Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hoisting the flag

gif sourced from here.

Last week my teenage daughter asked me why I haven't hoisted the Jalur Gemilang in our house yet. In meek self-defence I said that I was meaning to. Besides, the key period is between 31st August and 16th September isn't it?

I took her prod in proper spirit.

I reflected that in the wake of the challenges that Malaysia has continued to face since the tragic events surrounding flights MH370 and MH17 it is the right thing to fly Jalur Gemilang earlier than scheduled.

Malaysia is my country and I am proud to be a born and bred Malaysian.

HIDUP MALAYSIA!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

DR M: HARMONI DAN KESAMARATAAN

Methinks the ever vulpine Dr M is being disingenuous in his latest post entitled, HARMONI DAN KESAMARATAAN. He has chosen to ignore the fact that the new slew of legislation that deals with national unity and harmony will ALWAYS be subject to the operation of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

More to the point, all legislation passed by all legislatures in Malaysia, be it at the federal or state level, must be subject to the operation of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

So, what, in the name of the Heavens, is Dr M talking about in his latest post? There is no threat to the current policy involving the NEP/DEB.

Each of the 3 pieces of legislation will be subjected to constitutional provisions such as Article 153 of the Federal Constitution

Why is Dr M choosing to cry wolf when all I see are sheep behaving in a bovine fashion?

As I said, "vulpine" and "disingenuous" and, if he was a younger man (which he isn't) I might have added the words, "naughty" and "mischievous" too.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tough love for the Chinaman

It's hard to be a Malaysian citizen these days, even for someone who is as proudly Malaysian as I am.

Most days I just enjoy being Malaysian with all my Malaysian colleagues, Malaysian business partners and Malaysian friends.

It's really annoying when my ethnicity is constantly brought up with sneering negative connotations.

If it is not tak kenang budi levelled by one side, it is bodoh by the other side.

Malaysian politics and Malaysian politicians are so incompetent and inept.

Is this a form of tough love for the Malaysian who is of Chinese descent?

Do these people actually believe that by insults, scolding and sneering the Chinese Malaysians will experience an epiphanic fit and suddenly see the error of their ways?

Thank goodness real Malaysians are not that dumb.

Thank goodness real Malaysians are mostly happy with each other.

If only the politicians will start eating their own toxic shit and just die from it. Then, Malaysia will be a much better place again.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Countries that excel at problem-solving encourage critical thinking

This is an interesting piece from the Financial Times relating to education. It highlights the importance of having Critical Thinking approaches in the education syllabus. Note the levels achieved by Malaysia's Asian Tiger neighbours. 

This is a goal that Malaysian education needs to meet. The time is now.

Here is a snippet. The full article by Jeevan Vasagar can be found here.


Schools in Europe are frequently criticised by business leaders as “exam factories” that churn out students unable to cope with life beyond the classroom. But the lesson to be drawn from international comparison is that Europe’s schools are far better at teaching creative thought than this criticism implies.

Students from the main western European countries – England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium – all performed above the average, as did pupils from the Czech Republic and Estonia. In the rest of the rich world, the US, Canada and Australia also performed above average. But the laurels were taken by east Asian territories; Singapore and South Korea performed best, followed by Japan, and the Chinese regions of Macau and Hong Kong.

That result poses a challenge to schools in the west. Critics of east Asian education systems attribute their success at maths and science to rote learning.

But the OECD’s assessment suggests that schools in east Asia are developing thinking skills as well as providing a solid grounding in core subjects.

Across the world, the OECD study found a strong and positive correlation between performance in problem solving and performance in maths, reading and science.

In general, the high-performing students were also the ones best able to cope with unfamiliar situations.

But there were interesting exceptions to the rule. When Japanese students were compared with children in other countries of similar performance in maths, science and reading, the Japanese teenagers showed better problem-solving abilities.

This, the OECD suggested, might be explained by Japan’s focus on developing problem- solving skills through cross-curricular, student-led projects.

While there is agreement about the goal, there is a divide over how best to teach children the skill of critical thinking.

Daisy Christodoulou, an educationalist and the author of Seven Myths about Education, argues that such skills are domain specific – they cannot be transferred to an area where our knowledge is limited.

“Trying to teach abstract strategies that can apply across domains, there isn’t much evidence for that,” she says.

“The farther away from the original domain you are, the weaker the transfer is. In our lives this does ring true. We all know people who are good at thinking critically about a historical problem, and not very good at thinking critically about a mathematical problem.”

Read the full piece here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Personality versus structure and process

If there is anything that the study of History teaches us, it should be that all the great feats of heroes come to naught if there was no structure in place that institutes fairness. I deliberately use the words "fairness" in place of the more commonplace word, "justice". I have found that when one uses the word "justice" everyone has a different understanding of what constitutes justice, whereas, when the word "fairness" is used there is an broader consensus.

So, what is this post all about?

Inasmuch as engineers and architects design physical structures that makes it as comfortable and sensible as possible for users to benefit from the process of using such structures for the longest possible time, laws created and enacted by political leaders must also undergo similar tests of relevance and robust relevance.

If you trouble yourself to read history books or biographies of significant personalities, look out for aspects of what these past personages did in putting in place values, rules or processes and, then, look at whether those values, rules and processes are still in place today.

In the course of my history readings I have come across, time and again, great events involving great leaders of the day where a good outcome involves a leader having the foresight and humility to institutes structures and processes that have a foundation in fairness. These outcomes have longevity and continued relevance.

In contrast, scenarios involving leaders who had great self-belief in their own sense of fairness and the impatience with the plodding pace of instituting structures and processes have often led to short-term gains with the attendant long-term legacy of pain and discomfort as a consequence.

Not many Malaysians remember the late Professor Hugh Hickling. In the course of his long career he had many roles in the nascent Malayan and Malaysian nation. One of his roles was that of the Commissioner for Law Revision for Malaya in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In that role, Hickling drafted the Internal Security Act 1960 primarily as a statutory tool to combat the threat of Communism that had so badly affected peace in Malaya.

In later years, Hickling always sought to expiate his role in the creation of the Internal Security Act 1960 that so haunted many poilitically active Malaysians and, Hickling himself. I had the opportunity to hear him explain, by way of expiation, that in the course of drafting that piece of legislation Hickling had expressed to the late Tun Abdul Razak, who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time, his concerns about the width, length and breadth of powers given by the Internal Security Act 1960 to the Executive Branch of Government. 

