Thursday, August 25, 2016

Identity

Our sense of identity is what keeps all of us sane in this world of constant change. This sense of identity is the constant that is inside us which tells us who we are and how we can relate to each other.

Knowing oneself is the ultimate in self-development. Each of us tries to find out who we really are, what makes us at one with ourselves and at peace with ourselves.

This is important after all the indoctrination which we are all being subjected to since we were born. We are all taught from young the necessary skills of how to survive our immediate environment and the environment we may meet. The farmers tell their children how to farm their own plot of land, the fishermen how to fish in the coast just off their villages, the shopkeepers how to charge a few cents above costs, the coffee shopkeepers how to make coffee and soft boiled eggs, and so on. School masters teach their pupils how to read and write and count in order to be able to communicate with the rest of the world through books and how to deal with three-dimensional materials in a meticulous fashion.

Each creates a sense of identity that is immediate and local, familial and communal and parochial. There is nothing wrong with this. First you know who your parents are, then your relationships and friends and other people you come in daily contact with. Each does at a different job to complement those of others. Each tries to resolve a different problem facing the community in which they live, in order that everybody shall live happily with the least of the inconveniences of the mundane.

The competition for survival, which is the hallmark of modern life, calls for effort by each and everyone to increase each of our own capacities to produce and provide in order that more can be consumed by those who are less fortunate. The increase in efforts is required of all; if only one person makes the effort, he can only give but not receive in kind. But the reality is that everyone is gifted differently and what often happens in small local communities is that those who have will help out those who are unable to help themselves.

The sense of identity can of course be generalised in order to embrace more and more universal and even cosmic concepts. The king of a community calls for a sense of the identity of the state, and the king of a country calls for the sense of identity of the nation, and the president of a federation calls for a sense of the identity of the federation of different entities each of which may have little commonality with other of the composite. The head of an organisation calls for a sense of identity of a cosmic union with a principle or a principal, appealing to very ordinary and sometimes ignorant but simple people who merely wanted a sense of identity belonging to a family of sorts. The whole idea is that everybody in the group is the same in one or some ways, but not entirely.

When a sub-group within a group defines itself different and deserving of special privileges, then this is a demand for entitlement which the rest of the grouping must pay. This sets a lope-sided group which can only grow in a deformed manner and not rounded. The day when the special sub-group sees itself to be at one with the rest of the group will that group be set on the path to advancement.

It is inevitable that the history of society can be properly seen in generational terms. Each generation makes its own mark in society. Unfortunately for us, ours is marked by an insecure person who wants to reshape the world to please himself. But god will one day save us from him and we once again be free to be ourselves. We may be too old by then, but hopefully the children we are bringing up with close the wound for the whole nation.






Monday, June 27, 2016

Brexit: What Now

The battle was neck to neck with a difference of a million votes which means the country is split right down the middle: for every one voted Leave, there is one voted Remain, well, almost.

The Brexit referendum on 23 June therefore has been most divisive and there is a need for the nation to heal. But this is going to take some work because even the two major political parties are split. The Cameron/Osbourne camp is not happy with the Johnson/Gove camp. The Corbyn camp is not happy with the Hilary Benn camp.

This political mess is the source of the uncertainty over the consequences of the vote to leave the EU. The uncertainty is that no one at the moment is deciding how the UK should leave the EU. The people are uncertain. The businesses are uncertain. The European Parliament is uncertain.

In this uncertainty, the first instinct of the financial markets is to sell. There is no point holding to your portfolio and waiting for the uncertainty to be resolved. It is better to get out and wait. If you want to get out, it is better to be the first the get out than to the last to do so. This is why the financial markets are selling down.

Is Brexit bad for the UK economy?

In the first place, the world economy including the European economy is already in bad shape before the referendum as a result of the consolidation that is taking place in China which some have forecast that it would take five to ten years for the consolidation to be completed and a recovery engineering with a new framework for domestic-oriented growth in China. US is on the verge of a recovery and the Fed has been trying to raise US interest rates and end the quantitative easing which has so far been creating perverse flows in the global economy.

