Sunday, January 04, 2009


I received a request from Silliman Journal to write a reaction to a paper written by Dr. Ben Malayang III, current president of Silliman University. I don't know if I have permission to repost that academic paper here, so I won't. What follows is my response. Take it with a grain of salt.

Last Christmas, I stumbled across "Momo" in a bookstore bargain bin. "Momo" is a contemporary fantasy that would be normally filed under children's literature. I had never heard of it before -- as I suspect few others will have -- but I picked it up right away because it was written by Michael Ende.

Michael Ende! How could I pass it up? Ende wrote "The Neverending Story" and for anyone who grew up in the 80's, that movie was an essential part of childhood.

It took me a while, though, to begin reading "Momo." The cover wasn't especially appealing, and I thought it would be a typical sob story about its eponymous heroine. But I was wrong; "Momo" turned out to be engrossing and enjoyable.

What's the story? So there's this poor girl, Momo, who takes up residence in an abandoned ampitheatre. Momo is a pure heart, pure as can be. And she has a special talent: she knows how to listen, as in really listen. Because of this, the people who talk to her eventually learn something about themselves, even though Momo herself doesn't say anything at all.

What does all this have to do with Dr. Ben Malayang's paper, "When Our Tree Becomes Only Your Tree?" Why, very little! It just so happens that "Momo" was more interesting to read and write about than Dr. Malayang's paper justifying and quantifying the value of shared resources. Perhaps "Momo" isn't as rigorous and formal, but Ende has a simple message that he conveys effectively.

To return to the story: mysterious grey men in bowler hats have infiltrated Momo's town. Slowly, they convince the townsfolk of the value of "saving time" to the effect that the people become more efficient. In reality, the grey men are stealing all this saved time! In so doing, the people become miserable soulless husks.

Disguised as a children's book, "Momo" is really a modern fable and within it is Ende's critique of our modern economic system. Somehow, we've quantified everything -- time, in "Momo's" case, and trees, in the case of Dr. Malayang's paper -- but in so doing we've also erased their value. Time (and its modern analog, money) is only of value if it's used -- for work, yes, but also for play, for love, for contemplation, for doing "nothing": that's the deeper message of "Momo."

It's this approach of quantification of the value that I have a problem with in Dr. Malayang's paper. It appears more rigorous, and perhaps that's an accident of its intended audience and venue. But the impact of the message -- which by the way I agree with -- is lost.

That said, I also have an issue with his assumptions and his formulation. Dr. Malayang's paper assumes a steady state zero-maintenance resource in a zero-sum game. In simple terms, the paper assumes that the tree lasts forever, that there's no need to take care of it, and that its fruits are consumed totally without benefit to the community. But that's hardly an accurate model.

What about issues of stewardship? What if one person takes care of the tree better than the rest of the community can? What about opportunities for exchange?

What of human ingenuity? During World War II, the British did not have access to the rubber trees of old Malaya (pardon the pun), so what was their solution? Synthetic rubber.

That's my issue with the formulation of the model. Within its limited scope, it proves the author's intended point, but it doesn't take into account the other variables. If we then attack the flawed model, could it be taken to mean that the point it wants to prove is mistaken?

Perhaps the paper was written the way it was because it was meant for an academic audience. Fine. But for the rest of us, perhaps a simpler message will suffice:

Play nice. Share. Take care of the world that God has given you.

But that's just me, the village idiot, talking. Take it. Or don't. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go back to finish "Momo."


By popular request, here is the first part of the paper:

In the case of natural resources (trees, land, water, minerals), tenure underpins management. When tenure shifts, the management of a resource – and so also its use and fate – will change.1

1. Assumptions

Assume that:

1. A resource at a time t has an ecological value Vt.
2. Vt is a composite of values arising from its different utility; i.e., Vt = ∑(vu), where vu is a value of the resource arising from its utility u; a resource has more than one utility.
3. Vt is created from how the resource provides a basket of ecosystem services (i.e., provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural [MEA 2003]).
4. The value of a resource (or its composite utility) is wholly available to the holders of all accessible rights to the resource at the time t (Rt).

Presumably, when the number of holders exceed 1 (nt > 1), Vt gets divided into nt where the proportion of Vt (or the set of vu going to any one n [i.e., to nt,i]) is commensurate to the proportion ρ of Rt that i has successfully sequestered from other claimants j.


Vt/nt = ρ(Rt,i) + ρ(Rt,j) when nt>1

Or, where ρ(i) is the proportion of Rt going to i and ρ(j) is the proportion of Rt going to j, then:

Vt/nt = ρ(i) + ρ(j) + е

where е is the residual Vt that neither i nor j is unable to sequester (the non-sequestrable services of natural resources such as services that cannot be exclusively appropriated by an individual like, for example, the ability of a tree to absorb atmospheric carbon).

If nt > 1 and ρ(i) = ρ(j) (as in the case of common property), Vt is assumed to be equal across all nt,ij. When ρ(i)/ρ(j) approaches infinity (as when common rights are acquired, or transferred to, or are sequestered or reserved by only one claimant i [in which instance common property transforms to sole ownership]) then all sequestrable Vt goes to only nt,i. When this occurs,

Vt/nt,i = Vt + е


  1. After reading this post, I wish I could read Dr. Ben Malayang's paper.

  2. I can see where the issues with Dr. Malayang's assumptions start, if I'm reading his equations correctly. I do hope that the entire paper doesn't hinge on his attempt at boiling resource management down to a bunch of formulae.

  3. That is really the problem with most assumptions.. they are always based on some kind of perfect or ideal conditions.

    I suppose Dr. Malayang's paper (this is yet another assumption coz the full text of the paper is not yet available) centers around how to be able to quantify resource when it transforms from one form to another. That, of course, is possible and Dr. Malayang is to be credited for his formula. But the formula will never be able to capture the full dynamics of the entire transformation process. Like electricity, from the generation source to the user, there is always what we call "system loss".

    Let's wait for the full text of the paper, though. I hope that Dom will be kind enough to do some summary or present the 'Abstract' of the paper first.

  4. hi! where can i get a copy of this paper?

    what was the point of his paper? thanks!