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?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Inflationary Forces

I think we have to be clear how we think of inflationary forces in this country.

We know that GST would cause a one-off increase in the price level with the introduction of the 6% on 1 April 2015.

We know that the piling up of sin taxes on alcoholic drinks and cigarettes would also only cause a one-off price increase - each time the sin taxes are raised.

We know that even the drastic depreciation of the ringgit of 20% against the US dollar would also be a one-off effect on the price level.

The academic argument on inflation is that a one-off increase in the price level is not considered inflation because inflation is the continuous increase in the price level from one period of time to the next.

On this score, the GST is free of guilt because the 6% is only one-off from the base of zero GST. At all subsequent times, the GST remains at 6% and hence the price for the same product will remain unchanged at the heightened level. Unless of course the GST is raised above 6%, then another round of one-off price increase occurs.

In the case of the sin taxes, these have in the past few years been heavily victimised because the policy makers want to raise tax revenue in the guise of self-righteousness.

The sharp depreciation of the ringgit of course is again another one-off ever since the depreciation started at about the same time as the imposition of the GST. There was gradual depreciation on a sustained basis until it hit the current level which the general public feels that the situation is completely out of control. This was when the coffee shops started raising prices by 20% to 30%. We can consider this also as another one-off impact.

In terms of analytical rigour, if we were to separate out each of these factors, the conclusion is that none of these by them is a major cause of inflation.

But the obvious answer is that there is the cumulative effect of all these little impacts. A single mosquito bite doesn't quite bother, but a hundred bites would anyone insane.

All these analytic rigour is good for the student who is trying to understand the basic mechanics of inflation. Mind you, the ability to distinguish between a one-off price increase as not inflation and the sustained increase in prices is an important one to learn in class.

After having understood the lesson, in the real world, the challenge is how to think about policies which will affect the price stability of the nation. This after all is the mandate of the central bank, a responsibility entrusted to it by the government. The world has invented the central bank in order to control the minister of finance from spending recklessly for political/populist reasons. The central bank's main tool is tight control of the money supply.

In this country, the central bank has no control over the money supply. We do not have foreign exchange control because we embrace free trade and the free flow of capital. Quantitative easing by the US Fed encouraged money to flow into the stock market here raising stock prices which subsequently fell upon profit taking. The currency rose and fell as a result of the collective inflow and outflow. We lose foreign reserves through our stock market.

The last time the central bank tried to sterilise the domestic money supply from the capital flows resulted in incompetent forex dealers at the central bank losing the pants for the nation.

The increased capital inflows and the increased monetary base encouraged banks to lend out money to the general public to punt shares, speculate on real estate and generally going on a spending spree with their numerous credit cards. The bank executives got big bonuses for creating debt recklessly.

Chief among the borrowers is the government who has learned the joy of spending to solve all political and economic problems, including an incompetent civil service which does nothing but line their pockets with giving out concessions, perks and pensions at the top of their respective scale. Nothing productive came out in the economy except huge public sector debt, raised through bonds which need to be redeemed eventually. Which they did and caused the sharp currency depreciation as foreign bondholders sold out and leave.

They left because the central bank was afraid of the impact of selling forward on the currency and foreign bondholders were left with nowhere to hedge their currency risks on their miserly discount rate on the bonds.

The attempt to control the public sector debt and the political need to spend on mega projects compelled the government "to make very difficult decision" by imposing the GST on the economy. This is a major single act of the transfer of funds from the people to the government which at once make the government rich and the people poor. There is no doubt about this - inflationary or not.

When the ordinary people talk about "inflation" they are really talking about the fall in their standard of living - times are bad, taxes go up, prices go up, margin level down, business poor, hard to earn a living.

The imposition of the GST seems to be a vindictive act to kill off the informal sector which has been the lifeline for many of the poorer sections of society which has been ostracised because they are not of true blue blood of the soil. The GST will force this group further underground, no doubt with the godsend from cyberspace.

The sin taxes and all the other taxes which the government now seems to be trigger happy in imposing will slowly but surely and persistently ensure an underlying bubbling of the inflationary forces in this nation.

