Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Population damnation

When Keynes wrote about slavery to the idea of some defunct economist, he may well have been referring to Malthus. The idea of population growth outstripping food supply has had a long life, retaining great vigor even in its advanced age.

In its modern version, the Malthusian idea is that population growth is driven by high fertility (and low mortality), eventually outstripping the carrying capacity of the environment and natural resources. Physical scarcity will eventually force a stable population outcome, while producing plenty of human misery by war, disease, and famine. (Ever watch Soylent Green?) The most oft-cited essay on modern Malthusianism has got to be "The Tragedy of the Commons" by Garret Hardin, published in Science. Hardin's argument is that the world is an open access resource ("commons"), and population growth forces an inexorable pressure upon it. Individually rational behavior from the growing population causes a depletion of global resources. Solutions offered - appeals to conscience in restraining demands on resources, or privatizing the commons - are all impractical. Hardin's recommendation? Do away with the idea that families have the fundamental human right to determine their own size. Implement population controls by "mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon."

Written as it was in 1968, the essay is now very seriously dated. What really happens when we allow households to determine their own size voluntarily? It depends. In wealthier nations, households tend to be smaller. In fact in many countries the fertility rate is below 2.0 (the absolute minimum for population replacement), hence without migration, these populations will shrink! These countries include: Canada, Japan, Korea, France, Germany, Greece, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Singapore, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Why? A host of reasons - educated, working, socially assertive women, access to modern contraceptive technologies, all correlated with developing country status, are the key reasons. Growth to a developed country status would be the long term cure for overpopulation, averting the dire Malthus-Hardin prognostications.

In the medium term though, I don't deny that rapid population growth is itself a drag on per capita income growth. One reason may be through diminished household asset formation: the more children, the lower the savings (Orbeta, 2006) and the lower is schooling per child.

So there is an argument to providing incentives to limiting household size. Tax exemptions based on number of dependents have the perverse effect of encouraging larger household size (simply by lower the cost of bigger families.) Subsidies on contraceptives and information drives on their responsible use will also play a role. Now if your religion doesn't allow you to avail of these technologies, then of course you are not to be coerced. But neither should the state allow its population policies to be hijacked by the values of one or two religions, however widely held.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Ask the economist: foreign remittances and domestic inflation

I am aware of only one professional Filipino economist maintaining a regular weblog. (Ehem. I would be glad to know that I am mistaken.) With little power comes a little responsibility. So I am open to answering questions readers may have about the economy. Just post it as a comment, or email me (

A fellow blogger writes:

I really dig your blog. Learn a lot from it. Although I am not an economist (I'm a pol sci major), I am interested in reading about economics.

Anyways, the reason I'm writing is because I want to get your views on the following: I have this "theory" that OFW dollars, while they support our economy, are in the long run harmful because it promotes inflation and sort of "warps" the RP market. The reason I say this is because it is getting harder and harder for an ordinary salaried employee here to support a family. For example, residential real estate prices are up not because salaried people here are buying. Rather, it is fueled by OFW dollars.

I dunno if my suspicions have basis in reality... YOur thoughts?

Iloilo CIty Boy
Thanks, Iloilocityboy. That is one issue other readers may be wondering about. Inflation is as you know the general rise in the price level. Inflation increases are either permanent or temporary. It can arise from a permanent increase in the growth of money supply, in which case it is permanent; or it may be caused by an increase in demand over a significant range of goods and services, in which case it is temporary.

Unless the BSP actively intervenes in the forex market (which apparently it does not), foreign exchange inflows do not in general cause an increase in domestic money supply. Inflows would only affect the exchange rate - which we are already observing these days. (There is a rather complicated and indirect mechanism in which foreign exchange inflows would affect domestic money supply, but I think it is in practical terms immaterial to this issue). This leaves us with a demand-increase explanation.

I believe you are concerned with the (temporary) inflation among "nontradables" arising from the sudden increase in income of families with overseas foreign workers (OFWs). When I say "nontradables", I mean those goods and services which are unavailable outside the country. Real estate (obviously), retail services, personal services (haircuts, car washing, medical care) etc., are examples of nontradables. This are most likely the targets of an increase in domestic demand. These goods and services will bear the brunt of the demand surge.

