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

Friday, May 24, 2013

BN as a single party

Merging BN components into a single party makes eminent sense. This is an idea whose time has come. I am glad that the idea is gaining traction with senior UMNO leaders and leaders of some BN components.

One of the significant outcomes of GE13 must be that UMNO is clearly the party with rural strength. In the urban centres, due to its race-based political matrix, the urban electoral seats were ceded to the Chinese-based BN components.

The race-based political narrative appears to maintain a faithful following in the rural areas.

But, in the urban centres and mixed race areas, race-based narrative was strongly rejected in GE13.

The statement that Muhiyiddin has just been reported to have made is a tacit nod on this fact and, an express encouragement to the process to transform BN into a single party.

Without this transformation it is very likely that BN will be a permanent a dead-duck in the urban centres.

To engage urban Malaysians, BN needs a more inclusive membership formula. 

And, direct membership will show the way for urban Malaysians to relate better to BN.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Italy's brain drain

It may be of interest to some to know that Italy has been experiencing a brain drain and, struggles to lure them back...

The Economist piece can be found here.

Why Italian graduates cannot wait to emigrate

ALESSANDRO WANDAEL is a photographer. His is a profession in which success should depend on talent alone. But not so in his native Italy. The photo credits in magazines show that photographers who have family or other close ties to editors are working regularly, he says. “Those who don't, aren't.” The 37-year-old Mr Wandael, a former architect, has lived abroad ever since graduating: first in Berlin; now in New York. Figures in this field are often outdated and vague. 

But Mr Wandael is far from alone. According to 2005 statistics published by the OECD, he is among some 300,000 highly educated Italians who have opted to leave a country that has become rich without dismantling a social framework in which access to jobs depends on family ties, political affiliations and raccomandazioni (string-pulling recommendations). 

Last month saw unexpectedly violent student protests in a number of cities against proposed reforms to the university system. Some commentators detected in this a symptom of the frustration the Italian way of doing things generates among the educated young. 

How serious is the problem? It “does not exist”, said a junior minister in 2002, claiming that only 150-300 graduates a year left the country for good. A minister in the current government privately acknowledges the phenomenon, but says that the only real cause for concern is the departure of scientific researchers. But neither of these contentions stands up. 

A 2004 study found that, of all Italian emigrants, the share of those with degrees quadrupled between 1990 and 1998. In 1999, according to a separate study, 4,000 graduates cancelled their Italian residency. And just 17% of Italian graduates in the United States, the most popular destination, are involved in research and development, according to the (American) National Science Foundation. The biggest chunk work as managers. 


Yet what distinguishes Italy from its peers is not the absolute number of its exiled graduates (in 2005 more left Britain, France and Germany than Italy), but that it has a net “brain drain” (see chart), something more typical of a developing economy. In other words, the number of educated Italians leaving the country exceeds the number of educated foreigners entering it. 

By contrast, many of Italy's developed-world counterparts are involved in “brain exchanges”: as British computer scientists disappear to Silicon Valley, Spanish medical researchers find work in Britain, for example. 

 Last year Silvio Berlusconi's government made the second attempt in nine years to lure back exiled academics, this time with tax breaks. But this misses the point, according to Sonia Morano-Foadi, a law lecturer at Oxford Brookes University who interviewed more than 50 √©migr√© Italian scientists in 2006. Her subjects identified two main reasons for their decision to quit the homeland. One was Italy's scant investment in R&D (the lowest of the European Union's 15 pre-2004 members). The other, “the most important and difficult problem of academia in Italy”, was its “non-transparent recruitment system”. 



Boycotting nonsense

The new Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs has made a major misstep when he merely said that the federal government did not approve of the boycott of Chinese goods and services but proceeded to defend the right to boycott.

Sometimes you can be legally correct but wrong on the economics.

Usually it is not a big deal because everyone knows that political motivations are usually irrational exuberance.

But...when you are a Minister responsible for an economic portfolio as important as Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs you have to be a big picture person. 

You are running the entire Malaysian economy.

You cannot be pandering to petty politicking even if it is just a fortnight since your party won by a whisker. 

You have to check that tribal, petty, parochialism.

You are the Minister in the Malaysian Cabinet with a portfolio to manage Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs.

