Cash-crop condominiums

A version of this piece was first printed by the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s “Talk of the Town” section on 16 March 2014 (p.16). An expanded version of this analysis appears as a chapter in the forthcoming co-authored book, “States of Fragmentation”, to be published by Focus on the Global South.

When we tell the stories of our wealthiest men, we tend to tell the stories that are of no consequence: we repeat their names, which have mostly remained constant for most of recent memory; we futilely recite the numbers of their net worth; we mythologize the secrets to their success.

These stories are of no consequence for the simple fact that we are telling ourselves things that we either already know, or things we don’t need to know. When we dwell on who the ten Filipinos on Forbes’ 2014 list of world billionaires are, we learn nothing of value. Henry Sy’s net worth is a few hundred million dollars lower this year, the Ayalas are mysteriously absent, the majority of the names are Filipino-Chinese. So what?

But once we turn our attention to understanding what the richest Filipinos are, an entirely different story reveals itself. The true significance of the recent fortunes of our Ten Millionth Percent is in how their stories can help make sense of the puzzles of our recent economic successes, such as jobless growth, our inability to address deep and widespread poverty, or whether the near future holds an East Asian-style ‘takeoff’ in the Philippines.

To tell this other story, we need to ask different questions: how are the biggest Filipino capitalists building their fortunes? Why, in the Philippines of the 21st century, is wealth being built in this way? How does this strategy compare to strategies seen in other periods of our economic history,s or in other places? Finally, what does the success of this strategy mean for the prosperity not just of the few, but of the country as a whole? Continue reading “Cash-crop condominiums”