Monday, August 13, 2007

Marathon, Education and Volunteerism

I have never run a marathon (42.2 kms.) in my life. I twice participated in a 5-k race, but I didn’t dare try the 10-k race. At my current physical condition, maybe I can finish a 42-k run-walk in maybe 8 hours or more. That is why I consider those winners of international marathons among the “supermen” in this planet because they can run 42-k in something like 2 hours and 10 minutes only, or an average speed of around 20 kph!

One of my good Filipino friends, Ramon “Monchit” Arellano, now an American citizen and residing in Bay Area, California, joined the San Francisco Marathon last July 29, 2007. I used to live in Monchit’s house here in Manila, along with other male friends, for a few months in the late 80s. That’s how I befriended him.

Monchit has been supporting the Books for the Barrios (BftB, program in Bay Area for a few years. This is a voluntary organization with one important goal: to bring excess books of school children in the US (particularly in California) to less-privileged students in the Philippines, especially those living in rural areas. BftB started in 1981, and for the past two and a half decades, has helped tens of thousands of students, many of whom should have finished college already.

Words got into Monchit that “Due to dwindling financial support in the wake of many natural disasters (Katrina, tsunami, etc.), BftB may be forced to close its operations this summer if it does not generate enough funds… after more than 25 years of providing quality education materials to remote schools in the Philippines.”

So what he did, he registered for the SF Marathon, opened up a website, First Giving ( with just a single purpose: he will run to raise awareness among his friends and other people, get donations for BftB program so that it will continue its mission and operations. Monchit targeted a modest goal of raising $3,833. So far, he has received $3,525, and the names, amount given, plus their comments, are all posted in his website.

Today, I got an email from him saying that he finished the SF Marathon in a time of 5 hours and 3 minutes. That shows that he’s more physically fit than me J. His story was published by the Philippine Consulate General Office in San Francisco ( ABS-CBN was also at the finish line to interview him and the news was aired at Balitang America!

I write this to salute my friend not so much for his stamina, but for his kind heart and his innovativeness in raising money for a very legitimate and specific cause – to help poorer children in the Philippines have access to free books that would otherwise end up in landfills. I write this to showcase another example of volunteerism – by BftB, by Monchit, by their donors, and other people who help in such kind of endeavor, that support for less privileged people can be done by private individuals, that ultimately we do not need big government that confiscates big money from our pockets to do welfare and charity function to poorer people through big bureaucracy.

One issue that can be raised when tens of thousands of those used but free books from the US will land in Philippine soil, is that will this not displace, even on a small scale, the local publishers, the local bookstores, and the people employed by them? Possible, yes. But local publishers and local bookstores have to grapple with higher prices of their books (which turn off some potential buyers, especially poorer ones) because of the various taxes that government imposes on them and the books that they print and sell.

And we go back to the subject of volunteerism. Many citizens distrust their governments, that is why their “contribution” to society have to be done by force and coercion, through taxation. While the same citizens trust their friends, or friend of their friends, and they can give on their free will, without coercion and force. In addition, they can choose which kind of charity they will support. Some guys support students from poorer countries and communities, some guys support poorer athletes from poorer countries and communities, and so on. And this is the essence of civil society – voluntary support for fellowmen, self-reliance, and no coercion to attain certain social objectives.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Foreign Aid 8: Abolish the IMF

Prof. Christopher Lingle of Center for Civil Society India, published an article in the Financial Express in India entitled "Shut down the IMF"
http://www.financia lexpress. com/news/ Shut-down- the-IMF/208206/.

He wrote,
By claiming that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) promotes free enterprise capitalism, Left-wing commentators are on record for closing it down. Considering the IMF's record, though, one has to be hooked on hallucinogenic drugs to believe it holds a corporate view in support of economic fundamentalism. As it is, governments seeking financial support from the IMF with large budget deficits are instructed to increase the tax burden to reduce shortfalls in public revenues. It defies logic to suppose that giving the government more control over the economy, thus, promotes free markets. But then, Leftist critics are not always responsive to facts.
"Having said that, there are good reasons to shut down the IMF. On the basis of current circumstances and its ongoing operations, global financial flows would almost certainly be no worse off if the IMF were abolished. Indeed, it is more likely that global markets would work better without it. Founded in 1945, the IMF was charged with fostering economic stability by providing emergency loans to members having trouble financing their balance of payments. But the financial system it was designed for began vanishing in 1971 when the gold standard ceased to exist....

Yes, I also believe the IMF should be abolished. Last week or 2 weeks ago, IMF Managing Director (and former Spanish Finance Minister) Rodrigo de Rato came here in the Philippines. He talked mainly, as expected, "more government revenues, fix your fiscal deficit, improve tax collection,..."

Well, what else can you expect from international bureaucrats who live off on taxes? Without high taxes, those international bureaucracies like IMF, UN, WB, ADB, OECD, will have little or zero resources to sustain them.

