Asia Cafe on climate change, Conference 2015

I forgot to post this earlier, my talking points when I hosted one of the “Asian Café” on climate change, EFN Asia Conference 2015 in Bhutan.

MaharI don’t have any picture during the small group discussion, here with FNF Regional Director for E and SE Asia, Siggi Herzog, and SWS’ Mahar Mangahas.

Asian Cafe, Questions to be tackled:

  1. How does climate change (CC) manifest itself affecting people, economies and happiness?
  2. What does current evidence and projections say about the future?
  3. What are some existing successful responses to ensure resilience and adapt to changes, particularly from economic development point of view?

Introduction: the Philippines

(a) The Philippines is the 12th biggest country in the world in terms of population size, 101 million people, July 2015.

(b) Archipelago, 7,100+ islands and islets.
Lots of active and inactive volcanoes. And earthquakes too, average of around 3 EQs a day, though mostly too mild to be felt only by seismographs, or they happen under the sea.

(c) Capital is Metro Manila, composed of 17 cities, with estimated population of almost 13 million. During weekdays, this bloats to around 16 million as students and workers from neighboring provinces and cities flock to the big city.

  1. How does CC manifest itself affecting people and economies and happiness?

After experiencing some huge storms and very wet conditions in recent years due to the last La Nina, we currently experience a big El Nino that affects the Philippines and other countries in the tropics. So we expect drought conditions in the dry months of December-May. But it is not the “Godzilla” of El Nino as reported in many papers, rather comparable to the other big El Nino in 1997-98.

In a global survey on the Question,


Percent selecting and rank of environment (2010).


Source: TOM W. SMITH, NORC/University of Chicago. “Global Environmental Change across Countries and Time, 1993-2010”, Presented at the 2013 Research Session of the ISSP Meeting, Santiago, Chile, April 28 to May 1, 2013. Published by the Social Weather Station (SWS), Manila.

So public awareness of climate change is low compared to “gut issues” like healthcare, economy.

  1. What does current evidence and projections say about the future?

Current evidence and projections say that we are entering the global cooling phase, after the global warming phase of the last century. CC is natural (nature-made, not man-made), it is cyclical (warming-cooling-warming-cooling).

cc2Source: Dr. Roy Spencer, Senate EPW Hearing: “Climate Change: It’s Happened Before, July 19th 2013.

  1. What are some existing successful responses to ensure resilience and adapt to changes?

Focus on energy, the Philippines is putting up more coal power plants as we have the 2nd highest electricity prices in Asia next to Japan, because of insufficient power supply and various taxes and charges imposed on electricity. These new coal plants will help expand electricity supply and help reduce electricity prices.

Many big Asian economies rely heavily on coal and natural gas for their electricity needs. In particular, these countries have more than 90% of their total electricity coming from  fossil fuel sources: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan and Bangladesh.

Electricity production and sources in selected Asian economies, 2012

Electr. Prodn.

(Bill. kWh)

Sources of electricity (% of total) Fossil fuel % (1+2+3)
Coal (1) Nat. gas (2) Oil  (3) Hydro (4) Others (5)
Indonesia 195.9 48.7 23.2 16.7 6.5 4.9 88.6
Thailand 166.6 20.0 70.3 1.5 5.3 3.0 91.8
Malaysia 134.4 41.5 46.6 4.5 6.7 0.7 92.6
Philippines 72.9 38.8 26.9 5.8 14.1 14.4 71.5
Singapore 46.9 84.3 13.0 3.0 97.3
China 4,994.1 75.8 1.7 0.1 17.5 4.9 77.6
Japan 1,034.3 29.3 38.4 17.5 8.1 6.7 85.2
S. Korea 534.6 44.8 20.9 4.0 1.4 28.9 69.7
Taiwan 250.3 49.9 25.4 3.1 3.4 18.2 78.4
Hong Kong 38.8 70.3 27.3 2.1 0.2 99.7
India 1,127.6 71.1 8.3 2.0 11.2 7.4 81.4
Pakistan 96.1 0.1 28.2 35.9 31.1 4.7 64.2
Kazakhstan 91.2 76.1 14.7 0.8 8.4 91.6
Bangladesh 49.0 1.8 85.1 11.5 1.6 98.4
Bhutan 6.8

Source: International Energy Agency; ADB, Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2015.