According to Hickling, Tun Razak's reply was that he, Tun Razak, knew how to utilise those statutory powers and, he knew where to draw the line, that is to say, what types of actions would constitute an abuse of those sweeping powers.

Needless to say, Tun Razak knew what he was doing, being an intelligent and legally trained leader. Tun Razak's sense of fairness is well-documented. This leadership trait was proven beyond doubt in the way he handled the May 13, 1969 riots when, as the Director of the National Operations Council he had dictatorial powers. Tun Razak's uncommon common sense and sense of fairplay shone through when constitutional and parliamentary processes were quickly reinstituted by 1972. 

The Internal Security Act 1960 was clearly in good hands under Tun Razak. Whether such powers were abused by subsequent leaders is a matter for historians and academicians. Suffice to say here that the Internal Security Act 1960 was an example of questionable structures and processes that worked only if the correct personality was holding the reins of power. In the wrong hands, such a piece of sweeping legislation was very much open to abuse.  

From the standpoint of my basic proposition about the importance of structure and process over personality, the Internal Security Act 1960 is one of the chief culprits for having engendered a legislative drafting culture where statutory powers are almost always drafted together with language that forbids or prevents an audit or review of the exercise of such powers. This makes the personage of the Minister or Government Officer very crucial. A cavalier personality will wield such powers freely and arbitrarily. A personage with a sense of fairmindedness will exercise more restraint. Such a structure cannot be good. 

Since we are on the matter of structure and process which has taken a legal twist, I now steer it back to a neutral position by leaving you with a piece of engineering wisdom-

An electrical, a mechanical and a civil engineer all sat down one day to try and decide of which of their faculties god must be to design the human body.

The electrical engineer says god must be an electrical engineer, for you only have to look at the complex nervous system powered be electrical impulses.

The mechanical engineer was sure that god must be a mechanical engineer, for the advanced mechanical systems, the heart a pump, the veins pipes and the tendons and muscles an advanced pulley system.

Finally after hearing the civil engineers arguments, both the mechanical and electrical engineer both agreed that god must be a civil engineer, for who else would run a sewer system through a recreational area!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Why I hardly blog anymore

I actually find the title to this post a little narcissistic and, I thought to myself, why not push on anyway? Indeed, why, not?

Blogging brought me a release of sorts. Prior to blogging I maintained a series of journals for jotting down itinerant thoughts. Academic papers brought a depth of thinking and analysis of a straitjacket kind...there were rules of engagement in academic settings, you see.

Blogging, on the other hand, had no rules. It was a blank canvas. For younger blogging contemporaries taking to blogging must have been like a duck taking to water. It was almost intuitive and seamless.

For people of my vintage, with world views tempered by bitter experiences past and forged by fear, the decision to blog was a ponderous and difficult mental journey.

Did I have anything worthwhile to say? Do I use blogging as a form of catharthic release from any sense of responsibility without any regard for my words and utterances? It did seem, from a third party perspective of the stuff and nonsense that was being put out in cyberspace, that the gap between responsibility and thoughtful, contemplative writing and pure venomous drivel was, in fact, a huge chasm. There was no consistency of quality whatsoever.

I finally found my natural "voice". 

The blog posts that preceded this is, in many ways, the "voice" that I feel comfortable with.

Writing and thinking per se gives me much pleasure. The dopamine effect of putting together a properly expressed prose is addictive. 

That is why my choice of vocation involves words, thought and analyses. It is a great treat to be paid for doing what I enjoy. It is an even greater pleasure when the feedback from paying customers and clientele is that they profited from my words, thought and analyses.

There it is. By randomly jotting down my thoughts in this blog post I have answered to myself why I have been parsimonious in blog posts in recent years. 

As it turns out I have been busy writing and thinking and analysing other stuff...ones that people actually are requesting for me to do.

And, the pleasure is doubled if the wordcrafting is done while downing a good brew.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Galbraith

John Kenneth Galbraith was an economist, first and foremost. But, he had a fine way with words. His great prose was part of the reason that he so impressed both, John F. Kennedy and, equally importantly, Mrs Jacqueline Kennedy.

One of Galbraith's seminal books that I had the pleasure of reading was The Affluent Society (1958). In it he argued that the United States' wealth accumulation in the private sector was not commensurate with public spending that would benefit the wider public and citizenry. In a capitalistic milieu Galbraith was not quite a Socialist, but most certainly, a Keynesian economist with a social conscience.

Galbraith was appointed the U.S. Ambassador to India during the Kennedy Administration.


Among the famous phrases he coined was the phrase conventional wisdom, which he first used in The Affluent Society

And, in the context of what we witness today in Malaysia, where nation building appears to have taken a backseat to guileless and clueless leadership, we need to take some heed of a piece of wisdom offered by Galbraith, unconventional as it may be in the Malaysian political scene of today-

All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My condolences to the family of Corporal Raja Aizam Raja Mohd

The thin blue line of the Polis Di Raja Malaysia just got thinner with the tragic incident in Taman Sentosa, Klang. Corporal Raja Aizam and Corporal Mohd Aidil Mustafa are part of the thin blue line that protects the Malaysian community from descending into crime and disorder.

PDRM has been receiving very vocal brickbats from many quarters for various reasons.

I, for one, will be the last Malaysian to throw any adverse statements on PDRM. In my lifetime, so far, as a taxpaying Malaysian citizen, I have had no real cause to have any negative views of the men in blue. 

Theirs is a tough and risky job. I am proud to count several police officers as friends. They have a good sense of humour when they are with friends. They can be brutal when carrying out their duties. This is the nature of their work.

As with all Malaysians, I am concerned about crime. Let us not forget that PDRM members themselves are concerned about crime.

We need to rally behind the PDRM to strengthen the thin blue line in 2 ways-

1. Tell anyone and everyone in power, every chance you get, in any way possible, through any media, that they need to devote more resources to PDRM and other law enforcement agencies. This will enable PDRM to step up the police work.

2. Be nice, courteous and give some words of encouragement to our men in blue every chance you get. They are human too. And, they are risking their lives to ensure that we can feel safe. They are not perfect. So, give them your support and cooperation.

I offer my sincere condolences to the family of Corporal Raja Aizam Raja Mohd, particularly his grieving widow, Lance Corporal Nor Hazwani Harun.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The English empire

This is a piece from the Economist that describes the continuing and inexorable influence of the English language as a lingua franca of commerce. 

Articles and news like these are instructive. Malaysian education policy makers must pay heed to the reality that we do not live in splendid isolation. There is a whole world of commerce and an entire globe teeming with activity.