The one obvious thing - to the eyes of a trained practicing economist - is this: when is the major adjustment going to take place in real estate. Real estate prices have gone off beyond the reach of the ordinary people. Either wages have to go up or prices have to come down - in order for the market to equilibrate. For the moment, the market is waiting for the equilibrating forces to come from overseas thanks to the cheapened currency.

The thing about inflation (or rather, a one-off major increase in prices) and depreciation of the curreny is that they really do decrease the standard of living of the ordinary people by increasing the costs of living and the only way that they can cope is to reduce their consumption. We are now very discerning in the things we spend money on - and only on the essentials which may also be verging on the inferior quality.

I am looking at you - the banks with your huge debt portfolio all skewed towards real estate and personal finance. You cannot lend much more because your customers have lost their credit-worthiness. Now you are only dealing with big tycoons - does that mean money laundering?

Looking ahead, the world is now entering an upcycle on interest rates - meaning that there is only one way for the interest rate to go - which up.

This is a big nervous decision for the US Fed because they have been so used to solving problems by printing money (QE) for the last three decades that for them to end that trend will just reverse everything that happened. That's why Yellen is walking on a tightrope. To fight inflation, interest rates must go up.

The good times are over. Youngsters who have had a good life putting stocks and flipping real estate may have to learn to do real jobs. The other fantasy world is cyberspace which is real in itself being of the digital economy age but probably only a handful will succeed. The rest will just have to put their noses to the grind, work at a job and wishing and hoping that properties will become affordable so that they can start their new families and get on with life.

Yes, economic theories and models are great. They help us to think clearly. But policy is an entirely different ball game altogether - a combination of every model that you can hold in your head at any one time.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Brexit - Leaving EU

The United Kingdom triggers off its break from the European Union on the 29th March 2017, with two years to negotiate by 2019.

The original intention for the UK to break off is to be able to control its own borders. Rapid immigration has put pressure on its public sector especially in housing, healthcare and welfare services. It is inevitable that with common borders, workers from poor countries flow to rich countries in search of jobs and a better life.

The UK is forced to take this extreme measure of breaking off between the EU does not allow member states to limit the number of immigrants, a direction that was pursued by David Cameron. The EU said, "No, you take the whole package and cannot pick and choose." This forced the referendum and the population voted to get out.

Those in the cities mostly voted to stay in while those outside the cities mostly voted to leave. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted remain, while England and Wales voted leave. As democracy is in the end reduced to a simple major rule, the leave wins which then leads to the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty yesterday.

The beauty of the EU is that it provides a common market for the goods and services of the EU member states. It may be envisaged that a mixture of rich and poor countries can provide all the necessary ingredients of a balanced and self-contained economy. As it turns out, capital does not easily flow to poor countries, but the people of poor countries easily flow to rich countries.

But why should the Europeans be so angry with the UK for trying to leave the EU, by being very difficult in the negotiation? After all, there is freedom and democracy in Europe and countries should be able to freely join or leave the club.

Maybe the EU is not a club, but like a religious grouping where once you joined you cannot leave with threats of tribulations.

The EU is a political grouping that is disguised as an economic club. While the immediate benefits are economic in nature, the ultimate purpose is to create a political entity that is a federation of member state that answers to a big brother in Brussels. The EU is an attempt by Europe to regain its former glory as a unified empire, in an apparent counter-force to Russia and China, and probably the US. Many say that EU has resulted in decades of peace in Europe.

If the EU were to break, then individual nation states may see themselves as vulnerable to attacks by their bigger neighbours, the biggest one being Russia. The EU can be seen as a continued ideological fight for democracy against the totalitarian state of Russia. In attempting to do, unfortunately, Brussels may have to act in a totalitarian manner with respect to their individual states.

Each European state may therefore have to choose to suffer in the hands of either friendly dictators or fearful enemies.

In trying to punishing the UK for leaving the EU, Brussels may be shooting its own foot. By destroying the UK economy, the EU may be destroying a potential ally in times of war should Russia decides to act. Putin is watching. Strategically, the EU should help and ensure that the UK be sound and strong so that they can collaborate politically if need be in future.

