dent out of poverty rates: our poverty headcount ratio (at the PPP 2011 USD 3.8 per person per day poverty line -- that's just enough to cover basic food and shelter needs and not enough to allow schooling or healthcare) went down by about 20 points over the past three decades, from 63% in 1981 to 43% in 2015. Sounds like an achievement, but not that impressive when you consider that poverty headcount reduction was more than 50 points in Indonesia and Thailand and more than 80 points in China and Vietnam during the same time.

All our leaders past and present are from the elites, but somehow it is the stupid, uneducated poor people who are ruining the country.


If you really think that the poor need more education and better judgement in their voting decisions, you can start by supporting and campaigning for policies that will give them a clear stake in national electoral outcomes. Like better public schools and hospitals, social protection and insurance, and access to safe public spaces and infrastructure. Among others that will actually help the poor. We can replace cash transfers from corrupt politicians with institutional and transparent unconditional cash transfers -- it might even be cheaper that way as we save the money that would've been siphoned off into politicians' accounts (hopefully).

Yes, all of these are expensive and will need to be funded. So perhaps you can also support policies that will tax you and your elite friends' incomes, properties, and inheritances. It makes no sense to tax wage income at a higher rate than capital income -- both labour and capital are needed for production. It makes no sense to tax savings in the form of deposits at a higher rate than savings in the form of property or stocks -- both are good for the economy. It also makes no sense to not tax unearned inheritances -- these are unproductive transfers and just perpetuate inequality.

So maybe you and your woke elite friends who form the thinking class can support fair and truly progressive tax policies. Or is that too much to ask? Much easier to blame the poor for their poverty, right?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


I still can't process that you're gone. I'm not ready to face my own mortality, yet you bring it so close to home. My tears are unable to come out yet. Still thinking of your snark and sarcasm, and classic recount of our Junior Christmas party. Can't believe one of us -- us -- is gone. I know I should be saying a prayer or grieving or whatnot right now, but I can't. It's still not processing. Can't believe one of us is gone.