Malaysia holds itself out as an open economy. Malaysia measures itself by trade competitiveness. Malaysia aspires to obtain foreign direct investments.

For instance, how would the Minister reconcile his defence of racial boycotting to investors and businesses from mainland China or Taiwan? 

Would he say via an interpreter, "Sorry, this boycott of Chinese goods and services apply only to Malaysian citizens of Chinese ethnicity and descent. It definitely does not apply to you people because you are from mainland China/Taiwan".

How lame is that?

Do I need to remind everyone that Cabinet Ministers hold a federal portfolio? 

Do I also need to remind everyone that people cannot be fooled all the time?

You cannot have the Prime Minister himself, Husni, Mustapha, Idris Jala and Wahid running around telling all and sundry that the Economic Transformation Plan is still on foot when your fella in charge of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs cannot send the correct signals out as a Federal Minister and, he is still labouring under the misapprehension that the stupid General Elections is still on.

As I said before, GET TO WORK!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

PPSMI is alive and reviving

Now that the dust is settling on GE13 it is good to see the green shoots of the movement to revive PPSMI. Wong Chun Wai of The Star is refloating the idea again and, a most welcome reinitiation it is. I hope that Datin Azimah and PAGE will resume their important task.

Read here.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Well done, Donald Lim!

Donald Lim is thinking along the correct direction for the future of the MCA...


The MCA may have to open its party membership to other races after its worst result in history in Election 2013 as it cannot just bank on the Chinese vote, says the party’s Selangor chief Datuk Donald Lim.
He said the Chinese component party under the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government should look at the bigger picture and take into account the reality of the urban-rural divide, rather than a racial one, as reflected by the election results.

Read the rest here.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Time for GST

With the distraction of electioneering over, it is time for the federal government to look into implementing the GST.

A consumption tax is somewhat overdue.

There will be a reduction in corporate and personal income tax. The extent of the reduction is not known as yet. A reduction to a top rate of 18% will be welcomed by everyone.


Can Malaysia afford to defer GST any longer?

I think not.

It is time for the federal government to exercise its political will.

Emasculation: BN as a coalition brand

To me, blogging has always been about putting wayward and happenstance thoughts out into the open.

If I have more serious thoughts, I would reduce them into academic papers and have them published as I have in certain academic and professional journals.

This entry is about wayward and happenstance thoughts.

The formation of the Alliance Party comprising UMNO, MCA and MIC was an astute strategy to address a fragmented market of voters in the 1950s and 1960s.

Equally so, the formation of the even larger Barisan Nasional coalition was, in many ways, a response to the needs and demands of an even more fragmented market of voters in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

The new millennium was dramatic for the BN largely due to the formal retirement of Dr M. 

Dr M was the embodiment of and, may well be the last of the paternalistic political leaders Malaysia will ever see. In the immediate euphoria of the post-Mahathir era, BN's successor leadership reaped the benefits and outpouring of goodwill towards the BN brand. BN's landslide win in 2004 was comprehensive and cut across every conceivable section of the Malaysian electorate.

If ever there was an example of a collective high, 2004 was it for Malaysian politics. The stuffy air in an enclosed room was replaced by the fresh air of greater political freedom.

What happened then? 

There is enough good political analyses already published that accurately document and contain sound inferences about why that groundswell of goodwill toward BN in 2004 was lost in 2008. 

This entry is about GE 2013 from the narrow perspective of BN as a political brand and, more to the point, why only the main sub-brand of UMNO attracted its traditional loyal following while the other component sub-brands suffered badly.

Why did the voters not embrace the BN brand when presented with non-UMNO sub-brands?

There are many factors, of course. There is the factor of the urban voters. There is the issue of racial groupings. Perhaps, we can add the possibility of personality, religion, campaign messages and strategy and many other factors. This is fertile ground for much socio-politica analysis.

I choose to look at only one possible factor. Emasculation.

Yes. You got it right. Emasculation.

The loss of power and, for want of a better word, masculinity.

Castration. Cutting off the cojones. Weakening. Deprivation of vigour.

These words describe the non-UMNO components of the BN.

This, to my mind, was a major factor that explains why non-UMNO BN components fared badly.

