MALAYSIA almost became an Asian tiger.
But the 1990s’ financial crisis did us in. Not all is lost, though. Like the tiger in the wild, Malaysia is working on its vocal folds to claim its territory in Asia.
As this newspaper frontpaged the story yesterday, this time around, Malaysia is reimagining the tiger by prospering everyone. If this happens, it is the reconceiving we have been waiting for. A roar in unison, you may say.
Our economic men call it Shared Prosperity Vision 2030. Our NST Poster puts this 10-chaptered document in layman’s language, all in one page for you (see yesterday’s NST e-paper).
But what does shared prosperity mean? The Vision 2030 blueprint points to a new economic approach to bring about equitable growth — the justice and fairness principle that Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali spoke about at the launch of the vision on Saturday— across class, community and geography.
As Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng once pointed out, to have shared prosperity, there must be prosperity to begin with. Guan Eng’s view may sound trite, but it is deep. Not only the society, but also the economy must grow. Azmin did give us a peek at the economic source of prosperity: aerospace, digital economy and high-tech farming. And, of course, there is more to it. Call it the high-tech path to being an Asian Tiger.
The path to shared prosperity is not paved with gold. Challenges are aplenty. Laurence Todd, director, Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs, speaks of a few. One is, income gap in absolute terms between the Top 20 and Bottom 40 of the population has grown.
If it was RM3,253 in 1970; in 2016, it rose to RM13,240. Two, wages have not kept pace with productivity, particularly in sectors where pay is dismally low.
Three, lower-income households are struggling to cope with the cost of living. Many of them earn too little to afford a minimum acceptable living standard, according to Bank Negara Malaysia’s 2017 Wages and Salaries Report. Four, wealth is poorly distributed. The top 40 richest people in Malaysia made up 22.4 per cent of the gross domestic product of the country in 2012, the latest UNDP figure reveals.
In the United States, the top 40 richest people made up only 4.8 per cent. If examples closer to home are needed, Singapore stood at 21.5 per cent and Thailand 13.1 per cent. This is not the complete story, Todd says. There are significant others.
The thinking has been done and the road map drawn up. What needs doing is making it happen. Eleven years may seem like a short span of time for an ambition as big as Vision 2030, but with the right policies and bold steps, Malaysia can take its rightful place as an Asian Tiger, says Todd. Addressing the reimaginers of economy and society, Cambridge economist and author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang, says, we should build our economic system that brings out the best, rather than, the worst in people. The reconceivers appear to have taken Chang’s advice. All’s well that ends in wealth.