Monday, June 25, 2018

Malaysia Polcies: New First Steps

I am sorry if I am stating the obvious. But sometimes what is obvious is not obvious when we are inclined to delude ourselves.

1. Basic Premise

Where Malaysia is now at is the result of bad thinking - that the Malays are the rightful inhabitants of Malaysia and that Chinese and Indians are immigrants.

Even this simple statement is erroneous if you take into consideration the orang aslis, the babas and the nyonyas and others in Malaya and not excluding the 30 to 40 ethnic groups in Sarawak and Sabah.

There is a correction to be made in the basic premise of the nature of Malaysia - that obviously Malaysia is the homeland of each and every Malaysian, i.e., anybody who is born in Malaysia and anybody whom one parent is a Malaysian or any foreign born who has been granted Malaysian citizenship.

If we can't get this simple sentence right in our head, then I don't think we are going to get this country right in any direction but self-destruction.

2. NEP

First, they said get the colonists out so that Malaysians could rule ourselves and enjoy the keep the fruits of our own labour. Let us fight the colonists together. Independence was won.
Second, by year 12, it was decided that the Chinese were doing too well and the Malays were not. Therefore, redistribute wealth as a matter of national policy. We control all policies and use government tax revenue to acquire Chinese assets for the Malays, i.e., the UMNO elite.
Third, the eventual purchase by Petronas of the KL Twin Towers woke up the Sarawakians and the Sabahans that they had also been plundering the wealth of the Borneo states.

The rot started in 1970 with beginning of the systematic replacement of Chinese and Indian bureaucrats with Malay ones, coinciding with the replacement of English with Malay as the medium of instruction in schools. This created an insular civil service and brought about the closing of the Malay mind. With that began the Malayanisation of Malaysia. As the East Coast rejected KL and with the ascent of PAS, this evolved into an Islamisation of Malaysia when UMNO strived to be more Islamic than PAS.

There is a need now to level the playing field for everyone and abolish the NEP immediately. Except social services for the very old and very young and those who are incapacitated. Pursue economic efficiency as the instrument for economic restructuring, not restructuring while championing inefficiency.

The rise of the power of senior civil servants and political dynasties led to the creation of GLCs who are now monopolising the entire economy, in the name of NEP. The cost of living in Malaysia has escalated because of these monopolies which must pay annual dividends to the government for the politicians spend on big projects. The GLCs should be privatised or dismantled and the government should retreat from business. There should be a clear separation of politics from business and business from policies. While politicians will operate according to the law, businesses must operate according to policies.

3. BNM

The head of the central bank is called the Governor. The designation is given to signal that the politicians including the Prime Minister or the Fiance Minister cannot intrude upon the duties of the Governor. There is a separation of the central bank from the finance ministry.

The job of the central bank is to protect the value of the local currency. The key method is to ensure that there is no excessive supply of the local currency as well as that there is no excessive and unproductive borrowing of foreign currencies. The central bank can implement monetary policies and the foreign exchange policy to protect the value of the ringgit, without resort to the government. If the government intervenes, the Governor can bring its case to parliament.

The deterioration of the value of the ringgit by 60% from 2.50 in its prime days to 4.00 today is a clear case of the bad management of the ringgit and poor monetary policies. We have been suffering from a prolong period of central bank silence, probably except on non-monetary issues.

I hope things will change and improve from here onwards.

For a start, raise ringgit interest rates in line with the US interest rates. BNM had said in the past that it cannot differ from the US Fed when rates fell. Ditto, the reversal. Otherwise, we will see another bout of ringgit deterioration, regardless of what the PM may say about its fair value. I would say the fair interest rate is 5% pa.

4. Growth, Growth, Growth

This cannot be over-emphasised. We heard in the 1980s that the government was prepared to sacrifice growth to achieve "fair" distribution. Today is what that looks like, and this is not what we want.

