Pardon me for ignoring the Cabinet reshuffle. It’s just a few new ambitious faces replacing a few tired personalities. Some minor hoo-ha over Mukhriz edging past Khairy into the Cabinet. There’s even a Green Technology Minister – and perhaps with this ‘green’ theme in mind a discarded state chief minister has been recycled into a cabinet minister.
But in the larger scheme of things, the basic economic orientation of the country remains the same.
Over the last few years, we have seen a drastic rise in social ills – crime, drug addiction, depression…you name it.
What is behind all this? One possible reason is the alienation of the human being/workers as a result of the industrialisation process. Another possibility is the disillusionment and discontentment fuelled by relative poverty and marginalisation under the “trickle-down” economic approach.
Then comes a newbook, The Spirit Level, revealing that countries with greater income inequalities experience a lot more social sicknesses. This doesn’t only affect the poor in these unequal countries but also the more affluent, who suffer from stress and a fear of the poor. (Think of how more and more of the rich and wealthy are retreating behind gated communities or guarded condominium complexes or installing burglar alarms). The poor on the other hand suffer from uncertainty over how to make ends meet and a sense of anxiety over their low social status.
Download an audio lecture by the authors here (mp3 format).
Such inequalities did not happen by accident. They are the direct result of pro-rich economic policies. In the UK, for instance, much of this inequality arose as a result of neo-liberal policies (privatisation, cuts in social spending, policies that favour the rich) during the Thatcher years and which have continued under New Labour.
Now look where Malaysia, which has one of the most unequal societies in this region, stands. Mahathir copied some of these same privatisation policies while emphasising heavy industrialisation.
In 2004, our own top fifth to bottom two-fifths ratio stood at 7.6. (Rogayah bt Hj Mat Zin, Income Inequality in Malaysia, in Asian Economic Policy Review, 3, 2008).
From this, we can conclude that our top fifth to bottom fifth ratio is more like 10. Have a look at the chart here (pdf format) and see where we would stand.