After WWI, Europe punished Germany by insisting on war reparations causing hardships to people and which led to the rise of Hitler and WWII. After WWII, the US supported Germany and Japan, the losers in the war, as economic giants so that they can be strong allies in times of war or to deter another war.

These are lessons that Germany should learn, when dealing with the UK.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Values for Modern Society

The question here is what are the moral values that we should adopt in order to live successfully and happily in the modern money society that we have today.

The modern society we have today is a drastic change - as a result of the scientific revolution where human beings have learned to conquer nature and gone beyond the confines of the natural environment (well, not quite) into an artificial world of the matrix which involves human activities that move money - from the very slow and mundane world of agriculture and natural self-sufficiency which managed to keep everybody in a community from starving but also from being too rich.

From the traditional agrarian society of the past, where economic fortunes laid in a delicate balance as mother nature (or some would call god) constantly threatened to upset things once in a while with either too much rain or no rain or violent wind, we learn that it is good to be humble and not too be proud because we do not know what tomorrow may bring and therefore we better not be too cocksure about ourselves and our abilities. Whatever skills we may have are nothing when considered in the context of the larger cosmos, the billions of stars in the skies and the huge expanse of the earth and everything that the sea, air and earth can hold.

Because of the vagaries of the world, humbleness is indeed the best insurance because when your luck is down, you need the help of your neighbours, and vice versa. If you were to boast and you happen to be in trouble, then you are on your own because nobody is going to help you because you put yourself above everybody else when you were lucky and now everybody want to see how you can get out of the quagmire you are in and if not to see you eat dirt.

And you don't blow your own trumpet because other people do not like the sound of the noise you are making about yourself because they could be jealous as a result of their own inadequacy or that they may be more superior to you and could come out in the open and challenge you in order to teach you a lesson on humbleness. It is okay for others to blow the trumpet for you and then you should be proud of your greatness. This is because in a small unstable society, a small fart will stink the whole place and it is better you do not let off that you are the culprit. Secrecy is key to survival, and all the skeletons in the cupboard better be properly hidden.

In modern society where Adam Smith declared long ago that the best thing to squeeze the best out of the best in society is competition. By which means, give everybody a chance to show off and be the best. The world wants to know who is the best - the fastest runner, the strongest weightlifter, the richest person, the richest company, the best technology firm, the best car maker.

The modern world is not a world of humbleness; it is a world of self-declaration (I'm the greatest, and you've better be) and self-advertisement (I'm not the best, but I can get it and you can't). The modern world is a world where everybody is the unique (hence the body tattoo) and the best in whatever little niche they have decision to hole themselves in. This is because in a competitive environment, you have to find the odd little space that is empty and you try to fill it in and capture a place in the busy market.

The modern world is no more dependent on the natural environment (though ultimately it must still do); it is dependent on how much money you have. As Joan Collins recently mentioned, to have the f--- you money, so that you do not have to kowtow to anyone anymore. With money and wealth in the mind, everybody is out to kill the competition and be the only one left standing (ask Bill Gates). The big ones crush the small ones and the world is run by the global monopolies who now have the power to twist the arms of sovereign governments - and threaten to move their investments out if they do not endorse a slavery policy and pay no tax and leave the ordinary citizens in every country they invest in unemployed and poor below subsistence. Human beings become inputs to the large industrial complex that controls the world economy, aided by the global money printing machine that is the US Federal Reserve which has happily been churning out paper banknotes in the billions over the last three decades.

So for the ordinary person in his little abode of whatever kind he and his family have managed to find themselves (read she as well, especially the single mother), how is he going to behave. If he is humble and doesn't blow his trumpet and waiting for his bosses or other people to recognise his talents and achievements, he will end up as a semi-unknown person pushing the keyboard in a little corner while his bosses take credit for all his work and allow themselves to be admired by other thieves of credit (that being their only major credit).

The bosses and managers (usually with soft skills in manipulation and lying) short change the skilled workers (with their hard skills obtained after many years of book study and brain cracking), because the skilled workers are humble and the bosses are braggarts. So the sons and daughters of farmers and fishermen, well trained in manners by their parents, languish in their little stations in life, desperately trying to pay back the mortgage on their house and car and putting food on the table everyday.