There are rich Chinese and there are poor Chinese. There are rich Malays and there are poor Malays. There are rich Indians and there are poor Indians. There are rich Ibans and there are poor Ibans. There are rich Kadazandusuns and there are poor Kadazandusuns. The same applies to all races.

Every population profiles fall into a natural distribution. You cannot create a perfect profile for your race at the expense of every other races because it will not happen.

The challenge for any government is to raise the economic profile of everyone so that Malaysia can really boast itself it be a nation that creates that the best economic opportunities for everyone. This will make Malaysia an attractive place for people to come and we should welcome them so that we can build the society together.

The urban-rural divide occurs everywhere because of the investments that are poured into the urban centres. The rural areas will always be caught in a material dilemma as they struggle to hold on to their traditional ways of life which have been encapsulated as their traditional cultures, which is correct, by definition. It is a good strategy if a good urban-rural balance can be maintained. I see the key instruments are education and technology.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Back To Square One?

We have a new old regime in Malaysia, where the old men (and old women) now have a second chance (what about young men and women do not?).

I am unsure what the current political agenda is all about. Is it to develop a new model of economic growth, or to continue to find fault with the preceding regime. Sometimes, it doesn't appear that they have realised that they have won the election and is not the government. They continue to behave like they are still in the opposition. An old opposition against the new opposition. Does it mean that there is now no government as such that we can rely on to look forward to? Apart from a zero GST, zero price reduction and another national car that we have to overpay.

Last time we had an immense oil reserve (amidst high oil prices). Now less, and therefore less degree for policy error to play with. After nearly forty years of one-man domination of a singular idea of a one-race supremacy without economic merit and the loss of one generation, the younger generation now have no idea how they have got to such dazzling heights, only to come crashing down when the hot air cools.

If all the wealth of the world has been made by the old generation, then the new generations do not have to work. The only thing they will need is labour-saving services which can either be machines or human services produced by poor or less rich third-world foreign workers. This dialectical process means the slave will eventually takeover the master's household and wealth.

The new situation requires a new infrastructure on which the new economy must be built. The new economy will need the banks and finance industry to re-skill themselves to know how to finance projects with feasibility and good prospects for success in order to create good jobs for the new generations. The handling of finance in the economy must now return from the government to the private sector if there is going to be any real prospect for growth of the economy on a sustained basis in future. We should get the politicians to lay out a level playing field for everybody, and stop creating a crooked frame which collapses under the slightest weight or pressure.

We have to move on. The perspectives of the old generations are now obsolete and irrelevant. The young must struggle to find their niche in the new world of technology. The global economy has changed. It will be sad if we here are still stuck in the mud of post-colonial preconceptions.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

GST and All That - One Last Time

You know I had had my misgivings over the GST all the while. There are of course very good reasons for being apprehensive.
a. GST is a transfer payment, like all taxes. It does not boost the economy, if it is really used to plug the whole in the public budget. But if the government then went on a spending spree, the spending spree will boost economic activities (although not quite if they are mostly foreign in origin). By getting deeper into debt, it violates the original intention of the imposition of the GST of reducing the budget deficit. The argument then went on to talk about a reduction in the debt/GDP ratio which is quite another thing.
b. The GST by itself at 6% does not sound like much, as had been argued by critics here before. But it was argued here that this will lead to an escalation of prices; not purely because of the 6% but because the imposition of the GST is a desperate measure to try to stop a sinking ship. Added by the expectations of higher US interest rates and the reversal of quantitative easing, the outflow of fund which led to further ringgit depreciation exacerbated an already bad situation. The shit hit the fan.
c. Do we zerorise the GST when we want to abolish it? Well, abolishing it means no more GST as an idea, not 0% GST. Sometimes, it's hard to find good English in this part of the world.

When you have an economy that had been focused on the unequal distribution of the petroleum windfall, you know that you are setting up the economy for a long-term reduction in economic efficiency. So much of the policy errors are being disguised by pouring money to gloss over the cracks. Contracts are no more being enforced; they can be renegotiated because of cost overruns and what not. This is paying good money for bad and incompetent work.

