* My column in BusinessWorld, December 10, 2019.
The good news in the country’s labor force survey reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) is that unemployment rate has significantly declined, from 6% in October 2014 to only 4.5% in October 2019. The underemployment rate has also declined to only 13%.
The bad news is that the labor force participation rate (LFPR) is declining, from 64.3% in October 2014 to 61.5% in October 2019. Declining LFPR means people are less optimistic, less confident that they will be hired or they can hire themselves, so they postpone seeking jobs or entrepreneurship and pursue more studies, training, or bumming around. Those who join the labor force are more confident, more skilled and that partly explains the lower unemployment and underemployment rates (see Table 1).
We should still aim for a 2.5% or below unemployment rate. That number can be considered as “full employment” as the 2.5% are considered as short-term “voluntary unemployment,” like people who are offered a P20,000/month job and refuse to take it as they wait for P25,000/month or higher job offers.
One recent issue that can have an adverse impact on employment — on the manufacturers, shops, and sellers — is the vaping ban, or heavy regulations and higher taxation of e-cigarettes and tobacco substitutes like vaping products.
We often hear many “crisis” and catastrophe stories — climate crisis, plastic crisis, non-communicable diseases (NCD) crisis, sugar/obesity crisis, tobacco crisis, vaping crisis, etc. Most if not all are exaggerations. If any or all of them are true, people should be living shorter, sicklier lives. Far out as people now are living longer, healthier, and wealthier as shown by the rising life expectancy.
When more people die of NCDs, that is good news. That means less people die of communicable and infectious diseases, less people die of wars and violence. More people though can die of injuries and accidents as people are now more mobile across islands and countries. Death by injury in the Philippines is declining but is higher than those in Japan, Singapore, and Indonesia, but lower than those in South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam (see Table 2).
“Harm reduction” is being done to mitigate injuries and diseases as people do what they want without harming others. Like helmets and body protection for cyclists and motorcycle riders, low alcohol content drinks like beer vs “high octane” hard drinks, and using vapor/heating instead of burning nicotine.
Dr. Carrie Wade, Director for Harm Reduction Policy, R Street Institute in Washington DC, USA, has good scientific research work on the biological mechanisms of opioid and drug addiction, addiction as a disease, and how the neuroadaptations of an addicted brain can result in destructive behaviors. She believes that “harm reduction practices can shift really risky behaviors to more neutral behaviors, decrease disease transmission and health care costs.”
In a paper, “E-Cigarette Bans Come at the Expense of Public Health,” she wrote, “Is it right to ban a largely successful quitting tool at the expense of people who benefit from it? Policymakers need to recognize that not all tobacco products are created equally, and it doesn’t make sense to prohibit and overly restrict safer alternatives when fatal ones are cemented in the landscape of our laws, economy and culture.”
If the nanny state is to be consistent in protecting people from themselves, it should also impose more regulations and prohibitions on sky jumping, rock climbing, downhill bicycle and motorcycle riding, and many full contact sports. Since the nanny state is not consistent, it should reduce its appetite for more regulations and prohibitions and recognize that people own their body, not the state or NGOs. There should be more personal, parental, and civil society responsibility in public health, not more state command and control.