Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

No Malaysian Entrepreneurship!

Written by johnleemk on 11:28:11 am Jul 5, 2007.
Categories: ,

One remarkable thing about the Malaysian economy is how we have failed to produce successful homegrown companies. The only truly successful Malaysian corporation is Petronas — and that is only by virtue of its government-granted monopoly on a scarce resource.

Other countries in the region have successfully produced world-class firms; South Korea (which — believe it or not — was once dependent on economic aid from countries like the Philippines) is one good example, but there are also other countries like Singapore which have done well.

And mind you, this is only looking at countries whose firms have done well for themselves on the world stage. If you look at countries where homegrown firms just do well at home, even basket cases like the Philippines have something to show.

Of course, Malaysia can claim some successes — at least, until you note that most of these successes like our banking system are the result of government intervention in the economy.

Just look at food, for example. There are many individual proprietary restaurants, but hardly any successful chains. In the Philippines, Jollibee is on par with foreign firms like McDonald's.

Or you could look at shopping. Most Malaysians shop at retailers like Jusco, Parkson, Tesco, Carrefour — all foreign brands. Our only homegrown retailer is Giant, and even then it is hardly managing to keep up with the competition.

Why are our local enterprises so sluggish? Why do Malaysian firms need government support to compete, not just abroad, but at home?

I believe this is because the government has defiled and perverted the market system our economy is founded upon — it has subverted the incentives and rewards for entrepreneurship and substituted them with rewards for influence-peddling and cronyism.

The statist nature of our economy cannot be in doubt. When the state plays such a big role in the economy as it does here, the priority of the economy becomes the state and those in power, not the people. It should come as no surprise that those who serve the people — the crux of entrepreneurship — do not receive their fair reward and thus do not bother looking after the interests of the people.

One would be tempted to racialise this issue and bring up the issue of apartheid — after all, the state's heaviest manipulation of the market has been to "encourage" Bumiputra entrepreneurship and increase the economic power of the Malays.

In a sense, this is correct — there are terribly few Malay entrepreneurs because they have been hardest hit by the disincentive for enterprise (something worth devoting another article to) — but people of all ethnicities have benefited from our statist economy. Eric Chia and Ananda Krishnan are hardly Malay or Bumiputra, after all.

If Malaysians want an economy that delivers, and companies they can be proud of, we need a government which will recognise the need to restore the natural incentives of the market economy for enterprising businesspeople who will serve the consumer, and not the powers that be.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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