It would suggest that by the way we are going to unroll previous policies, which basically is to reexamine and then probably dump bad projects, things are going to slow down while we are trying to do spring cleaning. We need to brace ourselves for a time of quieter activities. The traffic seems to be fairly quiet, for a start.

I am sure most people feel a sigh of relief now that a certain thorn has been removed from our side. After that will be the healing process, of the politics as well of the economy. I am not too sure whether the same old medicines can be used for new diseases. But like the new digital economy we are all immersed in, we should be quite used to disruptive changes. While these are interesting times, let them not be a time of the disruption of the good old peace. God bless us all.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Fake News

Yesterday, an anti-fake news bill was tabled in the Malaysian Parliament.

Fake news are now defined as "inaccurate news" which are "any kind of news, information, data and reports published which, in part or whole and in whatever form including write-ups and visual or audio recordings are false.

This presents a very interesting philosophical issue for us to try to resolve - what is truth?

Wise men throughout the last few thousands of years had tried to find out what is the truth and no one has the one and right answer.

Fake news as inaccurate news is a double-edged sword for the legislator.

The government has never been known to be accurate in the information that it presents to the general public, ostensibly to maintain "public calm" in times of unsettling emotions. More realistically, the government is also composed of ordinary people who have the difficult jobs of having to have a complete picture of the national situation as well as having to forecast the future when managing national economic and financial affairs.

Will the government be charged with fake news if its economic forecast for next year turned out not to be precisely on the dot?

The whole exercise of establishing the truth has drawn upon much of the best resources of any nation. This is where the modern institutional triangulation of the legislative, executive and judicial is laid out in order to ensure that what we have is not further from the truth even if it is not the truth.

Truth as conceived by the anti-fake news act is a point of truth and not a range or an idea of truth.

It is very difficult to have a point hit on anything. This is why when surgeons operate on the tumour in the brain, you either leave some of the tumour in in order not to cut away some part of the brain (Type I error in statistics) or you cut away some bit of the good brain in order to not leave any bit of the tumour around (Type II error).

The implementation of the anti-fake news act, if it is passed in parliament, is likely to commit the sins of Type II error, whereby those who are innocent are also charged in the hope that the fear will scare people from writing anything at all, be it accurate or not. This Type II error has been seen in the implementation of the GST when GST amount are imputed for retailers when there is no information to prove things one way or the other.

It is not inaccuracy that the act will the fighting - it will be ignorance that will be punished and at the same time fostered.

Now, for the poor bloggers who are writing opinions of which much of them are sentiment rather than facts. They could be charged for having aroused the wrong sentiment, or should we now say inaccurate sentiment.

In a world where ignorance casts its cloud upon the whole humanity, the chase for accuracy is as good as the reference of the judge of the accuracy.

As an afterthought, accuracy can be accuracy of the truth and of the falsehood. Accuracy does not necessarily equate with truth. A perfect fake painting is an accurate reproduction of the real painting; the only issue is the claim to authenticity.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Brexit - Revisit

What is happening with Brexit?

Brexit started from the simple idea that there was a need for Britain to control immigration because of the heavy influx and the pressure it was putting on social services. When Britain appealed to the EU to allow it to do so, the EU rejected the idea of a controlled border.

The decision was then to put to the general public through a referendum as it whether Britain should leave the EU (if it so desperately wants to control immigration) or stay. The resumption was that most people would choose to stay and therefore decide once and for all that Britain then would have to accept the uncontrolled immigration with all its costs and the implications on subsequent fiscal decisions such as taxes.

The referendum decided on Brexit which the EU subsequently vehemently opposed by imposing all kinds of restrictions and costs on on the idea that you cannot leave this place alive. Britain must die if it wants to leave the EU.

