Wednesday, March 28, 2007

That mysterious trickledown effect

The country's economic managers say we just have to wait, economic gains don't come easy, but if we are patient the poor will experience the trickledown effect of GMA's well-managed and growing economy. Joey Salceda even said in one interview that it should take about seventeen months (if I remember the figure correctly) for the trickledown effect to be felt.

Before we form a queu and wait for the trickledown effect, it bears asking: Is there really such a thing as a trickledown effect?

As it is always the case in the two-handed discipline called economics (on one hand this, on the other hand that), there is no waterproof consensus, although at first glance it seems commonsensible to assume that economic growth must be good for everybody, including the very poor.

Michael Todaro, in his influential text on Economic Development, says that in the less than idealized state of affairs, there is no trickledown that happens. Some development economists also contend that economic gains from growth trickle up to the middle classes and the very rich. Amartya Sen claims that economic growth does not always generate benefits in terms of numerous nonpecuniary measures of well-being. John Kenneth Galbraith, in contemptuous language, branded the trickledown effect as horse and sparrow economics: feeding horses superior oats so that starving sparrows can forage in their dung.

The above aspersions aside, there is more or less clear evidence that there is indeed such a thing as the trickledown effect, even if nothing is consciously done to make pro-poor growth (see Dollar and Kray, Growth is good for the poor) although where Joey Salceda got his seventeen months I don't know.The problem is that the poor benefit from the trickledown more or less in proportion to what they already have. So even if economic growth is as beneficial to the poor as it is to the rich, the poor would not benefit very much if they don't have anything to begin with.

In short, the trickledown effect will not save the hungry by itself, even if it comes right after the May elections.

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