The major perversion of financial flows in the global economy has been the putting of financial resources in the hands of extremists who now have access to heavy weapons. It is this war that is creating the flood of refugees who are fleeing for their lives and in search of greener pastures that is disrupting the peaceful and happy life of the Europeans. The refugees want to enjoy the lifestyle of the English, French and Germans.

Presumably what Brexit will do first is to put a stop to this uncontrolled immigration into the UK, and in its place will be a process of processing and approval. Other thing else will adjust.

Whether Brexit means a complete withdrawal of the UK from the common market is another point to be argued. Nobody wants to do less trade; it will be silly for the EU if it wants to be punitive in the hope of discouraging other EU components to leave.

No doubt there will be investments which would have come into the UK before Brexit and which may want to rethink, mainly because of the uncertainty surrounding the terms of the departure rather than the unhealthiness of the UK economy which probably is no worse than other European economies. Investments that are already in the UK should have no further push to get out.

Certainly, there are many serious to be discuss between the UK and the EU parliament. It will be a long process of at least five years to sought out all the details, although the main details can be framed within two years. This is when political cohesion in the UK politics is crucial.

I expect the financial markets to recover soon after all the sellers who wanted to sell have sold their position. Then they will start looking at the bright side. By then, 18 months ?, Brexit may be a happy word on the lips of ordinary people.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Muhammad Ali

What has a boxer got to do with economics?

Muhammad Ali just died aged 74. He won the heavyweight championship for boxing for three times. He made a lot of money for the boxing industry and the world media. He gave the world enjoyment of his skills and talents, although he and his fellow craftmen and women have had to suffer for their art.

He called himself the greatest. He knew his game and he predicted the outcome. Wouldn't he be entitled to say what he knew without being labeled as boastful. He got to where he was by being himself and on top of that lots of hard work and coaching from his teachers, and be willing to listen to them. He had humbled himself to be taught.

But to the rest of the world, he only wanted us to know that we were not like him. He stood at the apex of his sport, and he bashed everybody down. He had something to show the world what made him different from the rest. It would be incredible that armchair critics knew exactly how he thought in order to be who he had proven himself to be. The only thing that armchair critics could say must be some innocuous remarks which reflected their limited view of life as a non-greatest.

The greatest practitioner of his art is a person who is driven by an inner demon to perfect his art in spite of his own personal imperfection. He sees imperfection in himself, in others and in the world around him. He pushes himself on his lonely journey on the stony road of labour and hope to the summit which no one has any idea what that may be. He stops when his energies fail him and where he has stopped people applaud him for what he has achieved even if that may be the highest point in the world. He has got to the realm of existence where others have no been to before.

To be the greatest is the greatest that anyone can imagine for himself. He has the right to declare that to himself and to the world. The only danger for him is not that he will not push himself further but others will be jealous and will want to stop him from continuing to proclaim himself. The many forms of empowerment that people exert today are nothing but self-proclaimations, and many are high ideals. But to be able to physically demonstrate and establish that superiority of one's own physical and mental prowess and exert it cannot be a wrong or a boast. It is a truth spoken ahead of occurrence.

Muhammad Ali was the greatest, and probably is.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Brexit: Frame of Argument

I am interested in this topic, so why not - I'll make some comments.

Each side is making their arguments within their own frames and those frames do not intersect.

1. The Leave group is arguing for the preservation of soverignty of the UK which they do not want to be superceded by the EU. They are not arguing that they will have nothing to do with the EU. They can still engage as closely as they can with the EU as they can with other sovereign nations. It does not mean that they do not welcome immigration, but they want immigration to be controlled by the UK authorities not the EU. They welcome EU investments and they can create incentives for them in the UK's own terms, not as the EU dictates. They want to have their own fiscal and monetary policies which are tailored to the needs of the UK economy, not the EU policies which may be good for the EU as a whole but may not be good for every nations in the EU.