In the mid-1990s, I was, like the rest of the world, enthralled by Tiger Woods and his amazing skills and his will to win. He wore the Nike brand.

Everyone wanted to be like Tiger. Hell, I wanted to be like Tiger. How do I get to feel like I can be like Tiger? 

I bought the brands that Tiger wore. I bought Nike.

And, what, you may ask, has this Tiger-fixation episode got to do with the failure of the non-UMNO BN components?

Those of us who are either of a certain vintage or, who are conscientious armchair students of Malaysian history, may recall the deep personal bonds of friendship between the leaders of UMNO, MCA and MIC in the 1950s and 1960s. They would hang out, spin yarns, gulp down brandy and enjoy jocular banter. It was a true fraternity of the political elite.

Voters felt that if there was any issue that needed to be resolved these leaders would do so in a congenial setting and discuss matters with civility.

There was still evidence of this in the 1970s.

It disappeared in the 1980s.

BN went from a partnership of friends and transformed into a large corporation of strangers.

There is a light theory that it didn't help matters that Dr M never played golf. So, one could never catch up with him for casual chit chats with him in various states of undress in the dressing room. He was only accessible in controlled settings. That may be just golfers' bias. But, then again...

Anyway, the point that I am hazarding is that the electorate is neither blind nor deaf nor dumb. 

It can see the glaring contrast between the power and the glory that UMNO's leaders embody and the emasculated parochialism, insularity and pettiness that successive non-UMNO BN leaders has embodied.

Juxtapose that with the constant joint appearances of the Pakatan Rakyat leaders from PKR, PAS and DAP and their distinctive combined party logos in the shirts worn by the Pakatan Rakyat leaders and  the flags flown.

The contrast in imagery was that leaders from the non-UMNO BN components needed to "make an appointment" to have access to power, while Pakatan Rakyat leaders could just look each other up without any formal arrangements.

This is what I mean about the emasculation chanelled by non-UMNO BN components.

The marketing message of Pakatan Rakyat was, even for neutrals, sublime, exciting and seductive.

Who doesn't want a multiracial leadership and national unity? Who doesn't want leaders with power or, at least, real access to power?

Who doesn't respond to positive vibes that channels Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" oratory?

In contrast, voters were entreated with non-UMNO BN components like the MCA leaders pleading with the electorate not to give them "an egg" (meaning "zero"). Worse still, voters were abused with  self-indulgent and poor karaoke singing and forced to take home DVDs of candidates singing.

All of us want leaders who can hold themselves as a prism through which we can identify the best things that we wish for ourselves, our children and our community. We want leaders who can mirror our desires and aspirations.

The UMNO-BN leaders were obviously able to channel all that.

The non-UMNO BN leaders were not able to. Instead, they channeled a sense of emasculation and self-indulgence. This is not something the electorate want to see or feel when it examines the slate of political candidates.

This, to my mind, is the challenge for BN as a coalition brand. I admit that it is a simplistic entry; superficial even. That is why it is only a blog post and, not an academic paper.

The challenge is at many, many levels. Each BN component needs an internal overhaul. 

Someone made an observation to me recently, that the MCA's party constitution is so skewed to favour the incumbents that there is almost no way for any maverick to move the delegates to challenge the incumbents. So, it becomes a cesspool where elite factions fight each other without allowing young leaders to enter.

In fairness, the same accusation can be hurled at the Pakatan Rakyat components.

So, the difference may be in the area of the attitude of the leaders. 

For some reason, the Pakatan Rakyat is able to attract bright and young political talent and fast-track them into the electoral fray.

In contrast, BN components appear to be hierarchical, bureaucratic, staid, slow, ponderous, troglodytic and unimaginative.

Is this just a perception? 

Judging from the harsh feedback from the electorate in GE13, BN components have got a lot of soul-searching and structural reconstruction to embark on.

Leaders like Saifuddin Abdullah may well have hit the nail on the head in renewing the call for direct memberships into BN.

Voters need to feel like they are voting for candidates who have real power.

BN leaders may say, what is the point of voting for Pakatan Rakyat candidates who are not in government? Where got power, like that?

But, they would be wrong.

