By CK Leong
Recently, I brought my family back to my hometown in Klang on a regular trip to visit my parents, siblings and friends. I would always try to grab a copy of The Star or The Edge whenever I have a chance after arriving home so that I could get the latest of what has been going on in my country.
And this time the hot talk in town is about the vision to transform Malaysia into a high-income economy by 2020. The “Economic Transformation Programme” (ETP) was drawn up to drive the nation towards that goal with focus to develop specific pillar industries. The country should grow at least 6% in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) consecutively for the next decade, and the benchmark for a high-income economy is gross national income per capita of USD15,000 i.e. approximately RM48,000.
At the outset, I think this is a good move and a right step forward. High income means high salary which effectively means high purchasing power (unless the increase in cost of living surpasses income). When we have strong purchasing power, life becomes more comfortable and we could enjoy finer things in life e.g. food, clothing, holidays, cars, residence, etc – all the ingredients of an affluent consumer society. More importantly, we will create more employment opportunities and improve the materials condition of many who are currently living in poverty.
While there is nothing wrong for us to become wealthier, the high-income status must not become an end by itself. Indeed, this vision presents an opportunity for us to address the weaknesses in our economic system and ultimately bring about a balanced economic condition within the Malaysian society.
There is a great imbalance of economic and materials conditions between the poor and the rich. A small percentage of people possess immense wealth while there is a large population of people living in poor and misery conditions. In other words, there is a big gap that divides the rich and the poor. We should not be contented with eliminating poverty per se (notwithstanding it is urgent in the short term) because the gap would still be there and would continue to widen if there is no systematic effort to restore a just balance over the longer term. We must have a system to abolish the extremes of poverty and wealth.
Well, this should not be misconstrued that all individuals should be receiving or having the same (or similar) amount of income/wealth. It is natural that every profession requires different degrees of knowledge, skills and capacities and thus merits different recompenses among each other. However, there must be a mechanism on one hand to ensure a minimum income so that one could meet the basic needs of living and live decently. On the other hand, there must be a mechanism to control extreme accumulation of wealth. For the weak and unfortunate ones such as the elderly, the less fortunate or the incapacitated, they must all be assured of the necessary support by the public institutions.
We as ordinary rakyat could also play an important part in this effort by internalizing the spirits of reciprocity and cooperation in our day-to-day lives. Sincere reciprocity and cooperation give life to community when these values become the basis of our daily economic activities. Just like the life of a human body which is maintained by the function of the various organs based on reciprocity and cooperation. After all, the ultimate aim of an economic system should be none other than to bring true happiness, peace and prosperity for all.
Warm wishes to all in ushering the New Year of 2011.