How I See Economic Inequality (1)

The greatest country, the richest country, is not that which has the most capitalists, monopolists, immense grabbings, vast fortunes, with its sad, sad soil of extreme, degrading, damning poverty, but the land in which there are the most homesteads, freeholds — where wealth does not show such contrasts high and low, where all men have enough — a modest living— and no man is made possessor beyond the sane and beautiful necessities.
– Walt Whitman
Image courtesy of: http://www.oxfamamerica.org

When fighting for equality is only but a memory…

I was about 4 or 5 years old when the concept of “equality” was introduced to me. I was living in the province with my grandmother, Nanay B. and she was patiently explaining why my cousin and I had to have equal share of candies. Her explanation was “so there will be no conflict”. From then on, my cousins and I would always try to divide everything into equal parts: news toys would be enjoyed by each of us for exactly 10 minutes, food would be equally shared among us, even hugs and kisses from the elders have to be exactly of the same intensity and length. An adult judge would be called in if someone tried to outsmart the rest. It didn’t work 100% of the times, but everyone agreed that an equal distribution would help avoid conflict. I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time I would witness a firm stand on equality.

As an adult, I’ve grown to view the concept more as an ideal and less as an achievable reality. The basic reason being, that we live in a world where competition is the engine that makes things happen. And when the leitmotiv of our everyday existence is consciously wanting to be the best (some would settle to being better), isn’t it only natural for others to be left behind? and isn’t having people left behind already a situation displaying inequality?

Under the lens of rationality, inequality is “just part of life”.

As a member of a community, I can’t help but aspire for resources to be more equitably shared, even though the lottery of life has placed us in different situations the moment we were born. I believe it is a legitimate appeal so that all of us could obtain a minimum standard of living and that would allow us to serve our purpose in life.

Under the lens of world citizenship, inequality is causing conflicts and distorting the society by crippling social cohesion.

Both statements are true and one only needs to look out of their windows to find real-life testimony to these. They co-exist, and they divide our conscience into: convincing ourselves that there is a solution versus believing that this is a hopeless case.

Redirecting the debate

I’ve seen articles online arguing how inequality is actually necessary so the wheels of a capitalist society would turn. As a very simplistic example: you wouldn’t be enjoying that affordable item of yours that was made in China, if the factory workers had the same educational qualification as you do. Precisely, we are where we are now because historically it was the inequalities in the pre-capitalist societies that have made way for resources to be distributed the way we see them now. Right now we have the landlords, the capitalists, the workers (laborers, yuppies, executives, etc…), the oppressed…

Let’s say we accept that inequality was necessary back then and that it is inherent to the system at the present moment. Our sense of morality would dictate for us to “not be okay” with that fact. Yet, doesn’t it seem ridiculous to argue whether inequality is necessary or not in our current society? it is here and it is happening, after all. The debate is enriching, but its practicality is nil.

The way I see things, it’s not the disparity in the possession of wealth* per se that should be the focus of the debate. Instead, I propose to reorient the dialogue on the fact that: discussions about solving inequality is almost always geared towards the redistribution of the “pie”; taking from the rich to give to the poor. This response gives me the impression that the beneficiaries of such designation are seen as mendicants, waiting for charity to improve their lives. And I refuse to believe that.

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Image courtesy of: http://www.slate.com

Wealth is a by-product of an exerted effort, a risk taken and an opportunity tapped. However, not everyone I know dreams of living the life of a millionaire; most of them would be content providing for their families and knowing that their future is somehow secured. I know of people my age who have turned their backs on their “conventional” lives to live in and develop abandoned rural villages. There are also those who could have made it big in the corporate world but have chosen to continue contributing to the academia and other non-lucrative enterprises. Then there are those who simply dream of tilling lands or running a business of their own.

This is why I believe that it is the lack of access to opportunities that is the underlying cause of inequality. I have a feeling that if the world could be fairer in giving access to livelihood, financial capital, training, education, etc… people will have the chance to make a living on their own and eventually accumulate wealth for themselves, by themselves.

My proposition does not mean to downplay the importance of redistribution. Rather, it encourages the evaluation- and even the criticism- of the existing suggested solutions. Wealth redistribution perhaps offers the chance to solve inequality issues at the present moment and the immediate future. But opening up the doors for people to create their own wealth could potentially deliver a more sustainable and longer term solution.

Enter globalization

It is very difficult to detach globalization from discussions about economic inequality. As a young optimist, I was convinced that time would prove me right when I said that globalization will be more advantageous to the underprivileged. The principle is that opening the international barriers to capital, goods and labor will bring a positive outcome for everyone.