The need for fluency in English is imperative. Malaysia has a natural advantage in this respect. It is an advantage that we are throwing away in the name of a misplaced nationalistic hubris.

The piece below is extracted from here.

A growing number of firms worldwide are adopting English as their official language.

YANG YUANQING, Lenovo’s boss, hardly spoke a word of English until he was about 40: he grew up in rural poverty and read engineering at university. But when Lenovo bought IBM’s personal-computer division in 2005 he decided to immerse himself in English: he moved his family to North Carolina, hired a language tutor and—the ultimate sacrifice—spent hours watching cable-TV news. This week he was in São Paulo, Brazil, for a board meeting and an earnings call: he conducted all his business in English except for a briefing for the Chinese press.
Lenovo is one of a growing number of multinationals from the non-Anglophone world that have made English their official language. The fashion began in places with small populations but global ambitions such as Singapore (which retained English as its lingua franca when it left the British empire in 1963), the Nordic countries and Switzerland. Goran Lindahl, a former boss of ABB, a Swiss-Swedish engineering giant, once described its official language as “poor English”. The practice spread to the big European countries: numerous German and French multinationals now use English in board meetings and official documents.
Audi may use a German phrase—Vorsprung durch Technik, or progress through engineering—in its advertisements, but it is impossible to progress through its management ranks without good English. When Christoph Franz became boss of Lufthansa in 2011 he made English its official language even though all but a handful of the airline’s 50 most senior managers were German.
The Académie française may be prickly about the advance of English. But there is no real alternative as a global business language. The most plausible contender, Mandarin Chinese, is one of the world’s most difficult to master, and least computer-friendly. It is not even universal in China: more than 400m people there do not speak it.
Corporate English is now invading more difficult territory, such as Japan. Rakuten, a cross between Amazon and eBay, and Fast Retailing, which operates the Uniqlo fashion chain, were among the first to switch. Now they are being joined by old-economy companies such as Honda, a carmaker, and Bridgestone, a tyremaker. Chinese firms are proving harder to crack: they have a huge internal market and are struggling to recruit competent managers of any description, let alone English-speakers. But some are following Lenovo’s lead. Huawei has introduced English as a second language and encourages high-flyers to become fluent. Around 300m Chinese are taking English lessons.
There are some obvious reasons why multinational companies want a lingua franca. Adopting English makes it easier to recruit global stars (including board members), reach global markets, assemble global production teams and integrate foreign acquisitions. Such steps are especially important to companies in Japan, where the population is shrinking.
There are less obvious reasons too. Rakuten’s boss, Hiroshi Mikitani, argues that English promotes free thinking because it is free from the status distinctions which characterise Japanese and other Asian languages. Antonella Mei-Pochtler of the Boston Consulting Group notes that German firms get through their business much faster in English than in laborious German. English can provide a neutral language in a merger: when Germany’s Hoechst and France’s Rhône-Poulenc combined in 1999 to create Aventis, they decided it would be run in English, in part to avoid choosing between their respective languages.
Tsedal Neeley of Harvard Business School says that “Englishnisation”, a word she borrows from Mr Mikitani, can stir up a hornet’s nest of emotions. Slow learners lose their self-confidence, worry about their job security, clam up in meetings or join a guerrilla resistance that conspires in its native language. Cliques of the fluent and the non-fluent can develop. So can lawsuits: in 2004 workers at a French subsidiary of GE took it to court for requiring them to read internal documents in English; the firm received a hefty fine. In all, a policy designed to bring employees together can all too easily have the opposite effect.
Ms Neeley argues that companies must think carefully about implementing a policy that touches on so many emotions. Senior managers should explain to employees why switching to English is so important, provide them with classes and conversation groups, and offer them incentives to improve their fluency, such as foreign postings. Those who are already proficient in English should speak more slowly and refrain from dominating conversations. And managers must act as referees and enforcers, resolving conflicts and discouraging staff from reverting to their native tongues. Mr Mikitani, who was a fluent English speaker himself, at first told his employees to pay for their own lessons and gave them two years to become fluent, on pain of demotion or even dismissal. He later realised that he had been too harsh, and started providing lessons on company time.
Nuance and emotion, or waffle?
Intergovernmental bodies like the European Union, which employs a babbling army of translators costing $1.5 billion a year, are obliged to pretend that there is no predominant global tongue. But businesses worldwide are facing up to the reality that English is the language on which the sun never sets. Still, Englishnisation is not easy, even if handled well: the most proficient speakers can still struggle to express nuance and emotion in a foreign tongue. For this reason, native English speakers often assume that the spread of their language in global corporate life confers an automatic advantage on them. In fact it can easily encourage them to rest on their laurels. Too many of them (especially Englishmen, your columnist keeps being told) risk mistaking their fluency in meetings for actual accomplishments.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

1MDB to land power project?

One of the things that should not happen in any economy is a situation where a government-linked entity enters into the commercial sector to compete with private sector players. This has been happening way too often in this country.

So, I read this piece in the Business Times about 1MDB's foray into new power sector projects with very mixed feelings.

Mind you, I have absolutely no love for YTL Power. I am absolutely against any Independent Power Producer (IPP). The electricity power generation sector should have been kept with Tenaga Nasional Berhad as a successor company to Lembaga Letrik Negara (LLN) as a necessary statutory monopoly of a public good. The IPPs and the inherently lop-sided Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) hasn't done our country any obvious good. Instead, it has increased our cost of living.

So, my first complaint is that entities like 1MDB is crowding out the private sector.

My second complaint is that entities like YTL Power and its ilk of IPP players should not be allowed to remain in play.

Everything in the electrical power generation sector should be handed over to TNB. 

As a consumer, I have a healthy respect and appreciation of TNB. It is not a perfect service provider. But, then, which entity is ever perfect? 

That said, TNB is a damn sight far more preferable than 1MDB or YTL Power and its IPP ilk.

If you need a context to what I have written go here.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

TO ALL MALAYSIANS: HAPPY 2014!

Recently I have been driving a loved one who has a 2-month stint in one of the government departments in Putrajaya.

I approached the task of driving back and forth from Putrajaya with pleasure. Firstly, from the point of view of landscaping and vegetation, Putrajaya is maturing quite nicely. There is less and less of the annoying palms and more and more leafy trees. This is transforming Putrajaya into a pleasant garden city.

