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Malaysia’s New Economic Model:
Risks and Rewards
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AseanAffairs Magazine May - June 2010
CONTENT • BEYOND ASEAN 
• ASEAN BAZAAR • FEATURED COMPANIES
ASEAN MANAGEMENT • INSIDE OUT
• ASEAN MONEY • OPINION
• ASEAN TRAVELLER • MALAYSIA IN FOCUS

Prime Minister Najib Razak vows to take Malaysia forward and transform it into a high income nation through economic and social reforms. Initial responses to this ambitious drive are mixed, details are scarce and investors play wait-and-see.Yet, Najib insists he’s got support to push ahead.

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The title of this opinion is borrowed from a famous depression-era song written in 1931. The first verse most will find familiar; it goes like this: “Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.

Once I built a railroad, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?”

My intent is not to opine about similarities, perceived or real, between the depression era of the1930’s and the current economic debacle, but rather about the relevance of these lyrics to the current State of the Union.

The post-war production capacity of the United States was second to none.

America had taken a giant leap forward in technology as a result of the war effort giving her command and control of this sector, and she had set herself up as the owner of the world’s reserve currency. How could any other sovereign nation compete with the likes of America that now held the proverbial keys to the kingdom - money and technology?

I do not repudiate the altruistic motivation of the Marshall Plan to lend a hand in rebuilding Europe, but the underpinnings of that wellspring of compassion are not entirely linked to the obvious devastation they suffered; perhaps it is characterized that way exclusively because the nuances of war are seldom revealed in the distasteful reality of economic opportunity – and reader be advised – war is unequivocally as much an industry as any that come to mind, without a cyclical aspect because there is always more than one raging, with ubiquitous demand attendant: for a wide range of ordinance, services, and then to rebuild.

To REBUILD – what a mitzvah! A picture is worth a thousand words – let me illustrate one for you. Five men sit against a construction fence barrier: an American named Jack, wearing a hardhat and crunching on an apple, addresses Pierre, Hans, George and Luigi, who are all worried sick about the future. Jack reassures them: “… don’t worry about nothin’, boys, we’re gonna put it all back just like it was, only better… the money…? no problemo, we’ll give it to ya for nothin’… when you’re on your feet, you can show your gratitude then… how…? …hey, whatever you need, you buy from us... you ain’t got no money, we’ll finance it for ya… it’s the least we can do… okay now, you guys, stop kissin’ me…” Yes, we became the world’s producer and we financed those who wished to consume. Sound familiar?

How is it, one might ask, that we have found ourselves in a position that is not just far removed but 180 degrees out of phase with the position we held post WWII.

John Adams once said: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

While I believe that the vast majority of Americans are still a moral and religious people, clearly their leadership is not.

Regardless of their rhetoric, by their deeds you shall know them! The attempt of the Bush administration to dismantle the Constitution is now surpassed by the current administration’s flagrant disregard for its principles of freedom and responsibility for ones own pursuit of happiness. And where is Congress, the other branch of the Grand Triumphate, who also swore an oath to uphold the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic? Well, they’ve been busy searching out all those enemies, foreign and domestic, and really hit pay dirt when they stumbled into a mirror. Is it any wonder that the populace at large no longer trusts the government? Let us briefly refer back to the prelude of the song for which this article is titled.

“They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob. When there was earth to plow or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job. They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead. Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?”

Songs of the day always reflect the mood of the masses, that’s why they sell. Many would say that government is always brought into question during hard times because the people need someone to blame.

True, but that doesn’t mean that government is not to blame. I would be the first to argue that the people should not have simply trusted; they should have questioned and done their own due diligence. They should come to finally understand that if a Deal, New or otherwise, appears too good to be true, that is what it is - too good to be true.

America, the most powerful nation on earth, the world’s “Thought Leader,” had elevated itself to heights that transcended its need to engage in the menial labor associated with the production of real goods. We would usher in the economic paradigm of the service economy, one in which workers use their brains as opposed to their brawn. Menial tasks would be relegated to the sweat shops of newly industrialised and developing countries and Americans would enjoy the fruits of the labor of the new underclass of globalisation at the lowest possible prices.

Indeed, for over thirty years the new underclass kept their mouths shut and toiled in the sweat shops while their sons and daughters attended Foreign Institutions of higher learning. Some were from well-to-do families who owned the sweat shops and therefore could afford to do so; others were taxpayer funded. I remember being on a layover in the Hong Kong airport on my way back from mainland China just a few weeks before the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. I was reading an International Herald Tribune article titled “Foreign Scholars, made in the USA.” It told of students from the newly industrialised and developing nations of Asia who studied in the US and then went to work for American companies such as IBM, only to return to their homelands to go to work for or create companies that would eventually compete with the likes of IBM. I then boarded my plane to head back to the U.S. where I sat next to a mainland Chinese student headed for America. We struck up a conversation as best we could, his grasp of English matching my shortfall of Chinese. The salient point I gathered from the encounter was that he had been granted a scholarship and stipend of 20K U.S. dollars per year to earn a masters at USC while teaching undergrads. He who could barely speak English would be teaching undergrads. He told me, as we say in America, that he was as poor as a church mouse, but since this was being paid for by USC, he would continue on to earn his PhD. courtesy of the US taxpayer.

 

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