In fairness to Mr. de Rato, he did not push for "new or higher taxes" for the Philippines. He only urged "better tax administration", meaning improved collection from existing tax laws and tax rates. Of course he's aware that the Philippines has among the most number of business taxes in the whole of Asia, in the whole world. He knows the existence of WB-IFC joint annual study, "Doing Business".

Last week, or perhaps weeks before, the Office of the President, through the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and possibly, along with the Dept. of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), publicized their plans to hike the "common carriers' tax" for public transportation by something like 2,600%(!). I do not know if this was related to Mr. de Rato's visit, or to plug in additional revenues from the never-say-die budget deficit of the country. Naturally the public transport sector players raised howl, and immediately filed a petition for fare increase for commuters of public transportation (jeepneys and buses, taxis). Seems that public opposition was stronger than the national bureaucrats' thirst for more blood and sweat from the citizens, the proposal was tentatively shelved. Until the vigilance recedes later perhaps, and the government will just suddenly ram up those new tax hikes.

International bureaucracies like the IMF, along with annual and bi-annual meetings of clubs of governments, like ASEAN + 6 summit, ASEAN ministerial meetings, APEC summit, etc., are very costly to taxpayers. That is why the Office of the President and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) do not reveal to the public how much those meetings where the country hosted, cost us taxpayers.

The lesser we have of those international bureaucracies and summit, the better for us. Until governments will just create new clubs and regular meetings among themselves. Ewwww!

See also:
Foreign Aid 4: Easterly vs. Sachs, May 01, 2006
Foreign Aid 5: Failure in East Timor, May 31, 2006
Foreign Aid 6: IMF is Engineerable and Abolishable, September 05, 2006
Foreign Aid 7: Wolfowitzoellickation of the WB, May 30, 2007

Monday, August 06, 2007

Many "public goods" are now privately-produced

Almost all so-called "public goods" can now be done or provided by the private sector. Why?

Consider many of those gated, private villages. So-called public goods like streetlight traffic, garbage collection, road & drainage construction/maintenance, street lighting, peace and order, school, church, primary health care, fire fighting equipment, multipurpose hall, basketball court, open garden, children's playground, etc., are produced by the private sector. Residents and homeowners pay an annual association dues (based on per sq.m. lot area), plus many other fees (car sticker, IDs for househelpers and drivers, rental of village clubhouse, basketball court, etc.), which are essentially like taxes. The only difference is that the residents pay this "tax" to the homeowner association, their "local government" for the village. That is why, LGUs' collection of real property tax (RPT) for residents of those gated villages for zero service within the village can be considered as plain extortion.

Ok, how about services outside the gates of those villages? The Ayalas in the Philippines built underground passes for people; or elevated walkways for people in makati's CBD, at zero cost to people, whether in taxes or "pay upon entry" like tollroads. The Ayalas make money to compensate for the expenses of those "positive externalities" to people including the "free riders" by earning revenues from ads posted on those elevated walkways or underground passes/tunnels for people.

Or SM Malls (other malls) build free pedestrian overpasses for people to cross the streets up to their malls. They'd also deputize their private security guards to conduct traffic -- at zero cost to taxpayers -- in public roads near their malls.

Other examples often cited that should remain in government hands -- broadcasting TV, street lights, peace and order, etc. Privately-owned TV networks are more efficient, more informative, to people than government-owned TV stations. The former costs zero from taxpayers, the latter cost them a lot from endless subsidies and contracts.

What about enforcement of contracts and fulfilment of promises between/among people? All referees in basketball and soccer, also baseball umpires, the guys who impose the rules of the game, are private individuals. They are not employees of the city hall or of the national government's sports commission or olympic committee. Conflct among neighbors in a village are first resolved by the village association. Like when a neighbor complains about loud parties or barking of dogs by his neighbor.

It is only when people will not respect those private referees, private settlers of dispute, that people elevate their case/s to government justice bodies like the courts, the barangay, etc. In which case, judicial courts can remain in government.

I have argued earlier why education should be "parental responsibility", not "government responsibility". Poverty alleviation should also be "personal responsibility", not "government responsibility." For instance, after working for 5 years straight abroad and bringin home P3M or more in cash, one can be expected to be well-off already. But personal irresponsibility can easily turn that money into ashes and nothing with mindless spending and getting into trouble.
Drink and party everyday, have mistresses left and right, go into casinos, buy expensive appliances, harm or shoot someone when he got drunk. All those money can evaporate in a short while, while leading oneself into prison, all for acts of personal irresponsibility.

So, what's left for government's "public goods"? Very little in fact. And so, government's confiscation of money and savings have very little justification, if at all. But many guys who are "poverty fighters" like government personnel and foreign aid institutions, will never fail to remind us how lousy a society can be if we leave people to be responsible for themselves. That is why we have to fork out money from our pockets to pay them and their travels and they will fight poverty "in our behalf".