In the evening segment of the driving I will go earlier and hang out at the Dataran Putrajaya. As the sun sets the square teems with families and vendors of toys. Kites are flying. It is an unexpected sight for me. When Putrajaya was in its infancy the square was a dead desert. Now it is a wonderful gathering place for families. It has found a purpose. It's a wonderful sight to see children, parents, cyclists, kite-flyers, visitors and vendors all mesh together just taking in the great agora that Dataran Putrajaya offers...all of this with the Prime Minister's Office building looming over the square in an benign, avuncular ambience.

After doing the pickup, we were driving along Persiaran Perdana or Putrajaya Boulevard when I spied a huge bazaar behind the young trees along the boulevard. It was the Pasarina or the Pasar Malam Putrajaya that has been up over the past week. I just had to pull up when I saw the banner for my favourite drink, Coconut Shake. Add to the great drink were all the great pasar malam food. It was an amazing sight to have a pasar malam right at the boulevard within all the government and ministry buildings. Amazing! Nice.

I know some may feel uncomfortable that a pasar malam, a typical Malaysian setting, sprouts up right at the seat of power. It is an interesting contrast. A kampung feel right in the heart of the Putrajaya. I loved it. I thought it reflected Malaysia being very comfortable with itself.

My wish for Malaysia is for Malaysians to just be comfortable with each other. Politics and politicians have their work and their attention-seeking tendencies. 

In many ways, politicians are a side-show of circus freaks. I don't need to name the clowns. I'm sure we each have our favourites.

The true Malaysia is out in the real world...it does not live in cyberspace which hate words and twisted tales inhabit. The real Malaysia is a place where Malaysians smile in greeting and express gratitude freely. That is the world that I have been inhabiting these past months. 

The true Malaysia is a happy place spoiled from time to time by stupid political leaders from both sides of the aisle.

HAPPY 2014 TO ALL MALAYSIANS!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Reviving the UMNO-MCA spirit

I'm not ignoring the fact and existence of BN as a large coalition of political parties. But, whatever one may say, we cannot ignore that the original duumvirate was UMNO and MCA.

Recall my blog post some time ago here about the personal friendship between Ong Yoke Lin of Kuala Lumpur MCA Branch (later Tun Omar Ong Yoke Lin, past Speaker of Dewan Negara and founder of the air-conditioning company, OYL Industries Bhd) and Datuk Yahaya bin Abdul Razak of Kuala Lumpur UMNO Branch that had led to the idea for an UMNO-MCA alliance to contest the Kuala Lumpur Municipal elections in 1952.

Times may have changed. Players may be different.

What remains immutable is the fact that in the current ethos UMNO and MCA, being the underpinning foundation of BN needs to dig deeper to somehow reach into the original 1952 spirit and pull it to the present.

In 1952, UMNO was, in fact, weaker than the MCA. It's hard to imagine isn't it? The giant at the time was the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP).

The MCA President of the time, Tun Sir Tan Cheng Lock was a personal friend of Dato' Onn Jaafar of the IMP.

Yet, Ong Yoke Lin and Yahya bin Abdul Razak did the scoundrel thing and, in their infinite wisdom, created the seeds of the alliance between UMNO and MCA that has lasted all this while.

I know many within the UMNO ranks of today are foaming at the mouth in a rabid desire to do what comes naturally...kill all the Chinese in one form or another. We all know that kind of thinking is unhelpful.

At the street level, UMNO people are sensible. It's only when they don their superhero UMNO cape that the id comes to the fore.

Right now, UMNO must surely realise that the MCA's travails are not merely internal.

The MCA is struggling largely because of the perception has changed.

The voters know that the UMNO-MCA relationship has not been the same since 1952. It worsened after 1969. It has become worse with the passage of years. The broader BN coalition has not helped.

So here's the rub.

Can UMNO go it alone? Will it always remain one step ahead of PAS and PKR?

Can UMNO forever make DAP the bogeyman for the Malays?

If one were to take the long view, through the prism of a telescope that starts from 1952, it may be easier to get a contextual understanding of the symbiosis between UMNO and the MCA.

Leaving aside historical nostalgia, UMNO lending the MCA some "face" makes future sense.

As with all things that require retail support, not only should UMNO and the MCA re-engage each mother more meaningfully...they must be SEEN to re-engage as near-equals.

Without this framework of understanding and common purpose no amount of "transformation" of the MCA will gain traction.

The ball is very much in UMNO's court in this respect.

UMNO must not ignore the fact that the PKR-PAS-DAP pact is reaching an apogee of sorts. The drag is setting in. Are you going to take advantage of it?

Friday, December 20, 2013

MCA: The Perils of Inheritance

It is interesting to observe some of the MCA's members and leaders uttering reminders about the moribund situation that the MCA has found itself in since 2008.

My surmise is that these utterances will fall on the deaf ears of the next crop of leaders. They are cut from the same cloth as their immediate predecessors.

This is the dilemma of wealthy families.

It is the dilemma of rich countries. Recall the saga of the tiny, formerly phosphate-rich island nation of Nauru.

This is the same dilemma for successful political parties who have parlayed their popularity and power into acquiring wealth for the political party (and, sometimes, for themselves).

A person who inherits something does not need all the traits and characteristics that defined the predecessors and formed the basis of the earlier success.

Often, the beneficiary forgets what it took for the predecessors to achieve the early success. 

Beneficiaries who inherit have a different challenge from the pioneers. It is a challenge of whether to imbibe and embrace the goal, the drive, the vim, vigour and ambition of the predecessors. It all sounds tiresome does it not?

And, so, mediocrity will set in. Industriousness, inventiveness, innovation and sheer desperation is replaced by apathy, narcissism and a basic desire to just eat the fruits and, not tend to the plants and trees from which the fruits were borne.

This is the MCA of today; wealthy beyond Croesus; as unimaginative as a blinkered horse. 

There is no sense of urgency about the impending political irrelevance and death of the political party in future General Elections.

You reap what you sow. If you demand excessive obedience you get sycophants. If you punish out-of-box thinking you get indolence.

From where the rest of us stand, any contest for MCA leadership is perceived to be no different from a shareholder proxy fight to determine who will get to manage the several billion Ringgit worth of Huaren Holdings assets. 

It is a sad inference that the political ideals and goals that got the MCA involved in the formation of Malaya and Malaysia died some time ago. Time of death...unknown.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Emotional branding, xenophobic tactics and indolence in politics

For people who read widely and voraciously on financial and economic matters there is often, but not always, a degree of realisation and awareness that politics and governance do matter very much when we look at the economic health and direction of the country.