2. The In group is arguing that the UK has been doing well because of the size of the common market in the EU, not just for agriculture but for everything - although in fact the UK agriculture is not quite dead as it cannot compete with the imports from the EU. The argument is that if the UK were to leave the EU, it is likely that the UK will enter into a recession, presumably because the EU will then not welcome UK imports - not because the UK will not want to export or be able to compete with the EU. There is an implied threat from the EU. There may be a reduction in the amount of investments because there will be greater scrutiny of investment proposals. The argument seems also to be that by leaving the EU, the UK will not be welcoming immigrants from the EU and therefore the economy will slow down because it will not have enough workers and that wages will go up and investments will be dampened. It is conceivable that there will be fewer immigrants with UK leaving than UK staying in the EU, but it may mean fewer unskilled workers for menial jobs in restaurants and other services in major UK cities. It may also mean lesser pressures on public services and public housing, etc. The reducation may lead to an improvement of the quality of life of the people in the UK, although they may now have to learn to do their own plumbing, minor repair works, etc.

The reality is that maybe the UK is already on the verge of entering recession just like every other advanced economies in the West as China slows down. Of course, it does not help if the Leave option creates greater market uncertainty as hence a reduction in business investments. The Tata Steel there is in trouble for example and will retrench workers if revived by another party. Things may not be rosy in the coming months. They are not likely to be caused by leaving the EU, although leaving may make a bad situation worse.

Indeed, the Govenor of the Bank of England has overstepped his role by adding the voices of the opposition to leaving. The job of the central bank is to stabilise the financial system whatever the economy. Mark Carney argued that he is only doing his job - the way he sees his job to be, which is to provide comments to the market on what the central bank sees to be the short-term conditions of the economy - which usually provides clues to the market how the central bank will react and hence the market will take pre-amptive actions to counter-act the expected actions of the central bank. But in this case, the governor merely provides an opinion of a possibility and has not offered any clue as to how the central bank will react. The implied scenario from the government is that money will flow out, as investments withdraw, not as less investments will flow in, and hence interest rates will rise and this will be costly for mortgages, I think the IMF is also off kilter.

O course, there are risks involved in taking either step - in or out. The proper debate is to focus on the risks and benefits and try to debate on their quantum. Not everyone is stupid and could not grasp the challenges. There are issues of national pride which citizens rightly are willing to pay a price for, some even with their own lives as recent wars had proven. On top of that, the British can think they can do better than the Europeans, which is not something to be dismissed. I think it is a silly argument just to rest the whole argument on the point of the economies of scale.

In the end, the EU is a political not an economic argument. The idea arose from the question of what is Europe - which led to the quest to create a European identity to which the US can identify with - as an ally during war - rather than having to deal with so many soverign states, they just have to deal with Brussels.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Politics

Politics is an unsavory topic for me.

The truth about politics is that there is no truth in it. Politics contains only one's own ambitions and intentions concerning power. One pretends to use that power for the public good when deep inside, one knows it is for one's own personal pride, gain or vanity. The less politicians talk about themselves the better it is for everyone.

The problem with politics is this constant battle between the social good and personal gain. It is easy before one has the power to pretend that one is benevolent, and always will be. After having just got the power, one will try to make good the promises one has made and will most often find them impossible to keep. But on discovering that one could get away from it, one would ride along with the pretense of being benevolent and continuing to make more promises than one can keep. Before long, one believes that the power is rightfully one's own and all efforts will be made to hang on to that wonderful power which enlivens one so much with live and energy, to be able to do as one wish and to be able to pronounce one's opinions as if they are good values. The corruption of power has entered the person.

It is for this reason that one is prone to self-deception about one's own greatness and power that there should be a time limit to how long an individual can sit at the apex of the political power structure of a society, lest the ramblings of old people and lunatics become the wisdom of the day.

Ordinary people to whom politics is thrown upon them look at politicians like gods who throw scraps from heaven for their sustenance and survival. We pray for providence and goodness. The least that we dare to ask for is that the gods do not send ill winds and storms to destroy our families and our homes. We stay resolute to keep prodding on despite the odds in order to be able to take care of our loved ones; for we are heroes, and our loved ones need our protection from forces of evil from outside.

