Today, I would like to share with you, readers, on a Forum I've attended yesterday.
Well readers, ISIS now seems to be one of my regular places for me to acquire knowledge and doing my networking. Its an intellectual melting pot, so to speak and of course you will meet the regulars like Dato' Supramaniam, Datuk Nicholas Zeffreys, other industry captains, the diplomats, the academicians plus the NGOs. Today I happened to stumble upon En. Zahidi, a senior economist from MARC, who once became one of MDI's speakers in its Economic Policy Seminar (EPS). He asked me about MDI and said he wanted to visit MDI one day. Told him to hold on first coz MDI is not like it used to be. Do not want him to be surprised esp. to see all that is left of MDI from a strenght of 24 multidisciplinary officers to less than 10 of non-multi disciplinary ones, if those who hold MDI posts are also counted though they are not physically in MDI. Those days we used to have offciers from universities (UUM and UKM), TNB, Petronas, Bank Negara, Jabatan Pendidikan, MPC and even pensioners (contract officers who were our senior fellows) apart from PTDs. A good mix of officers passionate on research. But not anymore. They gradually left after Prof Azlan left more than 2 years ago and leaving MDI without any captain but with a few crews to man the wandering or drifting "think tank" ship.
Well, back to this Forum, Mr,. Chandran Nair, spoke about "Consumptionomics: Asia's Role In Reshaping Capitalism And Saving The Planet" . A product of Malaysia and from Sungai Siput Perak, I was told. Chandran Nair is the founder of the Global Institute For Tomorrow (GIFT), an organization based in Asia that is focused on the relationship of Asian society and values with the rest of the world. For more than a decade, Mr. Nair has strongly advocated a more sustainable approach to development in Asia, and has helped the governments of Taiwan and Hong Kong instilled these principles into their key decision-making processes. He has worked and traveled extensively. many big corporations have seeked his advice, it seemed. Seeking his advice on how to meet the challenges of doing business in Asia and of globalization, on investment geopolitics, leadership development, ethics, sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He has addressed many of these issues at international forums around the world, notably at speaking engagements in London, New York, Washington, Sydney and many major Asian capitals. Looking at his brilliant CV, some say we should be proud of having such talented Malaysian being recognised internationally.
Today, he told the audience why he wrote the book on "Consumptionomics", what the book said and what should be the role of Asia and even Malaysia, to reshape capitalism. He, however, admitted Malaysia may be a small country to really have an impact unlike China and India to the world. To not made us, Malaysians, felt small with his statement, he even qouted Australia as another example that have similar population size to Malaysia and may not also make any such global impact. One thing I remember most, at the outset of his lecture, was this statement of his, that argued on how intellectual subservience had resulted in even delusional ideas from the West being hardly questioned or openly challenged in Asia. We are always in denial, he claimed. To him technology, free market and global finances trying to solve world problems are just a pack of lies. So all thoughts and talks about Asian Century needed a serious rethink.
He called for Asian countries to now break with the broken Western model and move beyond economics to more a scientific basis for its own development path. He advocated a new model of capitalism for Asian economies that advised governments to regulate the use of natural resources, and therefore the nature of consumption, through a range of policy tools. In his book, he argued that the consumption-led Western economic model, which is based on under-pricing resources and externalising the true cost of goods and services, would not work in resources-constrained Asia. Nair said that governments in Asia must start reshaping capitalism by making resource management, and therefore the pricing of these, the centre of all policy-making. But to do this, he told us again to reject the existing Western model and stop being in denial.
He even told us to relook at our understanding of productivity which was normally about displacing people from jobs abd replacing them with machines or robots. To him, productivity should be measured on how many people we could use within the limited resources we have. He quoted China where at one time was so obsessed with productivity and intended to replace humans with robots. The question is what sort of economic model should China embraced with over 1.3 billion population. What would 1.3 billion people do when they are being replaced with robots? He talked about GDP which ignored externalities, including clean up costs and defensive expenditures as part of national output (confusing between "good" and "bad") while omitting many forms of national wealth like well-educated workforce, efficient infrastructure etc. Nairs also called for stronger, more competent governments, a necessary remedy to all mindless anti-government bashings all over the world. He advocated for people to speak up about all issue concerning them but should be done intellectually and in more orderly manner. Not like going out to the streets. He liked the authocratic way of doing things in China which could get things done much quickly and without much resistance unlike any democratic country which talks alot but getting things done so slowly.
Finally, another statement of his I remember very well, was that international organizations like UNDP, World Bank, IMF etc are today all irrelevant. Reminded me of my many comments I've made in the past on IMF and World Bank and why I love to question the management on the need to have World Bank assistance in almost all of our studies in EPU. I know the old management was very fond of World Bank and IMF. I am reminded of the barefoot college founder in India who said, we should be the ones who know best on how to resolve our own problems or issues. To him, World Bank and other international organizations are also irrelevant.
Views from you readers are most welcome.
Dr. Ibrahim bin Abu Ahmad
Malaysian Development Institute (MDI)