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Image courtesy of: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

12 years have passed and time hasn’t been my ally. Although globally, inequality has declined (due to a worldwide economic growth), the gap within countries has worsened. And as what I have observed, the most striking repercussion of globalization is the trickle-down effect.

Investopedia defines the trickle-down effect as, “A phenomenon where an advertisement is rapidly disseminated by word of mouth or by viral marketing”. One the one hand, we are at the height of the daily improving Information and Communications Technology (ICT). This advancement is constantly making it easier for the people of our generation to take a peek at how others live no matter how far they are from us, eventually leading us to want, to “need” what they have and enjoy. At the same time, globalization is expanding the market for consumption as well as facilitating the financing of such consumption, thus allowing for the satisfaction of people’s new wants and needs.

Georg Simmel used fashion as a fantastic example to explain my point: “The elite initiates a fashion and, when the mass imitates it in an effort to obliterate the external distinctions of class, abandons it for a newer mode- a process that quickens with the increase of wealth.”

Notice how the middle-class have lately become quite busy purchasing the now-accessible goods and services (most of the times with the now more-accessible credit) which make them feel like they’ve reached a higher echelon in society- cars, properties, branded clothing, lavish celebrations, vacations overseas, and so on… All the while consuming, they don’t seem to notice how the economic gap is actually widening, not slowly diminishing. Something inside me says that this phenomenon has been successful in somehow placating conflicts that could possibly stem from the common people.

To cite an example: analyzed survey from 40 countries by researchers from Harvard University and Chulalongkorn University revealed that respondents in every country underestimate the size of the salary gap between a CEO and an average worker. In the U.S., the median American’s response to how they perceive this salary difference is a ratio of 30-to-1, when in reality the gap is 350-to-1. (Year of survey unmentioned by the source)

I’m afraid that this is not exclusive to the Americans and I can see this happening in many countries. The question is, how long will this distraction serve its purpose?

Conclusion

Nanay B. was right in asserting the importance of equality to avoid conflict; and since this is far from being achieved, it is not surprising that outcries and at times hostility are bursting from all corners of the world. Within my adult life, the most striking accounts I’ve heard so far are:

i) the 2005 riots in the suburbs of Paris

ii) the 2010 Arab Spring

iii) the 2011 “Indignants’ Movement” in Madrid

iv) the 2016 Kidapawan farmers’ protests

Surely there are more expressions of social unrest around the globe and across history. But given what we know about the fast-rising economic inequality, should there not be a manifestation of greater interest from the rest of the public? a higher participation from all members of the community?

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Image courtesy of: http://www.bbc.com

I can see Adam Smith’s thoughts as writings on the wall:

Though our brother is upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at ease, our senses   will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did and never can carry us beyond our own persons, and it is by the imagination only that we form any conception of what are his sensations…His agonies, when they are thus brought home to ourselves, when we have this adopted and made them our own, begin at last to affect us, and we then tremble and shudder at the thought of what he feels.”- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Is the middle-class really so entertained at their illusions of wealth that they are not even aware of the magnitude of this social injustice?

I seem to remember that the French Revolution was led by the bourgeoisie, in complete compassion and genuine desire for a more equitable society. If history does repeat itself, then why is this not yet happening? Just wondering…

This is how I see economic inequality: an outright contortion of the society.

 

* Wealth and Income have been indistinctly used in this post. However, it must be remembered that wealth denotes a stock variable (measurable at a particular point in time), while income is a flow variable (measured with reference to a specific period in time).

Author’s note: Coming up is the second part of this post- a more technical note containing the different materials that aided the author in writing this entry. Stay tuned!

 

Sources:

  1. Investopedia
  2. “For richer, for poorer”, available at: http://www.economist.com/node/21564414
  3. “On Income Inequality: A French Economist vs An American Capitalist”, available at: http://www.npr.org/2014/05/08/310784652/on-income-inequality-a-french-economist-vs-an-american-capitalist
  4. “Fashion” by Georg Simmel, available at: http://sites.middlebury.edu/individualandthesociety/files/2010/09/Simmel.fashion.pdf
  5. “1789: France’s bourgeois revolution”, available at: http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1980s/1989/no-1019-july-1989/1789-france%E2%80%99s-bourgeois-revolution
  6. “The Surprising Reason that Crushing Economic Inequality Isn’t More of Election Issue” by David Sirota, available at: http://www.alternet.org/economy/surprising-reason-crushing-economic-inequality-isnt-more-election-issue
  7. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/14424.Adam_Smith
  8. http://www.economicsdiscussion.net/difference-between/difference-between-flow-variables-and-stock-variables/555

Hidden-nomics (1)

My most favorite elective subject back in college was something entitled “Economics in Arts”. We actually had fun analyzing songs, movies and artworks looking for economically-linked issues beneath. It was the very first time I felt like an Undercover Economist…

One of the songs we analyzed was Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise”. As a child of the 1980’s, I was exposed to this song because it was always within the repertoire of any brave soul in Karaoke sessions (those were the days when we had what we called “minus-one” tapes; amateur ones would carry an already-rewound tape of their favorite song to interpret). I even learned the lyrics by heart just by hearing it thousands of times! However, it was only a decade afterwards when I would truly listen and think about what Mr Collins wanted to tell us: how the homeless fare each and every day of their lives in “paradise”, while being considered invisible by most of us.

