Nations that prosper despite anything— keep alive, keep working harder than others, keep learning…
Corruption and authoritarian practices, according to many NGOs and think tanks schooled in or supported by the West, are the key causes of our having fallen behind other countries… We are the lowest in education scores, near the lowest in FDI investments, among the highest in poverty levels in the region, the most number of steps to accomplish something, and so on.
We don’t want corruption or authoritarianism, but having failed to change that after centuries, can we still succeed?
Who can disagree that corruption drains a country’s systems and diminishes the value of projects to the people, causes injustices to civilians, companies, everyone? Who wants to be dictated to? What does the empirical and historical evidence show? Why do some countries benefit and prosper even under authoritarian, corruptions, coercions and occupations, and others suffer and even disappear? These successes show that these are just a few of the myriad excuses we Filipinos use for falling behind. Let us examine the validity of some of these reasons we regularly cite.
Authoritarian periods are actually the period of great economic progress of most nations in the world. In modern times, Germany grew fastest under Bismarck, who after consolidating the hundreds of German states and municipalities, imposed policies that earned him the name “Iron Chancellor”. Singapore grew fastest under Lee Kuan Yew who started off as a dictator leading Singapore to a per capita of close to $65 thousand today. South Korea, Japan, Taiwan all had the period of their major reinvention and progress under dictators. USA had Franklin Roosevelt for 16 years.
Corruption, favoritism, monopolies and unfair competition have in fact helped some countries build themselves into economic powerhouses. Germany supported favored companies in steel, cement, chemicals that became powerhouses of German industry which is now for a century the most powerful economy in Europe. Following the German model, Japanese monopolistic zaibatsus created similar international trading and manufacturing powerhouses for Japan, which later also developed into independently grown champions like Sony, Toyota, Mitsui, Sumitomo. Korea started with $80 per capita GDP after the Korean war and now has over $31 thousand per capita in 2019, utilising the developments of chaebols and industry champions— LG, Hyundai, Samsung — redeveloping themselves into consumer electronics, and now into a chip and technology powerhouse. This development model of creating champions thru anti-competitive practices in the form of the US robber barons, although not by central planning, industrialized the US economy by consolidating and making efficient the railroads, steel plants, energy, finance, building the foundations of industrial dominance of the world by the US. Edison energy spread black propaganda to beat Tesla. The corruption of the Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Vietnamese, and many other models did not stop them from becoming highly competitive.
Central Planning, Communism can successfully compete. The collapse of the Soviet Union’s economy, the poverty experienced in earlier Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and North Korea today, convinced the US and many others that communism is a dead system. Maybe some forms of communism are clearly not viable. But new, evolved, hybrid models of central socialist planning with capitalist enterprise appear capable of unheard of speeds of progress. China progressed not only in building its economy but its health management, in the biggest upliftment of people from poverty in world history (World Bank estimated at least 800 million in the last four decades), in becoming a science and technology competitor. To attribute this to cheating, while there may be cases of that, as is true with the US and other countries, is to ignore 1) that many of the US’ biggest companies chose to and grew wealthy doing business with China, the benefits were negotiated and mutual, not forced… including Apple, Walmart, General Motors, the garment brands, etc.; 2) technology is a field you cannot cheat your way into sustained wide progress in, which China has achieved; 3) the most successful corporate model is one of centrally directed priorities; 4) there are many democracies repeatedly failing and languishing in poverty or debt, which means success of democracy or central planning is circumstantial, not a conclusion to be pushed on others; 5) the US itself and all the progressive countries do pick and subsidise priorities in agriculture, technology, health research, communications, etc.— and it makes sense to.
You can work with and benefit from parties you are in dispute with, even those that have coerced or conquered you. Japan learned Western manufacture and the need to build colonial empires or be subjugated, opened itself up to both Perry’s extortions, but also Western technologies, and was able to become a world power; while China was crushed trying to resist Western coercions. China’s economy progressed greatly even under Mongol rule in the 1200s, which after the devastations under Genghis, went into the massive expansion of world trade (including with Marco Polo) and manufactures under Kublai Khan, who revived and protected the Silk Road, use of paper currency. China was invaded again and occupied under Manchu rule in the Qing period, China also became wealthy enough to entice 8 world powers to come divide it up… despite the massive corruptions and coercive Western trade. Philippine economy did well under the US occupation, but not under Spain. Today, disputants do massive beneficial trade and investments with each other… between China and Japan, South Korea and Japan, Vietnam and China, US and China.
This is not always applicable. There was no stopping the Western powers decimating the populations of the Indians of North and South Americas to take over their land permanently. They coerced, caused upheavals, and stripped Southeast Asians, China of their treasures and markets. The Philippines was devastated both under American and Japanese rule, and yet Taiwan learned industry from the Japanese.
What makes the difference between those that fail or succeed under these unfavorable circumstances?
The Antidote to Corruption, Conquest, Any Form of Government, Calamity, Massacres (and everything, except genocide…): 1) Not getting killed, picking your battles, waiting for when times change rather than fight to the death at a time when nothing could be achieved, getting massacred needlessly and even suffering genocide; 2) A Work Ethic and motivational resilience to be productive even under duress for long periods and unfair confiscations; 3) Learning and adapting all the time, but retaining a core faith to return to, be prepared for when opportunities arise… These are what will make a nation eventually prosper and gain respect, against all odds, over long periods. Some people and nations are motivated by their long hardships, even for centuries, even if they have to adapt and change courses, like the Koreans , Chinese, Vietnamese, Jews— but others give up because of hardships. It shows the spiritual resilience and creativity of a given culture, that eventually translates into their economy and other parts of life. The same rules of revival apply to individuals, not just to nations.
When to start engineering this culture if we are not yet there? A popular Chinese proverb says ” The Best Time to Plant a Tree is 20 Years Ago, the Next Best Time is Now. ”
A similar version is published in ManilaTimes. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (email@example.com).