Now we have to be careful about what we mean by "warped" or "distorted" or "harmed". Clearly when price rises, someone is harmed - namely consumers who used to purchase at lower prices. If price had been stable for a long time and the price changes, we are tempted to say that the market got "warped" or "distorted" somehow, by some aberrant demand or supply force.

Now let's deal with this issue carefully. A "harm" to someone may be beneficial to someone else. An increase in price of real estate harms the real estate buyer but is beneficial to the real estate owner, developer, and brokerage industry. In fact this incentive is precisely what is needed to encourage greater supply of developed and marketed real estate in the long run. In the absence of a price increase the available supply of real estate may stagnate. Scarce real estate may have to be rationed by non-price means; say, first-come, first served. How would the late-comers fare under this arrangement?

A similar argument can be made for the other nontradable goods and services for which domestic demand increases. So in total is society harmed? That is a hard question to answer because it entails deep questions of what is "fair". It may seem unfair that I, a native of Laguna, may find real estate prices in my hometown out of reach because of a demand spillover from people who work in Metro Manila.

Using the principle "a peso is a peso is a peso" - that is a peso loss to me exactly offsets a peso gain to you, whoever you are or I am - society is not harmed by the influx of foreign remittances. The increase in purchasing power of OFW families is expressed in, er, more purchases. We who are competing with them for the same set of goods and services have to match the higher prices they are willing and able to pay.

Is this a distortion? Note that change is at the heart of the free market system. Price adjustments constitute a system of incentives to reallocate resources as supply and demand conditions change. Unless someone demonstrates a superior system, my money is on the free market.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Technological change and the Almighty Corporation

John Kenneth Galbraith, recently deceased after a long and full life, was the most potent popularizer of the Almighty Corporation. Galbraith argued that the "new industrial state" is fundamentally a planned economy - driven not by decentralized competition, but consciously directed by a business oligarchy. A linchpin of his thinking was the manipulative power of advertising, which brought consumers in line with the planning objectives of the Almighty Corporations.

Now go sell this theory to Eastman Kodak. How the big bosses there wish this were true. Digital cameras? Make it disappear with a savvy advertising campaign. That will save the company's core business, now 125 years old - the manufacture of films, to catch those "precious moments".

From Galbraith's fantasies, let us look at the facts: Kodak has been in travails over the last five years. Its prospects for 2006 are negative (bad pun intended). Its only hope is that its recent transformation into a digital camera company would succeed - and fast, before skittish stockholders start dumping, big time.

Ahh, suddenly these all-powerful corporations look helpless against technological change. It all started when a couple of Bell Lab scientsts invented the Charge-Coupled Device (CCD), essentially an instrument for converting light into information. The rest is techno-history. Now the camera film industry is in a total meldown. How the Almighty have fallen!

When you walk around malls and supermarkets and convenience stores, take a good look at these camera films. Store your film cameras in a safe place. They'll be memories and museum pieces. Sooner than you think.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Have Koreanovelas washed out Filipino soaps?

Via the PCIJ is the following PIDS study on the Philippine audio-visual industry. The authors argue that foreign-made soaps are popular for the following reasons:
Consequently, there are several factors why Korean dramas are successful in the international market. One is its urban appeal. Most of the dramas are shot in the cities. Beautiful settings and background music also helped the programs penetrate the international market. For instance, Endless Love was commended for the luscious/lavish use of music (including Western classics such as Romance d'amour), which makes the drama even more unforgettable. The more poetic and imaginative ways of expressing love also makes Korean romance dramas outstand other dramas. Almost all Korean dramas circulated around the overseas market are romance dramas. Romance stories have been a universal genre in TV dramas, reflecting the appeal of fantasized love relationship in audience' everyday life, and the relationship between TV dramas and viewers. Many viewers seem to prefer Korean dramas in that they deal with romance in a way that stands them out from other counterparts. The melodramatic effect of the Korean dramas also captured the viewers. Whereas other romance dramas tend to spoil the audience with happy ending, many Korean dramas are infused with unrequited love, rivalries between families, and failed romance. Tragedy seems to be a defining feature especially in Korean dramas, in which the male and female leads often suffer from sickness, and even death.
C'est la vie. So why is local entertainment fare so abysmal? I'm not talking about why we don't crank out the artsy-fartsy stuff. (Not that I don't like 'em - sometimes.) I'm talking about competent entertainment, decent escapist fare for the masses. (That includes me.)

