Redefining poverty

Thu, 01/28/2010 - 00:00

reprinted from SCMP April 28 2005

by Alan Robles

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's government has a bold new strategy for fighting poverty and unemployment. It is attacking the dictionary. Whereas in the bad old days, economists here defined a poor Filipino as someone earning 38.2 pesos or less a day, the government has put a stop to that. Under this administration, only those who get 32.23 pesos will be officially considered "poor".

And while statisticians used to consider "unemployment" a problem shared by people who have no work, are available for work, or are actively seeking work, that has been adjusted. Now, only those "currently available for work" are seen as unemployed.

The great advantage to the revisions is that with a few strokes of the pen, the administration has succeeded in trimming both the number of poor and unemployed. Those starving, miserable people who all along thought that they were in poverty have now been put in their place - right out of the statistics books, where they have been creating unsightly figures. The redefining of "unemployment" has moved 1.56 million unemployed people to the category of "not in the labour force". With such high (or low) official standards for misery, it will probably be only a matter of time before people will be required to pay membership fees to show that they are poor.

Already, the "dictionary treatment" is being meted out to other sectors. The liabilities of government institutions have been removed in calculating public sector debt - which makes it appear that the country's debts are not that big. And officials are considering treating Filipino overseas contract workers as "exports", which would improve the trade picture immeasurably.

The labour minister has got into the spirit of things, claiming the fact that millions of Filipinos are rushing to work abroad is not a condemnation of the government's economic policies. Rather, it is a natural result of globalisation. You can just picture all those Filipinos saying goodbye to their spouses and children: "Sorry, I'm going to have to leave you for years and not see you grow up. Globalisation calls!"

I can just imagine how this exciting new policy can be used to tackle other social ills. Corruption could be redefined as stealing public funds in full view of 1,000 people (duly certified), with a band playing in the background. That would see the end of graft. Crime could be redefined as a violation of the law committed only on legal holidays. The country would immediately become a safe place.

Imaginary poverty reduction, imaginary economic success, imaginary trade growth: now all we need is imaginary leadership to go with it. But hold on, we seem to have that already.

 

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