Presentation by Tom Palmer in Bhutan 2015

01Among the theoretical presentations during the EFN Asia Conference 2015 in Bhutan was made by Tom Palmer of Atlas. Reposting some slides and other discussions, in italics, below.

Happiness and Satisfaction.
Happiness, if understood as joy or contentment, it may be present today and gone tomorrow.
Life satisfaction, on the other hand, seems both more stable and easier to compare across cultures.

“The poor man’s son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with ambition, when he begins to look around him, admires the condition of the rich.. … He thinks if he had attained all these, he would sit still contentedly, and be quiet, enjoying himself in the thought of the happiness and tranquillity of his situation. He is enchanted with the distant idea of this felicity. …. To obtain the conveniencies which these afford, he submits in the first year, nay in the first month of his application, to more fatigue of body and more uneasiness of mind than he could have suffered through the whole of his life from the want of them. … With the most unrelenting industry he labours night and day to acquire talents superior to all his competitors. … he makes his court to all mankind; he serves those whom he hates, and is obsequious to those whom he despises.”
 Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments



There are some problems with their analysis

  • The distinction focuses on broad participation and constraints on power, but constraints need not be participatory, e.g.:

– Independent judiciary
– Independent central bank
– Division of powers, federalism, etc.

  • Political institutions can be extractive and broad based at the same time
  • The biggest logical problem they miss is that extractive is not the contrary of inclusive; exclusive is the contrary of inclusive
  • And the biggest concrete problem they miss is populist cronyism
  • Populism promises mass predation on the middle classes, “plutocrats,” or economic minorities
    And inevitably – Results in cronyism and empowered elites

The damage of extractive regimes can be undone, however, with a program of inclusive economic growth

  • Democratic and broadbased reforms that make clear promises of shared prosperity can succeed
  • Inclusive politically because they are broadbased and pluralistic, &
  • Inclusive economically because they “allow and encourage participation by the great mass of people in economic activities” 

Inclusive Growth Requires Economic Freedom and Limited, Effective Government.


Economic freedom in Asia: 2005, 2010 and 2013

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last November 25, 2015.


Humanity’s material progress and cultural development is made possible largely due to the freedom of people to initiate innovations that did not exist before and their freedom to buy and sell extra output and services produced by themselves and other people.

In short, economic freedom and freedom to trade are among the cornerstones of human progress. Remove this freedom and innovation and ingenuity will largely be curtailed and human misery and underdevelopment will result.

These are other related issues were tackled in the two-day Economic Freedom Network Asia (EFN Asia) Conferences 2015, here at Taj Tashi hotel in Thimpu, capital city of Bhutan. The event’s theme is “Economic freedom as a way to happiness” and the main sponsors are EFN Asia, QED Group, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF).

QED is a private, independent think tank and consulting firm based in Thimphu while FNF is a German political foundation tasked to help conduct economic and political education around the globe about the merits of classical liberalism, lean state, and increased market competition.

EFN Asia was born in 1998 during a conference in Manila discussing how more economic freedom and less government interventions could have anticipated and minimized the financial turmoil that occurred during the “Asian financial crisis” of 1997-1998. Since then, EFN Asia conferences are held yearly in different big cities in the region.

How is economic freedom measured and quantified? Which countries are the most free and least free in economic innovation? What are the implications of such scoring and ranking in economic freedom of countries and economies?

These and related questions are answered by the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) annual reports, produced by Fraser Institute in Canada, in partnership with FNF (Germany).

The EFW is measured by getting the scores (0 to 10, zero is totally unfree and 10 is full economic freedom) of countries covered on five areas: (1) Size of government, (2) Legal system and property rights, (3) Sound money, (4) Freedom to trade internationally, and (5) Regulation.

As a result, countries with big governments and high taxes get low scores in area (1); countries with highly corrupt legal systems and unstable property rights protection will get low scores in area (2); countries that have high inflation rates and make it difficult for their citizens to own and use other currencies will get low scores in area (3); countries that have low import tariffs, have few non-tariff barriers will get high scores in area (4); and countries with less restrictions and regulations in credit, hiring of labor and few business permits and compliance costs will get high scores in area (5).