The situation in Paris is truly becoming unbearable. One cannot simply turn a blind eye on the SDF (sans domicile fixe– without fixed residence) because now they don’t consist only of grown men and women- there are actually infants sleeping in salvaged mattresses beside trash cans in winter! How can one have faith in the European Union when this very basic human crisis is unfolding under our very eyes? and if we look at how policy-makers are reacting, there seems to be no urgency to solve this! To think that the refugee situation is only aggravating it…

What a waste of human capital! what a poor display of France’s highly-acclaimed abundancy in social capital.

I’ll leave the socio-economic discussion for another time. Meanwhile, why don’t you stop for exactly 4 minutes and 49 seconds and hear how Mr Collins describes our common reactions when faced with this type of biting reality…

ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE

Disclaimer: I do not own this video. Video courtesy of the official YouTube channel for the solo work of English singer-songwriter, drummer, and producer, Mr. Phil Collins.
She calls out to the man on the street
‘Sir, can you help me?
It’s cold and I’ve nowhere to sleep,
Is there somewhere you can tell me?’

He walks on, doesn’t look back
He pretends he can’t hear her
Starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there

Oh think twice, it’s another day for you and me in paradise
Oh think twice, ’cause it’s just another day for you,
You and me in paradise, think about it

She calls out to the man on the street
He can see she’s been crying
She’s got blisters on the soles of her feet
She can’t walk but she’s trying

Oh think twice, ’cause it’s another day for you and me in paradise
Oh think twice, it’s just another day for you,
You and me in paradise, think about it

Oh Lord, is there nothing more anybody can do
Oh Lord, there must be something you can say

You can tell from the lines on her face
You can see that she’s been there
Probably been moved on from every place
‘Cause she didn’t fit in there

Oh think twice, ’cause it’s another day for you and me in paradise
Oh think twice, it’s just another day for you,
You and me in paradise, just think about it, think about it

It’s just another day for you and me in paradise
It’s just another day for you and me in paradise, paradise
Just think about it, paradise, just think about it
Paradise, paradise, paradise

 

Songwriters: MERRILL, GEORGE ROBERT / RUBICAM, SHANNON / CLAYTON, ADAM / EVANS, DAVE / HEWSON, PAUL DAVID / MULLEN, LARRY / WALDEN, NARADA MICHAEL
Another Day In Paradise lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, IMAGEM U.S. LLC

Sources:

  1. Song facts, available at: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1994
  2. Youtube
  3. Lyrics freak, available at: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/p/phil+collins/another+day+in+paradise_20108035.html

A Short Note On: Emotional Intelligence and First Time Motherhood

While I was pregnant with my son, the Top 1 advice (solicited or otherwise) was: BE PATIENT. I would always just smile and agree but deep inside I’d think, “Duh, of course! it’s a baby…” Then when my son was born, it dawned upon me that in this case the need for patience encompasses a wider range of public– from my own family members to well-meaning (?) strangers in a bus stop.

Basically, everybody around me suddenly turned out to be experts on infants and child-rearing. Everybody would have something to say about everything and anything they can think of. And what’s most unbelievable for me is the fact that it is some of my fellow women and fellow mothers who have been the quickest to judge, the toughest to criticize and the least empathic to certain situations (gasp!).

Far from making this post my personal sounding-board, let me just share how managing adverse situations like these has made me grow. It did seem like a boot camp for character build-up, but I notice now how I’m more able to filter between what’s important and what’s important TO ME.

Where Emotional Intelligence “… refers to a set of competencies that enable us to engage in sophisticated information processing about emotions… to use this information as a guide for thinking and behavior”, I am pretty convinced that some of the “wiring” in me have changed and have helped me learn how to process my emotions in a way less harmful to myself and to others. It still needs a bit of polishing so sometimes the control switch would go “off”, but I’m working on it on a daily basis…

Emotional learning constitutes a change in habits, which studies have proven to be more difficult than purely cognitive learning (one that is concerned with acquisition of problem-solving abilities and with intelligence and conscious thought). However in my case, I was eased into this adjustment by an even bigger and more significant transformation: motherhood.

Here’s to the new learnings from the current stages of our lives!