The connection between politics and the economy of the country is in the form of revenues collected by the government in the form of income tax, sales tax, duties, excises, assessment and quit rent. The citizens and residents pay to finance the machinery of government.

The expectation of the citizens and residents is that the government will provide protection, public order and look into ways and means to maintain the welfare of its citizens and residents.

This is the simplified view of things.

When we add realpolitik and all the political skills of obfuscation and skullduggery into the mix the citizens (here, we leave out the residents because they have no voting power) sometimes get confused.

The confusion comes when the citizens cannot decide how they should think.

Should a citizen think as a member of the country and society as a whole?

Should he or she think for just the immediate family?

Should the citizen think as a follower of his or her own religion?

Should the citizen think in terms of his or her own race?

There are so many possible scenarios depending on each citizen.

But, of all the different political skills of obfuscation and skullduggery, the greatest evil, in my opinion is where a political group emphasises and screams to differentiate citizens based on race.

Xenophobia is driven by base emotions. It is powered irrational fear; "You are different, therefore, you are to be feared."

This allows a political group to win arguments and support without any effort in thought, articulation or research. 

Just whip up a mob and the tsunami of fear turns into rabid violence - job done.

With this tactic (I will not dignify this approach by calling it a strategy), the political group gets away with financial abuse, embezzlement, incompetence and all sorts of abuse of power.

James Bryce wrote about the indolence of citizens. Nobody wants to think. It hurts the head.

Nobody wants to study hard. It hurts the head.

In any case, the system adjusts the academic scores so that as many students as possible gets a pass and, even distinctions.

The only problem with this tactic is that the fools among the citizens who support this political group will get nothing meaningful, be it financial benefit or intellectual skill.

It is George Orwell's porcine metaphor and allegory run riot. And, if you have a sense of humour, you will realise that even the preceding sentence may not go down well with citizens who profess certain religious leanings...that is if they even read this blog and, ....if they even understand the language that this is written in, and...if they get the nuance.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Incriminating crime

If the people in charge of national security and economic planning were to trouble themselves to think harder and clearer on the ecosystem of Malaysia based on putting Malaysia's national interest first and foremost they ought to come to a realisation that they have much to expiate.

First, on what basis was the decision made to open the spigots to allow cheap foreign labour to enter Malaysia?

If it was due to intense lobbying by the property development and plantation sectors, then, the basis may be wrong if the decision makers failed to take into account the socio-economic impact of the usage of cheap foreign labour.

Did anyone bother to prepare econometric models to consider the displacement effect that cheap foreign labour will have on Malaysia's own indigent labour class? Where would this class of Malaysians go when they are displaced by cheap foreign labour? Where will they get their income? With low skills, poor education it is not a stretch to forecast that these Malaysians will be pushed to the fringes of society.

And, "fringes of society" clearly means crime, lawlessness and unsavoury activities.

Second, what is so wrong about raising the income levels for the labouring class?

Yes, the cost of everything will rise commensurately. What is the big deal with that if it lifts up the entire substratum of Malaysian society?

Plantation sector
In the case of the plantation sector, no access to cheap foreign labour would have resulted in higher wages for Malaysian labour AND it would have forced 2 things to happen-
  1. Increase the incentive and urgency to innovate the plantation sector. This may manifest itself in the form of more intense downstream activities and discovery of new applications for rubber and palm oil products.
  2. Increase the incentive and urgency for Malaysian companies to search for cheaper and lower cost countries to establish plantation activities.
Instead, due to molly-coddling by the Malaysian government, the silly and myopic arguments used by Malaysian plantation owners resulted in an inefficient plantation sector that is now at risk of losing Malaysia's edge to countries like Indonesia and those in the African and South American continents.

The sad reality is that Malaysia was bound to lose its dominance in the plantation sector anyway. But Malaysian companies should still be the dominant players in the rubber and palm oil sectors IF they now work at double-speed to conquer the emerging upstream plantation jurisdictions.

Don't just be the kings of our own backyard! That should be the message that the Malaysian policy makers should be exhorting the plantation sector to do.

Property development sector
As for the property developers the self-same critique also holds true.

No access to cheap foreign labour would have resulted in higher wages for Malaysian labour AND it would have forced 2 things to happen-
  1. Cost of construction would have gone up. Prices of properties would have gone up. The property market would have been cooler and less speculative. Property developers would have faced profit margin compression but, still be profitable.
  2. Increase the incentive and urgency to innovate the property and construction sector by using different construction materials and using better equipment.
Better paid Malaysian workers
Better paid Malaysian labour with a commensurate higher cost of living has the salutary effect of improving the quality of life in Malaysia. 

Malaysian labourers will have a chance to get their children a better education. This type of mindfulness, about the need to have a better education, usually comes with having better income.

With less cheap foreign labour and a Malaysian labour class that has better wages we will experience a higher cost of living. This higher cost will be tempered by higher income all around for Malaysians. The resulting effect is less crime.

Another resulting effect is that Malaysia and its citizens will have to greater incentive to move up the value chain of skills.

My visceral and indelible impression of reasonably high wage income in the labour class was a mature age classmate in Melbourne Australia in the 1980s. Robert D. was already in his late 30s when he enrolled in Law School. He chose to be a bricklayer for some years. It was a decent enough job, income-wise. Constructions sites in Australia have always been safe and clean environments, unlike the cesspools and dengue-breeding places we have here.

My other impression is that of a Greek Australian family who still manifested a strong Greek-accented Ozzified English when spoken in a reasonable posh suburb in Melbourne. The guy owned just one heavy duty lorry which he drove himself. His neighbours were bank managers and white-collar management level. Is that cool, or, what?

I'm not saying that we have to be at that kind of stratospheric level. I'm just saying that for the benefit of all Malaysians, super-rich, rich, well-off, breakeven and poor, our economic system must put Malaysians first.

Not just the rich. Not just the owners of plantation and property development sectors.

Just let the common wealth of our country percolate down more than it does now.

This can be done, in direct fashion, via enlightened economic and labour management policies.

There are a trillion reasons as to why the scenario that I have sketched will be argued to be impractical, idealistic and, even Utopian.

But, as with all right-thinking Malaysians, I wish for a better society and a better country for my family, my friends and my colleagues.

Is this challenge too much to ask or, to expect?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering JFK

Does everyone love a dead hero? I'm not sure about that. In any case, JFK was never a hero to me.

So, why do I habitually make reference to him? Why do I have close to 100 books on him, his parents and his siblings?

It was in 1979 that I "discovered" JFK. It was through his Inaugural Address, in fact.

