The Interests of Competing Elites: Fighting over Protectionism and "Free Markets" in Philippine Sugar

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Abstract

Although scholars often view the Philippines as still dominated by rural agrarian elites, this image is increasingly a distortion. Urban industrial, commercial, and financial elites are becoming more and more dominant, both economically and culturally. In this article, I describe a conflict between the sugar and the food processing industries, in which the former advocated that sugar be protected from imports and the latter argued in favor of a "free market" in sugar. The defeat suffered by the once-influential sugar industry illustrates the extent to which dominance has shifted in the Philippines and also how the rhetoric of the free market reflects the interests of an emerging dominant reference group. As dominant economic interests become less restricted by national borders, they will increasingly demand the ability to import raw materials, export labor, and move goods and capital in and out at lower cost. Debates about the relative merits of protectionist versus free market policies are less about principles for maximizing social welfare and more about which segment of elites has the power and standing to press its interests most effectively.

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