The “NEP” Needs Anthropologists, Sociologists and Psychologists, Not Economists.
I believe in Part 1 I have mentioned that our Affirmative Action Policy aka New Economic Policy has been not much other than a ‘distributive policy’ where we have burned up our oil wealth to be dished out to the Malays and bumiputras to move them up the economic ladder. After 47 years of such a policy we are all not happy with the outcome. In fact the policy has failed.
The same ‘distributive policy’ is undertaken by other oil producing nations like Brunei, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. The net result is that the people whom they are supposed to have helped have become less competitive and unable to make their own way in the world.
And now, with oil revenues drying up OR the lines for free handouts getting longer and longer by the year there is just not enough free money to be dished out.
Overnite Malaysia and Saudi Arabia want to be advanced economies (aka negara maju). One of the main components of an advanced economy is the presence of a very large income tax payer base. In other words there are enough people in the economy who earn enough money to be able to pay income taxes and still have enough left over to generate even more wealth.
When the number of income tax paying citizenry (or residents) increases and they can still afford to enjoy a comfortable standard of living, it means that the economy is productive and progressing.
It should be the aim of our economic planning to increase the numbers of the people who qualify and can afford to pay income taxes.
Presently out of a population of 30-32 million and a workforce of 14 million, it is said that only 2.1 million Malaysians pay income taxes. That is a very measly number of taxpayers in a nation of over 30 million people.
Despite over 40 years of the NEP, there are not enough Malays and bumiputras who have the capacity to generate wealth that crosses the income tax paying threshold. This would put the vast majority of them below the RM3000 per month income level.
According to you-know-who there are 7.1 million people on the BR1M recipients list alone. A vast majority of these people are Malays / bumiputras.
Then now there is another classification called the kumpulan B40 : “Kumpulan B40 sebagai isi rumah dengan pendapatan bulanan sehingga RM3,855”
Bottom line is this ok. The Malays are getting poorer “relative” to the others (Chinese, Indians) and definitely relative to the Singaporeans, Koreans and maybe even the Thais, Filipinos (in due time).
Like many other people, the Malays derive from an agrarian society. Rural life, village life(and feudal systems of administration.)
In an agrarian system, their entire life is determined by their environment, especially by the seasons and the weather patterns. When the monsoon seasons come, the fishermen cannot catch as much fish. They have to do other things (buat kerja kampong).
When the rainy season comes they have to plant the paddy. When the paddy matures they have to harvest the paddy. For centuries, their lives have been determined by their environment, by the seasons and by the weather. The have to satisfy their needs by following their environment. This has been the traditional way of life.
It is really not necessary to divide a day into 24 hours and to live one’s life according to a 24 hour clock or watch. Time and output is measured over the seasons. Domestic duties are marked by the position of the sun in the sky – sunrise (fajar), noon time (zohor), late afternoon (asar), sunset (maghrib) etc. Not by exactly 5PM or by exactly 9AM. Time is something you cannot take control of, so it has little economic value. So stop harrassing me to hurry up.
In complete contrast, urban living, city living and modern living are quite free of the environment, the seasons and the weather. If you have learnt to run a steel mill, it does not matter what is the season or weather. You still make steel. If you live in the city you have to deal with the realities of living in a city. You need a job. You cannot plant paddy in your front yard or backyard. You shape the environment to deliver your needs.
A people’s language, culture, habits, belief systems etc all evolve from their interactions with their environments. And language, culture, habits, belief systems etc will determine the economic outcomes of any people.
When their languages, culture, habits, belief systems etc are still pegged to their traditional environment then it will be more difficult for a “traditional people” to change and adapt to a modern and urban environemnt.
And on top of it all, the hallmark of a modern and urban environment is change – change is a constant.
Here is an example. One hallmark of modern civilisation is that modern peoples’ hairstyles change every few years. It does not mean that a new hairstyle is better than the old ones. Some of the new hairstyles are downright ugly. That is not the point. The point is modernisation welcomes change. To try new things, to take a risk and see what the new things will bring.
To always hope to improve life by undertaking change. Similarly modern peoples’ clothing styles also change every few years. Change is a constant in modern human civilisation.
When you take a modern civilisation or more modern way of living to say a traditional village, and the modernisation is accepted, then soon the village will also become modern. The people become modern. They will change and prosper economically to the degree of their modernisation.