I was struggling to prepare for the district English-language school debates. My team and I had reached the district finals. The topic was a dramatic oxymoronic phrase, "War is necessary for peace". We were the proposers.

I chanced upon a selection of speeches by U.S. Presidents. One of my sisters must have bought it from the Logos, a ship that acted as a floating book store in the 1970s, when it berthed at Port Klang.


One would imagine that there might have been more apposite phrases in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, in the way, he, with a spartan 44 words, could consecrate the dead soldiers of the Union after a bloody battle. It would have seemed more inspirational and elegant when used in support the the proposition that I had to make in the district debating finals.

Somehow, Kennedy's Inaugural Address lent a stronger resonance to me. And, I used it.

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.


We won the district finals and I was adjudged to be the best debater in the final round. I owed that accolade, in part, to the soaring words of Kennedy and Ted Sorensen.

As I write this blog entry, many parts of the world are preparing to honour JFK on 50th anniversary of the day he died.

There are a myriad of reasons as to why JFK and the Kennedy mystique continues to enthral people. Some are drawn to his martyrdom (not caring what he stood for or, whether he stood for anything in particular). Others are drawn to the 1960s-ness of his epoch. He was cooler than Don Draper; hell, he may have been one of the inspirations for the Don Draper character. He, with James Dean, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Marilyn Monroe and many others represented the iconic deaths that so horrified and transmogrified our memories of the 1960s.

My fascination with JFK is about his love and respect of the written word, the spoken word and History. 

It is also about his ability to, in turn, fascinate and inspire so many biographers to write about him.

In the American presidential pantheon JFK achieved so little in legislative affairs and governance when compared with presidents such as James Monroe, Woodrow Wilson, Ted Roosevelt or Franklin Roosevelt. Yet, his memory endures and thrives.

This is the stuff that is fodder for academics and biographers.

I just wanted to tip my hat, on this day, to someone who helped inspire my love and respect of the written word, the spoken word and History. 

That is all.





Thursday, November 21, 2013

DBKL and the proposed rates hike

Like every other property owner in the great metropolis of Kuala Lumpur I, too, have received the dreaded Notice for revision of the Valuation List for the City of Kuala Lumpur.

I believe it is very important to write the objection and send it to DBKL. You should not leave it to the politicians and media to do the work for you.

The reason is that underlying this rate hike exercise is a formal legal and bureaucratic procedure that is likely to be used as a basis for selective exemptions or partial exemptions from the general rate hike, i.e. where a property owner has stated specific and relevant reasons in the objection.

Please note that to ensure that you get a fair review, the objection in writing/bantahan secara bertulis must be underpinned by reasons that fall within any of the 5 categories below.

Local Government Act 1976
Objections
142. (1) Any person aggrieved on any of the following grounds:

(a) that any holding for which he is rateable is valued beyond
      its rateable value;
(b) that any holding valued is not rateable;
(c) that any person who, or any holding which, ought to be
      included in the Valuation List is omitted therefrom;
(d) that any holding is valued below its rateable value; or
(e) that any holding or holdings which have been jointly or
     separately valued ought to be valued otherwise,

may make objection in writing to the local authority at any time
not less than fourteen days before the time fixed for the revision
of the Valuation List.

Since neither the Datuk Bandar nor any of his cohorts hold an elective office, property owners do not have much hope against the juggernaut of DBKL.

Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib has confirmed that from January 1, property owners in the city will have to fork out higher property assessment fees.

In this era of feudalism in Malaysia, all we can do is to prostrate ourselves to the gods of government and appeal for benevolence and beseech these gods to rein in on their abuse of power and corrupt excesses...all in the name of controlling costs so that DBKL will not see the need for any further rate increases in the near future.
__________________________________________

Here is fz.com's highly relevant analysis and debunking of the purported reasons for the rate hike.

KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 21): So is Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) proposed hike in assessment rates justified?
Fz.com has taken a closer look at DBKL’s accounts from the last five years and find that the city is loaded with reserves, tax income, federal and private funding.
Skimming through past reports, speeches and accounts, it seems that the current proposal to raise assessment by up to 300% is unjustified, as the authority has enough avenues of income generation.
DBKL’s main source of income is assessment which typically makes up 40-60% of its total income. And since 2009, DBKL’s tax revenue steadily increased by 2-4%.
However, last year, when Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Ahmad Phesal Talib, announced the city’s 2013 budget, he said income from assessment alone was expected to double to RM880.5mil -- an 8.6% jump from 2012. 
In his speech, he said the hike was due to many upcoming property developments, which would translate into more assessment.
Hence it does not gel with the recent proposed tax hike of 100-300% which sent shock waves to KL folks as rates have remained the same for the past 21 years.
The most damning evidence that DBKL is merely taking the easy way out by taxing ratepayers, come from Ahmad Phesal himself. His 2013 budget speech boasts of its prosperous accounts in 2012:
“Even though there is no increase in assessment tax and rates have not been revised since 1992, tax revenue continues to rise because the number of properties that are taxable has increased as well. Rapid property development has also improved revenue from development charges. Rate hikes of those charges and the change of calculation method had also increase tax revenue.
“On top of that, DBKL managed to recover assessment arrears, raking in another RM100mil into their accounts,” he said.
From 2009 to 2013, DBKL has received plenty of funding federal government to carry out projects under the 9th and 10th Malaysia Plan and also from private sector and sometimes from Petronas.
DBKL hardly ever spends every single cent allocated to the financial year. For instance, development cost in 2011 was budgeted at RM1.017mil, but only RM789.6bil were spent. Hence RM227.4mil was carried forward to the next year.
By merely looking at general accounts of DBKL, cost cutting effort by former mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail has made the city rather well-off.
In 2010, Ahmad Fuad, who was mayor from 2008 to July 2012, had indicated that while assessment that had not been revised for so long, he would not push for a rate hike. 
In fact, due to DBKL’s financial standing, it could even afford to reduce assessment tax by 2% for service apartments and apartments in commercial buildings, sustaining a shortfall of RM4 mil in revenue. 
To maintain the city’s revenue, there were special task forces established to collect arrears, amounting to RM4 million especially by low cost apartment dwellers.
Read more: http://www.fz.com/content/mayor-contradicts-own-need-assessment#ixzz2lGbmW0fW

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Car killing idiots

On the matter of the mooted policy of the Road Transport Department (RTD) to make it mandatory to scrap cars that exceed 12 years, I wish to tell whoever came up with this idea to take a flying leap to Hell.