A good wakil rakyat will get the job done or, be seen to try to get the job done. That, to the voter, may be good enough...for now; someone to lend an ear; someone to lend a shoulder to lean on; someone to cry out about your plight; someone to represent your frustration; someone who can stand up for you.

So, please get to work!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Are Malaysians disunited?

If you believe the politicians on either the side of the divide, especially on the BN-UMNO side, Malaysians are completely disunited. The Malays are divided, the bloody Chinese have all (90%) decided to huddle together in a Fu Manchu Oriental plot mode and the Indians have gone into disarray...and so on.

It's absolutely bollocks.

The truth of the matter is that it is the politicians who have always stirred this pot of shit.

Malaysians just want to live a happy and reasonably carefree life in a community that is crime-free, corruption-free and with manageable costs of living.

This requires a system that has Good Governance.

All the bullshit about unity or disunity or Malay unity or Chinese unity is all crap.

There is no problem with Malaysian unity.

Ironically, the talk of unity is feeding the sense of divisiveness. I suppose that is what certain parties want. It masks deeper issues within the political parties that did not do well in the elections.

I say to those who are going to the new Parliamentary session after GE13 that you better damn well give the rakyat Good Governance and allow us to live a happy and reasonably carefree life in a community that is crime-free, corruption-free and with manageable costs of living.

If not we're giving you the boot and the sack the next time around.

Just shut up on the psywar already and tell us what are the bloody promises that you're going to keep and pray like hell that we don't remember the other bullshit promises you made.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sakmongkol AK47

First of all, I wish to offer my congratulations to my friend and brother blogger Sakmongkol AK47 aka Dato' Mohd.Ariff Sabri bin Hj. Abdul Aziz for winning the Parliamentary seat of Raub. As you may know, Dato' Sak stood as a DAP candidate.

Anyone who knows Dato' Sak or, who has read his body of writings will know that Dato' Sak will not be a token Malay in the DAP. He will roar as a true Malaysian! Of that, I have no doubt.

The blogging community has sent yet another fraternal brother to the Malaysian Parliament.

Second, I understand that access to Dato' Sak's popular blog has been thwarted by unsavoury and cowardly third parties. You may wish to access his blog at http://sakmongkol.blogspot.ru/

You can also access Dato' Sak's blog by using .jp or .kr or any country domain listed in the world.

How to Listen When Someone Is Venting

I found this piece here so apposite to the political situation that Malaysia is in. The only thing is that the author, Mark Goulston did not end with the obvious advice on what next to do after dealing with the venting. Here's an extract-

As I have written before, when people are upset, it matters less what you tell them than what you enable them to tell you. After they get their feelings off their chest, that's when they can then have a constructive conversation with you. And not before.

I reproduce the piece in full below for your edification-

I still remember how it felt when, as a medical student, I drained my first abscess in a patient. We called the procedure "I & D" which stands for "Incision and Drainage" (I told you not to read this just before you eat).
When you do an I & D, you locate what is the most protruding and bulging part of the abscess, wipe it off with alcohol, than pierce it with a scalpel. At that point the pus comes out first, followed by any blood. After this procedure, you may put the person on an antibiotic. Over time, the wound heals from the inside out. If you don't drain the abscess first, and just start with the antibiotics, the undrained pus may prevent the wound from healing.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Saifuddin Abdullah

UMNO-BN is lucky to have a man like Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah in their ranks. Personally, I would vote for him any time. 

Saifuddin is the type of political leader who is completely in tune with the times. 

And, what are the times?

In these times political leaders have to engage the electorate. Meet their sentiments and their need to vent head on. Deal with their feelings honestly. Tell them how you feel also. Prove to them that you are bringing up the hard issues with your party's leadership. 

Show them what you have written to your party leadership to convey what your constituents feel.

And, if what you have done is still not enough to convince the electorate, persist.

People acknowledge and admire and respond to human valour and spirit.

One must not only be magnanimous in victory. Saifuddin has admirably demonstrated that one can be equally magnanimous in defeat. What a guy!

I am convinced that, at the rate he is responding to adversity, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah will be victorious in the 14th General Elections.

As for the likes of Teh Kim Poo (see earlier posts below), the less of his ilk in the MCA and Gerakan the better off BN will be.