Well don't ask me about cultural reasons. Let me just point out the following:
The industry is also among the heavily taxed entertainment industry in Asia. Among such taxes is the amusement tax which the local government imposed on the theater owners. This tax amounts to 30 percent of the gross receipts from the ticket sales. Aside from the amusement tax, there are also 10 percent VAT on film shares and post-production costs; P0.25 per ticket for cultural tax; P8,000 to 10,000 classification fee per film by the MTRCB, custom duty on imported unexposed films needed for filming and exhibition; and 32 percent corporate tax. In addition, there are also taxes for importing equipment and machineries needed for shooting films and printing the advertisements. On average, importing these machineries is subject to 6 percent tax rate but since these equipments cost thousands of pesos, the import costs sum up to a significant amount.
Meanwhile, what was India doing?
In addition to tax reduction, the government can also provide tax incentives for the investors and theater owners in upgrading their cinemas. The Indian government did these measures precisely to help its domestic industry. With the advent of digital technology and the identification of Bollywood as a priority export sector, the Government reduced the basic import duties on certain digital studio equipment, benefiting the content producers and other media companies in India. The government also initiated various tax incentives to investors investing in multiplexes in the rural areas. Bank and institutional funding was made available to single screen owners to upgrade their existing theatres to multiplexes. Over 100 cinema halls have been converted into digital theatres over the past 2 years.
Yep - whether art, culture, soap operas, economics is everywhere. Question is: is the growth of a quality domestic film industry worth the foregone revenue and cost of providing incentives? Don't know the answer to that one. And watching the wasteland of local shows these days, somehow I really don't give a damn.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The population growth circus

I think it all started with the title of the unfortunate link title of the NSCB press release: "Philippine population growth slows to 1.95 percent by 2010." (This is already incorrect, but the newshounds started tracking.) The content of the press release itself clearly states that the 1.95% figure, covering the period 2005-2010, is a projection.

Somehow reporters got stuck with the link title and dropped the "estimate" part.

Reality check: the only way to check for sure whether population growth really slow down is to conduct a census. The last one was in 2000. The next one is scheduled for 2010. There is no way to check the actual population growth per year in between. (Censuses are expensive.)

The confusion has gone way out of hand, as discussed in the NSCB clarification. Even NEDA chief Romulo Neri got carried away:
Romulo Neri, director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), noted that the latest population growth rate was nearing the government’s medium-term target of 1.94 percent. Neri said slowing down population growth to 1.94 percent a year was necessary to enable the Philippine economy to feed and sustain its entire population.
Unless of course he was misquoted, which is perfectly possible.

Solita Monsod finds the projection unbelievable, and so does Dean Jorge Bocobo. Essentially both are arguing that the decline simply does not square with historical data. (I should hat-tip DJB for getting me to post on this topic.)

However, the population projection method is not based on fitting to past data. It uses projections of fertility rate and mortality, using baseline data from the 2000 Census, combined with certain scenarios. For the mortality rate, the projection applies life expectancy, with an assumed upward increment over time (about 2 years for every quinquennium). For the fertility rate, three assumptions are made, regarding the year in which net replacement fertility (approximately zero population growth) is reached: 2030 for the low assumption, 2040 for the medium assumption, and 2050 for the high assumption. The estimates cited by the NSCB pertain to the medium assumption.

I am not a demography expert. However I would agree with DJB and Mareng Winnie that some consistency be observed with experience. To my amateur eyes, I would think that pushing the target dates of net replacement fertility backward would maintain the official method, while satisfying critics. Perhaps by ten years? DJB has a graph showing that using the "high" as the working assumption leads to a better fit with historical data.

Lessons learned from this brouhaha:

1. Journalists are seldom to be trusted for accuracy in reporting crucial technical details. If possible one must always go back to the source document (often a technical report, or a journal article).