The composite score for the five areas covered is generated and countries are ranked from highest to lowest. For Asia, here are some results. (See table)


For many years now, Hong Kong and Singapore are recognized as the two freest economies in the world. They have small and few taxes, their governments enforce the rule of law, and protect property rights. Since they have low or zero import tariff, it is easy and less costly for their exporters and importers to buy and sell goods abroad, and so on. Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea try to follow these policies set by the two freest economies.

The Philippines has been ranking modestly in the 60th to 70th positions in the three years above. It gets high scores in area (1) as it does not have too many transfers and subsidies, have few government enterprises. But the Philippines gets low score in area (2) with scores of only 3 to 4 in sub-areas Judicial independence and impartial courts, other sub-areas.

That presents a big challenge for the Philippine government (and other Asian governments too) and civil society organizations — nongovernment organizations, media, academe, professional organizations, church groups, and so on: Control or minimize corruption and bribery by having rule of law: the law applies equally; no one is exempted and no one can grant an exemption to penalties set by the laws.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the head of Minimal Government Thinkers, Inc., and a Fellow of the South East Asia Network for Development (SEANET). Both think tanks are members of EFN Asia.


Conference 2015 in Bhutan has ended

Yesterday, the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia Conference 2015 has ended. Reposting below some of the tweets under #efnasia2015, other tweets.

@efnasia  @meinardus giving Welcoming Address


‏@QEDBhutan  “Freedom is a condition for happiness…” H E Kwon Tae-shin delivering keynote at #efnasia2015

@rdieckhoff  Kwon Tae-Shin’s keynote stresses need for limited AND strong governments

@parthjshah  Discussion on Buddhism n econ freedom. And we judge morality of action by outcomes or intentions?


@subodhtweet  Speed Dating #efnasia2015. An innovative way to get to know each other in large groups. interesting!!


@meinardus  You need growth, you cannot redistribute your way to poverty reduction, argues Dr Sethaput

@meinardus  Authoritarianism per se doesn’t deliver. What does deliver is economic freedom, it’s the core to poverty reduction, Najaf  Khan

@QEDBhutan  A human being is not just a happiness machine…there are other dimensions to being human – ” Fred McMahon

‏@meinardus   Presenting UN data, @FraserInstitute Fred Mac Mahon says: Nations with least economic freedom are also least happy.

@QEDBhutan  Making the world your market- place is the key to prosperity here in Bhutan – Fred McMahon

@subodhtweet  @QEDBhutan is the latest member to the Economic Freedom Network, announced Fred McMohan, Fraser Institute

@Kellerhoff  Phub Tshering, SecGen #Bhutan Chamber of Commerce: With freedom comes innovation


@QEDBhutan  According to a CBS study, men are happier than women and, on the whole, framers are the unhappiest- Sunil Rasaily

Development in Bhutan is nuanced, and we need to be aware of this. – Sunil Rasaily

@QEDBhutan  Dasho Sonam P Wangdi delivering remarks after launching the EFW 2015 Report – Bhutan Edition


@meinardus  Economic damage done to #Nepal through the #India embargo several times bigger than that caused by #earthquake


‏@Kellerhoff  @robsitoula #southasia needs to improve foreign relations, in #Nepal we have a political crisis

‏@QEDBhutan  Yes, Bhutan is landlocked but so is Switzerland. Why can’t Bhutan be another Switzerland ?  – Peter Wong

‏@Kellerhoff  @peterwongbi #efnasia2015 #HongKong came out stronger out of each crisis. Just take bitter pill prescribed by Hayek

@meinardus  Democratic dividend: As politics in #India became more competitive economic growth has picked up, @barunmitra

@meinardus   Negative impact of intolerance: a country that restricts freedom of speech eventually also limits economic freedom  @barunmitra

@meinardus  Strong appeal by @barunmitra to promoters of economic #freedom to pay more attention to “real world of politics

@Kellerhoff  Economic Freedom and inclusive growth #efnasia2015 with @tomgpalmer @parthjshah @wansaiful @razeensally


@IDEASMalaysia  @wansaiful sharing Msia’s experience on the panel for econ freedom & inclusive development @ #efnasia2015 in Bhutan.