Worse still in a society of discrimination, where sections of society are either put in favour or being ignored, the values that are now being germinated are completely strange.

Among the well-to-do in favour, they are privileged and therefore everything deserved go to them.

Among the not-so-well-to-do in favour, they are being caught in twilight zone as they cannot cry that they are in trouble nor can they say that they are not good enough.

Among the well-to-do being ignored, they are really not being ignored but courted because they know how to make things happen and everybody love them.

Among the no-so-well-to-do being ignored, they are at the bottom rung of the social ladder, their parents literally sacrificed their own lives to provide a basic platform for their children to take a first step up.

Those who can't resign themselves to fate, abandon the formal society and enter into the world where no laws apply. Because the world has ignored them, they in turn ignore the world. They create a world of their own. They become rebels and rise in opposition to the government, the source of the injustice done to them. In this world, it doesn't pay to be humble, but be obedient to their code of brotherhood to fight together for survival, and probably at all cost to defend their right to live in this world.

In the meantime, the brighter world of the government officials who are employed not for their competence and who spend all their life in employment training to be fit for the jobs they were initially hired for and retired upon their graduation from education. They go on the escalation of promotion and privilege so that everyone has a chance to get the top scale upon which they can retire in luxury, never ever having to lift a finger to help their fellow citizens who are desperately in need of guidance of the rules of the societal game.

The civil service becomes bloated because those who are sent to school during employment have a replacement to do their jobs. Those sitting in position but are incompetent hire external consultants to do the job for them.

So what is the moral values that one must adopt in order to live successfully and happily in this modern world of ours? Certainly not the traditional values of self-restrained and self-righteousness. I suggest some here - kill or be killed, lie in order to avoid trouble, fake when you are can't do it properly, steal when no one is looking, steal openly when there is a policy endorsing it. Not forgetting, blow your own trumpet or rather blow with the trumpet you have stolen. Advertise your talents as there is always a demand by the incompetents who have access to funding.

The world has changed.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bitcoin & Theory of Money

I was asked by a friend to write about bitcoin.

Not that I have been following bitcoin closely. I haven't.

But from what I have gathered from some headlines, it goes something like this:

Bitcoin is a computer algorithm, supposedly complex and is on its own after its creation and nobody can control it nor modify it. Its supply is created by some random successes in operations which is supposed to mimic the randomness of the success of mining. In other words, its supply is sporadic.

The key to getting this bitcoin scheme going is to create a demand for it. It has its own ecosystem whereby people with a hoard of bitcoin can exchange it with others. There is no point exchange it with another bitcoin unless of course you want to go into debt by borrowing. You want to try to exchange the bitcoin with other non-bitcoin items, so that from there, it is supposed to behave like money.

The other way to hip the demand for bitcoin is to create an exotic story out of it, like the Mona Lisa, in order to get people to desire bitcoin for its own sake. Or, to stimulate demand by creating a speculative fervour for it about its rising value in the future. All these things could be stimulated out of an environment of complete nothing better to do and boredom. One must just as well try to cultivate the black tulip.

In the bitcoin ecosystem, of course, by definition, the rule is to use bitcoin as a unit of account and a medium of exchange. Anything can be used to fulfill these two functions.

We can think of isolated places now or in the place where all kinds of stuff are used as a unit of account or medium of exchange - but in small doses. It could be favours (of a lady or man), graces in heaven, cows, shells, stones, metals, dusts. The most famous was salt which was used to pay Roman soldiers as "salarium" which becomes in English "salary".

The test of money as we now know it as money is the size of the ecosystem in which the item functions as money. If we think of the ringgit or any other national currencies, each ecosystem may not be very large. But if we think in terms of paper money or electronics money, it covers the entire earthly universe, almost literally - except for those few isolated places that still trade in wives or some other unfortunate creatures.

So a unit of account or medium of exchange is not sufficient a quality to be considered as money.

The store of value is also a necessary function but not sufficient. In Malaysia today, the ringgit is not considered a good store of value. People who are clever enough are proud that they are fully in debt and in possession of bricks and mortar called houses and condominium units. Better still, gold.

But however lousy the ringgit may be as a store of value, it is still the only means of final settlement.

