Unfortunately, in the world today, we measure everything by nominal value. You live in a RM5 million bungalow and I live in a RM50,000 attap hut. You have more money than I have. I should also have a RM5 million bungalow. Well, you will have to move from the village to the prime real estate and buy my neighbour's house or even my house. Where do you get that RM5 million. That RM5 million represents the full income or savings that you will make in your lifetime. Or, do you think that the price of the house will escalate and you can make RM5 million out of it in 10 years' time.
Conversely, you could build a similar house (that's is simple English for a "bungalow") next to your attap hut. It may cost you RM200,000 - RM300, 000 to build the house using similar materials, if it is not too far away from the city. (If you live in a very ulu place, the cost of transportation may quadruple the cost of materials.) Would you be as happy as living in the house in the countryside or the RM5 million bungalow in the expensive city. It depends entirely on you, on your background, your upbringing, your social support system, your expectations.
In the end, the value of your house depends on your earning power or rather your saving power over your lifetime. (Some lucky ones can buy two or three houses over a lifetime, and that do not come from their salaries I can assure you of that.) Some people will starve themselves to buy a big house and some people will consume well and live in a small house.
The type of house we live in is mostly the result of an accident, not a free choice of their own as most people would like to believe in. Ex-post, after the fact, we may justify how we made our decisions but that is reconstruction. (I don't read autobiographies with titles like "My Success Story" - pure fiction.)
We live where we can get a job - this is a fact. If you can't get a job there, you try to get a job here. Whether you live in a bungalow or an attap is the result of your endowments, natural or otherwise. But some people do have a choice - they have the skills to work in town, but they choose to be in the countryside. But most people just simply put their skills envelope to the extreme limit at the frontier line (some may even bluff to have skills which they do not have). First preference for most people is to work in a big city, because the pay is the best. The pay drops from CEO to senior management to officer and clerk and driver. But you start from the bottom, the highest of the bottom that you can get.
Traditionally, for companies that are struggling to survive, they try to hire the best skills at the market price. For companies where profit is not important, there is leeway to hire the people you like, and those who are the best. But the world is a fluid place. Even if you hire who you like, it is only natural that the best will be able to get a job elsewhere - and most probably produce better result. Unless, of course, the rules of the game are peculiar and the better outcomes are bestowed upon those who are likeable. But in the larger, the best will produce better results, and in our case, earn the highest incomes.
If the best is not a natural endowment, and can be nurtured, which it must be, I believe, then we must be able to recreate those preconditions for success - for everyone, and not just a select many - so that the whole society that progress and move forward and upward. I believe that the economic conditions in Malaysia has improved dramatically in the material sense - we are all consuming far more than is good for us; we are now worrying about our own happiness and don't know whether our happiness is endogenous or externally triggered. Nonetheless, I believe the whole society has progressed tremendously. We are now talking about relative sense of well being. I believe the poor today have more material thing when I was young living in what is now called a squatters' hut with gaps in the wooden panels for natural wind-flows, and newspaper for wallpaper to create some privacy.
Now, there are people who are stuck in towns because they have no land anywhere. They struggle to keep a shelter, and they eat so that they are not hungry. But education is the way forward. I believe very strongly that education must be for free, and free should not mean lousy. It is the bad education policy or poor staffing of the education department is kills good education.
People and communities live in the rural areas because they have land - probably mostly inherited. Inter-generational wealth is not very easy to transmit, as traditional culture and ways of living does not contain sufficient productivity gains (because expanding sideways rather than up) to bring about an improvement in the standard of living. Agriculture has this problem of the lowest productivity gain among the economic sectors, especially among family agriculture. To improve productivity, policy enter to introduce plantations and families are driven to towns with great unhappiness.
If people with the same skills are paid the same amount per hour (wage rate), labourers for example, those in the towns will earn more as they have to work more hours, while those in the country side work fewer hours because there is less requirement for their labour and hence earn less. This urban-rural divide in incomes is a technical factor that is hard to get rid of.
Of course, the urban poor has a very hard life because there is no leeway for them. There are no chicken coops for them to hide in, or banana trees to pluck from. There is the relentless rent to pay, the electricity bills to pay, and the petrol to buy to go to work. Unlike the country side where there may be territorial rights and natural endowments to benefit from, the town is an entirely artificial construction, built on the loans of banks and the circulation of money. The town is a matrix which is not real, unlike the country side where squarely grounded on mud and shit, literally.
The distribution of income and wealth is the result of our own mental makeup, how we envision life. The indigenous people are land-dependent whose shopping mall is the jungle. The immigrants have left their agro-based poverty and enter the towns to work hard and save and accumulate because they do not want to be poor anymore. These traits are passed on by their cultures and the stories they hear from their elders. The schools teach literacy while the homes teach values. The fundamental societal unit is the nuclear family where there is specialisation in domestic homemaking and saving and external income generating. I pity those from broken homes, for they are the lost ones. Will society provide the love for the unfortunate?