On the other hand if you take a traditional village with its traditional way of living and impose it on a modern civilisation, then soon the modern civilisation will revert back to being a village. The people will become less modern or not modern anymore. They will change away from modernisation and regress economically to the degree of their divergence from modernisation.
Has this happened? Yes most certainly. Religion has the capacity to revert any modern society back to the ‘Age of Origin’ of that religion. Blood sacrifice (where the blood of an animal has to be spilt on some altar, and not to share the meat as food charity) has a history going back to the earliest pagan tribes – pagans who worshipped locusts, volcanoes, crocodiles etc. Today the ultra orthodox Jews want to reinstate blood sacrifice at their Third Temple.
In 1970 we embarked upon the NEP. The NEP intended to bring economic progress to the Malays and the bumiputras who were considered a very traditional and not sufficiently modern people.
And there were ‘reference points’ for the NEP. The reference points were the non Malays (Chinese, Indians, others) and ‘foreigners like the West, Japan, Singapore etc who were more modernised and hence more economically advanced.
But terrible mistakes were made.
First of all we called in the economists to plan the New “Economic” Policy.
That was a big, big mistake.
Even the name was wrong – New “Economic” Policy.
- It was ‘economics’ centred.
- (Economics ok, NOT “economists”)
So the economists came in with their economic principles. Economics deals with ‘Factors of Production’.
“Factors of production is an economic term that describes the inputs that are used in the production of goods or services in order to make an economic profit. The factors of production include land, labor, capital and entrepreneurship”
If the Malays dont have enough land to farm or grow, lets give them land. Or force others to give them bumiputra discounts.
If the Malays dont have skills, we will build schools and universities and fill them up with Malays.
If the Malays dont have capital, we will give them oil money. Lets burn it.
If the Malays dont know entrepreneurship, kita buat kursus conducted by other Malays to teach them entrepreneurship !! (And when did these other Malays become entrepreneurs?)
The economists and their political bosses said “All the Malays need are the Factors of Production – Land, labor, capital and entrepreneurship.”
And of course ‘ceteris paribus’.
Another economic term.
Ceteris paribus means all other things being equal.
Exactly what ‘all other things’ being equal ?
Just give a Malay say RM500,000 to open a business and he will immediately and automatically master the fact that a day is divided into 24 hours (like the Chinese, japanese and Germans). That work must start at 9am exactly and finish by 5pm exactly. He will also immediately and magically understand the concept of the “time value of money”. Ceteris paribus.
But that did not happen. This was another big mistake. A traditional and cultural lifestyle still formed by an agrarian environment has a completely different view of time. It is always ‘Insya Allah’ – if Allah wills it. What is the rush? Relak lah brader.
If the business prospers, it is rezeki yang murah.
If the business fails, it is taqdir. Tak ada rezeki.
‘Boss, if you want your bathroom renovated I can do it. But it will be ready only next month. I have to go back to the kampong for two weeks. There is a khenduri.”
That was an actual conversation.
Then there are serious lapses in integrity, honesty and dependability that are fatal in a business environment (sometimes quite literally).
The lapses may or may not be intentional or with any malice.
It is an attitude problem.
The caterers who served bad food which killed 10 people in Kedah left the chicken out and the chicken started to go bad. Bacterial growth. They did not have enough refrigerator space to store the chicken overnite.
They did not see the dangers of their actions. Or they did not understand.
According to the Factors of Production they had land, labor, capital and even entrepreneurship.
What they lacked was a sense of duty of care. Business will go bust. People died as well.
Then the Malay language is slowing down the speed of acquisition of useful knowledge.
Malay is still a developing language. It is not yet a language of science or even a language for rapid modernisation. The defender of the Malay language aka the Pusat Pengkhianat Bahasa Melayu is copying wholesale English words and calling them Malay words. Selfie, hashtag, tweet, akauntabiliti, kokun (cocoon), akses (access) and ori (original) are some new Malay words entered in their Kamus. Pi dah mabuk. Defender of the Malay Language konon.
The problem is time. Time value of money remember. While they are sorting out selfie, hashtag and akauntabiliti, other people (the non Malays, the Singaporeans, the Japanese etc) are moving forward at light speed.
Progress is not enough. Progress is always in relation to who? Or in relation to what?
The Chinese have invented a new rocket engine that makes possible a mission to the planet Mars.
In Malaysia the debate is kedai dobi halal, biar Zakir Naik masuk ke Malaysia, Tan Sri perosak rumah tangga orang and other such stuff.