The EU consists of a bunch of bureaucrats who are not at all directly related to the various constituents of the EU except the home country from which they come from. But the political forces of the EU come from Germany and France, apart from Britain. It looks a bit like a another war where Britain is now defending itself against Germany and France.

The money costs may be a burden for the immediate future but not in the long run. The restrictions especially on trade may have some legitimacy if the common market is the focal point. The common market is important only if its very existence is the underlying force for the economic survival of the EU. In the sense that by the free movement of goods within the EU, EU can develop happily without the rest of the world. It seems strange that while there is a loophole whereby the movement of people from outside the EU can be free once they have gained a foothold in some obscure part of the EU, this cannot be applied to goods. There is a prejudice for the free movement of people from all over the world, but not of goods. It does seem therefore that the EU is really a political entity which is using trade sanctions to punish those who disobey the EU political masters.

Britain's decision to leave the EU is a political decision. It is a war and war has its consequences. Britain has been involved in two major wars in Europe and it has recovered since. So this is not the first time that Britain is facing a situation such as this.

Businesses of course are worried because they are the target of the EU response to Brexit. This applies especially to those who are in the EU because of the EU common market advantage. After Brexit, a new profile of the British economy will emerge which will be shaped according to the new reality of being outside the EU.

But the EU is not the world. The EU bureaucrats have not taken into their calculations that Brexit will only be detrimental to Britain and not the EU. If that is the case, they should let Britain go and concentrate on the joyful development of the EU in future. But the EU will also suffer without Britain because Britain is a major economy in Europe. Within the EU, Britain acts as the financial centre and some manufacturing for Europe while neglecting its agriculture. Outside the EU, Britain may lose some of its financial services; but not all but it will also be able to recover some of its traditional industries.

The future growth engines of the world will be China and Russia. There is much of European and British that the Chinese would wish to consume. Even if India were to become a substantial economic power outside itself, it will also be a major consumer of European goods and services including British. Economic growth of European countries depend on their relationships with countries outside Europe. Europe is a major tourist destination which can be sold by entertaining the tourists.

The EU is merely flexing its political muscles in the negotiation. Whatever the final outcome, it is good for Britain to be out of the EU and be as free as before to be its captivating self.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Party & State

My dearest children,

I started off my life by asking the question of what is the best. For if I wanted to do good in the world, if I wanted to do the best for the people, then I have to put them before myself. This is when I started to find a way of how to turn a swamp into a modern and vibrant city.

Of course, our place was not just a swamp like a lump of mud but a lump of mud that is strategically located in the middle of the most important trade route of the world. This is when it is opened to receive that trade as a means for our people to earn a living by working hard to provide a service.

The economic story is well-known. But the politics is a bit more complicated.

I had decided that I should be the philosopher-king as propounded by Plato. If wisdom should befallen the political leader, the society shall benefit from that wisdom. It has been shown that democracy, while the idea is good for being all encompassing and inclusive, is a dilution of perfection and the end result is always mediocrity but of the type that the common people find acceptable. But if we were to pursue economic prosperity through economic efficiency, we must have perfection that is characterized by meritocracy. That perfection and meritocracy must be seen to culminate in at least one place and that one place must be the political leader who is both wise and selfless.

When my eldest son decided to be a politician and ultimately the political leader, I had no choice but to open up the route for him. If he could do the job, why not? But of course, there were criticisms which I did not hear which would suggest that there might be others who were better than him and who, as a result of my son being earmarked for the top post, might have sensibly withdrawn volunteering their talents to the state. How much is this opportunity cost worth no one will ever know. The real cost must lies in the future of this state.

The problem of having a son succeeding his father in politics is that the son is under pressure to do better than his father, and this better must be seen as a much harder line instead of a veering away from the old path and taking the country onto a more enlightened path as it was then on a much firmer footing. If the son were to presume to take a similar premise as the father had taken, then the whole future is staked upon a single platform which may or may not be as relevant now as it had been in the past. The likelihood of making an error in future projection is very real, the further time moves away from the origin. But this is now for the government to decide.