@acorn  “People have died from poverty, but so far as we know, no one has died from inequality” – @tomgpalmer #efnasia2015

@QEDBhutan  “There are many poor counties with rich people. What we want is rich countries … ” Dr Tom Palmer

‏@Armin_”Freedom is happiness” @QEDBhutan & @FNFreiheit closing #efnasia2015  in #Bhutan


All photos above taken from tweets and fb, not one from my camera. Thanks for the opportunity to attend this great event, EFN Asia.


The 5 fishbowls of economic freedom in Asia

The two-days Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia conference 2015 in Bhutan is just 3 days away. Among the important activities on Day 1 is the dynamic discussion on Economic Freedom and Happiness: Five Fishbowls.


The term “fishbowl” is taken from the seating arrangement of participants: listeners form a circle in the centre of which sit the discussants.

Each fishbowl will have six persons at the centre: 1 expert, 1 moderator, 1 rapporteur, and 3 “open” resource persons. The listeners form a circle. The first 3 persons never leave their positions while the 3 open resource persons can, they can be replaced by some listeners who want to speak, upon the permission of the moderator for orderly allocation of time and discussions in case there are debates.

I have not attended this type of discussion before, it looks challenging and exciting.

The five fishbowl topics are also the five areas that constitute the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) scoring, and “Happiness” is added to each fishbowl topic. Here are the topics and the facilitators that day:

  1. Size of government: expenditures, taxes, and enterprises and Happiness

Expert: Muntasir Mamun Iqbal, Lecturer, North South University, Bangladesh

Moderator: Ruben Dieckhoff, Regional Project Manager, FNF Regional Office South Asia

Rapporteur: Akash Shrestha, Senior Research Office, Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation, Nepal.

  1. Legal structure and security of property rights and Happiness

Expert: Muntasir Mamun Iqbal, Director, Takshila Foundation, India

Moderator: Subodh Kumar Agarwal, Programmes Executive, FNF Regional Office South Asia

Rapporteur: Sreya Majumder, Executive, Energy, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) (TBC)

  1. Access to sound money and Happiness

Expert: Nonoy Oplas, President, Minimal Government Thinkers Inc., The Philippines

Moderator: Moritz Klein-Brockhoff, Resident Rep. Indonesia, Project Director Malaysia, FNF

Rapporteur: Yu Suhyeon, Programme Officer, FNF Korea

  1. Freedom to trade internationally and Happiness

Expert: Prof. Eric Gartzke, Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, USA

Moderator: Olaf Kellerhoff, Head of Asia Department and Human Rights, FNF Head Office

Rapporteur: Khim Sophanna, Programme Manager, FNF Cambodia

  1. Regulation of credit, labor, and business and Happiness

Experts: Suwanchai Lohawatanakul, President, Institute of Small and Medium Enterprise Development, Thailand

Moderators: Armin Reinartz, Regional Project Manager, FNF Regional Office South East and East Asia

Rapporteur: Sorasak Phaengkote, Student, Thammasat University, Thailand

Below, from left to right:
1st row: Muntasir Mamun Iqbal, Muntasir Mamun Iqbal, me.
2nd row: Eric, Gartzke, Suwanchai Lohawatanakul.
3rd row: Ruben Dieckhoff, Subodh Kumar Agarwal, Olaf Kellerhoff.
4th row: Moritz Klein-Brockhoff, Armin Reinartz.

Excited to see Bhutan, and experience the fishbowl discussion. Both for the first time.


Draft program for Day 1, Conference 2015 in Bhutan

EFN Asia Conference 2016 in Bhutan is fast approaching, more than two weeks away.

Here is the provisional program and some speakers for Day 1. I start with the Master of Ceremonies (MCs). The MC for November 23 will be Ms. Tricia Yeoh, Chief Operating Officer, Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), Malaysia. The MCs For November 24 will be Karma Choden, Program Coordinator, QED Group, and Pett Jarupaiboon, Program Manager of EFN Asia and Human Rights, FNF, Thailand. Tricia and Pett are my good friends.