 

Sources:

  1. “The neural bases of key competencies of emotional intelligence”, available at: http://www.pnas.org/content/106/52/22486.full
  2. “Bringing Emotional Intelligence to the Workplace: A Technical Report Issued by the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations”, available at: http://www.eiconsortium.org/reports/technical_report.html
  3. The Free Dictionary, available at: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/cognitive+learning

 

 

Prospect Research

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”- Albert Pike

“So, you are interested to be a prospect researcher?”, asked the French head hunter.

If I had one confession to make in this blog, it is that the first job I got in France was one I didn’t know anything about… I replied to the ad because it seemed like an organization was looking for a researcher. But until I had the first interview with the recruiting agency, I didn’t exactly understand what I applied for.

It was embarrassing to be on the phone, sneaking from my former boss, and having to admit that as good a researcher as I am, it was the very first time I’ve heard of Prospect Researching. I do not recall how I saved face during the interview, but somehow I was able to convince her that I’m an ideal fit for the job.

Philanthropy, a sector in progress

I suppose it was through a strike of luck that the head hunter assigned to me was a kind, considerate one. She didn’t blame me for cluelessly applying for a job. And how could she? when the very foundation of Prospect Research is still taking baby steps in Europe: the Philanthropic sector.

In philanthropy, the main activity that moves resources is Fundraising. Surely, you’ve heard all types of fundraising campaigns for a wide range of causes from fighting hunger to combatting illnesses. It is mostly the non-profit organizations that use fundraising to, well, raise funds. As opposed to investment, the donor does not receive any monetary value in return. But a recognition in one form or another is always offered (naming facilities after a donor like “Ismid Family Library”, setting up a plaque of appreciation or a giving symbolic like a fountain pen or a trophy). Many non-profit organizations are resorting more and more to soliciting donations in order to sustain their activities; especially after the recent economic downturns, which have certainly reduced investments in their enterprise.

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Image courtesy of: http://tc.mc3digital.com/2014/10/ten-tips-for-nyc-marathon-fundraising/

 

Almost all of us have witnessed how different associations raise funds in the streets: they either ask for a one-time donation or request for a longer-term commitment. What prospect reasearch does is to streamline information so that fundraisers know exactly who to target and how to enlist the “prospects” for a more stable and continuous organization-donor relationship. 

Research on Prospects

Prospects are defined as probable donors, and they could mainly be a company or an individual. Given my personal experience, I choose to consider prospects as individuals in this post.

The best way to identify a prospect is to investigate how he is linked to the organization that needs the funds. Is he an alumnus/current member of the organization? Is he a parent of an alumnus? Is he a parent of a current student? Is he a board member? Is he in any way interested in the mission and vision of the said organization (interest)? Has he made or is he currently making donations to similar causes (willingness)? And most importantly, does he have the resources (capacity)?

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Image courtesy of: http://www.slideshare.net/GrantsCollection/from-prospect-research-to-donor-relations

Fundraisers want to know almost anything there is to know about a prospect, but the most important information they need is the person’s capacity to give. All of us may agree that receiving a one-time donation of 1M Eur is much more efficient than asking for 2K Eur 500 times.

Research on this type of research

I found this job really interesting ever since the day I had to prepare for the second interview. I had to study the basic fundraising concepts and found out that fundraising is actually a cycle and prospect researching is the first step. The research done would make way for the rest of the steps such as:

  • a more target-based Cultivation (building relationships with identified prospects)
  • a realistic Solicitation (asking for an amount to be donated) and,
  • helping strategize Stewardship tasks (recognition and continuous engagement of donors). You may notice that the prospect turns into a donor once he has made a gift (another term for donation).

The cycle comes to full circle when the donors’ information is updated and they are once more identified as prospects for another round of solicitation/fundraising activities.

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Image courtesy of: http://www.gailperry.com/2014/02/help-board-members-understand-fundraising-everybodys-job/

 

The theory seems to be fairly understandable, logical and well-organized. However, as is everything in this colorful life, it is the reality that gives problems of execution. In prospect researching for example: for the world’s richest people, information is readily available at Forbes, Bloomberg and other periodic publications online (mostly this information is accessed for free) or in hard copy. There are even wealth search tools available that estimate a person’s assets and cash flow (not for free); and the principle would still be the same: the more famous the person, the more information you have.

The bigger problem is if the person you’re interested in is believed to have the capacity to donate but is either one of these:

  1. Not very famous, or not visible in media
  2. Somebody really old, hence very scarce information is available about him online
  3. Related to a rich/famous personality, so that the available information is more about his relatives than about him

… what are you to do?

As it turns out, this kind of dilemma is what made the job even more interesting than I expected- this is where prospect researchers would turn to other sources of information such as: Facebook (FB), LinkedIn, Instagram, news articles and- why not- gossip columns.