No matter how rich you may be, but if you do not have the cash, you cannot buy anything. This is here that the banks do a roaring business, exploiting the difficulty of ensuring sufficient liquidity by people at very inconvenient times - only of course when you have collateral assets in real estate. Banks know from hundreds of years of operations that real estate is the only way to hold value because people cannot help but procreate and they all want to live in city centres.

What I am getting at is that the current economic theory despite the Keynesian revolution is still stuck in medieval times in the barter economy where unsold goods can be considered as savings and hence investment. Keynes got stuck at the savings equals investment and could get out; he insisted that there is hard truth no matter what. He was still stuck in the barter economy.

In the monetary economy - ie, a money-using economy, like we all are in the world today - no money, no talk. We all have debts and we must have the cash to pay the debts - you can ask the unfotunate wives of gamblers who borrowed from loan sharks as lenders of last resort. They just want their cash back.

So if you set up a company to produce apples, you have to have capital in cash to hire workers and machines. You have to pay the workers cash first before they would work. There are no apples to give them in the first place. But after you have produced the apples at the end of a production period or harvest, you want cash back for your apples. You are not happy if you sell all the apples to your workers and they give you back all the wages you pay them. You have your initial capital in cash back and have no more apples. If you keep back some of the apples for profit, and sold some apples to your workers, you do not have cash. Your profit must be in the form of cash.

The only way of is to sell your apples to your foreign friends for foreign curreny or your political friends who print money or your rich friends who have savings from their parents.

That why, all merchants clamour for exports rather than feed their workers. That's why governments print money. Or people spent their inheritance or borrow to the hilt. This is the way our modern monetary world works.

So, I don't think bitcoin is any bit a coin, not just yet.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Supremacy

There is this constant search for supremacy in the world among human beings who are trying very hard to deny their mortality.

We human beings are nothing but tiny fry whose lifetime in this world when measured against the cosmic world is shorter than the blink of the eye.

But many of us are taken to illusion of grandeur, blowing ourselves out larger than we actually are. Many of us are shouting and trying to make ourselves heard in the noisy market place.

The reality is that most of us are anonymous, living our lives in quiet desperation.

We look at the media and see the glamour. We look at ourselves and see how mundane we are.

So what can we do to get attention?

We look for the most trendy things that are happening and we try to associate ourselves with them. We try to be a part in a bigger whole. Many of us subscribe to entities that champion our ideals. For the most ambitious individuals, they try to make themselves prominent and take charge of the whole.

In the world of competitive, the strongest wins. We see this in all the sports - the more civilised versions of war. In the arena of war, we see this in the display of weapons and technology being devoted to the destruction of fellow human beings. We are heading ourselves towards total self-annihilation. Of course, we should not be so surprised - after all, the whole should reflect the individual parts which always ends in death.

In the world of economic competition, the tendency is towards monopoly - the total destruction of the opponents so that only the strongest survive. It is not surprising that the world is composed of a handful of global giants who are controlling the entire world economy. Economic life has not been as boring before as it is today.

In the globalised world, we see the exact few giants in the shopping malls in our neighbourhood as we see them in the big cities of the world. We just see the same thing duplicating itself all around.

The diversity of the economic world has disappeared. There are no more little shops run by the old little couple who are champions of their little neighbourhood, with a unique that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.

And different parts of the world have their own unique little quirks that one cannot find anywhere else. This is no more.

The world we live in today is a world of great cultural diversity as the migration of people reach a larger scale as air travel is now a commodity and the immigration policy of any major growing economy is being dictated by big global businesses looking for cheap labour.

The greater diversity of culture in many urban centres are fostering great loneliness among people. As they try to find their own identity, in a foreign place, they resort to their own ethnic food and their own culture. If their culture is defined stronger by place, and if they are in the wrong place, their culture is then replaced with either a philosophy or a religion.

Among the masses, religion takes a strong hold on the individual because religion is the result of one's own conviction, by definition. Religion transcends the harshness of geography and enters the imagination of goodness and everything that is opposite of harshness.

From sheer desperation, desperate are called and religion becomes the rallying call for the disillusioned.

This is the world as we now see it.