2. A fantastic amount of saliva and ink can be spilled, largely on inane discussions by politicians and other "concerned citizens", about population programs, birth control, public investment priorities, the Roman Catholic church, and so forth, on the basis of what is essentially an urban legend.

3. Be careful about naming your hyperlinks!!

Monday, May 15, 2006

The biggest charity of them all

I thought the biggest charity would by far be the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It's certainly the most famous. But The Economist found the biggest of them all - the Stickting Ingka Foundation.

The what? Amazingly, it's the nonprofit foundation that operates all the Ikea stores. Meanwhile the Ikea brand is owned by another company, which is owned by another company, etc. The brand-owner earns money by franchising the trademark to Ingka Holdings. The article reports that in 2004, these complex of entities earned 553 million euros, but paid less than 20 million euros in tax - mainly by exploiting various tax avoidance clauses in different jurisdictions.

Ingenious. As ingenious as the retail innovations that have made Ikea the global giant in home goods and furniture retailing. Among it's many great ideas is flat pack furniture, one of major logistic innovations of the 20th century, along with the shipping container.

Here's how Businessweek describes the Ikea shopping experience:
What enthralls shoppers and scholars alike is the store visit -- a similar experience the world over. The blue-and-yellow buildings average 300,000 square feet in size, about equal to five football fields. The sheer number of items -- 7,000, from kitchen cabinets to candlesticks -- is a decisive advantage. "Others offer affordable furniture," says Bryan Roberts, research manager at Planet Retail, a consultancy in London. "But there's no one else who offers the whole concept in the big shed."

The global middle class that Ikea targets shares buying habits. The $120 Billy bookcase, $13 Lack side table, and $190 Ivar storage system are best-sellers worldwide. (U.S. prices are used throughout this story.) Spending per customer is even similar. According to Ikea, the figure in Russia is $85 per store visit -- exactly the same as in affluent Sweden.

Wherever they are, customers tend to think of the store visit as more of an outing than a chore. That's intentional: As one of the Harvard B-school studies states, Ikea practices a form of "gentle coercion" to keep you as long as possible. Right at the entrance, for example, you can drop off your kids at the playroom, an amenity that encourages more leisurely shopping.

Then, clutching your dog-eared catalog (the print run for the 2006 edition was 160 million -- more than the Bible, Ikea claims), you proceed along a marked path through the warren of showrooms. "Because the store is designed as a circle, I can see everything as long as I keep walking in one direction," says Krystyna Gavora, an architect who frequents Ikea in Schaumburg, Ill. Wide aisles let you inspect merchandise without holding up traffic. The furniture itself is arranged in fully accessorized displays, down to the picture frames on the nightstand, to inspire customers and get them to spend more. The settings are so lifelike that one writer is staging a play at Ikea in Renton, Wash.

Along the way, one touch after another seduces the shopper, from the paper measuring tapes and pencils to strategically placed bins with items like pink plastic watering cans, scented candles, and picture frames. These are things you never knew you needed but at less than $2 each you load up on them anyway. You set out to buy a $40 coffee table but end up dropping $500 on everything from storage units to glassware. "They have this way of making you believe nothing is expensive," says Bertille Faroult, a shopper at Ikea on the outskirts of Paris. The bins and shelves constantly hold surprises: Ikea replaces a third of its product line every year.

Then there's the stop at the restaurant, usually placed at the center of the store, to provide shoppers a breather and encourage them to keep going. You proceed to the warehouse, where the full genius of founder Kamprad is on display. Nearly all the big items are flat-packed, which not only saves Ikea millions in shipping costs from suppliers but also enables shoppers to haul their own stuff home -- another savings. Finally you have the fun (or agony) of assembling at home, equipped with nothing but an Allen wrench and those cryptic instructions.
I can't but agree. My wife and I got a lot of furniture and decor from the Ikea store in KL. The most memorable part was when I got back home, and I spent several days poring over the instructions, hammering, jamming, screwing, swearing, but finally getting it all together. Three beds, two tables, several shelves, a workstation, and a few other items. The stuff may look cheap - and it is cheap - but don't knock it: it has the decent, middle-class, mass-produced look, and after three years everything is fine (except for the parts I warped or scratched.)

