Democracy is participatory

PARTICIPATORY democracy is an oxymoron because democracy is supposed to be participatory in the first place.

Free enterprise could also be an oxymoron if a supposedly democratic government does not regulate the monopoly of big corporations to the disadvantage of small enterprises.

Although government regulation of big corporations might also sound like an oxymoron in a free enterprise economy, there are definitely ways to protect the interests of small enterprises, without violating the democratic rights of the big corporations.

For example, certain low technology businesses and low investment industries could be reserved for small enterprises, meaning to say that these should be off limits to big corporations.

The government should have nothing to do with the law of supply and demand, because it is something that could not, and should not be regulated. However, there seems to be a widespread misinterpretation of this concept, since the government is always implementing price control measures here and there.

In many cases, businessmen who jack up their prices whenever supplies are low and whenever certain products are in demand are often seen as opportunists, if not lawbreakers. More often than not, they are being accused to be hoarders or price manipulators. Sometimes, these accusations are based on the perception that they are selling their products above the Suggested Retail Price (SRP).

As it is supposed to be, an SRP is just supposed to be a “suggestion”, and no one is legally bound to stick to it. As a democratic society, we should be careful not to assign secondary meanings to terms that could mess up our institutions, for example, we hear about ordinary citizens supposedly being “invited” only for “questioning”, but they end up being arrested and jailed, with neither a search warrant nor an arrest warrant.

Every now and then, we hear about small entrepreneurs being arrested for supposedly taking advantage of food shortages, but it seems that their only “crime” if ever is to take advantage of the law of supply and demand.

In reality, the supposed “overpricing” of products beyond the SRPs during food shortages does not even bother the rich people, because it only affects the poor people who could no longer afford these products during those times.

In a way, it could be said that the government would be caught in a dilemma during those times, because it has to choose between the need to make food prices affordable, and the need to promote a free market economy by way of free enterprise. Since a food shortage situation is only a short term problem while having a free market is supposed to be a long term institution, the government should just subsidize the short term in order to institutionalize the long term.

In theory, democracy is supposed to be a social contract between and among all citizens, wherein all citizens would participate in building and sustaining a strong society with a robust economy and a stable government. It is generally understood that under this social contract, the citizens have to participate in the process of making the government work, a process that is now presently referred to as “governance.”

Going straight to the point, the more appropriate term therefore is “participatory governance”, and not “participatory democracy”. Since we now understand that governance is a two-way process, we should now also understand that the participation should come from both sides, from the side of the citizens and the side of the government.

It has been said that the Philippines is the “Sick man of Asia” and perhaps that could be explained in the sense that we have “damaged” institutions. Be that as it may, we are not dead yet, we are just sick. Our institutions are just damaged, and not totally destroyed. We may have many other institutions to rebuild, but as far as this article is concerned, let us start rebuilding the institution of the “civil society”, and the institution of the “free economy”.

Sad to say, the term “civil society” has been “damaged” by those who led it in the past. Simply put, the key to rebuilding the “civil society” is to choose new leaders who would not have political ambitions.

I know that what I am going to say will be very controversial, but I would still say that in order to protect and preserve a free economy; the government should just strengthen and expand the capabilities of the National Food Authority (NFA), beyond the function of simply selling rice.

As it is supposed to be, the NFA is supposed to sell rice only to the poor people, and not to everyone. As long as it is the NFA that is actually selling the rice, they can sell it at any price they want, without breaking the free market rules. Some sectors might complain that even the rich people are buying NFA rice, but just let leave them alone, because that is their own free will.

While it is true that the government may have to give free dole outs to the poorest among the poor, there is no problem with that, because that is already within the realm of charity. As a matter of fact, the government is already giving dole outs indirectly, by way of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program.

What could probably be done next is to ask the NFA to directly dole out food items to CCT beneficiaries, charged to their CCT accounts. I was going to suggest that we ask the NFA to start selling subsidized food items to the general public, but I realized that even now, NFA rice is already subsidized. To complete the supply chain however, the NFA should already start selling other types of subsidized food items./PN


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