Why Tropical Countries Like The Philippines Are Poor

tropicalIt has been suggested that poor countries are generally located in the tropics while the wealthier nations are generally located in temperate regions. It’s a very good observation. Just look at the Americas: Canada, USA, Chile and Argentina are the wealthier nations per capita in those two continents. In Asia, the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans are more prosperous than the Indonesians, Cambodians and Filipinos. It seems the closer you are to the equator, the closer you are to underdevelopment.

What do you think accounts for this?

I made an online research and the suggestions are that this is caused by two factors: in temperate regions, land is more agriculturally productive and diseases are less rampant (because germs hibernate in the cold). That I think is the politically correct way of answering the question. But politically correct is not necessarily correct.

We’re now in the age of computers, where agricultural production does not necessarily determine the wealth of a nation. In fact, the wealthy countries of today are those that rely more on the industrial and service sectors than on agriculture.

Also, to say that the wealth of a nation is determined by its relative vulnerability to diseases is a weak argument. It may be a factor, but it’s certainly not a determining factor. It’s not as if half of the people in the tropics are incapacitated by diseases so only half of them are able to work and be productive.

I think it is all about productivity, both in terms of the person who is trying to provide for his family, and of the industries which are themselves run by people. It’s more about the people and less about agriculture and diseases. The more productive the people are, the wealthier their nation becomes. It’s not based much on the percentage of a nation’s population that don’t have a disease and therefore can work, but more on the productivity of the person, the industries and the country as a whole. Think about GDP per capita. If a nation’s citizens are able to make their farms, factories and services efficient, goods are produced much more abundantly to provide for their needs and wants. And if they’re able to make their economic system itself efficient, the less innovative of them are going to have jobs and can partake in the efficiency and productivity created by others.

Productivity, therefore, is largely determined by efficiency, which in turn is determined by long-tailed reasoning. You cannot be efficient and productive if you can only think on the first order of implication, where you only consider one or only a few factors in reasoning and doing the things that you need to do in life. Here is an example that illustrates this.

Long-tailed reasoning, on the other hand, is acquired by training. It can then become part of the gene pool, which I think explains why the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese are more intelligent than their tropical Asian counterparts. To me it’s almost certainly caused by the fact that these people have lived for a long time in a temperate region. One explanation which I heard before (but cannot find a study on the internet) is that people who lived where there are four seasons were forced by nature to prepare for the cold months in terms of their food, shelter and other needs. Repeat the same scenario year after year and it effectively trains the person in problem-solving and long-tail reasoning. This kind of training does not happen a lot in tropical regions, so the genetic trait of reasoning the long tail way is not as pervasive among them as among the people up north.

There are other possible explanations why people in temperate climates are generally more productive than tropical dudes, such as:

  1. colder climates stimulate physical work
  2. the high sun in tropical regions discourages long working hours outdoors

But now that technology plays a bigger role in many countries’ economies, these are becoming minor factors. For example, more people are now working indoors in air-conditioned buildings so a high sun is not anymore much of a deterrent to production. Just look at Malaysia. They’re in the tropics but they’re more prosperous than their tropical neighbors. I think the fact that a big percentage of the population is Chinese or of Chinese descent is a factor. The same can be said of Singapore. Alluding to this is the fact that the Chinese in Malaysia have disproportionately higher incomes than native Malays, which caused the government to implement a reverse affirmative action policy. I think it’s all because the Chinese reason differently, having been mentally trained (i.e. their ancestors) for a long time in a temperate climate.

What I’m saying, in summary, is that a society’s prosperity has a lot to do with training and proficiency in long-tail reasoning. I just can’t imagine a person with a first-order/short-tail reasoning syndrome leading a family into prosperity unless by some luck he’s able to work abroad, which is not always the case.

As for the Philippines, it’s people in other countries that are mainly responsible for the country’s survival. If the OFW remittances and BPOs all of a sudden go away, as well as the foreign companies that produce the bulk of the Philippines’ semiconductor exports, just imagine what will happen. This nation will be in shambles. The people cannot survive if people from other countries do not provide them jobs, and it’s because majority of them are not trained in long-tail reasoning, which in turn is partly due to the climate in which they and their ancestors were trained. Some may say it’s also partly because of the Spanish colonization, which may be true, but just look at the tribes in the mountains that remained isolated. It’s not all that different.



One thought on “Why Tropical Countries Like The Philippines Are Poor

  1. Ron Reply

    My father always tell me that Climate Theory, and yes it seems it’s the case. In the tropics the climate is too comfortable for us (sunny most of the times with the exemption of the rainy season) that we could tolerate tardiness and afford procrastination without the fear of a cold season punishing us for it.

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