But there are those among us in a free democracy who cherish the ambition of taking power and with no money in their pockets and only a smile and sweet words, try to charm the rest of us that there is an evil that we must fight against and that they are the one who will save us. I never believe in that.

So I am caught in this lousy situation in between old seasoned liars and new seasoned liars. The dynamics of political change do not change, how the newcomers try to destroy the incumbents with all sorts of name calling and accusations which may or may not be totally correct. I care not for those accusations but I fear the unfamiliarity with the newcomers. The incumbents are long dead in their boots, gone beyond redemption.

The only consolation in this world of politics is that there is regular change of the underwear so that the stink does not nauseate. The faces of long-timers on either side of the political divide all look the same, grave and threatening but empty. They are only thinking about their dynasties. I favour constant injection of new blood, and shorter term for politicians so that no one can make a career out of such an important public function. They have got to learn to do real work sometime.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Sarawak Election 2016

It is difficult to separate politics from economics, so here is my simple take on the recent event. The Sarawak election today concluded with BN retaining its two-thirds majority while DAP lost some seats.

The opposition was riding on the euphoria of the strong support in the Peninsular in the last election and all that it needed was for the East Malaysians to continue that momentum to complete the Last Push for the opposition coalition to take over the national government. Many Sarawakians flew back for that push but it wasn't enough. It was essentially a lost cause. Not many flew back this time and many didn't bother to vote. There was nothing much that could be done to change the national government. The only thing that was left was for a few urban diehards to register their discontent with the existing government policy which so far have had no benefit to them except policies which burden them further economically.

This being a state election, the state issues have all been substantially dealt with very quickly by the incumbent chief minister to the extent that he risked being labelled a dictator; and some did label him that. But he did not suffer from that labeling as ordinary people felt he solved real problems, and not merely engaging in rhetoric. The real problem with the previous state government was Taib but his retirement from the cm post had basically removed that sting from the opposition. The popularity of Adenan has made Taib a non-issue; we will probably see the end of the politics of character-assassination in the state.

The intense rhetoric of the opposition never sat comfortably with the people of Sarawak as they are more accustomed to soft-talk and compromises. Even when issues were raised, they were often done with great deference to traditional values. The more aggressive style of extremism verging on militancy could wipe up raging emotions, but fiery rhetoric still could not beat simple actions. But in some of the hinterland, there were concerns over ancestral land and heritage and ways of life and there were some show of resistance to radical change and modernisation.

The geography of Sarawak, being physically apart from the Peninsular, makes the development of the state difficult and expensive. This economic handicap and the inability of Putrajaya to conceive of an economic policy that is not wholly Peninsular- nor Malay-centric mean that politics as would be directed by Putrajaya would be resisted by the people, including those from the opposition. The people were listening to all the politicians as to what the politicians would do for them, and I think the people knew what they did.

The people of Sarawak had not been much bothered by the politics in the Peninsular until those politics adversely affect not just the Chinese and non-Bumiputra but also native Bumiputra. This is the time when we can see the Sarawak people acting as one and resist the enemy from without, including the current opposition. Hopefully a day will come when the opposition in the state is a bona fide state opposition, and not a branch of a Peninsular party. I am sure that the people of Sarawak are strong enough to provide their own resistance to an internal dominance.

Malaysians may not expect a Malaysians can be at peace and in harmony with all races regardless of race and religion, but Sarawak seems to have got it right in trying to work together in an amiable manner. Or is the world now so globalised that we all have to shout in order to be heard? Or are we merely seeking attention and fame, without substance? Sarawak may be an economically backward state stymied by being an adopted child, its leaders might have been blinded by greed, but after darkness a light will shine to show to path to redemption.

A strong government with a strong opposition is the way for a modern democracy to go, that would be anybody's wish. In the meantime, as the nation and its component partners learn to grow and mature in civility, a strong government with a sensible leader may be the way to go. The election results showed the wishes of the people.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Education, Nationalism & Language

This is a perennial topic where discussion can go on forever because there are so many different angles to it. I am adding another one.