That said, I find that many of the post-GE13 pronouncements by the MIC has been very admirable...except for that Saravanan fella who may get his comeuppance in due course at the rate he is going.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Klang MCA Closes Service Centre, Disappointed With Chinese Voter Support

You see? What did I say about Teh Kim Poo as an example of the wrongheadedness of MCA's current crop of leaders?

The Klang MCA division Tuesday announced the closure of its people's service centre in Kampung Baru Pandamaran here, with immediate effect.

This follows its disappointment with the Chinese voters who did not support the party, especially in the Klang parliamentary constituency.

Division chairman Datuk Teh Kim Poo said the decision to close the centre, which had been operating for the past five years, was also due to financial reason as the party could no longer afford to bear its management cost.

He said this was because the cost of managing the service centre - set up to assist the people in the district - was funded by the division's own resources.

"We (Klang MCA division) saw the 13th General Election (GE13) results, especially in the Klang parliamentary seat and the four state seats in the constituency, as reflecting the voters non-acceptance of our service and hence, did not choose us in the election.

"Apart from that, we deeply regret the results as the DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) candidates contesting in the Klang area, came to the area for just two weeks and won," he said in a media conference here today.


What else to say except to suggest that MCA's leaders try to get some staying power by reflecting on Tennyson's Ulysses (previous blog post) ....

A dedication

I seem drawn, for some inexplicable reason to Tennyson's verses from his work Ulysses. This, I dedicate to everyone who worked tirelessly for their respective teams recently. I especially dedicate this to the people of MCA, Gerakan and MIC in the hope that they may persist in their endeavour; embittered and bloodied but, unbowed.

They need to reset their compass and begin anew. Cast off the old baggage and trappings. Bring in new heroes. The old soldiers must now accept that their time is over. Step aside to let the new heroes come into the fray.

Come, my friends, 
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world. 
Push off, and sitting well in order smite 
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds 
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths 
Of all the western stars, until I die. 
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down; 
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, 
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. 
Though much is taken, much abides; and though 
We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are, 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. 

Selangor's Mentri Besar

It's a no-brainer that Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim should resume his position as the Mentri Besar of Selangor. He has managed the state with good conscience, industry and vision. His 5-year track record is clear for anyone to see.

But, politics has no brains.

I dare say that Selangor voters voted for Pakatan Rakyat candidates in large part because of the integrity and undisputed capabilities of Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim.

To, replace this man with any other person would be an action without brains.

Federal Cabinet: The best and the brightest

I had to borrow the title of David Halberstam's seminal book (1972) on the Vietnam War for this post. While Halberstam's title was intended to contrast negatively the excellent academic and corporate credentials of the U.S. Cabinet members who somehow lost their objectivity and led the U.S. in the miasma and morass of the Vietnam War, this post hopes to address a reverse scenario in the context of the new Federal Cabinet that BN will be forming.

Whether or, not, the MCA maintains its stand to reject Cabinet positions under the new Najib Administration, I hope that Najib will look beyond the BN component party leaders to form the new Cabinet. 

I hope Najib will use all resources available to him to seek and, persuade, capable people to assume Cabinet positions.

People like Koh Tsu Koon and Rais Yatim were ineffective in the previous Cabinet as were a few others.

Whatever brickbats that may have been thrown at him, the elevation of Idris Jala to a Cabinet position was quite an inspired decision. For better or, for worse, Idris Jala put in the type of effort that many Cabinet members didn't.

So, Najib should look beyond the pale of the BN component parties in an effort to seek out capable Malaysians to serve the country and narrow the rural-urban divide that seems to have formed as shown in the 2013 General Elections.

I say, make full use of the Senatorships, to get in the talent.

Don't just look at the paltry offerings in the larder.

The task at hand, if anything, is to continue to focus on the Economic Transformation Programme.

The capital market has responded positively to the certainty that a continued BN Administration offers. This is a very good re-start.

The concern remains about the debt levels of the Malaysian government. The fiscal deficit has to be pared down. This is a must.

The handouts must be reduced. There must be a better managed needs-based welfare programme that alleviates poverty and social challenges at a more target-specific level. No more carpet-bombing of money handouts, please.

While Malaysia's social safety nets are already quite good, it can be better.

