Monday, July 22, 2013

Why do we need others to tell us to invest in our own future?

I am not sure why we have to be told by people from the outside that we must invest in our own future.

My guess is that they think we don’t know where our future lies – or whether we do have a future at all. Perhaps, they know we have been investing -- but not in our future. If they are concerned that we aren’t investing in what is important, why aren’t we worried about our failure to prioritize our investment?

Bloomberg View columnist William Pesek quoted economist Peter Warr at the Australian National University in Canberra as saying:

“There is little sign that inadequate investment in human capital and the need for reform of the education system is recognized by the current government…”

He was also quoted as observing that there are few, if any, kickbacks available from investment in education. Physical infrastructure is another matter.

Populism and long-term vision don’t usually go together. Mega projects excite politicians. Human capital investment projects don’t bring votes in the next election. Raising education standards can’t really be seriously taken if we change education ministers every six to nine months.

There has been no shortage of rhetoric about investing in the country’s future, of course. All politicians talk about it. National committees have been set up to address long-term issues affecting the country’s competitiveness.

But politicians are concerned only about the next election, “the future” is far away, too elusive for them to feel any pressure to think about, let alone taking real actions, anything that is not directly related to retaining their power base or to edge out their political rivals.

Once the issue of future planning is raised, the people in power and those around them invariably ask, openly or otherwise: “What’s is it for me or my party?”

If that’s the kind of questions asked by the people who are supposed to be leading the charge into the future for the country, you could be pretty certain that “the future” isn’t on their agenda.

Thailand doesn’t lack experts who could draw up roadmaps for the future. Qualified technocrats have carried out research work that covers every possible aspect of how to invest in what really counts to ensure sustainability. The private sector has also embarked on its own campaign to improve human capital but it’s mostly done with a narrow objective in mind.

The 2.2-trillion-bt mega projects to build infrastructure are all about the “physical future” of the country that doesn’t guarantee a sustainable tomorrow. We have not heard any visionary plans to pour money into shaking up the country’s education system or to invest seriously in innovations along with putting substantial capital into building up human capital.

The 35-billion-bt water schemes have run into obstacles for the very simple reason that the powers-that-be had not even considered the very basic question that comes with genuine national development: Have you considered asking the public for their views about spending their tax money that may affect their environment?

It’s the political culture – shortsighted, self-serving and corrupt – that is at the core of the problem.

If we don’t invest in creating the next generation of leaders, at all levels, that could be in the forefront of public service, then we are not “investing in the future.” And if the present crop of national leaders are bound by immediate return on their personal investment in getting elected, it would be asking for the impossible to expect them to appreciate the importance of “investing in the future.”

For them, the future is only a few months away. They can’t afford to part with the government budget for all the mega projects for their own which has to be spent now to get elected tomorrow.

For them, the day after tomorrow is already too remote for their imagination.

No comments: