I AM a small farmer with “some college” as my highest level of education. I don’t have the intellectual chops to enter the current global debates over which of the two – efficiency versus resilience – is the better policy option to make essential goods available to consumers transparently and at a reasonable cost. So I won’t even try to delve into issues that are way beyond the processing capacity of my cerebellum. But of course, we are all aware of the two central economic issues in this heated debate.
Should the cheap production of goods in strategic enclaves in certain parts of the world, which in theory pass through unconstrained supply lines, remain the benchmark for supplying the world with cheap goods at breakneck speed, or , at the very least, on time? Or, should nations reconsider resilience, which requires increased domestic manufacturing, buffer stocks and production reserves, but perhaps at a slightly higher cost than that coming from corporate giants through supply chains? global? And at slightly higher pass-through costs to end users.
Free-market economists, called “Friedmanites,” that is, the economic disciples of free-market intellectual Milton Friedman, championed efficiency. Progressive economists who argue that free-market policies must be tempered with government intervention, and that means on a universal level, have pushed for greater resilience. Recently, progressive economist David Dayen criticized Larry Summers – former Treasury secretary, former World Bank president, former president of Harvard University and economic adviser to Presidents Clinton and Obama (he was a tenured professor of economics at Harvard at 28) – calling him a “Friedmanite” whose politics meant punishment for the American consuming public while delivering immense profit – and equally immense market power – to corporations.
We will soon see clearly which of these two opposing schools of thought will prevail. The backdrop to the debates, which have derailed the compelling case for efficiency, are the supply chain blockages caused by the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an unfortunate event that further disrupted already strangled supply lines for essential goods, from oil to durable goods. With, for example, inflation in the United States at its highest level in 40 years and inflation in the United Kingdom and European countries at high levels, all rooted in the failure of the principle of efficiency to delivering the goods when needed and at a cheap cost, those supporting resilience have scored points in the debate.
In our own Philippine context, a debate very similar to this is taking place. In the Philippine context, the issue is food security, not the supply and prices of household and durable goods. Those in charge of our agricultural economic policies, with the pretender technocrat and fake William Dar, the Secretary of Agriculture, as his public face, have been the main driver of a primitive version of efficiency. And the fundamental philosophy has been this: import rice until death. Import other critical foodstuffs deadly and recklessly. Because in the short, medium and long term, the supply of food on world markets will always lead to cheaper food and great relief for consumers. Which, in the tortured analysis, is also the most effective inflation control policy.
The mainstream of the economy, its top leaders, all staunch proponents of market fundamentalism, and backed by a clueless expert allergic to any form of support for agricultural production and any other public effort to support resilience through the through public funding, was dominant. These ignorant experts deem Dar’s leadership “good” despite the shrinking wastelands and detritus that once-thriving agricultural areas have become. This kind of full-throated, dizzying intellectual cheerleader for efficiency has had a steamroller effect on Congress. In early 2019, the Duterte-benevolent Congress did what previous Congresses aware of massive agricultural misery failed to do: pass the Rice Tariff Act and remove quantitative restrictions on rice, our only covered commodity. by the QR.
In 2019, rice importers driven by dizzying motives of greed and profit imported a total of 3.1 million metric tons of rice, a record high. That year, we beat China, with its over one billion people, as the world’s largest rice importer. The lying Dar did not even bother to temper the recklessness and greed that brought sadness and misfortune to the rice-growing areas. I wrote a column in 2019 about the immediate impact of these reckless rice import orgies and saw only “small rice farmers like walking dead men”.
The spread of deadly African swine fever under Dar’s irresponsible watch, also in 2019, wiped out thriving pig farms in the areas that mattered most to the country’s pork supply – central Luzon and southern Tagalog. . Right on cue, after the hog farms were defenestrated, the Duterte and Dar (the DDT) team crafted a reduced pork tariff decree, with the aim of filling supply gaps with imported pork. So far, in the usual concern for efficiency, importation remains the prescribed solution to meet pork shortages.
Importing has been the de facto default policy choice to fill supply gaps. After pork came fish, which local fishing groups objected to as overkill. Critics have said pelagic fish caught in the Western Philippine Sea by modern Chinese fishing fleets are among the “fish imports” dumped in the country. The contentious issue today is permission to import 200,000 metric tonnes of sugar, which sugar industry officials said was excessive and not based on any real shortage.
Dar ordered the creation of a technical task force to study the possibility of reducing corn tariffs, an order met with protests from local corn farmers.
Those struggling for resilience are domestic agricultural producers, from small rice farmers, sugar processors, pig and poultry farmers to peasant groups. These are the barely heard voices overshadowed by the DDT propaganda machinery. It’s an unequal fight, like Russia against Ukraine. But their main argument, that domestic production should be the policy of choice because it guarantees national food security and keeps agricultural areas and farmers productive, is now taken seriously, given the supply bottlenecks and of the current war of aggression that threaten food exports from two breadbaskets — Russia and Ukraine.
The tragic experience of the Philippines, that the reckless and liberal importation of critical foodstuffs did little to benefit Filipino consumers, has been empirically proven. And that bolsters the case for those advocating for resilience.
Maybe, just maybe, the cause of agricultural voices passionately advocating for resilience will soon get its break after the planned change in national leadership.