In economic theory, the great wisdom is that monopoly is something that has to be fought because the world belongs to everyone. Everybody should have an opportunity to participate in the great activity of human survival and feeding one's own family.

This is why economic wisdom called for an authority usually the government to break up monopoly and ensure that others have a chance to enter the fray of economic activities.

In reality, the world we have today is a world where monopolistic structures are being put up to try to dominate a situation. While this is certainly going on in the economic arena, the same is certainly also going in the religious realm.

The great wisdom of some religions is the retreat of the religious from secular life. The great dread today is the attempt by some to bring religion forth to the foreground as the dominant force in life. To kill secular life by imposing a religious life.

But the great shame is that for most people like us who have been living an obviously secular life, because we never try to impose our life beliefs on others, we trying very hard to do that to ourselves, we may now have to contend with the madness of others as to how we should live life everyday.

Such courage to try to impose one's religious values onto others cannot be the act of one person, but the result of people at the core of modern government who secretly condone such creeping of religious views into secular government.

Treachery is all over the place.

As economic theory says, the best approach to the greatest welfare for everybody is the freedom to choose and competition. In a world of diversity, there should be freedom to choose and competition in diversity.

This may have to mean that there may be nothing that can be sacrosanct which cannot be debated in a formal manner. There must be the right of others to try to understand that which is so special about a particular position in religion, especially if it affects your neighbours.

There is now a debate in this part of the world that because a religion is the official religion, the religion edicts overrides the secular civil code of the constitution of a democratic society.

The word "official" is a simple word but not many understands. These words have a reference. In the diverse world of many religion, whenever there need to be mention about what is the religion to be referred to for this country, the answer is that which is the official religion.

The world has suffered a lot unduly unfortunately over the other statement the one supreme entity to you or me. In the world of many gods, I am the one for you - as you and one has to declare to our respective spouses. Unfortunately, human beings have fought over the oneness.

Supremacy is selfish and cowardly.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What It Means To Be Malay


The definition of Malay as a race in the constitution and hence the national economic policy has been and still is the fundamental source of  racial discrimination. In fact, in the way it is practiced, it is now a religious discrimination. We all know this is politics at its worst in this country. It may be about time that this explicit discrimination is removed from our national psyche.

It therefore gave me great joy to read this letter to the editor in the New Straits Times last week. For once, I feel that at last the NEP has produced enlightenment which can really be a light of hope for this nation of ours. I therefore copied that the letter below for you to read for yourself.

What It Means To Be Malay

by Dr. Sabariah Mohamed Salleh
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 
Bangi, Selangor


10 February 2017 


"According to Article 160 of the Constitution, a Malay is defined as someone who professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks Malay and adheres to Malay customs. Therefore, I am constitutionally defined as a Malay. 

However, this does not erase the fact that my paternal grandfather, Pateh Akhir, was of Bugis descent and my maternal grandfather, Abu Bakar, was of Thai descent. 

To me, culture and cultural identity are interesting topics. When discussing cultural identity, people often look at a person’s history, ancestry and clothing as identifying markers. 

I remember sitting in my visual culture seminar, when I was doing my PhD in Vienna, Austria, when my lecturer, Professor Filitz, asked me: “What makes you a Malay?” 

Confidently, I said I spoke Bahasa Malaysia, wore baju kurung and celebrated Eid. 

He said: “Does this mean, by sitting here in my class, wearing a pair of jeans and Adidas sneakers, and speaking in English, you are not a Malay?” 

I was stumped. Growing up, I had always assumed that cultural denominators, like clothes and language, were elements that made us culturally distinct. 

To me, the basis of culture is made up of differences because we are assigned in a system that categorises us in groups, as exemplified by the racial categorisation that we adhere to when filling in forms and answering demographic questions. 

According to Filitz, this made me an essentialist. He said I had a utopian idea of what a Malay should be like, and that I had failed to realise that culture was constantly evolving. 

How was I sure that the concept of Malayness that I practised and believed in was the original Malay culture practised centuries ago?

“How can you put culture in a box?” Filitz said. 

That made me question myself. When getting dressed for work, I prefer suits than baju kurung. 

I express myself better in English. I am not well versed with the names of Malay kuih. Does that make me less Malay? 

