Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

A Commitment to True Equality

Written by johnleemk on 11:21:00 am Jun 16, 2007.
Categories: , ,

In Malaysia, there are two types of blatant inequality: economic inequality, and political inequality. In the existing mindset, there is a trade-off between these two, and as a result, most advocates of "equality" are hypocrites.

Sincere as they might be in wanting "equality", most of these people only advocate one sort of equality, while neglecting the other. They are blind to the fact that there is no trade-off between these two inequities, and that in reality, the only way to achieve true equality in either sphere is to fight for equality in both spheres.

Think about it. Can the Malays ever hope to gain support for economic equality if they continue to treat the non-Malays as second-class citizens and kaum pendatang under the hypocritical ideology of Malay supremacy?

Meanwhile, how can the non-Malays ever hope to earn political equality if we continue to support the existing economic inequities and refuse to address the problem of poverty amongst the Bumiputra?

It is for this reason that as a staunch opponent of Malaysian apartheid, I am as equally supportive of economic policies for fighting poverty as I am opposed to Malay supremacy.

Many opponents of Malay supremacy pay lip service to poverty-fighting policies, but their heart is not in what they say. They view economic inequities as just another tool with which to club the Malay supremacists — these economic failings illustrate the practical bankruptcy of ketuanan Melayu.

However, they also illustrate the need for equality of economic opportunity, to give all a fair chance. Any Malaysian, regardless of what race he or she is, should know that if they are qualified, they can lead a Malaysian conglomerate or be elected Prime Minister. That is the true meaning of equality, but that is not what many advocates of equality would like to see.

Of course, the opponents of Malay supremacy are probably up in arms by now. After all, aren't they asking for a level playing field? Why are they being painted as supporters of economic inequality?

Because there is no equality of opportunity if you shift the starting point. Lyndon B. Johnson illustrated this with a beautiful analogy — if you have kept a man in chains and shackles for years, and suddenly drag him to the starting line and ask him to run a race against other men, is this really equality? What sort of equality of opportunity is this?

There is a deceptive appeal to laissez-faire economics which briefly pulled the wool over my eyes. However, the poverty trap is all too real — in our society at the moment, if you are born into a rich family, you will likely end up raising a rich family of your own. Likewise, if you are born into a poor family, your own future household will probably be just as impoverished.

Complicating this situation is the fact is that despite the proliferation of artificial Bumiputra millionaires, most rich people are Chinese and most poor people are Bumiputra or Indians.

Those non-Malays who advocate a "level playing field" are basically demanding equality of political opportunity and inequality of economic opportunity. That's highway robbery, folks.

We need to be as committed to a policy of economic equality as we are to a policy of political equality. Our goal must be a future where any Malaysian can realistically aspire to the highest economic or political office in the land, without being hobbled by which family he or she was born into. That is the true equality we must seek.


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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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