I used the word “intriguing” because the first time I had to resort to this technique, I wasn’t believing my luck that I was being paid to pry into people’s lives. Just like a gossip journalist. (Yep, you guessed it! gossip columns is my guilty pleasure…)

For example, after I reported about a prospect’s FB content he ended up being completely disregarded due to the conclusions drawn about him (too many inappropriate pictures and male chauvinist jokes). The organization didn’t want to be identified with someone like him.

And what about that time when I discovered that the heir of a vast family fortune in France is said to be addicted to poker? I had to look for more than 5 news articles/interviews just to assure the fundraisers that there might be some truth to it.

Or when I learned that a very famous former member of the organization was once married to an English aristocrat? This is important so that when the assigned fundraiser approaches her the topic could be treated with tact, or not treated at all.

Lastly, what about that week I spent digging up information about a prospect’s properties (a castle here, a manor there, several farms somewhere…), then it turns out he’s an octogenarian? I also found out that he’s being approached by fundraisers from various organizations to propose to him about leaving a legacy gift. I had to report this to the manager so they could adjust their expectations with regards to this prospect’s willingness to give.

How is this interesting career-wise?

The most obvious answer would be the fact that Philanthropy is slowly but surely rising in importance outside of the U.S. and U.K. (where it is of such high relevance). People who are interested to dedicate themselves in this kind of job would find that opportunities will gradually present themselves (perhaps sooner in some countries, later in others). But focusing on the research aspect of this sector, I found that I was able to develop and strengthen certain skills.

These, according to my limited exposure, are the skills needed to be able to successfully carry out a good prospect research work:

  1. Discretion: given the importance of the people involved in the research, fundraisers and campaign managers will greatly appreciate someone who could act as if they don’t know anything in front of non-concerned parties
  2. Strictly following instructions: this is the only way the fundraisers could get what they really want and the only way they can be truly effective in cultivating good relations with the prospect; and if the person is already a donor, strictly following their instructions would make it easier to continue engaging them
  3. Knowing what questions to ask: prospect researchers exist because in principle, fundraisers don’t have time to make the research work themselves. But they might have some ideas in mind which are useful to be known
  4. Fast reading: there is so much to read!
  5. Fast writing: there’s even more to write!
  6. Patience: sometimes people who ask for research materials change their minds. They might re-focus the research from another angle or change the subject altogether. It helps to think that all of it is for the best (which would be translated to $$$, literally!).
  7. Efficient time-management and multi-tasking: most of the times a researcher would be requested to submit various materials with the same deadline. These materials are not necessarily identical in length, content or effort needed to be produced.
  8. Network building: some important and “juicy” information would come from the people you meet outside the organization. Having said this, hearsay and rumors are not going to be taken seriously as research material, but fundraisers would appreciate knowing them (as long as they have been warned that those are in fact merely rumors).
  9. Believing in the cause: this quality would make any prospect researcher work hard and endure all types of difficulties when faced with a tough subject (or fundraiser, hehe!)
  10. Genuinely enjoying the job: I believe this is a pre-requisite for ANY type of job. Enjoying what you do, truly loving what puts the bread on your table will make the day-to-day travails easier to handle. Enjoying doesn’t mean not encountering any problems, though. Enjoying in this context means that no matter what problems you face, you are always ready and open-minded for the alternatives because you want to solve them.

Everything I learned and everything I have shared is the product of the handover process plus the 5 months I spent filling in for this job (it was a replacement for someone who went on maternity leave). It’s such a pity I wasn’t able to stay in that department to learn more from the original Prospect Researcher. But I am very grateful for that short period of discovery from such an insightful person. These were actually the qualities that fundraisers appreciate about her, and which I worked hard to develop to a higher level. I can proudly say that this job has helped me grow both professionally and personally.

So, are you interested to be a prospect researcher?

 

Sources:

1. Fundraising Fundamentals, available at: https://www.case.org/Publications_and_Products/Fundraising_Fundamentals_Intro/Fundraising_Fundamentals_section_7/Fundraising_Fundamentals_section_71.html

Greener pastures

“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”- Kahlil Gibran

 

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Image courtesy of https://galleryflare.com/posts/63

Home is where the heart income is

My son’s nanny, Tita R and I were bonding over tea when she told me she’s been here in France for 28 years now. She came, as many Filipinos do, to search for a better life for her and her family. “Those were tough times”, she said. “Especially during winters when depression would set in and there’s nothing you can do but stay indoors and wait for better weather” I told her it must have really been better than staying under the warm, sunny skies of the Philippines if she endured those long years in this foreign land. To this she replied, “I’m ambitious and that drove me to stand firm on my decision to stay. I accepted all kinds of jobs just to earn money because life was really hard back home. Now I’m more relaxed. I already purchased properties in ‘Pinas and I have a steady income. All my children are here with me, they are French citizens and are living comfortable lives. I believe I’ve reached my dreams.”