I hesitate to make that wish come true because I am prepared to make a small assumption that the people who regulate things in Malaysia cannot be so stupid and corrupted by self-interest that they will intentionally make the rakyat suffer unnecessarily...but, I may be wrong to make that assumption.

Confession. 

I have 2 cars that are over 12 years old. I send both cars to my regular workshop twice a year. Each time, the invoiced amount for work done runs into a few thousand Ringgit. The cars, needless to say, are in top condition with original parts or OEM parts.

Why should I scrap those cars?

The RTD and the people who make policy must use their brains more.

What is so wrong with having a biennial Roadworthiness Test for private motor vehicles that exceed 12 years of age?

What is the rationale for a Communist-Imperial style of a policy to make mandatory for the scrapping of all motor vehicles over 12 years of age?

Is Malaysia run by idiots?

Can't these people just Google for examples used in other jurisdictions?

Or, are they waiting for a junket trip overseas, lawatan sambil belajar?

Idiots!
__________________

Postscript: The Deputy Minister has come out with a rectal-fication statement.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

GST and a Robin Hood/Sheriff of Nottingham Government

After much vacillation and hesitation, the government finally fixed a date for the implementation of the GST. And, it had to be April Fools Day in 2015.

Be that as it may, I see the GST as a necessary move. It is inevitable. I'll tell why it is inevitable.

Our country has a lot of cheap labour. Most of us fail, refuse or ignore the necessity to acquire higher value skills. So, the average working citizen does not pay any tax.

Why many Malaysians fail, refuse or ignore the need to acquire higher value skills should be the subject matter of serious study (pun intended).

Is it race? Is it culture? Is it the social environment? Is it religion? Is it the hot tropical weather? Is it the abundance of food?

Or, is it plain indolence (which emphasises our slothlike approach to pretty much everything)?

Why aren't every young Malaysians scrambling to get a better and higher education so as to go higher up the value chain?

Why has the education system spat out and churned out only low-skilled citizens who love to complain and do no work of any value?

And so, here we are.

We have a bunch of politicians in government who are handing out freebies like there is no tomorrow. These guys need to collect more tax money so that they can give out more money (and, keep a lot too).

It does sound like the Malaysian government has acquired a Robin Hood complexion, does it not? 

At the same time, it does seem like the Malaysian government maintains its Sheriff of Nottingham demeanour of collecting tax, does it not?

This is political and leadership schizophrenia.

Yes, this posting meanders like the Klang River. In so doing, it mimics the political and governance landscape.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Things that matter

Life would be so much simpler if there wasn't so much obsession with spiritual matters.

I come from a polytheistic background. I found that from this milieu there is an earnest desire to harmonise. 

Growing up, things were always peachy with my siblings. We could play and banter to no end.

Then, like a bolt out of the blue, my siblings started to embrace monotheism.

That was my childhood's end.

They started to become preachy. They began to invoke the name of their one god for almost anything. It was annoying. It was boring. It ... broke the bond.

I became testy whenever they invoked the name of their god for the most inane things. I became irritable when they started to weave their new-found beliefs into things that I liked.

It became suffocating to be with my siblings. 

And, so....we drifted apart.

Monotheists seem to crave for market share.

Polytheists just want some peace and quiet to enjoy the bounties that Nature has endowed.

So, you can imagine how excitable my monotheistic siblings have become in recent years.

And, all this while, polytheistic me just enjoy burning the incense and lighting the lamp to honour the various deities and my ancestors without any rancour or fuss.

In most polytheistic cultures, one's belief is highly personal.

There is no imposition on others to comply.

If only the monotheists can just sheath their swords of righteousness and just embrace their beliefs privately.

The world would be tranquil, serene and serendipitous.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Civility is not a sign of weakness

I have been self-indulgent in pursuing my work and personal matters. These past months of have been a serendipitous in the main with the odd spikes of exigencies which require urgent attention. By and large I have been in cruise mode. I have been and, still am, in a happy mode.

I read a piece of fiction in my college years where the author had a narrative about the necessity of maintaining a degree of tension, some measure of tautness in one's emotional outlook on things, in order to produce excellent work, be it in the arts or any vocation. In short, one needs a degree of unhappiness to keep up the good work!

That has always struck me as being a bleak assessment of things; don't you think?

But, it is, sadly, true.

There have been a widely held perspective that Nobel Prizes awarded in the sciences have tended been in honour of work done by the recipients when they were below 35 years of age. 

This demographic perspective is consistent with my own experience.

Was it not Confucius who said, thus-

“The Master says: At 15, I set my heart on learning. At 30 I know where I stand (my character has been formed). At 40, I have no more doubts, at 50, I know the will of Heaven, at 60 my ears are attuned (i.e. my moral sense is well-developed), at 70, I follow my heart’s desire without crossing the line (without breaking moral principles).” 

So, if I may hazard an observation, it would be that if one experiences a measure of happiness and contentment, one's creative tension is commensurately reduced; a happy and contented person has less desire to push the envelope, so to speak.

Is this a bad thing?

I think not.

My recent experience in engaging people everywhere, while at work, while shopping, while anywhere, has proven that my happier persona has percolated and transferred some degree of happiness to people I have contact with.

Is this a bad thing?

I think not.

The salutary effect of my present emotional state is that when I skim read all the things relating to recent Malaysian political matters I do not experience any strong emotions. I just see all the goings on as a sick game of politics.

My hope is that the players and their sycophantic followers know that it is what it is, a mere game.

My concern is that the game may be taken too seriously with dire consequences.

I leave you with one of my favourite phrases from JFK's Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961-

Civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Selamat Hari Raya

I would like to wish all my Muslim friends a warm and sincere -

SELAMAT HARI RAYA AIDIL FITRI
MAAF ZAHIR DAN BATIN

and to all Malaysians,

HAPPY HOLDIDAYS!

and, most importantly,

DRIVE SAFELY

Monday, July 29, 2013

Idiots at large: Just show Tanda Putera and The New Village

Just show Tanda Putera and The New Village already.

Malaysian politicians, the whole lot of you, are a bunch of idiots and opportunists. You keep insulting us, loyal Malaysian citizens, with your putrid thoughts. Enough already. Show us some respect.

Neither Shuhaimi Baba nor Wong Kew Lit deserves to be caught in this nonsense. These are creative Malaysians who know how to tell Malaysian stories in an attractive style of their own. 

Please stop this nonsense and keep your political penises sheathed...you guys are all too ugly.