For a very long time our system of government, education and business was in English. The country benefitted tremendously from the English language. Our politics, economy, social advancement were all based (to a large extent) on the English language.
Then the bigots and the dim witted began a program of perkasakan Bahasa Melayu. At that time the Pusat Pengkhianat Bahasa Melayu had less than 30,000 words in their Malay dictionary. This was grossly insufficient to propel the Malay language as a language of science and progress. So they started copying wholesale from English. By 2017 they have added an extra 50,000 NEW WORDS (mostly plagiarised from the English language) into the Malay dictionary.
The problem is you cannot go back to the kampong and use these new English plagiarised words in your everyday conversation.
You cannot say ‘pemimpin kita tidak ada akauntabiliti’. They will not understand. The kampong people might say, ‘Habis macam mana duit RM2.6 billion boleh masuk dalam akaun dia?’
The NEP planners should NOT have tried to fix something that was NOT broken. Meaning they should NOT have downgraded the use of the English language.
Or changed the mode of instruction in schools from English to Malay.
That was a huge mistake.
English is the lingua franca of the entire modern world.
Some universities in Germany are switching to English.
All of Scandinavia can speak English.
English is the acknowledged global language of science, technology and modern thought.
The largest number of English speakers in any one country will soon be in China.
Singapore did not make that mistake.
Singapore stuck to English.
Look at the Malays in Singapore now.
They are being hired for top jobs in Kuala Lumpur.
So ceteris is not paribus. All things are NOT equal.
The Malay language has not been able to move the Malays forward as a modern people as quickly enough.
The progress has been slow.
Progress is a relative term.
Relative to other people in the country and around the world.
There is also a dearth of logical thinking.
People do not like to see things logically, in a step by step manner.
They do not seem to appreciate ’cause and effect’.
Action A begets Action B which begets Action C and so on.
They do Action A and then say, ‘Insya Allah’.
Or “tengoklah rezeki kita”.
Tengok apa yang telah ditaqdirkan.
These are the cultures, habits and traditional beliefs of a people that does not fit in the economists’ Factors of Production (land, labor, capital and entrepreneurship / management). Yet they have a profound effect on the economic outcomes of the Malay people.
Then there are the irrational belief systems. One is black magic. The other is religion. Huge numbers of Malays still believe in magic. As a result they suffer economic loss, frustration and nowhere near any real solution to their problems. Yet school teachers, civil servants, private sector workers indulge in black magic to cast a spell on their fellow workers and colleagues.
The same goes for their religious belief systems – which are far removed from the Quran and which also rarely deliver the desired outcomes. Religion too takes up a large amount of their attention but does not deliver them any economic outcomes in sufficient quantities.
I know supermarkets which suffered 25% absenteeism per day among their Malay workforce. So they hired Nepalis and Indians. Problem solved.
Not enough of local Malay workers in Terengganu and Kelantan signed up to work double shift or work overtime in a foreign owned factory. They were quite happy working just one shift. So the factories shifted to Selangor. Problem solved.
This is NOT a problem of economics ie not enough Land, Labour, Capital and Entrepreneurship. This is a social and attitude problem.
Chinese factory owners are now shifting production to Thailand because Thai workers do not ask for prayer breaks FIVE TIMES a day. Problem solved.
(Two Malay businessmen – auto parts suppliers – have also shifted production to Thailand.)
So the problem of the Malays / bumiputras is NOT a problem that can be solved by the economists alone. Or by economic principles alone.
What we really need is for the anthropologists, economic anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists to get seriously involved in mapping out the future of the Malays.
Anthropology – the science of human beings; especially the study of human beings and their ancestors through time and space and in relation to physical character, environmental and social relations and culture.
Economic anthropology – a field that attempts to explain human economic behavior in its widest historic, geographic and cultural scope. It is practiced by anthropologists and has a complex relationship with the discipline of economics, of which it is highly critical. Its origins as a sub-field of anthropology.
Sociology – Sociology is the scientific study of society, including patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change.
Psychology – the science of behavior and mind, embracing all aspects of conscious and unconscious experience as well as thought. It is an academic discipline and a social science which seeks to understand individuals and groups by establishing general principles and researching specific cases
In my view we need to replace the New Economic Policy with a New Competitive Policy. I hope I can elaborate on this later. You must compete. If we do not compete, we will all become objects of study by archaeologists – in the not too distant future.
Archaeology – or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. The archaeological record consists of artifacts, architecture, biofacts or ecofacts and cultural landscapes.