If we refuse ourselves to be fooled by the politicians about the need for "sustained rapid" economic growth, then I think we have a chance to live a more self-satisfying life. In what way?
After all, are we all not free to live the life that we so choose? If we are, then what should we do?
I think any reasonable person would want to exert himself as fully as he can and be happy with that exertion because it is motived by his inner self - the result of an understanding of life which he has obtained from his parents and family, his society and the encounters in his life. As such, the inner self will evolve, and with it, the things that he will do to be self-satisfied.
I think we all know the above. Only, that we do not have the courage to execute it. Why?
We fear we will not have enough money to feed ourselves and our family. We fear illness and we fear death.
Our whole beings are formulated right from the start by the fears of our parents. Through their keen observations of life, they know the way to live life successfully under the prevailing circumstances - and their keenness to see us successful in life is expressed in the disciplines they have placed on us. From there, our whole beings are respectively created by a figment of our parental fears who come across time as cultural values.
If we have created for ourselves a benevolent society, then there is a social network which provides opportunities for the capable to exert themselves and be productive and for them to support the whole of society especially the young, old, sick and the less fortunate. Such a society may draw from the best of each of us - insofar as our education, intelligent and insight allow us. This is where enlightenment as to what life is all about produces a happy society. In such a society, there probably will be many acts done out of devotion and concern and care for people and the environment where no money is exchanged.
The GDP of the benevolent society will be lower than that of the purely commercially market-oriented society. The market economy transacts every act with the exchange of money. Millions die in the midst of plenty because they have no money to buy, rather than there is no food. I am not against the market economy; the market is good as an outlet for those who want to monetise their efforts. What I am trying to say is that not everything should be monetised through the market. There are some things we do which we wish to keep private and localised only for the enjoyment of ourselves, our families and our friends.
I have tried to motivate my children to do things other than the vocational courses which are obviously geared for the commercial world. There are the arts and other creativity ways of life where the commercial values may not be as great (at first blush) but the personal self-satisfaction may be tremendous. I have often yearned for a more vibrant arts scene in our midst if only for a better and more balanced way to while away our lives.
For this, workers and employees have to be better educated and better paid, employers to put plough back their profits to improve productivity rather than hidding them in other countries, policymakers to design clear operational systems for the people, and politicians to keep a low profile (as opposed to smiling heedlessly from billboards).
It started with the Japanese but now the Chinese have shown themselves to be the real masters of the invincible. But we do not have to follow the antics of these strange and hardened people. Those of us who are in Malaysia, born and bred, have been nicely softened by the humidity that we are quite happy to be good but not that brilliant. We are happy not to be the best, but be the happiest. If we can be happy with little, then we should so that we have to spare time to do the things we really want to do.
Of course, we leave it to the civil service - not the politicians - to plan for the common good; by the civil service, I mean our best and brainy who know how to organise the farms and improve the supply chain, the urban cities with integrated residential and commercial functions so that the night life can be colourful, the industrial estates that are clean and integrated so that they will have great architecture to admire.
In other words, we should make our civil service strong and professional for our future is in its hands. I think the civil service should be put under EPF and not pension, their wages raised to be at par with the private sector but their annual leave trimmed to be the same number of days. In this way, we will have a civil service that is working when the rest of the economy is working, so that there will be more synergy in the whole economy.
If we can mobilise the full energies of our people to work together, we can conjure up a wicked brew for us all to get drunk - rather than be suspicious and distant. After all, we have the best concentration of all the ancient cultures in a tropical paradise where the colours are stark and clear.
We need a wholesome vision for our society and economy, not a sectarian one.