MCA's proposal to reject all government posts

The MCA appears to have taken the position that its members who have government-appointed positions should resign in the wake of the 2013 General Election debacle.

With the greatest of respect, such a stand is childish and silly.

I am reminded of what Teh Kim Poo did after the 2008 General Election when he lost his State Assembly seat in Pandamaran, Selangor. He decided to "punish" in the manner described below-

MCA Klang division chairman Datuk Teh Kim Poo says he will write to the federal government to cancel grants totalling RM7.05 million for three new village projects in Pandamaran, in the Klang district, Selangor.

According to reports in the Chinese press today, he said he is doing this because he is fed up with the constant attacks from the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) state government and incessant criticisms and complaints directed at him by villagers whom he said are "ungrateful" for his help and service.

The vocal former Pandamaran assemblyman said if the residents remain unappreciative of his service, he would consider closing his service centre and quit politics.

Notwithstanding such an action, the man was back in 2013 as the BN Parliamentary candidate for Klang! 

Not wanting MCA representatives in the Federal Cabinet, State Excos and government-appointed positions is a silly position to take. 

Much as I wanted to resist it, I couldn't help but be reminded about this story in connection with likely intent of the MCA's current posture-

When the body was first made, all the parts wanted to be the boss.

The brain said, "since I control everything and do all the thinking, I should be the boss."

The feet said, "since I carry man where he wants to go and get him in position todo what the brain wants, then I should be the boss."

The hands said, "since I must do all the work and earn all the money to keep the rest of you going, I should be the boss."

And so it went with the eyes, the heart, the lungs, and all the other parts of 
the body, each giving the reason why they should be the boss.

Finally, the asshole spoke up and said it was going to be the boss.

All the other parts laughed and laughed at the idea of the asshole being the boss. The asshole got so angry that he blocked himself off and refused to function.

Soon the brain was feverish and could barely think, the feet felt like lead 
weights and was almost too weak to drag the body anywhere, the eyes grew bleary, and the hands hung useless at the sides. All pleaded with the brain to let the asshole be declared the boss. 

And so it happened; all the other parts did all the work and the asshole just 
bossed and passed out a lot of shit.

I implore the MCA not to go ahead with the plan to reject any offers of Federal Cabinet, State Excos and government-appointed positions.

It sends the wrong message to the community and, as I have said of Teh Kim Poo's action in the wake of 2008; such actions have a terrible habit of coming back to haunt you later on.

Whatever said and done, Malaysian voters did vote for your candidates. And, you may be in a sulky mood. But, your service and involvement is still needed.

So, if you'll pardon my French, don't act like an asshole.

MCA Redux: Malaysian Communities Association

At its present trajectory, it is a given that the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) will disappear into the footnotes of Malaysian history. In its current guise, the MCA is out of step with the evolution of Malaysia's democracy and politics.

In the wake of the 2008 General Elections, where the MCA had a dismal showing, we heard the MCA leaders eschew the opportunity to embrace and reach out to a wider Malaysian community. Instead, the MCA leaders said, the MCA cannot become a multi-racial party unless UMNO becomes multi-racial. If you care to do a check-back on my earlier blog posts under the label "MCA" (circa. 2008) you will find that I had urged the MCA to embrace the strong message from the electorate that it needed to reach out to the wider Malaysian polity beyond Chinese clan associations and chambers of commerce. This they did not do. The implications, as we have seen in the 2013 General Elections, is laid bare.

Chua Soi Lek's recent pronouncement in the aftermath of the 2013 General Elections, that Malaysia will see a two-race political system were the Malays are in government and the Chinese in opposition, would be hilarious if not for the danger such a myopic and superficial inference creates. Based on that statement alone, Chua Soi Lek should immediately resign as MCA President instead of "not seeking re-election".

If MCA members genuinely share Chua's views, then, the MCA is surely doomed.

Firstly, such a view reveals that there is zero analytical skills in the MCA. This probably explains why the MCA did not take heed of the message sent by the electorate in 2008.

Secondly, such a view shows that the MCA leadership is trapped within UMNO's race-based narrative scripted single-handedly by Dr Mahathir. It is a trap of MCA's own choosing, by the way. So, don't blame UMNO. UMNO merely led the MCA horse to the trough. It did not force the MCA horse to drink from the racialist pool of putrid water. 

