Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Overly Pessimistic About Malaysia's Future?

Written by johnleemk on 5:08:56 am Mar 7, 2007.

In rebuttal to the discussion of differences between living in the United States and Malaysia, Andrew is critical of the proposition that Malaysia is a terrible place to live in:

Geez louise, you guys are way to pessimistic here. I have also stayed in both the US and Malaysia. (For the record, 10 years in US, and the remainder 20-odd in Malaysia). Co-incidentally, I have also eaten at the Malay Satay Hut in Portland, OR (which is expensive and is not half as good as the food here).

Now back to our bashing. While I agree that the government could be much better, life in Malaysia in general is not so bad compared to that in US. I work in a high-tech company, and do very interesting work that is on the cutting edge. There are also many top-scorers here whom I work with, and as far as I can see, they do not "lead lives of quiet desperation". Most of them could easily get a job in the US if they wanted to.

Why do we stay? For a lot of reasons. Family, friends, food, or other reasons. I stayed because:
1. I enjoy spending time with my family.
2. I don't like doing chores, and I don't have to here; I get more free time to pursue my interests.
3. I prefer my wife to work; since childcare is unbelievably expensive in US, she would not be able to work. In fact, the IRS encourages spouses not to work.

I don't expect this to change your mind, but I felt that there should be some balance to the "this country is going to hell" spouts that you've been posting.

I am not sure of the direct relevance of any of the initial and closing points, since I don't think they were referred to by the article in question. Presumably, however, they are a response to the tone taken by some of my more pessimistic postings.

Putting that aside for the moment, it is of course true that America is not wholly superior to Malaysia; I don't think anyone denies that. Indeed, I think everyone can be united in rueing the fact that the choices of food available in the West downright suck when compared to those available here — just to name one example.

The points made about costs of living and spending time with family are of course good ones. At the same time, I find it a bit contradictory, though, to speak of the costs of having an additional income outweighing the benefits in the US. This seems at odds with the increasingly prevailing circumstance of most middle and lower class families there, which are forced to rely on both parents working.

Unless one's spouse is uneducated, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a job that can pay for the costs of childcare, unless you live in a locality with very high costs of living, such as New York City (in such a case, though, it would be a bad idea to generalise your experience to the whole US).

Putting that point aside, it also seems odd to me to encourage family bonding and yet also encourage both parents to work — but as this is not relevant to the topic at hand, I won't touch on it further.

The point about menial labour (i.e. maids) being very cheap here is also a good one. The costs of living in any developing country are always significantly lower than those of a developed country, and if you are well off, life can be very cosy. In the Philippines, many people temporarily migrate to the West, work for a decade or two and save up a significant nest egg, and then retire at home to spend their money, which now has maybe ten times the purchasing power it would have in the US or Australia.

Anyway, all this goes to show is that the decision whether to stay or migrate depends entirely on your individual priorities. Some of us prioritise raising our children in a country with a chance of having a decent future, and some of us can't live without cheap teh tarik. Some of us refuse to live here because of how our public schools corrode young minds, but others prefer to fork out some extra money to have their children attend international schools. It's all up to you.

I don't think anyone has said that living standards in Malaysia are abysmally low, or that life in America is unqualifiedly better than that here, so it seems to me that you are attempting to basically rebutt a strawman.

I still contend, however, that in the long run, the systemic problems with our society and polity, and the shrinking pool of opportunities, will harm our country. For the individual, staying put may or may not be a good idea. But for an individual thinking about the big picture, it's a no-brainer: unless we can radically alter things here, it's probably not worth sticking around.

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