The Pakatan Rakyat Manifesto: A manifesto for its time
Political preference aside, there is cause to applaud the recent Pakatan Rakyat Manifesto. Tackling core economic issues, its four pillars hit home the concerns of the common rakyat; fraternity of the people, the people’s economy, people’s well-being and people’s government.
In Malaysia, the published absolute poverty number may be low, but in relative terms, many rakyat including daily creation of urban poor are effectively impoverished by demanding cost of housing and living that are unmatched by salary levels, high indebtedness, and low productivity levels due to limited skills and education.
For the government to maintain relevance in the face of libertarian claims, government interventions need to be tactical. If the government’s stance is pro-business, it must be backed-up with robust social safety nets to hoist up and bring along poor households in the sprint towards growth and wealth creation.
If the focus is the rakyat, care must be put to ensure business appetite is not suppressed. Such aspirations will be impossible to achieve without policies such as those proposed by the PR Manifesto; such as expanded educational opportunities (by making tertiary education free), reduction in the cost of living (utilities and tolls), targeted instead of blanket subsidies, and an upward pressure towards wages and salaries that are currently depressed by influx of foreign labour.
We have yet to see what Barisan Nasional has to promise with its manifesto but as a start, it should be more defined than its 2008 one; “to grow the economy” and start quantifying them. In fact, growing the economy is really a given.
Uplifting the poor: Levelling the playing field
This is no plan to pull a modern-day Robin Hood, robbing the rich off of their hard work to reassign some wealth to the poor. The rich may be reached out to, to shoulder some responsibility to raise the level of education, health and productivity of the poor.
Imagine the difference between a community with a billionaire worth RM40 billion and lots of poor people, versus one with 400 households worth RM10.0 million each. We might not love to pay tax but we accept its legitimacy as long as it is properly enacted into law and is used properly.
This by no means entails slacking off on the part of the poor. Opportunities are provided, but they still need to be capitalized upon. The idea is a bigger economic pie and an unleashing of further values that the poorer population could have produced and Malaysia could have enjoyed.
Putting all these into consideration, where does it leave libertarianism, minimal taxes to the rich and businesses, and the free market? Need bigger government roles necessarily mean bigger inefficiencies, and more corruption?
Welfare states in Scandinavia have ranked higher than America in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI). At the same time, Scandinavian nations are among the most equal nations, high in governance and control over corruption, despite the bigger size of their government.
Ultimately, a healthy economy is a mixed economy, in which both the government and market forces both play their role. The exact balance remains an ongoing battle; but it’s good to start with unravelling the realities of inequality. Inequality is neither a hobby for anti-capitalist activists, nor development economists looking for the next trendy topic for their thesis. It’s true that government intervention in the shapes and sizes that they take form, may have distortive capabilities, but the “lazy poor and the hardworking rich” is a myth. For a better Malaysia, we have no choice but to continue our strive for productivity albeit with a new focus; inclusiveness.
Otherwise, Malaysia will be dragging its feet into the future, carrying the baggage of the past policies and its repercussions.
“A statesman is he who thinks in the future generations, and a politician is he who thinks in the upcoming elections.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
* Anas Alam Faizli is an oil and gas professional. He is pursuing a post-graduate doctorate, executive director of TFTN and tweets at @aafaizli
Read the entire article here with the title …The Myth of Rich and Poor, free market, libertarians ad The PR Manifesto.