Welcoming remarks will be given by Thinley Palden Dorji, Founding Partner, QED Group, and Ronald Meinardus, Regional Director, FNF South Asia. The Keynote Speaker for the opening keynote address on “Economic Freedom as a Way to Happiness” still has to confirm.

Then the opening lecture, “Economic Freedom and Happiness: Data, Models and Results” by Fred McMahon, Fraser Institute Resident Fellow and holder of the Dr Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom, Canada. There will be two commentators: Pema Wangchuk of the Centre for Bhutan Studies and Gross National Happiness (GNH) Research, and Dr. Mahar Mangahas, President of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) in Manila.

Photos below by rows:
Tricia Yeoh, Karma Choden, and Pett Jarupaiboon;
Thinley Palden Dorji and Ronald Meinardus;
Fred McMahon, Pema Wangchuk, and Mahar Mangahas.

The second lecture will be about Combating Poverty through Economic Freedom with four speakers from Bhutan, S. Korea, India and Thailand.

Third lecture is on Buddhist Ethic and the Spirit of Economic Liberalism with two speakers
This will be interesting: simultaneous lectures on Economic Freedom and Happiness. Five Fishbowls and topics:

  1. Size of government: expenditures, taxes, and enterprises and Happiness
  2. Legal structure and security of property rights and Happiness
  3. Access to sound money and Happiness
  4. Freedom to trade internationally and Happiness
  5. Regulation of credit, labor, and business and Happiness.

Each fishbowl has five resource persons (1 fixed expert, 1 fixed moderator and 3 open resource persons from each group in each time) and a rapporteur.
I am curious what is that “Happiness Index” that helps Bhutan become prominent, here’s what I found.

It is not an international comparison of which country has the most number of happy people compared to other countries. Nonetheless, it is another approach to measure people’s well-being.

For me, the important thing to remember always is that where the people have more economic freedom and individual responsibility (freedom and responsibility must be intertwined, always), there is more happiness.

I will continue with program for Day 2 in the next few days.


Conference 2015 in Bhutan

Gross national happiness and not just gross national product (GNP) or gross national income (GNI). Buddhist ethic and economic liberalism, aside from Confucian ethic, Protestant ethic, Christian ethic, etc. Global ranking of countries worldwide in the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) 2015 Report by Fraser Institute (Canada).

2These are among the key topics to be tackled in the Economic Freedom Network Asia (EFN Asia) Conference 2015 to be held this coming November 23-24, 2015, in Thimphu, Bhutan, on the theme, “Economic Freedom as a Way to Happiness.” 

The event will be organised by EFN Asia,QED Group, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). QED is a private, independent think tank and consulting firm based in Thimphu.

EFN Asia is holding an annual conference of independent, non-government and free market-leaning think tanks, research institutes and academics, in different Asian cities. The theme varies yearly, in partnership with country-based host think tank/s and institute/s.

Venue will be the Taj Tashi hotel in the capital city of Thimphu. I saw some photos of this hotel, it looks very exotic and inviting.

3I fully agree with  the  theme — that individual and economic freedom is the formula for human happiness.  We can add that economic freedom and material wealth is protected by the rule of law. If there is more material  wealth — like more sturdy houses and offices for the people, cheap and stable electricity that run 24/7, more schools and institutions of  learning, more modern healthcare facilities and health professionals, more tractors and mechanized harvesters for farmers, etc. — then people can live more productively, live wealthier, healthier and longer. As one saying goes, “Money cannot buy happiness always, true, but it is better to cry in a van or SUV than in a bicycle.

Thimphu, Bhutan is a valley and still in a very high elevation of 2.25 kms (7,375 ft) and 2.65 kms (8,688 ft) above sea level. For us from an archipelagic country and capital city is just a few meters above sea level, and our highest mountain is only about 3 kms. high, Thimphu should be a brrrry cold place. Especially in late November.

4The EFN Conference 2015 is open to the public, so long as they finance their way to the conference (plane fare, hotel, travel taxes, visa fee). The tourist visa fee is expensive though, US$250 a day.

Interested individuals, FNF and QED will help in securing the group visa, most likely at a discounted price. Fill up the (1) conference registration form (no conference fee) and (2) Bhutan visa form, see details here.