Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Independence: Scotland The Great

The Scottish referendum on independence was a show of the greatness of the Scottish people.

No where on earth have we seen a referendum that was so intense and yet so peaceful, except for a few scuffles on the Friday evening of the counting. In an imperfect world, it was as ideal a demonstration of the proper practice of democracy as we can even imagine that a group of people can perform.

We saw people from both sides debating the pros and cons of independence for Scotland, with great emotion and with great restraint.

The argument for independence for Scotland, as with the argument for independence for any notion of nationhood, is a highly emotionally charged one. Who does not want to be independent, to be the master of oneself, not to be controlled by someone else? It is this very notion of being the master of one's own destiny that is so at once romantic and so compelling. It is this very notion that now drives many other states to try to split from a federation or a union, in order to again a sense of freedom and liberation.

The argument against independence and for Scotland to stay within the union of the United Kingdom is an argument of great economic practicality. It is the economic argument that has created the European Union, for example, and that is pulling more states in peripheral of the EU towards the union. Most people want to be part of a bigger economic bloc so that ordinary people can also find good jobs outside their homeland. This is economic freedom. Which also means that there are people in the homeland who do not find jobs, and therefore blames the union of their inability to find something decent to do at home. If creating good jobs at home is easy, jobs can also be created while within the union.

Unless, of course, we are talking about some macroeconomic policy changes, the biggest of which is the currency which must be devalued in order to make the homeland more competitiveness, which then of course devalues the wealth of the rest of the population and since the unemployed is only a small fraction of the population, there is overwhelming argument against independence because of the currency issue.

The pro-independence camp arguing that the economic uncertainties highlighted by the other camp is pure fear mongering, which is incorrect. The economic uncertainties are real, and I think it is the reality of the economic argument that finally won the day over the romanticism of the political argument.

This is true of almost every country on earth where democracy is properly practiced, that the prime concern of all citizens is the day-to-day reality of survival and earning a living, and with it the importance of proper education, and law and order. In any union, therefore, the pulling force lies in the soundness of national policies, their fairness or "social justice" as the Scots said recently. It must be this sense of fairness in the treatment of all citizens that people feel they truly belong to the place which they were born and not be rejected considered as weeds in a monoculture plantation.

The greatness of the Scottish people, as shown by the recent referendum on independence, is that they give confidence that level-headed and rationality can prevail even in a highly contentious situation. Bear in mind that the Scottish mind is probably one of the most enlightened of the human mind, which gave birth to the idea of independence of the French Revolution which the French then exported it to America. For economists, of course, the greatness name is Adam Smith who fought for economic freedom for all people and nations. And David Hume who gave the idea of rent and rent-seeking, as well as the marginal returns to land. There are many more.

The greatness of the Scottish people is their elevation of mind from the primitive and irrational to the rational and disciplined. May the whole world learn and follow.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Joan Rivers: Brute Honesty

What is wrong being yourself?

If you find a reality that is an upfront to polite society and you find that you can make a living out of it, then it is not a bad thing. Nor is it a wrong thing.

Of course, polite society will say you are being caustic, acidic, sharp tongue, abrasive, etc.

But there is another section of society who is with you. And if you are popular with the general public - and as a result, you are successful - then that is really not a bad thing.

The truth is that it is really hard to be really nice and popular with everybody. There are people who are jealous and hate to see you do well. There is no need to obtain general acceptance.

I am probably spending too much time with people who want you to endear to them. There is so much hypocrisy when people pretend to be nice but in reality hate your guts. There is so much pretense that you do not know the reality.

Equally, I would probably not want to live in an environment where everybody shouts at you in your face all the time, and wish you ill or death.

The bottomline is the ultimate intention of the person. If you know that the person is ultimately kind, may not be nice, doesn't really mean the words used, but merely describing things the way she sees it without mincing words, and to be brutally honest, then I suppose one would not take offense, if the blunt words are not directed at you or are directed at someone else.

It is really a fine line. And only a master can walk that fine line and not fall.

Not everybody likes the jokes by Joan Rivers, but she was a master that brute honesty.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Independence & Nationalism

Between the 31st August and the 16th September, Malaysia have more than two weeks to contemplate what this so-called independence of ours means. Whose independence, who should have the upper hand - or are these entirely silly questions.

Independence is a claim on self-government by all the people in a certain geographical area. This is as opposed to the government of the local area by some foreign powers such as the UK or Japan, or Holland, France, US or China. Independence is the government of the local people by the local people, in the best way they see fit.

The 31st August is significant because some 57 years ago the UK government had graciously agreed to allow the local people of Malaya to determine their own destiny. The 16th September is significant because some 51 years ago, the UK government has graciously agreed to allow the local peoples of the now three entities of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to govern themselves and form a federation called Malaysia.

This idea of Malaysia was then as advanced as we have today of the idea of the European Union. The EU is a union at several levels. First, is the monetary union which uses the Euro among all EU members, except the UK. We have this in the ringgit. Second, there is the customs union where there are practically no barrier to trade among EU members. There is no barrier to trade among Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak. Third is the removal of barriers to intra-EU migration. This is now a big problem among EU member states where weakness in the control of non-EU immigration in a remote corner of the EU can cause havoc in other member states. There is now a growing call among EU member states to review this feature. What is meant as good solution to unemployment in some states and high wages in others - which it still is - is now a contentious issue in individual EU-member sovereign nations. The tendency to look at the good side while underestimating the problems is a major problem when sovereign states come together to create a larger economic bloc, often at the expense of politics.

The idea that Sabah and Sarawak can come together with Malaya is form a bigger bloc - ostensibly to fight a potential neighbourly military threat - is now being increasingly questioned by the educated group as to the implications on the economics as well as culture and religion.Independence does not appear, to them, to be a case for self-governance by the local peoples but the dominance of the majority on the large minorities in all spheres of life - politics, economics, religion, culture - the name of nationalism.

The real problem is, of course, the drive towards monoculture as the saving grace for nationalism masquerading as unity. This is a dubious proposition. Unity is always about cohesion, not uniformity. The constant struggle for survival and betterment is the driving force for the national strength - on as level a playing field as any humans can provide for their fellow human beings. It is not about complete domination of oneself over others, not the complete annihilation of others. It is the varying quality of the fertility of the ground that will define the structure of economic activities and social practices and general sense of well-being of different sections of society.

Taken to extreme, the inflictions of pain and death on others seem to be the way to new ways of life through bloody revolutions in some parts of the world, enabled no doubt by the arms industries of dysfunctional economies. Extreme ideology is an extremely potent and dangerous stuff.

The response to extremism is not extremism - no matter how righteous - but alertness by being always alert and to be ready to respond to counteract whenever there is a need to. In this, we need discipline and training and expertise. We do not have anymore the luxury to allow incompetence to take leadership position and leading all critical parts of the economy and society into disarray. We have got to wake up if this independence of ours is to have any value to us who live in this great nation.