Just leave us citizens alone and let us enjoy good quality Malaysian movies for goodness sake.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's getting hot in here!

It is quite amazing, when you think about it, how buildings and structures in Malaysia since the 1980s are completely inadequate to deal with the hot rays of sunshine in our tropical climate.

This, it appears, has something to do with the advent of air-conditioning and, centralised air-conditioning.

It appears that the availability of air-conditioning has given architectural designers the licence to draw buildings in Malaysia that pays no regard whatsoever to the power of the Sun.

Whereas, the pre-1980s buildings had lots of ventilation holes, canopies, verandahs and five-foot ways, these appear to have been discarded in favour of buildings, whether commercial or residential, that sealed every possible natural airflow and faced any which way. 

It is as if air-conditioning allowed building designers in Malaysia to thumb their noses at Nature. This was possibly the architectural equivalent of the Flight of Icarus.

So, we are now consistently confronted by the strong heat of either the morning sun or, the afternoon sun and, often, both. What do we do? Why, we turn the air-conditioning to 16 degrees, of course. This brings the average room temperature to about 20 degrees. 

Quite nice...except for the pesky monthly bills from Tenaga Nasional...and those rooms that cannot really cool down when the Sun is beating down.

When Ken Yeang designed the Mesiniaga Building and won accolades and awards, I thought, it was the turning point where Malaysian buildings, commercial or residential, would show the world what contemporary design can do in tropical settings.

Image sourced from here.

It has not happened.

Instead, we were and, still are, exposed to the most ill-thought out building designs where no regard whatsoever is given to the heat from the parts of the building that faces the Sun.

Nor, are we given the right to enjoy the cool morning or, evening breeze.

We can only hope and pray that Malaysian architects will start to assert themselves to landowners and developers to emphasise the absolute common sense that is required to design Malaysian buildings that are properly tropicalised so that occupants can truly enjoy the beauty of the Malaysian tropical climate instead of cursing the heat.

That is not fair to Sun or the Wind an, it is certainly not fair to the occupants of the buildings.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

An overhaul of the theory of consumer choice

Nobel economics prize winner Daniel McFadden is on to something really interesting about debunking some conventional ideas about how consumers behave and make choices. Read here. I'm not able to put my observations into writing right now. Read on ...

“SOVEREIGN in tastes, steely-eyed and point-on in perception of risk, and relentless in maximisation of happiness.” This was Daniel McFadden’s memorable summation, in 2006, of the idea of Everyman held by economists. That this description is unlike any real person was Mr McFadden’s point. The Nobel prizewinning economist at the University of California, Berkeley, wryly termed homo economicus “a rare species”.

In his latest paper* he outlines a “new science of pleasure”, in which he argues that economics should draw much more heavily on fields such as psychology, neuroscience and anthropology. He wants economists to accept that evidence from other disciplines does not just explain those bits of behaviour that do not fit the standard models.

Rather, what economists consider anomalous is the norm. Homo economicus, not his fallible counterpart, is the oddity. To take one example, the “people” in economic models have fixed preferences, which are taken as given.

Yet a large body of research from cognitive psychology shows that preferences are in fact rather fluid. People value mundane things much more highly when they think of them as somehow “their own”: they insist on a much higher price for a coffee cup they think of as theirs, for instance, than for an identical one that isn’t.

This “endowment effect” means that people hold on to shares well past the point where it makes sense to sell them. Cognitive scientists have also found that people dislike losing something much more than they like gaining the same amount. Such “loss aversion” can explain why people often pick insurance policies with lower deductible charges even when they are more expensive. At the moment of an accident a deductible feels like a loss, whereas all those premium payments are part of the status quo. 

Another area where orthodox economics finds itself at sea is the role of memory and experience in determining choices. Recollection of a painful or pleasurable experience is dominated by how people felt at the peak and the end of the episode.

In a 1996 experiment Donald Redelmeier and Daniel Kahneman, two psychologists, showed that deliberately adding a burst of pain at the end of a colonoscopy that was of lower intensity than the peak made patients think back on the experience more favourably.

Unlike homo economicus, real people are strongly influenced by such things as the order in which they see options and what happened right before they made a choice. Incorporating these findings into models of consumer behaviour should improve their power to predict everything from which loans people choose to which colleges they apply for.

 Trust is something economists already incorporate into their models. But trust turns out to be not just a function of history and interactions, as dismal scientists tend to think, but also a product of brain chemistry. Pumping people with oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone”, has been found to make them much more generous in games where they have to decide how much of their money to entrust to another person who has no real incentive to return any of it.

Sovereign, indeed. Much of this may be alien to modern-day economists, but it is in line with the conception that other disciplines have of human decision-making. Psychologists have long known that people’s choices and preferences are influenced by others.

Biologists have a much clearer understanding of altruism and kindness, whether to kin or strangers, than economists, who typically emphasise the dogged pursuit of self-interest. This way of thinking would also have been recognisable to their intellectual forefathers. Adam Smith wrote extensively about the central role of altruism and regard for others as motivators of human behaviour.

The idea of loss aversion would have made sense to Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism: he spoke of increased pleasure and reduced pain as two distinct sources of happiness. Mr McFadden believes that economists need to do things differently if they are truly to understand how people make decisions. Manipulating brain activity is one way of delving into where economic choices really come from.

Analysing the information people get through social networks would help them understand the role of influence and identity in decision-making. Such tools have implications for policy. Plenty of poor people in America are wary of programmes like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) because the idea of getting a handout from the government reinforces a sense of helplessness. Dignity is not something mainstream economics has much truck with.

But creating a sense of dignity turns out to be a powerful way of affecting decisions. One study by Crystal Hall, Jiaying Zhao and Eldar Shafir, a trio of psychologists, found that getting poor people in a soup kitchen to recall a time when they felt “successful and proud” made them almost twice as likely to accept leaflets that told them how to get an EITC refund than members of another group who were merely asked about the last meal they had eaten.

A nudge and a think

Taking the path Mr McFadden urges might also lead economists to reassess some articles of faith. Economists tend to think that more choice is good. Yet people with many options sometimes fail to make any choice at all: think of workers who prefer their employers to put them by “default” into pension plans at preset contribution rates.

Explicitly modelling the process of making a choice might prompt economists to take a more ambiguous view of an abundance of choices. It might also make them more sceptical of “revealed preference”, the idea that a person’s valuation of different options can be deduced from his actions. This is undoubtedly messier than standard economics. So is real life.
* “The New Science of Pleasure”, NBER Working Paper No. 18687, February 2013