No Ikea in Manila yet, nor do I expect one for many years. Even if the retail industry were sufficiently deregulated - which I doubt - sheer market size would probably not be up to snuff for the next couple of decades. Still, I wonder how much I would save - or not! - were one to open in, ah, Fort Bonifacio?

Friday, May 12, 2006

The right way to promote "fair" trade

Here's the right way to promote fair trade: bring your case directly to the consumer. Don't go the state and rely on its powers of coercion to restrain foreign competition. Appeal to consumers exercising their voluntary choices in the market.

That said, I still object to the misleading arguments being made to promote fair trade. The idea is that these cheaper foreign-made goods are a threat to domestic livelihoods. This may be true for some sectors in which the country has no comparative advantage. However this cannot be true for all sectors of the country. There will always be something the Filipino producers can offer foreign buyers - that's why it's called "trade". (One might think even a nitwit would understand this implication.) Otherwise foreigners will be happy to sell us their goods with nothing going back to them except useless Filipino currency. If so then we should shaft them to their limit!

One can however appeal to our sense of loyalty to Filipino-made products. Hey if that's something consumers go for voluntarily, who am I to object? Ultimately though one has to observe a trade-off: there is only so much price difference between domestic and foreign-made goods that one can tolerate out of patriotic loyalty. And if there is a high patriotic value for Filipino-made, it would be a great incentive for Filipino producers to conceal the foreign component of their products. For example, they can limit themselves to the final stages of processing and call the product "Filipino-made" whereas import content is actually quite high. Filipino-made laptops, anyone?

Nevertheless, except for the dissemination of economic illiteracy, this form of product promotion is largely harmless. I say let these fair traders vent their feelings in as many fair trade fairs (they themselves fund) as they please.

Consumers will know what to do.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Price gouging oil companies redux

When will this ever end? From the Business Mirror:

Oil firms’ bottomline unscathed

WHILE consumers grapple with the skyrocketing fuel prices, multinational oil firms have been raking in huge profits as shown by their income statements submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a senior administration congressman disclosed Tuesday.

Liberal Party Rep. Abraham Mitra of Palawan made public the income documents submitted by Pilipinas Shell and Petron Corporation, two of the country’s biggest oil firms, “not to accuse the oil giants of price gouging or excessive profiteering, but to let the public draw its own conclusion from what the cold numbers present.”

Mitra, vice chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, said that based on the statements furnished by the SEC, Shell’s net profit jumped by 102 percent in 2005, while Petron’s surged by almost 50 percent in the same period.

Shell reported a net income after tax of P5.672 billion last year, more than double the P2.846-billion profit it pocketed in 2004. As a result, its earnings per share doubled too, from P4.12 to P8.34.

The firm’s net sales jumped 17 percent from P126.7 billion in 2004, to P148.9 billion in 2005.

Petron, which is partly owned by the national government, saw its income after tax surge to P5.765 billion, up from the P3.886 billion profit it reported in 2004. This represents a 48-percent increase in profits.

In its income statement, Petron declared that its gross sales soared to P191.2 billion, up by 29 percent from the P147.5 billion in 2004. With this, Petron’s earning per share improved to 61 centavos from 41 centavos in 2004.
Again some basic economics (this is easier done with graphs, but then I realize some of us may not be that familiar with the use of supply-demand diagrams). A price increase occurs either because either costs go up, or demand goes up. If costs go up, producers pass on the increase in cost to the consumer; however they are not able to do so completely, because consumers cut back on their purchases. In the end their profit falls, even as prices paid by consumers increases. On the other hand, if demand goes up, then consumers are willing to pay more to get extra units of output. The firms are thereby persuaded to increase their production, but of course in the process, the market price goes up. What happens to their profit? Of course, it goes up! The increase in profit is precisely the incentive that is required to increase production and therefore satisfy the extra consumer demand. We should find it a remarkable mystery to observe firms obliging consumers' higher demand, without requiring any extra incentive to do so.

However, it is not a mystery that legislators would want their names in the news by pandering to popular mythology.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Does globalization help the poor?

