Deflating Unwarranted Malaysian Economic Pride
One thing Malaysian politicians can agree on appears to be the economy. The policies espoused by virtually all political parties are, in a word, populist.
It is sometimes said that the ruling regime in Malaysia is a conservative right-wing party, while its opposition generally consists of leftist liberals.
In a sense, that is true, at least from a civil rights perspective. And even then, the most popular opposition party is one which advocates cutting off the hands of thieves and imposing a justice system where a raped women needs male witnesses to prove she didn't commit adultery — it's harder to get more right-wing than that.
But from an economic point of view, Malaysian politics is boringly monotonous. Everyone is singing the same tune; everyone wants the same populist policies.
People often credit the supposedly conservative, right-wing and thus ostensibly fiscally responsible government for Malaysia's economic success.
This simplistic picture is not only based on fallacious thinking, but also gets its basic facts wrong.
Our government is far from fiscally responsible; it blatantly spends a temporary, non-renewable source of income as if that source can never run dry. Its incredible intervention in the economy is reminiscent of some socialist republics.
Mind you, economics tells us that much of what our government has been doing is blatantly stupid. Subsidising petrol harms Malaysians; it encourages us to pollute the air, and only indirectly accomplishes the more pertinent goal of assisting the poor. Of course, the government has backpedaled on this policy, but only so it can pump more money into its cronies' pockets through the guise of state spending.
But putting aside this most common economic foible, as well as that of tolls, there is still an incredibly huge amount of wastage in our economy.
Just look at the price controls on groceries; what sense is there in only allowing consumers to, say, buy two packets of sugar during the festive season? What sense is there in forcing grocers to keep their prices artificially low, and thus keeping those who need more from obtaining what they need?
And, of course, what sense is there in a five-year plan for expenditure and investment? We may argue that this is distinct from the Soviet five-year plans, which meticulously set out how the economy would be run for five years — but yet, is this not what our own Malaysia Plans virtually do, considering the huge importance ascribed to them by businessmen and consumers alike?
People argue that despite all these economic failures, our policies produce results, and that is all that matters. Of course, by their fruits ye shall know them — but what fruits has the tree of our government borne?
Our massive state spending has led to bloated government bureaucracy, much of which accomplishes nothing but paper pushing. We have gigantic state-owned or state-influenced companies controlling almost all aspects of our economy.
Every festive season, our price controls ensure that there is no incentive for manufacturers to produce more, and that the consumer who places more value on a good is still not necessarily able to obtain it.
We have an inefficient transportation system predicated on a here-today-gone-tomorrow fuel, and another here-today-gone-tomorrow state-subsidised automotive manufacturer.
The list could just go on and on. The fact is, our policies are not bearing fruit; rather than encouraging growth, they encourage complacency. Economic complacency is the last thing we can afford. If we want growth, we must demand leaders — leaders on both sides of the aisle — who will pursue policies which reduce state intervention in our economy, and free individuals up to pursue what makes them happy.