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Malice, Not Incompetence

Is the Malaysian government just stupid, or are its intentions just plain bad?

Written by johnleemk on 2:26:07 pm Jul 10, 2007.

A wise man supposedly once said we should never attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence. This is something many Malaysians have chosen to do when it comes to our government — we view them as fundamentally idiots, rather than malicious fiends.

However, another wise man supposedly has said that it is impossible to make a man understand something when his livelihood depends on him not understanding it. In other words, our government may be idiots because they are fiends.

So, which is which? Do our leaders screw up because they're just dumb, or is this foolishness in turn caused by their corrupt intentions?

In his book The Undercover Economist (a very readable introduction to economics that I recommend you read if you want to understand the fundamentals of the field without getting bogged down in academic technicalities), Tim Harford examines developing countries and concludes that much of what we view as caused by incompetence is actually caused by impure intentions.

As he says, it is easy for the international community to assume that the people of countries like Cameroon are poor because they are stupid. But the reality is, they are as smart as anyone else — they just have no incentive to exercise their wits properly.

The same applies to the Malaysian government. Looking at all the messes that have been caused by our government, it is frequently difficult to assume good faith on their part.

After all, how many times do they have to approve the bid of a company with RM200,000 of paid-up capital for an RM20 million contract before we conclude they are not just being too stupid to count?

How many times do they have to declare that the opposition parties should not be listened to because they have not won a majority of the popular vote, before we conclude that our ministers understand what a democracy is but have no intention of practicing it?

How many times do government officials have to threaten to abrogate the Constitution and massacre non-pliant Malaysians before we conclude they know what they are saying, but say it anyway because it keeps them in power?

Our government's mistakes are neither tiny in quantity nor negligible in quality. Our government's mistakes are far too many to be listed, and many of them are immense.

Why do we keep voting these malicious idiots into power? The alternative might be worse, but by putting our current leaders in the opposition, we would at least rid them of their power, and thus their incentive to be stupid. By then they might actually have enough wits to govern the country, and thus give us a reason to restore them to power.

But until that day comes, why do we keep voting for this government? Are there really even ten reasons to vote for the Barisan Nasional regime? I don't think so.