Angry Bear has an old post summarizing some recent papers linking trade and growth. The author concludes:
So let me amend my summary of the emerging consensus as follows: sometimes trade causes faster growth, and sometimes it doesn't. But protectionism is never good for growth.
Trade is good for growth, and growth is good for the poor, ergo trade is good for the poor. This is a conventional way for arguing the positive effect of trade liberalization on poverty. Globalization though is broader than trade liberalization, and "the poor" are not some homogeneous mass of people whose well-being move in the same way. Pranab Bardhan's article in Scientific American provides good overview of globalization and the poor. A more technical discussion is found in this forthcoming volume on Globalization and Poverty from an NBER Conference.

My answer to the question: yes, on the whole; sub-sectors though will suffer from increased global competition. Globalization is neither the catastrophe that critics decry, nor the panacea that some proponents profess. This may help explain why the Philippines, despite two decades of trade liberalization, has failed to reap the expected reform dividends. (On the other hand, it is almost certain that the economy would be even worse off had the status quo on trade been maintained; moreover in many industries there has been significant flip-flopping on liberalization, especially in agriculture.) To end with a quote from Easterly (from his contribution to the abovementioned volume):
Globalization is less important for the wellbeing
of the poor than the (unfortunately more mysterious) process of productivity growth.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The box that opened world trade

The box that changed the world just celebrated its 50th anniversary. I'm fascinated with these erstwhile nondescript innovations that turn out to have revolutionary impacts on the global economy.

A Wired article discusses how things were, pre-1956:
But look back to the 1954 film On the Waterfront and you'll get a good idea of how things used to be. New York dockworker Terry Malloy (played by Marlon Brando) climbed into the rusting hulls of cargo ships and used brute muscle to move freight using nets and grappling hooks. Loading and unloading was so slow, ships might remain in port for days, even weeks. Only four decades ago, contemporary photos of Singapore's port showed shirtless workers stumbling down wooden gangplanks carrying enormous bundles of bananas on their backs. It was called break-bulk shipping.

This inefficiency irked Malcom McLean, a crusty North Carolina trucker who defied convention to spark a logistics revolution that continues to reverberate today. Dubbed the Father of Containerization, he laid the foundation in the 1950s for what would arguably become the world's first truly packetized transport network.

McLean reckoned there had to be a better way of loading and unloading ships than the clumsy, slow, and theft-prone process of break-bulk. His first brainstorm: stacking sealed truck trailers on flatcars for long train journeys, trucking them only the few final miles to their destination. But the railroads weren't interested, so in 1955 he bought a small tanker company named Pan Atlantic and modified two of its ships to carry 58 detachable trailers. In order to stack the trailers, he removed the wheels and strengthened the sides. In April 1956, the first of these converted ships sailed from New York Harbor to Houston, and containerization became a sunrise industry.
The Wikepedia article describes the advantages of containerization: first, it allows a trucker to load cargo in sealed containers directly onto a ship, and unload cargo directly back onto a waiting truck. No more messy loading and unloading of individual packages or boxes. Second, the use of sealed boxes greatly enhanced cargo security, helping eliminate the "falling off the truck" problem.

So important was this simple innovation that "it is very unlikely that we would all be buying Japanese TVs, Costa Rican bananas, Chinese underwear or New Zealand lamb. In fact, globalisation would probably not exist and the World Trade Organization would have a lot less to talk about," according to this BBC article.

Simple ideas that change the world. Wish I could think of one.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The real pro-labor approach

Today is Labor Day. As the rest of us honor the day of the working man and woman, unions use the opportunity to press for more stringent regulations on the labor market. At least two come to mind: first is the demand for an across the board minimum wage increase. Second is the demand for elimination of the contractual labor category and provision for security of tenure. provides a good summary of these demands from the labor perspective (Bulatlat article):
Citing government data from 1990-94, a research by the Asia-Pacific Research Network (APRN) in 2000 revealed that the combined share of casual, contractual and part-time workers in total enterprise-based employment was between 14-15 percent. It went up to 18.1 percent from 1994 to 1995. By 1997, the figure has reached 21.1 percent, meaning that for every five workers one is a casual, contractual or part-timer worker.
For example:
In the more than 20 branches of Shoe Mart (SM), one of the biggest chain of shopping malls in the country, in 2002, nine out of ten workers are contractuals, hired either through an agency or by a concessionaire, said Maristel Garcia, spokesperson of the Sandigan ng mga Manggagawa sa Shoemart, the union of SM employees.

