Bernardo M. Villegas
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In Praise of American Society

           An article I wrote about business schools around the world elicited a very animated response from one of the three million Fil-Americans and resident Filipinos in the United States.  Thaddeus Ramos who left the Philippines in 1982 when he was 18 years old, served in the U.S. army, obtained his university education as a military scholar and now works for a government office in Seattle, Washington begged to disagree with my views about the superiority of some top European business schools like INSEAD, IESE, IMD and the London Business School to some of the top U.S. business schools (including my alma mater Harvard) in  delivering executive education programs for CEOs and other senior executives from emerging markets like the Philippines.  The point I wanted to raise is that in my own personal experiences (having been exposed to both), European business schools are in a better position to train top executives who are able to lead business enterprises in any part of the world in today's highly integrated world economy.  The leading business schools in Europe are more multicultural and multinational in their student body, faculty, and teaching materials than the top U.S. business schools.

          Mr. Ramos, whom I subsequently met and made friends with in a visit he paid to Manila recently, had a different take.  I admired his enthusiasm for the virtues and values found in American society which are most probably shared by the millions of Filipinos and other immigrants to the U.S.  Let me summarize his defense of American business schools.  He agreed with my pointing out that professors in European business schools are more multilingual and multicultural than those of the U.S.  But he countered by saying that it  does not mean that they are able to train effective business managers:  "The current high unemployment in Spain among the youth (20 to 34 years old) is over 50 percent and Spain's current unemployment rate is 25  per cent.  France at this very moment is now in a recession....This is due to high taxation and the 'social capitalism' you mentioned.  Poland too is facing a crisis in which the oil companies are leaving because of the 85 percent tax imposed on them...What a lot of them (European managers) lack is common sense."  Then he cleverly turns my own facts against me.  He says that it is precisely their speaking many tongues that get Europeans into trouble!  "The U.S. speaks one language--English.  The EU member states speak several languages.  Thus a clash of culture erupts among the 17 member states because of different cultures and different languages...the EU is now facing a crisis much deeper than the U.S.  Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland are in deep trouble.  Germany can't save or bail out all of them.  And when the world is in crisis, whom do they turn to?  The USA!...Clearly, there is a lack of leadership and managerial skills in these countries in the EU."

          I told Mr. Ramos that his points are well taken.  I promised him I would print his counter arguments in this column.  I would go further.  His admirable fervor for American society got me to thinking about how it is very easy to criticize the U.S. because it is still the Number One country in the world economically and politically.  I myself forget that relative to all the countries in the world, it is still the bastion of liberty and the free exercise of what soon-to-be Saint John Paul II called the human right of "individual economic initiative."  Almost at the same time that I got the email from Mr. Ramos, I received another mail from one of my fellow La Salle alumni, Enrique Landayan, sending me an article by Norman Podhoretz entitled "Is  America Exceptional?"  Mr. Podhoretz is a famous journalist who received the Pulitzer prize.  This article reminded me that relative to other countries all over the world, the U.S. still stands as the freest economically, politically, socially and culturally.  Its focus is on equality of opportunity rather than on equality of results.   If a society reverses the order, there is a great tendency to suppress individual initiative or what is known as the principle of subsidiarity through excessive government intervention, the main reason for the failures of socialist regimes over the last one hundred years.

          As Mr. Podhoretz wrote:  "We have excelled by following our Founding Fathers in directing our energies, as our Constitution exhorts us to do, to the preservation of the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, as well as to the pursuit of happiness tacitly understood by the Declaration of Independence to require prosperity as  a precondition....By remaining faithful in principle--and to a considerable extent in practice--to the ideas by which the Founders hope to accomplish these ends, we and our forebears have fashioned a country in which more liberty and more prosperity are more widely shared than among another people in human history. .."

          As an economist, I have to remind myself that when I read statistics that purport to demonstrate that some 15 per cent of Americans fall below the poverty line, poverty is a very relative concept. Alexis de Tocqueville, an eighteenth-century French scholar who is famous for his penetrating observations of democracy in America wrote:  "The word poor is used here in a relative, not an absolute sense.  Poor men in America would often appear rich in comparison with the poor of Europe."  Mr. Podhoretz recounted a very instructive anecdote concerning Soviet Russia:  "A story I was once told by a Soviet dissident provides an amusing illustration.  It seems that the Soviet authorities used to encourage the repeated screening of “The Grapes of Wrath," a movie about the Great Depression-era migration of starving farmers from the Dust Bowl to California in their broken-down pickups.  But contrary to expectations, what Soviet audiences got from this film was not an impression of how wretched was the plight of the poor in America.  Instead they came away marveling that in America, 'even the peasant own trucks.' "

                   American society is far from perfect.  I would like to see more respect for the rights of the unborn and more appreciation for the sacredness of marriage and the family.  Precisely because of its unwavering commitment to freedom in all of its forms, including the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion, I am positive that American society is capable of renewing itself morally and spiritually.  I know of enough good people in the U.S. doing everything in their power to assure that moral evil will not prevail.  I thank Mr. Ramos and Mr. Landayan for reminding me of these verities.  For comments, my email address is