In my case, for my own legacy, I had already made it very clear - that I did not wish to be glorify in any grandiose scale, for to do so will distract the attention of the people from what they have to do for themselves in the future if they have to keep looking backward into the past. It was for this reason that I had decided that any physical monument that had come to represent me should be removed so as to prevent any idol worshiping.

However, I was aware that there could be considerations by the party that its history should be preserved as part of the national history. That is very well and good when you imagine that the party is the best representation of the interest of the people and the nation in the future as it had in the past. But it may not be so. New parties may rise up and take over our party as the people demand their new aspirations to be met and which may be best served by new representations which they may create in the future. The party may not even be as important in the future as it had been in the past, unless the ideology of the party evolves with the times.

I know now that the quarrel among my children is a quarrel between the party and the citizens. I would say, son, let the citizens win.

Your loving father, etc.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

End of Civilisation

Clever economists cook up fantastic ideas about accelerating economic growth through competition. Adam Smith conjectured that public interest can be served by the pursuit of personal interest. Now we know Adam Smith had got it wrong.

Competition is now extended to the global level. First, we have nations conquering other nations to ensure their own prosperity. Second, we have companies conquering the world to ensure their own corporate profitability. Third, we have politicians hand in glove with global companies conquering their own nations in pursuit of their own personal gains. Clever politicians are now global companies in their own right.

The second layer of competition is people competing with companies. Marx said people should rise in arms to take over companies, because in the end there are no profits and all gains go to labour because there will be more capital than people. Now we know Marx had got it wrong.

While there is indeed much more capital than needed thanks to decades of money printing, it seems that human beings have been much more productive. This is a perfect situation for capitalists as they now can pay zero wages for people to work, as they take back the wages through inflation. Thanks to the help of politicians who now control economic policies as they raise taxes in order to pay for the services of firms. There is a great pretense in paying wages. The new phenomenon is the working poor; those who work can still be poverty stricken. In the past, the poor can pick from the land; now they have to pick rubbish from the streets.

There is the great sickening concept of the aging population is no good because they cannot feed themselves. This is utter rubbish. The fact is that the population has not been properly paid and what they have been paid is not sufficient to live on over their entire life. What happens to the profits that they have helped to make? Companies get richer and they have no where to invest. So they start buying countries from politicians. Corporatisation of the world? Big Brother is coming.

The aging population is good. It reduces the population in the world and conserves scarce resources so that they are sustainable in the long run. That you need a faster rate of population growth and lower wages in the future to take care of the old folks is a pathetic idea. Some financial consultants have got their calculations all wrong.

And now, people competing with people. There is no more gentlemanly fights or womanly fights. No more boxing; it is now kick boxing and mixed martial arts. There are no more rules. You can do anything to bring your opponents down. You have the right to be abusive and disruptive.

The clever people is no more a person who knows many things and be honourable and polite. The clever people is now a person who does not have to know a lot, but that the little that he knows is good enough for him or her to abuse others and remove any threat perceived. There is no more at improving knowledge; there is everything to do with acts of destruction.

So now we have politicians calling people whom they do not like all kinds of ugly names. The ones who are abusive and foul mouthed win. Those who can lie and cheat win. People who can be abusive of fellow citizens are national heroes. Those who can insult their customers in a language their customers cannot understand is a great sign of disrespect; they are a product of the political environment in which they are brought up.

Is this the end of civilisation where people have forgotten to be civil? Has the respect for each other gone? Are we in the middle of a war of one group of people against another group where is only goal is to destroy the other? Is there no hope for people to live in peace and harmony and work hard to raise their families? Is it our way of life to steal from others and destroy them so that we can live off the fruits of their hard work? Are we in the midst of a fight to death for scarce resources as we encourage faster population growth in order to fight an aging world? Is the human race going to choke in death in their own toxin as we have seen in some countries? Is the world messing up its own back garden?