Scholar Anthony Giddens said globalisation played a big role in how cultures were practised. He said new technologies and developments had encouraged people to venture out of their comfort zones to travel or immigrate. 

This increase in mobility makes it possible for cultural activities to be practised anywhere and for people to know cultures from around the world. 

Interestingly, nowadays, people do not have to travel to experience other cultures. 

The Internet and advanced technology have enabled people to offer recommendations for French cuisine in Paris, despite not being there. 

One can learn how to speak Korean from YouTube videos or experience Bhutan through an Instagram account. 

This virtual movement provides choices as to how people could construct their cultural identity. 

These options enable people to pick any style or personality they want and mix and match it to construct their identity. 

So, would it be possible for people to claim that they are purebred Malays, Chinese and Indians? 

I believe that cultural identity is immeasurable. For instance, no particular sect of Malay — Javanese, Bugis and Boyan— is more superior than the other. 

My limited knowledge of Malay syair or penchant for hot mocha and dim sum should not be a reflection of my level of Malayness. 

Stuart Hall aptly said cultural identity was fluid and constantly changing. 

Thus, as an individual, I can choose to adapt, change or omit any cultural element to construct my own cultural identity."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Prejudices

It seems incredible that there are people who think that only they have the moral high ground and that their prejudices are OK and your differences with them are not OK.

One would have thought that only in this little minded country of ours that we have people like our previous topmost leader who had his prejudice into affirmative policies which neglects others. He now fears those from China as he previously also feared those from China. But this time he says that the old Chinese here should also fear the new Chinese, like he is now. It is a fact that once you have phobias, you will always have the phobias, no matter how you may wish to disguise them - unless you have a sudden dose of wisdom and enlightenment and wake up the reality of yourself.

What really dismayed me were the bad manners of the Obamas and the Clintons who think that only they are the decent people who have decent views - and those who differ from them in their public statements are indecent. I simply just cannot phantom why they could not give Trump and his wife the due courtesy as anyone would give to the President of the US and his wife - unless of course they have decided to disrespect the President of the US themselves. Even John Lennon who subsequently returned his OBE to the queen at least had the decency to behave properly in front of her.

Now we have pressure groups out in numbers to protest against Trump and the US Presidency. This is incredible. Where have the respect for the law gone to? I can see parallels of the situation in our country and I think it is not healthy. I rather bear the nonsense rather than to have chaos and violence done in the name of justice - for it depends on what justice and whose justice.

You are losing the game and you have decided to those the chess board. It was alright when you were winning.

There are many of us in this country who have bear our burden of so many injustices which we have learned to take it as part of the game. It is a rough game. It is an unfair game. But life is real, and we should protect life and bear the rest.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What Is Better Than GST?

There is recently this very public question of "What is better than GST?", and I think it needs an answer.

1. No GST.

The best alternative to the GST is no GST. There is no god-given right for the government of the day of any country to impose a tax on everything in life.

The GST is argued to be good because it reaped RM40 billion for the government. It is good for the government but no good for the general public.

A RM40 billion withdrawal directly from the pockets of the ordinary people as they go about their daily lives is a punishment for them, especially those with fixed incomes. It leads directly to a reduction of their real incomes.

The counterargument could be that the government is pumping back some money to the low income groups to "compensate" them for the GST. Yes, very nice conceptually but unlikely to be correctly practised - some who deserve may not get it and some who do not deserve get it.

2. Reduce Government Spending.

Since the purpose of introducing the GST is to fund the government deficit, it is logic that the alternative is to reduce government spending.

The government is spending too much money. The government should cut down on its lavish lifestyle. Projects should be better scrutinised for their economic viability, and cost cut by not over-specification. The most showy events in public today are government events.

3. No personal income tax.

If there should be GST which is indirect tax, there should be no personal income tax which is direct tax. To impose GST on top of the personal income tax is for the government to tax on taxed income of persons - the government is trying to discourage consumption on top of discouraging effort.

We know income tax has been reduced with the introduction of GST, but the argument here is that income tax should be abolished altogether at least personal income tax.

Cope out.

