THE STATE IS NO 'BIG MAMA' BUT ENABLER

Submitted by erleargonza on May 8, 2008 - 2:23pm.

Erle Frayne Argonza

[Writ 22 March 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

To continue, in the same article on New Nationalism, this author took up the contention about the shift from ‘provider state’ to ‘enabler state’ model. I agree to a large degree with Peter Evans regarding the matter in his elucidations on synergism and development.

While I argue strongly for a dirigist paradigm of development, I do not at all go for maximum state intervention such as the ones experimented on in socialist states and welfare states. Government is no Big Mama nor Santa Claus that provides everything for its citizens.

There should always be room for private initiatives, social spaces for people to think creatively and innovatively to provide for their own needs. State and civil society can come in to do enabling tasks when needed, but not to role-play as the Big Mama Forever of her infantile clientele who are forever dependent on ‘milk from mama’ (dole-outs, essentials of life).

Unfortunately, many experts today, including those with PhDs and advanced studies, haven’t gotten away with the ‘provider state’ model of development. To my own shock, I found out lately that my close friends in the academic and development fields still bear the old fogey mindset of a Big Mama state model. The rugs have already changed under their feet!

Consider for instance a musician friend in the University of the Philippines. He felt bad that state funds for musicians have dried up in the Philippines, but has been flowing like honey for sports. I had to explain to him that the music industry is already very mature here, that musicians and industry leaders themselves can produce and propagate music without any further state assistance, that the ‘music sector’ is in fact a model sector of an industry that had already reached a very mature level of development.

The same pal is as old as myself (late 40s) and has simply been accustomed to old habits. The Martial Law regime here (1972-86) was particularly very supportive of music, and the former 1st Lady Imelda Marcos took on the cudgels for state support for the culture industry including music and theatre. But that was long ago!

The music industry was then in its high growth state, and badly needed state support for that steep climb to glory. But eventually, the musicians and industrialists like the Jacinto family who went into musical instrument manufacturing (one of the Jacintos is s musical giant here) took upon themselves the duties for lifting up the sector. The airwaves were reformed, so that 50% of the time the radio stations should air Filipino music. And Philippine music succeeded stunningly!

Today the industry had matured to meteoric heights. But many musicians feel and think like it’s still the infantile days of the sector. Look at how dependency can blind people including university-based experts such as the professor of music that I’m citing here (name withheld).

For further elucidation, let me quote entirely the excerpts from the essay, to note:

Shift intervention from the ‘provider state’ to the ‘enabler state’.

The failure of neo-liberal policy regimes does not mean that the state should go back to a full interventionist role, performing a guardian regulator and ‘provider’ for all sorts of services. The problem with the excessive ‘provider’ role is that it had (a) bred rent-seeking on a massive scale among market players, (b) reinforced dependence among grassroots folks who have since been always expecting for a ‘Santa Claus state’ to provide abundant candies, (c) produced new forms of rent-seeking, with civil society groups serving as the beneficiaries, and (d) further reinforced graft practices in both the public and private sectors. Thus, the ‘provider state’ further reinforced the patron-client relations in the various spheres of life (‘feudalism’ is the term used by Maoists for clientelism), consequently dragging all of our development efforts into a turtle-paced sojourn.

In the new intervention mode, the state, armed with a leaner organization and trimmed down budgetary purse, performs a superb catalytic role. It engages various stakeholders in the growth & development efforts, challenges them to directly embark on development pursuits, and demonstrates unto them how welfare can be accessed to through alternative means other than through the state’s baskets. As the state continuously engages the stakeholders through dialogue and cooperation, institutions will also become strengthened along the way. The state will gain its esteem as an ‘activist state’, while at the same time receive acclaim as a truly ‘modernizing state’ as it propels society gradually away from clientelism towards a context marked by rule-based (modern) institutions, citizenry and dynamic/autonomous constituencies.

However, within a transition period from ‘maximum provider’ to ‘maximum enabler,’ the state should continue to perform a provider role in such areas as education, health and such other human development concerns that are, in the main, crucial to building national wealth. Combining state regulations and at the same time giving ‘fiscal autonomy’ in tertiary education and vocational-technical level would remain to be a fitful strategy of ‘minimal enabler’. A similar strategy will have to be applied to some other economic sectors to be able to advance gender equity, by recognizing rights of marginalized gender to education, employment, representation in managerial positions and other related concerns.