By Rob Eskridge
In 1983, I flew to Manila, capital of the Philippines, while returning from a Citibank planning session in Hong Kong. After transferring to a domestic flight and landing on the island of Cebu (right on the equator) I was met by my hostess Doña Maria Aboitiz, the grandmother of a college friend who knew that I had directed Camp Bloomfield at the Foundation for the Junior Blind.
Doña Maria met me at the airport with her driver, whisked me off to a tailor to be fitted for a barong tagalog (the traditional Philippine men’s shirt that is comfortable in equator-humidity). We then spent three days raising money for a local school that served blind children and adults. The fundraising included a visit to the Governor who turned me down cold. He said, “Our priorities for the Island of Cebu are:
- A working light in every home
- Access to fresh water so that our babies can be changed and raised in sanitary conditions; and
- To rebuild the backbone road across our island stable enough to withstand monsoon rains, so that fruits and vegetables from the outer island can get to the market in Cebu City. “
“I’m sorry that government has no money for the school,” he apologized, “but that’s why you’re here; so I wish you the best of luck raising donations.”
After my final fundraising visit (to the Roman Catholic Cardinal – who was quite generous) we went to a radio station that was guarded by soldiers with automatic weapons. These were the days of Ferdinand Marcos’ rule, and I was walking into a political arm wrestling match, although I didn’t know it at the time.
Doña Maria and her driver took me for an interview on a radio show called Sungka-an (a local outdoor game) on DYLA-AM in Cebu City. George Ramirez with George Carlos and Emil Riza da, two local economists who had college training, broadcast produce prices every day to farmers on the island’s perimeter. They listed what prices were being offered to farmers at the central market, but they varied the time of the price list between the noon and 1:00 pm window, so they would get farmers’ attention for longer than just the market report. Every farmer on the Island listened, because they didn’t want to be cheated by the middle men who took their produce to market.
Mr. Ramirez used the early part of his show to teach farmers basic economics lessons. He heard my fundraising presentation at the local Lion’s Club meeting, and heard that my undergraduate degree was in economics, so he wanted to interview me on his radio show as a guest lecturer for local farmers.
The interview opened with a bang, after introducing me as “an American economist…” and grilling me on America’s economic policies: “Mr. Eskridge, what do you think of Mr. Marcos’ economic policies? Do you feel there is any room for a free market economy, even within such a structured corrupt bureaucracy?” “Can you forecast what will happen to our economy if the Marcos policies on taxation and employment remain in place?”
Suddenly I understood why the radio station was under armed surveillance. With a conversation like this, Marcos’ militia could show up at any time, so the station was guarded and locked tight as a vault.
I answered the questions honestly, congratulated the farmers on their willingness to learn important economic lessons, and I recommended that as much as possible the residents of this island focus on the economics of their own island, much as the Governor had coached me several days before. I made it to the airport without incident, flew east to California understanding that at least in the eyes of two others, that I was an economist.
Almost thirty years later, I reflect that most of my career has been focused on microeconomics, with specializations in the economics of mid-market competition, demand forecasting and industry structure. I suspect that each of you reading this article are also economists, degreed or not, by virtue of your planning, pricing and budgeting experience. You are the ones managing the supply and demand equation that we all learned in Econ 101. There is no need to dust off the Economics textbooks; just follow Simon Johnson’s blog. Baselinescenario.com. He is a great tour guide for understanding key issues in the volatile global economy and how you will navigate your business through the volatile economic winds