I think the key focus must be on the education of our young people for their own future and their own good. The ultimate purpose of education is individual survival of the person being educated. There is the master who has knowledge and hopefully wisdom. He is the master because he has learned to survive and now his role is to teach the young.

In traditional societies, the elders teach the young how and where to hunt and fish and plant crops and raise husbandry. To live in peace and harmony among the villagers, the elders teach manners and courtesy. There are customs of how things are to be done when certain things happens, akin to the standard practice instructions or standard operating procedure of modern organisations. The whole village also learn how to make peace with nature in hope of an abundant harvest and plentiful feasting.

At a certain point in the history of the current human civilisation enter religion which is also dictates a way of existence and survival in a certain environment, probably of a very harsh nature. The people are taught to keep faith, to defend their customs and traditions, and to kill off their enemies as self-defence or to disguise or hide their identities from their enemies. These are skills of survival.

In time, rational thinking and argument come in. The politics of democracy comes in, which is usually practised as tyranny. Religion gives way to the pursuit of material wellbeing and money. The means of survival requires young people to be able to read and write and count, be discipline and hardworking, be creative and productive and be everything that any capitalists would love to work to death for a few more pennies.

The people pay taxes for the government to employ experts to teach their kids to learn how to survive in this big and nasty world. Instead, the government twisted the system to inculcate nationalism which is a sense of identity which the elite politicians feel will enhance and prolong their longevity of their reign on earth. Instead of openness, they send in new half-baked people to indoctrinate young people that they are beholden to the false prophets for their well-being. So they lock the minds of the young people up into sterile cells where no thoughts are present except for the few propaganda items of privilege and exclusivity.

In so doing, the politicians on independence of the country from foreign exposure cut the entire nation from the rest of the world, close in onto their own limited language and old agrarian customs and foreign religions, feeling comfortable in their own familiar and shrunken world.

But the survival of the young generations and the young nation require that the young people must be open and versatile and think for themselves. They must not only learn the local languages but also the foreign languages of import. They must be encouraged to think for themselves and to argue against traditions and their elders because the outside world in which they and the nation is subject to are constantly evolving as the world tries to compete with each other. A nation that closes its door onto itself and thinking it is safe is containing itself in its own little enclosure, indifferent to the lack of the space their children and their children's children.

I have read arguments why the local language is also a language of science and discovery and I am of course not doubting that one can be in one's element thinking in one's own language. But it is not an argument against learning other languages and be conversant with them and be so good as to be able to think comfortably in foreign languages. Let not the slow ask the fast to slow down so that he can catch up.

I for one encourage multiple languages for they teach us to understand other cultures and other ways of thinking and looking at the world and each other. I am simply perturbed how limited and constrained the government of the day is, with its civil servants knowing only how to speak and write in their own local language and not being able to communicate with the rest of the world.

Focusing merely on the mother tongue is a dangerous proposition. The language used at home and in the market is colloquial. To be able to speak and write properly in the local language, there are also rules to be followed and therefore even for the native, the formal local language needs also to be learned and not everybody speaking the colloquial language will necessarily be good in the local language formally.

I conjecture that there are as many illiterate native speakers of the local language as non-native speakers. It is therefore likely that the promotion of only the local language will result in a nation full of illiterates compared to one where learning to read and write in different languages is conscientiously pursued as a matter of policy. I am saying that we should be promoting languages as a serious area of study in schools as opposed to the politicising of one language as the one and only one, to the exclusion of others.

In the modern world, it is instructive to learn Mandarin and other Asian languages too. In fact, for the nation to place strategically in the world, we should have experts in all the key languages of the world so that we have understand at the native level what is happening all around us. We cannot simply stand alone deaf and ignorant of the world.

At the very least, I would like the civil servant to be communicating to its citizens and the rest of the world in two or three languages - Malay, English and Mandarin. At least, show that Malaysians are not incompetent and that Malaysians can relate with others.

There is a need to expose the ignorance that is hiding behind the sole use of the local language in communicating with the people in our society. We were not isolationists in the first place. We were an open society but closed in on independence. Something went terribly wrong. It is not too late to turn around and face the world proudly.