There are two possible broad interpretations of the 2008 and 2013 General Election results for the MCA. They may not be mutually exclusive.

One, the Chinese Malaysians, together with most urban Malaysian voters, want to be represented by the best and brightest Malaysian politicians regardless of their race. Nurul Izzah, Rafizi Ramli, Khairy Jamaludin and Tony Pua are  some  high-profile examples. Saifudin Abdullah should be on this list too.

Two, Chinese Malaysians want to be represented by humble, modest and conscientious MCA leaders who dare to take on the difficult issues that are of major concern to urban voters. These are issues such as good governance, open tenders of government projects, crime-fighting, corruption, the environment, quality of  and access to education and fair play. They do not ever want to be embarrassed by VCDs and DVDs of MCA leaders in compromising positions or, singing karaoke songs.

On both scores, the MCA has failed. 

The slate of candidates offered by the MCA in 2013 were not properly promoted. They were ill-prepared to face the demanding electorate. Worse of all, they had no answers to the hard questions that the electorate was asking. Instead, the electorate was subjected to fear-mongering about the hudud or, bombarded with karaoke DVDs.

The MCA were not just bland, they appeared to be completely out of step with the electorate. That, surely, must be the greatest reason to indict the current MCA leadership. How could the MCA have no political strategy beyond the hudud?

There were so many oversized pink elephants in every room and tent and, dare I say, in every mammoth dinner hosted by MCA that the electorate was bewildered by MCA's sheer indolence and insularity. The colloquial Malaysian expression is, probably, syiok sendiri.

But, all is not lost. 

The MCA still has some life in it and some pretty damn good advantages.

First, it has lost and lots of money.

Second, it has lots and lots of party branches.

Third, it has lots and lots of members.

Fourth, it has lots of history and, therefore, pedigree.

Now, it just has to parlay those strengths with a change in content.

The starting point has to be some serious soul-searching on the matter of changing the "Chinese" in its "C" to "Communities". With this, will come the requisite repositioning its political strategy. 

The next step is to do some mental surgery to re-attach the cojones that it has put in deep freeze because its leaders over the past several decades has chosen patronage politics that involves getting projects for themselves and cronies.

This is the time for re-invention.

Some may say that, if you were to look at the history of the MCA, this party was always elitist and self-serving. It had its roots in Kuomintang sympathies and looked with concern to the issues and challenges that wracked post-imperial China. It, then, morphed into a political body that engaged Malayan concerns about citizenship for the Chinese community and the needs of the Chinese business community.

It may be said also that the needs of the Chinese community at the time were dealt with by clan associations and dialect associations working in a loose collaboration with the MCA. Tun Tan Cheng Lock was famously criticised for being illiterate in the Mandarin.

But, why should history shackle the MCA of the present? Just as modern corporations can transform from a small start in one industry into a corporate giant in another, so, too, can the MCA make that quantum leap from being Chinese-based to becoming Communities-based.

And, I'll let the MCA in one one secret.

You don't need UMNO's permission to do this.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Reconciliation

I like what Najib has stated in the BN Press Conference following SPR's announcement that BN had crossed the 112 seat majority barrier to be eligible to form the next Federal Government. He said that BN will look into a form of "national reconciliation".

To my mind, taken in proper context, "national reconciliation" should not be about bringing disparate ethnic groups together so much as BN addressing the issues that concern URBAN VOTERS. It just so happens that most urban voters are of Chinese ethnicity.

Framing "national reconciliation" efforts in the context of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazan, etc may end up as an exercise in treating a misdiagnosed symptom.

The Malay voters in Pasir Mas and Shah Alam has shown that Perkasa and its views and positions has no place in Malaysian politics. This is something all Malaysians must sit up and take notice of. Let me repeat. Malay voters have rejected Ibrahim Ali and Zulkifli Nordin. This shows that moderate, sensitive and pragmatic politics and political leaders are encouraged in Malaysia by ALL Malaysian voters. 

This is also a message to political parties like the DAP whose followers can be very rude and insensitive that political issues must be better articulated.

The elephants in the room for URBAN VOTERS are issues such as corruption, cronyism, good governance, fair play and rising costs of living.