Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 25 October 2017


Thinking about the Filipino dream arose from a surprise coincidental experience while traveling from Manila to Washington DC via Beijing.

While awaiting a connection at Beijing’s international airport, news about the Chinese dream was flashed to the world.

Appearing before the 19th Party Congress, President Xi Jinping of China spoke about moving forward to certain end goals involving the “Chinese dream,” a concept that he had enunciated when he took power five years ago.

The social concept of all dreams. The unburnished context of the American dream is that success results from personal hard work within a relative framework of freedom that is sustained and enabled by the state.

In the case of the Chinese dream, success is delivered by the collective effort of the state to introduce changes that release the energy for success of the individual and the community.

Such dreams are essentially for the long term, not the short or immediately foreseeable future.

It is possible to think of the dream as a collective wish of all individuals in society, a kind of average that takes into account some measure of improving welfare for all.

Before going to the articulation of the Filipino dream, it is useful to refer to the contrasts and similarities of the American dream and the Chinese dream.

The American dream. The American dream represents a combination of many thoughts emerging from founding concepts of the American nation (such as the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution) and the idea of personal success as an individual accomplishment resulting from hard work.

Upward social mobility is the main message of the American dream, that every citizen, if he worked hard and stayed focused could expect success within the environment of freedom and open opportunities for achievement.

In the ideal version of these, citizens and immigrants who emerge from former conditions of deprivation, poverty or oppression could attain great success through their own efforts.

Such success includes the idea that the family and the young improve their status through the acquisition of the tools by which they are enabled for their own growth and achievement.

Variants of the American dream abound, too. There are the common and ordinary cases of hard work yielding their happy rewards in the end. There are the quick rags to riches stories in the manner of the Great Gatsby (the creation of the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald).

And, finally, there are the crass commercialism exemplified by the lines in the Miss Saigon musical:

What’s that I smell in the air
The American dream
Sweet as a new millionaire
The American dream
Pre-packed, ready-to-wear
The American dream
Fat, like a chocolate éclair
As you suck out the cream

Luck by the tail, How can you fail?
And best of all, it’s for sale
The American dream.

The Chinese dreamIn a powerful political statement, President Xi elaborated on his statement about the Chinese dream that he referred to as “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” He announced that this will be achieved in two stages.

In the first stage, China hopes to build a “moderately prosperous society” by wiping out poverty by 2021” and in the second stage, 20 years later, by 2049, it hopes to become a “fully developed nation.”

The first date marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. The second date is the 100th year of the consolidation of the Chinese revolution in the mainland.

Taken in this light, the Chinese dream is etched in the desire to reclaim the lost glory that China had enjoyed early in world history. (Remember that China, long before the age of explorations of the 15th century, had already invented the gun powder, the mariner’s compass, and the movable printing and had explored much of the world around Asia and into the outer reaches.)

As stated, the Chinese dream represents a strong political statement. The paramount leader of the country directly expresses it. At the helm of political power, he has the tools to implement the steps to achieve it.

Moreover, there is great credibility in the statement. China’s growth record in the last four decades has been the fastest of any nation in recorded modern times.

China’s record of industrialization has been phenomenal. The dramatic eradication of poverty in China is due to rapid industrialization that succeeded immensely because of access to the world’s open trading system. The result: massive amounts of citizens formerly in poverty are absorbed into productive work.

This open commerce also enabled China to import its trading needs from other nations, including large inflows of foreign capital and technology that considerably raised the economy’s overall productivity.

Such gigantic enterprise was due to pragmatic changes that the state adopted, which discarded earlier beliefs and practices that did not work in favor of those that did.

In fact, China has become more and more similar to those countries that preached free trade even as it does this within a socialist framework. The result is that it has become highly integrated within the world economy.

Common features. Though the American dream and the Chinese dream appear to be poles apart on first glance, there are common features between them.

What pulls them together is the condition that allows for the dreams becoming attainable from the viewpoint of those affected – the citizenry.

Their success arises from the presence of conditions that permit economic agents to perform their work more properly, thus enabling the success of their personal and respective endeavors.

Barriers to trade were minimized if not removed. Incentives for gain were enabled. Freedom to make decisions were encouraged. The proper pricing of economic resources and the entry of complementary factors of production were allowed. And, finally, many activities were allowed to thrive under conditions of greater competition.

The above conditions were essentially the DNA of the American economic environment. In the case of China, the reform process in the economic field enabled market actors to thrive within the framework of relaxed, not over-regulated, trading environments.