Asian Cultural Dialogues
Hirakawa Hitoshi The 5th Asia Future Conference Roundtable Discussion “South-East Asian Culture and Religious Dialogues”
We had two days roundtable discussions under the title “The South-East Asian Culture and Religious Dialogues” at the 5th Asia Future Conference at Bellevue Hotel Alabang, Metro Manila on January 10 and at University of the Philippines Los Banos on January 11, 2020.
As I have been interested in Asian economy and recent development of economies in newly developing area, I made a speech under the title “Social ethics and global economy”. So, I would like to comment on what I thought and felt at the roundtable discussions.
My understanding was very limited because of my English language skills and lack of knowledge about religion and societies in the South-East Asia. Therefore, the contents of the meeting are not introduced here. So you are requested to confirm the contents with the report by the chairman of the discussion session, Professor OGAWA Tadashi from Atomi University. I myself would like to know more deeply about economics, religions and social ethics once the reports will be issued officially.
I myself have found that economics today has a great impact on developing societies, yet their attention to them is extremely inadequate. The 2001 Nobel Prize winner in economics, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, describes the experience of his colleague, Professor Richard H. Thaler from the University of Chicago, that the perception of justice about economic behavior among students studying economics is far from the ordinary people. According to his survey on pricing of shovels for shoveling after a storm, 82% of the general population answered that price increases were unfair, compared to just 24% of MBA students attending the University. The understanding of fairs in economics students is very different from that of social understanding. In fact, such cases are happening around us as a high-priced mask sale due to ongoing COVID 19. Professor Stiglitz sharply criticized that the economic affairs played a role in the collusion between wealthy people and politicians due to the widening income gap in American society.
The keynote speaker at the Roundtable, Professor Bernard M. Villegas, Vice President of Asia-Pacific University, addressed the issue that economics is less interested in social issues or selfishness. Professor Villegas, as an educator with a Ph.D. in economics along with his experience of around half a century summed up the discussion, saying that economics has expedited subdivision and quantization too much. He emphasized the elegance of mathematical formulas in the analysis of economic phenomena. He was objectively criticized for competing, emphasizing market independence, and eliminating justice, social responsibility of human beings, and consideration of national regulations. At the same time, he persuasively stated that he, himself, practiced his teaching of economics, being based on the results of various sciences, for solution of poverty in the Philippines saying economics is “social science”.
The report by Ms. Sister Mary John Mananzan of St. Scholastica University in the Philippines dealing with the feminization of poverty in the Philippines, the report by Mr. Somboon Chun Prampuri of the social participation Buddhist network reporting on the social ethics and globalization of Buddhism in Thailand, and the report by Jamhari Siswant, Dean of the Sharif Hidayatura State Islamic University, reported on the latest Islamic movements in Indonesia. These all reports addressed the current challenges of religious people in Southeast Asia.
Listening to those opinions, I wondered if economics which I know now can respond to such opinions or reports. Religious social activities are aimed at living human beings. They are directly involved in fighting various types of discrimination, including absolute poverty and gender discrimination, in various environments and conditions. Many social activities in Southeast Asia are aimed at liberation from poverty and sex discrimination.
Come to think of it, Economics sees society from a distinctly different perspective. Economics describes complex social relationships as a model of a simple abstract market, and considers that society can maximize “efficiency” through that market. The market here equates society with an unclear distinction between idea and reality. Moreover, in the current mainstream economics, the real world is captured through mathematical models, and other social sciences are excluded. Of course, economics has grown greatly now, and various models have been created to approach reality. The principle model has been modified.
But what if these economics apply to the developing world? Economists who write development prescriptions have little knowledge of developing societies, and the prescriptions thus made are policies through developed countries and international development organizations. In conclusion, such models can be said to have been founded on simple and philosophical market models. When a policy fails, its cause has been sought in the developing society itself. The response to the Asian currency crisis of 1997 is a good example.
I dare to say that there is no distinction in economics between economy and society.
In economic globalization, economics has been involved in the development of developing regions and forced developing countries to liberalize and privatize. The various contradictions which come from such enforcement have been imposed to the weak.
The story jumps a little, but the global financial crisis that hit the US subprime loan crisis in 2008, and the birth of US President Trump in 2017, are the consequences of the failure of policy promoted by liberal economics. Also, it is ironic that China, under the Communist Party’s government, which seemed to be unsuccessful, achieved amazing development and growth. Is it a counterattack by actual societies against mainstream economics? Every society need rules. However, the economics of the past half century have broken down the rules of society, expanded the income gap, deepened social division, and deteriorated the economy and society by treating it as regulation. Isn’t that attachment a democratic crisis both inside and outside the United States?
When I expressed my opinion, at round-table conference, saying that economics now think about welfare on the assumption of abstract “model.” Sister Mary Mananzan showed a nasty look which pierced my heart sharply.
The word “economics is science” also comes to mind. However, economics as a social science must be self-restraint regarding the application of abstract models to the real world, and policies need not be created in cooperation with various sciences. There are words “Economics is Science”. However, economics, as a social science, should be self-controlled when its abstracted models will be applied to actual societies and its policies must be decided in cooperation with various sciences. No matter how much economics claims academic superiority, it is only dogmatic and arrogant. In international development and poverty development, a restraint attitude may be required more urgently than ever before.
It is not wrong at all that economics is certainly valid for partial, local analysis and policy. However, when trying to apply it to a developing society, special caution and restraint are required. However, if we apply to developing societies, we have to be careful and self-controlled. I think it was around the Asian currency crisis, but I remember the anecdote that economists once learned of the history and societies of developing countries obscure decision-making by a former prominent American economist. I realized from this round table discussion about my relationship with society. I would like to continue my study hereafter “social ethics and global economy” and its relation with sustainable and joint development.
Lastly, I express my thanks to all the people who organized the round table discussions, Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas who made a keynote speech, Prof. T. Ogawa and Dr. Ranjana Mukopadhyaya, who chaired the discussions, Project Coordinator, Dr. Brenda Tenegra, Dr. Ferdinando C. Maquito and Dr. Sonya Dale who interpreted for me.
Hitoshi Hirakawa / Professor emeritus, Nagoya University, Director of Atsumi International Foundation
Translated by Kazuo Kawamura
English checked by Sabina Koirala