Nov. 22, 2016

We Are The World - Issue 1

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Reign of Populism

2016 has been the year of the populist. Duterte, Brexit, and Trump are part of a global shift that’s transforming the world from Bulgaria to South East Asia. Charismatic populism has become the political trend for people seeking succor from an increasingly complex and fluid world.

Americans woke up to a new president on November 9th with international markets moving from uncertainty to relative stability in the aftermath of Trump’s win. America’s favorite parlor game is armchair quarterbacking Trump’s cabinet decisions with the moderate (some say left-wing) press blasting his choices and overemphasizing the transition team chaos. Conservative pundits take a different view. See what Trump’s transition team has to say.

The rest of the world is wondering how U.S. foreign and domestic policy will affect them.

The Philippines vacillates between thinking that American-Philippines relations will improve or degrade. Advocates of improved relations suggest that since Trump and Duterte share rhetorical styles and similarly iconoclastic attitudes about the status quo, Duterte can tone down the America bashing. Anyway, this was actually Du30’s reaction to Obama’s criticism of the war on drug’s body count.

Du30’s spokesman, Martin Andanar quoted the Philippines’ president, “[he] looks forward to working with the incoming administration for enhanced Philippines-U.S. relations anchored on mutual respect, mutual benefit and shared commitment to democratic ideals and the rule of law.” Trump seems to feel the bromance as well — Huffington announced that he will make the Philippines his first state visit.

Conversely many are wringing their hands at the prospect of fewer remittances as illegals are sent back to the Philippines, reduced BPO investment as Trump seeks to repatriate jobs, and reduce international trade as the U.S. withdraws from its globalist/liberal trade agenda.

The U.S. dominates the BPO industry with 70-80% jobs hailing from American companies…. US BPOs account for 5.7 percent Philippine GDP. A call center agent in the Philippines makes US$2.00. A call center agent in the US gets US$10.50.

Du Now What?

Seen in the light of a shifting world order, Du’s eccentricities are the new normal: meeting with his hero, Putin, at the APEC conference; getting a good talking to from God on a flight back from Tokyo; rejecting and then accepting an order for 27,000 guns from the U.S.; pursuing bilateral relations with China…

Commenting on Duterte reminds me of James Hamilton-Paterson’s observation, “It was particularly hypocritical that the US press should heap ordure on Ferdinand Marcos’s head after 1986 when the CIA itself had done much to ensure his election back in 1965…The Marcoses were undoubtedly monsters in their individual ways; but they were authentically of their own people all the same, and just as authentically S.E. Asian and not American.”

Speaking of authentic S.E. Asians, nothing is as authentic as karaoke and Duterte favors Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” when he wants to do a little crooning.

The world knows Du for three things — his controversial war on drugs, the Philippines’ newly non-aligned approach to diplomacy, and burying Marcos after twenty-seven years. But there is more at work here: pulling the Philippines back from narco-statedom, pursuing a rational economic policy, and seeking infrastructure that the country desperately needs. For some, this suggests a tilt toward martial law's dark days.

News about the war on drugs here in the Philippines often discusses the casualties (over 4,000 to date), but largely ignores the impact of shabu addiction has on the lives of most Filipinos. The Dangerous Drug Board reports that there are roughly 1.7 million drug addicts, Du30 pegged the number at twice that in his inauguration speech. A UN Report from 2011 cited the Philippines for “the highest methamphetamine abuse rate in East Asia at 2.1% of [adults].” Open season on drug users and dealers has prompted them to surrender droves as they overwhelm the jails, courts, and rehabilitation programs.

There is a Machiavellian tint to the war on drugs that is reminiscent of Modi’s culpability in Gujarat’s 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom. As Robert D. Kaplan discusses in his excellent book Monsoon, The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, “…deliberately planned atrocities created an atmosphere of shock and fear, which the leader manipulated to push through a host of reforms without opposition.”

The best indication of Du’s administration’s initiatives are laid out in his 10-point Socioeconomic Agenda. The President’s 2017 budget for P3.35 trillion ($6.7 billion) hews to his plan. The budget allocates 40% for education, healthcare, social welfare and other social services; 27.6% for infrastructure, agricultural and rural sectors, and jobs creation; and 22% for public services and defense.

Duterte’s rapprochement with China seems almost prescient in light of Trump’s election with his domestic emphasis and rethinking U.S. global trade commitments. In the meantime, the Philippines and China are making serious plans to jointly develop infrastructure projects in yet another example of (paywall) China’s checkbook diplomacy.

Trumping Globalism

With Trump’s win, globalism is under fire — although it’s been a sore issue for both the left and the right — which begs the question: “What is globalism?” Across the political spectrum, today’s globalism is a bag of anxiety surrounding job loss, immigration, and shifting world power.

According to Alex MacGillivray, ‘global’ first appeared in adjective form in an 1892 Harper’s Magazine article about one Monsieur de Vogüé who used the term to describe his travels “…to the East and to the West for colors and ideas…his ambition to use a word of his own, is to be ‘global.'” 1892 was a global year to be sure: America opened Ellis Island to immigrants, Edison invented the telegraph, and General Electric was founded. On the political front, Wendell Willkie and Haile Selassie were born.

Most BPO folks have an insiders’ view of the whole affair. We live in the World is Flat paradigm. Filipinos working for an American company that manages customer support for an Australian telco, and so on… In a sense, we who help companies save money through labor arbitrage in business processes, manufacturing, customer service, and the like have become precisely part of the perceived problem.

However things shake out, China will loom large in all our reckonings as it towers over the SE Asia, appears to be Duterte’s ideal solution for fast infrastructure, and figures into much of Trump’s rhetoric for a more isolated global posture. China itself has become more adamant about open markets as expressed at the APEC conference in Peru even as it seems to be “cracking down, closing up, and lashing out in ways different from its course in the previous 30-plus years.”

For clues on how a Trump administration might handle offshoring in general, here’s an article from the WSJ considering the Philippines’ offshoring older brother, India. To end things on a lighter note here’s a photo essay by the often excellent folks at Roads & Kingdom’s covering a Trump rally for Indian-Americans.


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