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Consuming passion


THE MOST AMAZING phenomena in the previously waged campaigns (they seem such a long time ago) were the pink rallies: a joyous combination of a Woodstock rock concert, street party, town fiesta, religious revival, creative initiative, comic relief, and peace march. They became a numbers contest, this one bigger than the previous, with drone shots of tightly packed bodies computed per square meter of available space as of a certain time (without counting joiners and leavers throughout).

The rallies epitomized the volunteer spirit of attendance in big numbers, with free food, medic support, toilet facilities, and bottled water provided by various anonymous donors and, yes, no cash incentives in envelopes handed out: “hindi kami bayad.” And best of all, the rallyists cleaned up after themselves.

It seemed like the road to victory. And maybe it was.

Should that be the end of a stirring demonstration of volunteerism and generosity of spirit that had brought out the best of our bayanihan culture and its passion to do good? This celebration of kinship, unity for the nation, and cheering for a cause cannot be wasted.

While the daily announcements of appointments to the cabinet garner instant media attention, and, yes, much genuine support, there is little fanfare attending anyone relegated to the private sector — Sir, you’re already part of it.

The bayanihan spirit so recently rediscovered can be rechanneled.

The GDP which economists track quarterly for growth to gauge the health of the economy and the country is made up of 65% consumption. The other two components in “C+I+G” are Investments and Government spending (Build, Build, Build). Consumption is driven by the private sector and occasionally boosted by individuals working in the public sector, with unexplained purchasing power for expensive watches and cars — I was surprised to see a Porsche parked in my garage.

An individual with an explainable source of income for which proper taxes are paid also contributes to the rise in GDP through the passion to consume (buy, buy, buy). This is sometimes called “retail therapy.” Economists in their dry language refer to it as a “propensity to consume.” This is defined as “the proportion of total income or of an increase in income that consumers tend to spend on goods and services rather than save.” Thus does the propensity to consume eat into the propensity to save.

For the post-pandemic economy (referring to COVID, and not any political outcome) there is a more relaxed protocol after the lockdown regimes.

When people are allowed out of the house to, yes, get back to the office, the propensity to consume rises. Those with still enough purchasing power (and restored representation expenses) can treat clients in dining out. (Please remove your mask when eating.)

Maybe, with the new set of bureaucrats driving regulation and the public sector, there is a new round of law firms and powerbrokers to get acquainted with. The changing of the guard at the political level spills over to the private sector. Mergers and acquisitions are just a higher form of consumption, if only for the meetings with the consumption of alcohol and roasted duck these will generate.

Other more normal consumer behaviors follow, like buying clothes to adjust to the WFH waistlines. While some continue to hang on to their pajamas and leisure wear so useful for virtual meetings, more offices and clients are moving to Face-to-Face (FTF) meetings where lower wear needs to be employed.

Domestic travel too will rise, when one no longer needs to deal with checkpoints and pre-registration of local visits. Even foreign travel gets into the GDP with the purchase of airline tickets and maxing out of credit cards.

Consumption is also bumped up by inflation, as in the case of fuel where the same number of liters cost more than a month before. (Sometimes, they are adjusted downwards too.) Inflation affects other necessities like food, utilities, and transportation.

So, can the consuming passion of the rallies be leveraged into the propensity to consume to boost GDP? Will the bayanihan fervor translate into the desire to make the country succeed even with another leader?

Is there really a choice between changing the country for the better… or changing to a better country? Some have already made that decision. Hopefully for most, it’s the first option they decide on. Anyway, it is more fun in the Philippines, with more surprises… some of them pleasant.

Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda

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