I’m sharing with you the question I asked Prof Jeffry Sachs, in a recent luncheon talk in the parliament organised by the Penang Institute….
That was overwhelming to have listened to you Prof and to know that we are in a self-destruct mode, in that trajectory. However, at the end of your speech, you gave us some consoling statement by giving us some models esp the Scandinavian model to follow. It is difficult for me to string a question for you, without being too ‘partisan’ especially with GE looming so close. Let me try…
What would be the best advice for policy advocacy, given our state of economy? How would a small economy like ours hope to stand a chance in a bad prognosis of a world economy, to at least come up with something out of the box or perhaps back to basics?
Prof Jeffrey Sachs:
I would recommend this to any country:
Try to think about what Malaysia should look like in the year 2030.
Especially around four points: economic, social, environmental and governance.
Try to define goals that are rather precise. Not to the decimal point, but in terms of ending poverty, children having a good healthy start in life, good educational skills, technological knowledge, a bio-diversity that is sustained in the country, a move to a low-carbon energy system on the hope that the world is also going to move and the knowledge that the whole world is going to move into that direction.
So to ask what kind of renewable energy options does Malaysia have? What are its choices, what should be done?
Then I would advocate for any country to use those goals to mobilise society such that every child from the first grade onwards knows that Malaysia has sustainable development goals. And every child knows we need to protect the environment of this country. We need to make sure that every child has a chance.
We need to make sure that the government is for the people, not for the money. And these are the society’s goals. I believe also that universities ought to play a major role in any society. That people who are trained as specialists can say “here are energy system choices”, or “this rare earth refinery does not make sense, or is polluting”, or “here is the habitat of the Orang Utan, and it is under threat”, or “the logging is happening too fast” or the “Orang Asli are not being protected in these regions”.
I would like to see society engage in a problem-solving mode, to have the idea that this is what we should do in our generation. The world is really complicated. The government cannot have its answers on its own. The young people understand information technology a 100 times better than we do. The younger you are, the better you are.
It becomes a challenge for the whole society.
How do we make a prosperous, socially inclusive, environmentally sustainable, democratic Malaysia for 2030?
And this becomes everybody’s aspiration, and every government has to report year by year. Where are we? What progress have we made towards these goals? Are we on- or off-track? How are we fulfilling these four pillars (economic, social, environmental and governance)? What is our responsibility? How are we energising the younger people in the country, the scholars, and engineers in the country, all to play a role?
I also ask the companies – they have to report, what they are doing for these four pillars. Not as ‘green washing’, but as true corporate reporting. What is our carbon footprint, what is our environmental footprint? That is a requirement for every company in the company law. If you do that, Malaysia will come out way ahead. Because one of the most interesting things is that it is not all gloom. It is a matter of knowing what the real options are.
There are wonderful technologies that are available, and there are going to be some really fun technologies too. In my institute, one of the leading engineers is working on self-driving vehicles. Once you go to electric vehicles, first, they can become a lot cleaner, lighter and smarter than normal vehicles. Second, the self-driving technology already exists. Google already has cars running around California. They have driven around for 1000 miles safely on California streets and highways. And they are better drivers than humans, because they do not have blind spots, they see all around and do not fall asleep. My engineer always says that it is very dangerous to text and drive at the same time. So he says “stop driving, let the cars drive”.
My point is that there are exciting technologies and suppose that this were on a trial basis in one of Malaysia’s cities. And Malaysia engineers became leaders in self-driving vehicles because a special project was done in one place. And Malaysian engineering companies became advisors around ASEAN on how this would spread.
If this country focuses seriously on these goals, I do believe that there will be first mover advantages.
In other words, not to be the last one, or have the “I am not going to bear the cost till they figure it out” attitude. That is the American attitude now, strangely enough. The right attitude is: experiment, make some mistakes, but be early. Then this can become your business in the future. And ASEAN is going to have to do this. You have a huge market throughout this region that is going to need new energy, better transports, smarter buildings, better information technologies, better health technologies.
So that would be my strategy. Start with the goals, monitor, engage young people, engage the universities, report every year, and become the leaders in sustainable development.
My comment: That is truly insightful and very refreshing, out of the box…well, back to basics in problem-solving! No big jargons to impress, verbose acronyms, delivered effortlessly…mark of a great economist!