It is a cope-out argument that the introduction of the GST is justifiable because so many other countries are applying the GST or its equivalent. I think for once we should learn to argue from first principles and need rather than using a precedent from elsewhere. When is this country going to be original?

Implementation.

There are so many issues about the implementation of the GST. The whole thing boils down to that the burden of the implementation falls on the businesses. If they do not understand the system, they get punished. The incompetence of the implementors of the GST does not matter, for it is costless for them.

Inflation.

The current bout of inflation has been enormous, about 20-30%. The biggest cause has been the currency depreciation as a result of expectations of higher US interest rates and the outflow of the ringgit to other currencies. The ringgit outflow could be related to repatriation of stock market proceeds and profits, the redemption of ringgit bonds, foreign workers remuneration as well as better investment opportunities abroad. The lack of opportunities in the country is a serious concern. The 6% GST is a small issue, relative to these colossal impacts of the ringgit weakness. Nonetheless, the GST does not help in the situation and could the trigger that makes everybody decides that there is no more respective for the stability of retail prices. We have created inflationary expectations and we are passing the cost of higher prices to other people, with precedence from the government.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Stocism: The Art Of Living In Adversity

There seems to be a perennial interest in the philosophy of stocism, that revered stone-faced approach to living.

Stoic: person who can endure pain and hardship without showing their feelings. (Oxford Dictionary.)

The primary goal of stocism is how to be happy or rather how to live a happy life. So, we are not talking about just moments but the whole stretch of one's life, although everything would be based on the moment, and hence, a series of moments.

To live a happy live is to live a life that one wishes - not in the sense of frivolity - but in the sense of living in accordance with one's inner being. Be a good durian if you know you are a durian, and not trying to be a rambutan.

In other words, stocism is about being one's true self. It is by being true to oneself that one can truly be happy with oneself.

This is because this is the reality.

The reality is out there, and not inside you, and therefore it is not part of you. Whatever the reality is, it has nothing to do with you. This is the reality.

The only way reality has an impact on you is when you react to it, the reality. By reacting, you allow reality to hit you.

Which means that in order to ensure that the reality has no impact on you is for you not to react to it. By not reacting to reality, you do not allow reality to hit you.

Here you are, alone in this world. There it is the reality, existing by itself, existing before you were born and will exist after you are gone from here.

Pain is external to you. There may be pain in a part of your body, but yo do not have to own that pain. You can make pain an alien to your being. You do not have to react to the pain.

Now, what do you do in this apparent stalemate?

The only thing to do in this real life is to live according to your own true self.

Know yourself.

Live your life, your own way.

Do what you have to do; do not do what you don't need to do.

Do as per your true self. Live your life with integrity to your true self.

To live life with integrity to your true self, you have to keep life simple. You can only know a few key elements of your own true self, and you have to keep your faith with those few points of yours.

Be honest - don't lie, don't cheat, don't misrepresent, don't mislead, don't say what you do not know.

Have courage - endure though not suffer, don't be afraid.

Be rational - use your head, re-examine carefully all those impressions of things in your mind and make sure that they are true, calm your senses down by keeping still in order to know yourself, behave on the basis of what you know.

Stocism is therefore about living a virtuous life according to yourself, your own nature, being true to yourself, without depriving others from doing the same.

Living In The Present

When the real world today seems all in shambles, the world is in shambles, but not you.

You are intact. You know who you are. You are being honest to yourself.

If you are in debt, then pay off the debt by selling the assets you have accumulated. If that is not sufficient, get yourself declared bankrupt. Do what you have to do. Don't try to avoid the consequences of your own past actions. Don't blame others for your present troubles. You did not credit others when you were doing well before; you owed everything to yourself. Your financial world may collapse, but you are still alive. Only you will decide for yourself that you should be unhappy. You do not have to get others' approval to be happy.

The same applies to your fame, your reputation - bestowed upon you by others for no reasons of yours that you can fathom and for no good purpose that you can use it for. You are like everyone else: human, alive, aging, waiting.

In such adversity, it is a real joy to be alive, because that is the only thing that now defines you - and possibly the only most important thing.

Every step you take is entirely yours and yours alone. You decide. You do. You live.

Be happy. Be alive.