Many people like Tita R share the same background story that led them to make a home in countries far, far away from their birthplaces. But migration is not a new phenomenon- the very first people of my country were immigrants: some were “boat people” from the neighboring islands, while others crossed the land bridges before the melting of ice thousands of years ago. Even when we analyze the reasons for migration, my ancestors wanted the same thing as we do: an improvement of their situation. It doesn’t matter whether they were running from tribal wars or looking for more fertile land to cultivate. What motivated them was their search for the means to progress in this world.

Still, it was to Tita R’s surprise when I told her why me and my husband decided to come to France: to live an adventure.

Migration is a family-based decision

I’ve always appreciated the fact that my husband and I are lucky when it comes to our families’ financial stability. We’re no Trumps nor Slims, but we are assured of some amount of security.

Immigrants don’t necessarily come from poor families, but one thing they have in common is their search for “something better” than what they have back home. It doesn’t matter whether one ends up as a domestic helper or an executive officer in the host country- if that person is enduring being away from his loved ones, it’s because it’s worth it. It means he wouldn’t go back home beause his whole family would experience a lower standard of living. By keeping his job abroad, he could help his family and assure them of a more stable life, even if he has to sacrifice his own comfort and happiness.

For an immigrant, a loss of job translates to zero remittance for his family; which in turn could mean unpaid debts, siblings skipping school, additional debts… And any type of additional expense is a dent on the future projects for oneself, but mostly for the family.

My husband and I didn’t have to consider any of those factors when we decided to leave Spain. We most certainly thought about how we would miss our families and friends and how they would also regret having us far away. But it was not a main element. What was important for us during that time was where we could go to make room for professional and personal growth. For us, the “final say” was still family-based, but limited only to him and me. This made the decision of migration so much easier because we were driven by other types of needs.

A. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

During my senior high school’s Introduction to Economics class, one of the topics that fascinated me the most was the hierarchy of human needs developed by Abraham Maslow.

An interpretation of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Image courtesy of: http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org

Basically, Maslow has arranged a list of human needs which when fulfilled, will assure good psychological health. Given that Economics uses behavioral approaches, it is only fitting for us to consider the factors that motivate our actions in the short and long term.

The principle of this hierarchy or pyramid of needs is that the base of the pyramid has to be fulfilled up to a certain degree before the human psyche can be aware of the higher-level needs. The physiological needs come first, as they are essential for survival; then come the safety needs followed by love and belongingness needs, then the esteem needs and finally the self-actualization needs. Simply put: a beggar would risk being hit by a car in a highway if it means increasing the probability of getting money from people across the road.

I have been tossing and turning this idea in my head ever since we arrived in Paris. More so, when we realized how difficult it is to fit in this beautiful but competitive city. Many times, I had to remind myself why we decided to come here again; why we decided to leave our permanent jobs back home and embark into this new adventure; why we took off from a very comfortable zone where we apparently had everything.

If we use Maslow’s pyramid to analyze our former situation, here’s what I came up with:

  1. Physiological needs: we were literally well-fed not only because we could afford to sustain ourselves but because my mother in law would cook for us and bring us containers of frozen home-made meals
  2. Safety: my husband and I had permanent jobs, as I mentioned; we had a wonderful apartment at the heart of the city with good transportation services, yet with a residential feel to the area
  3. Love/belonging: we most certainly had each other but both sets of our families were also in Madrid and we had a stable social network we could count on anytime of the day
  4. Esteem: we were both confident as a couple and in our own selves; we had enough self-esteem to practice assertiveness; we are also well-appreciated by our friends, our respective employers and colleagues; the circle of good and intelligent people that surrounded us gave us a sense of achievement
  5. Self-actualization: we felt that there was little room for creativity since the routine we have created was a relaxed, stable one. I suppose one could say we were itching for a change because we felt we were starting to get sucked into monotony… We were even a little burnt out from our jobs and wanted a chance to explore other possibilities

Seeing this list made me understand people’s reactions when I tell them my case (widened eyes and a mouth shaped as semi-perfect “O”). While it was very obvious for me that a young couple from this generation would long for a challenge, it seemed out of this world for them that would we turn our backs on something so solid, so safe.

Of course, I had to experience starting life over again before realizing that self-actualization is not the only challenge we would have to overcome.