Contractuals abound in export zones and industrial parks around the country, such as those in Baguio City, Cavite, and Laguna. A survey of APRN covering 14 unions under the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement) in the National Capital Region revealed that contractual workers comprise 67 percent of the workforce at the time. This is despite KMU’s efforts at protecting job security and benefits.

“It is true that contractual labor is now really extensive. Easily seven in every 10 companies practice contractualization,” Donald Dee, president of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, told Manila Times in 2003. “We know for a fact that contractualization is meant to avoid regularization,” admitted Dee.

Today the share of contractuals in the total workforce may even be bigger. For example, after SM management practically crushed the union by terminating all striking union workers in 2003, Garcia said, it stopped regularizing workers and was able to employ more contractuals.

In other large firms, threats of retrenchment complemented by early retirement schemes resulted in a stripped-to-the-core number of regular workers. The Philippine Long Distance Company (PLDT), the country’s largest telecom company, was able to reduce its workforce from 14,000 to 10,000. Its rank and file union membership has dwindled from 7,000 to 4,100. It was also able to reduce the 3,000-member supervisory union to just about 2,000. The rest of PLDT’s required manpower comes from contractual workers who are paid piece meal, per phone installation or telecom services sold.

In Japanese-owned Asahi Glass Corporation, the ranks of regular workers have been decimated after a wave of forcible retirements. Retired workers were subsequently rehired as contractuals. At present, there are five contractual employees for every regular worker.
The benefits of higher minimum wages and greater worker security are clear. However, are there any negative consequences we should know about? (That is the problem with such ideologically slanted analysis. We are told of all the benefits of this or that anti-market imposition, but any attempt at analyzing cost is slammed. So much for critical thinking.)

Okay the negative effects are:

1. Higher minimum wage means more expensive workers. More expensive workers means, within a market economy, capitalists will higher fewer workers. (The alternative is to go the planned economy route and eliminate capitalists altogether; all productive capital would be owned by the state. Then the government becomes one big employment agency. It can pay all the higher wages it wants. Heck it can even print money if there's no budget for it. Worker's utopia indeed!)

2. Enforced security of tenure means firms have less flexibility to deal with economic change. If the market for their product sours, they are forced to produce less. In the absence of worker security, they can cut costs, in part by laying off workers. However with worker security this is difficult. Enforced security of tenure also means that removal of individual workers because of poor abilities, mismatched skills, low productivity, and so forth requires a lengthy adjudication process (i.e. the termination "for cause" provision in the Labor Code.) Finally with security of tenure comes a long list of costly but compulsory worker benefits. Because of this, firms either decide to higher fewer workers, or hire workers who can easily be removed - i.e. the casuals.

3. The "casualization of labor" cited in the Bulatlat article is therefore a consequence of regulations enforcing security of tenure, particularly on workers hired for a year (Labor Code provision) or more than six months (a guideline that is being increasingly used as a cut-off to determine which worker is becoming "regularized."). However this is going to create a lot of "churning" in the labor market. Ever wondered why some salespersons in SM are rather inept? It is likely that by the time they became familiarized with their duties their six months is up. To be replaced by someone who has to learn the ropes all over again. This is probably going on also in many factories. Once you learn the skills on the shop floor, you have to be removed. This is not the best way to develop a quality labor force!

Note finally that the benefits of higher minimum wages and enforced worker security are ultimately enjoyed by those who are currently regular workers. No wonder they have a strong interest to fight for them. Even if this would cause misery among the ranks of those who are outside this group - mainly the unemployed, or casual workers.

(More detailed arguments for reforming labor markets are found in this paper by Gerry Sicat. It's a great read.)

That is, the real pro-labor approach would be: fewer regulations, rather than more. Not only that: it would be pro-growth as well.

Seeing those demonstrations and strikes and pro-labor legislators and bureacrats in the Department of Labor and Employment, I wonder: who will protect us workers from our protectors?