Starting from scratch

If nobody prepared us for the difficulty in finding a job in Paris, nobody prepared us for the difficulty of EVERYTHING in starting a life here, basically. We expected difficulties, of course. Even Alice with her magic mushrooms bumped into a lot of hardships in Wonderland. But we weren’t ready for the extremely arduous tasks of finding an apartment, setting up your social security, finding a job, keeping a job (because there are a lot of temporary ones offered), setting up a bank account (will tell you more about the Compte Nickel which helped us a lot!), finding a general practitioner (or other types of doctors, for that matter), etc… Name it, and Paris makes it 5 times more difficult! (Mainly because somehow, you always, ALWAYS manage to forget a piece of document when taking care of any paperwork).

In retrospect: I realized that by wanting to be self-actualized, my husband and I risked losing everything we’ve established! I went from top to bottom of the hierarchy and here’s what I found:

  1. Esteem: in my case, I couldn’t seem to find a job which made me feel utterly useless and very, very confused. In my husband’s case, he felt a bit intimidated with the demands in his work and it shook his confidence
  2. Love/belonging: we lost the sensation warmth and coziness our friends gave us back in Madrid. We had to rebuild relationships and it’s tough! One might think that as Spain and France are neighbors, there might be some similarities among its people- but that thought couldn’t be any more wrong…
  3. Safety: while painstakingly looking for an apartment, we lost the sense of security we had before coming here. We didn’t expect to face the very real possibility of drowning our resources on Airbnb rentals!
  4. Physiological: perhaps this was the only one that was non-negotiable for us. This was the basic pre-requisite for us to stay and keep on struggling

CRAZY…

Is the grass really greener on the other side?

A greener meadow doesn’t just automatically show itself. Most of the times, finding it could take a little longer than expected and it could be hidden behind a gigantic, rocky and steep cliff. But mostly, the answer depends on how one chooses to see what life has to offer.

In my case, I could say that after a year and a half in Paris WE FINALLY FOUND THAT GREENER PASTURE. Once again, our basic needs are currently being met while both my husband and I are doing our best to attain self-actualization: him, through his PhD and me, through motherhood.

This does not mean that life is easier. It is, however, giving us the chance to exercise our potentialities. The socio-economic structure of France lets me and my husband live on lesser earnings than what we had in Spain. Most of all, we are able to live pleasantly without me being employed and caring for my infant son- all the while receiving different kinds of support (for instance, the government provides money for infant daycare, access to free healthcare, benefits for the unemployed and the French is a society that is very considerate to both mothers and children).

Ben, oui! la vie me sourit… (Why, yes! life smiles at me…)

 

 

Sources:

  1. Abraham Maslow, availabe at: http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/abraham-maslow/

An “eye” for Investment

“Ang kabataan ay ang pag-asa ng bayan.” Dr. Jose P. Rizal

(“The youth is the hope of our future.” Dr Jose P. Rizal)

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Image courtesy of: http://www.jantoo.com

Disclaimer: The views presented in Situation A and Situation B are based on discussions during the author’s college years on how child-rearing is considered in poor and rich countries. They do not reflect the author’s opinion. 

Have you ever wondered how families would decide whether to have kids if they used economic tools for making up their minds?

Economic discussion offers a very simplistic analysis of such a transcending decision, but I believe it could be interesting to present it as a way of reflection. Research studies have observed how poor people in underdeveloped countries treat child-rearing as an investment: have you noticed how the poorer the family, the more children they have? The idea is that the more members there are in the family, more labor is available to bring bread and butter on the table. In contrast, rich families living in developed countries consider children as an additional expense not only financially but also in terms of time, effort and let’s not forget the opportunity cost it would entail.

Experience tells us that at the end of the day, all families from both poor and rich countries invest on their children. What could differ is perhaps the expected RETURN ON INVESTMENT (ROI) . This post will be focused in using this tool to meditate on what child-rearing means for families in rich/poor contexts.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that couples from all over the world get their Excel sheets and construct a cost-benefit analysis of having a child (although I can attest to some people who are capable of doing so). However, in this case it helps to use measuring concepts to get a notion of the decision-making factors of families even though we can not measure love, sacrifice or the satisfcation that comes when one becomes a parent.

To further facilitate this presentation, I have also considered that most poor families live in underdeveloped or developing countries while most rich families live in developed nations.

Situation A: Families from underdeveloped/developing countries

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While I was living in the Philippines, it was fairly easy to be aware of the dire situation dirt-poor families are experiencing and how having children seem to relieve the strain of tight household economics. They do this by bringing additional income or by covering the chores adults would otherwise be responsible of. It’s interesting to note that the source of income and the type of chores differ according to the context: urban or rural.

Within the urban context, some kids would directly skip school and find a “job” may it be as a street vendor (garlands, snacks, newspaper, rags, etc…) while others would stay home and take care of the house and their smaller siblings (children beggars are also commonly seen in the cities).

In rural areas, children often help in farming chores (tending to animals, for example)  and also help in their homes (fetching water, gathering wood for fuel, cooking and caring for the younger ones to name a few). Some parents also count on the elder ones to help sell their harvest/livestock in markets.

For both cases, those who are lucky enough to attend school would get creative and sell anything from writing papers (the ones with red and blue lines) to candies to fruits (small-sized guava trees grow almost anywhere and their fruits the size of marbles are very convenient to be carried).

More often than not, some families would absolutely invest in one child. This child would be sent to school up to college, and would be in charge to later on help the rest of the family. Usually, this child ends up migrating in search for greener pastures.

Thus, applying the simplistic concept from the begining of this post: the expected ROI in this scenario is positive, represented by a more pleasant and more comfortable life for the whole family.

Situation B: Families from developed countries*

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Children born in developed countries, in principle, are strongly protected from any type of child labor and any type of negligence from their families. This eliminates the element of a child helping bring income in their homes. And given this premise, citizens really think twice before moving towards parenthood, greatly taking into account all types of costs in which they would incur.

Raising one child would mean the following costs: feeding, health, shelter (kids take up a lot of space, even babies as small as 57 cms!), clothing, training and formation (good public schools abound in Europe but parents also enroll their kids to extra-curricular activities such as languages, sports, musical instruments, etc… not to mention the foreign exchange programs, to be able to form a well-rounded individual), amusement, postive reinforcement … the list would go on and on and on…

One could argue that one day children will grow up and eventually emancipate themselves. No doubt about that. However, given some recent evidence, economic downturns are making the “emancipation age” much later than what it was a generation ago. Due to the high unemployment rates, fresh graduates aren’t able to find jobs. Those that do find jobs start as interns earning very low salaries, not even enough to pay a month’s rent for a room. There are others who manage to move out of the family dwelling but are still supported by their parents even with their new, “independent” lives.

Once again if we look at the expected ROI for parents in rich countries who want to raise a kid: this would be equivalent to zero or negative, even. So why would they even bother? Evidently, because there’s something more…

Social Return On Investment (SROI)

Analyzing my own reasons for wanting children, it could actually be summarized to: I want to have children because I believe the benefits outweigh the costs and the outcome could be very useful to society as a whole.

In this case, I believe the concept of Social Return On Investment could very well replace the traditional ROI. It is an analytic tool for measuring and accounting while taking into account social, economic and environmental factors. When we consider other aspects that are not traditionally measured in terms of money, we acknowledge a whole set of factors that could influence decision-making processes.

Take the case of Situation A, for instance: families may not know it but when they decide to make their children help earn money instead of going to school, they are very likely instiling the value of hardwork upon them (I don’t wish to be controversial- I am against child labor but as an economist, I believe I have the obligation to objectively analyze all angles visible to me). Another example is that when they choose to make the elder sibling stay home and care for the younger ones, the sense of responsibility and perhaps even kindness are sowed in their young persona. These children will later be adults whose decisions affect the communities they live in: A hardworking citizen is not beneficial only to the enterprise he works for, but could also serve as an inspiration for the rest of his colleagues. A genuinely kind person simply makes the world brighter.

Children in Situation B will of course have a more “obvious” contribution to society, given that they are well-fed, clothed, sheltered, etc… Most of all, they are literate! And the thought of them growing up, participating in the labor force, paying their taxes and heeding the laws reassure us that the future will be at the very least, sound, in spite of the many potential crises it may face.

These kind of outcomes are not easily measured by the ROI tool, but they are visible results to the society and they contribute to the growth and development of a nation.

A unique opportunity for investment

I hope it was as fun for you as it was for me to “play” with these ideas. For those who are already parents and who choose to be parents, we are given the chance to influence how the future is shaped. We could consciously invest in human and social capital; to (try to) raise useful, respectful, compassionate and intelligent citizens who would do their best to contribute in making this world a better place.

Just think how each of us, individually, fill the world with such diversity, richness in culture and traditions that it’s compelling to imagine all sorts of things we can pass along to our children…

This thought gives me confidence that my boy would live in a very interesting, challenging, and fascinating place in the time to come.

 

 

 

*Minorities with very different cultures such as gypsies are not included in this scenario

 

Author’s note: This week’s post was delayed because my son got really sick. We had to rush him to the hospital and he was under observation for more than one week. We are back home now and I dedicate this post to him- for his strength and courage, for his incredibly good humor and his unbelievably heart-melting smile. Bravo anak! you make nanay proud!

Sources:

  1. Investopedia
  2. Author’s college notes, circa ’05
  3. Social Return On Investment, New Economics, available at: http://www.neweconomics.org/issues/entry/social-return-on-investment