GDP or GNH (The Bhutan Way)?


March 24, 2017

GDP or GNH (The Bhutan Way)–Maybe it’s Time to screw the  Economists and start looking at alternative ways to measure what makes life worthwhile

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Listen to this TED presentation by Chip Conley and reflect. I enjoyed it and wonder why we continue to measure only the measurable (the tangibles) and ignore the intangibles. As  someone who is trained in Economics (and does being taught this academic discipline make a economist?), I am wonder how it is that  I can be so misled and still have not abandoned GDP as a measurement of national wealth if I know it is misleading when intangibles matter more today. Maybe it is a force of habit. Should be I Aristotelian or Maslowian?  Let me know what you think.–Din Merican

 

National Consultation in the Philippines


March 19, 2o17

CASER: A Proposal for National Consultation in the Philippines

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Comment by Richard F.Dorall

https://rfdorall.wordpress.com/2017/02/16/caser-a-proposal-for-national-consultation-in-the-philippines/

(Edition: February 15, 2017)

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OSLO, NORWAY. Peace panel representatives from the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines are in smiles during the third day of the talks held at Scandic Holmenkollen Park, Norway. (Photo from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Facebook page).

Read more: http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/local-news/2016/08/25/3-issues-agreed-peace-talks-oslo-norway-493576

So the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the Philippine Communist Party in Norway are off. And “bombs away” are being threatened. Released political detainees will be re-imprisoned on their return to the Philippines.

These are most distressing developments, but they still do not obviate the urgent necessity for Filipinos to face up to the root causes of the national unrest which were under parallel discussion during the now off peace talks between the Philippine Government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front Philippines (NDFP), and which the NDFP had outlined in a document titled “Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines” (CASER), and which was intended to be a pre-requisite for the permanent cessation of hostilities between the Philippine Government and the armed communists.

CASER outlines social and economic objectives such as economic and social justice and political reforms which all Filipinos can readily accept as national goals, but the document also spells out detailed structural, institutional reforms, many of which require societal and constitutional reforms, if they are to be enacted. These CASER details once implemented shall profoundly affect all of Philippine society as it now stands, requiring revolutionary changes affecting all sectors of society, from top to bottom, embracing all groups including Indigenous Peoples and the Bangsa Moro, and launching changes that will totally change Philippine society.

The problem with CASER is not in its laudable objectives, but rather in the operational details of the changes being proposed. CASER has also been tabled for discussion in far-away Norway, and is only being evaluated and negotiated by two parties, the Government of the day, and the communists, both who are but only two of many other parties and institutions in the Philippines directly to be impacted by CASER “reforms.”

The Philippine public has been largely kept unawares of the details laid out in the CASER document (currently a draft of over 80 pages in length).  Neither the GRP nor the NDFP can honestly claim to represent all of the complexity which is Philippine Society today. The GRP of the day won the presidential election in May 2016 with a minority of the votes cast in a multi-candidate contest. The NDFP has never represented more than a small minority of Filipinos in both the urban and rural areas. Yet, both these non-representative parties have been negotiating in secret in far-away Norway, and other exotic European locations, without informing Filipinos of any of the scope and details of the proposed reforms, nor asking the Filipino people if they approve of any of these changes which will have deep and long-lasting impacts on all of Philippine society.

The now widely principle accepted both in the Philippines and internationally of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), this being a bottom-up participation and consultation best practice process, is being ignored in Norway, and CASER reform discussions have been conducted at the “top” with everybody else being left largely in the dark. FPIC, a principle ironically frequently mentioned as a pre-requisite in the “New Philippines” in the CASER document itself, requires an opening up of these secret negotiations between the GRP and NDFP to make them more truly democratic and representative of the collective wishes of all the Filipino peoples.

The Philippines may want to learn the lessons of representative national consultations from its neighbor, Malaysia, which has had three national consultations at major turning points in its history. Malaysia, a multi-ethnic country, has long-learned that complex societies cannot be structured, and then re-structured at various points in history, without involving representation of all major societal players in the decision-making, and action-implementing phases to ensure the success of proposals for profound social change.

Then Malayan independence (in 1957) from the colonial power Britain was late in coming compared to most of the rest of Southeast Asia. The main reason was the diverse Malayan ethnic communities had to compromise on a complex range of give-and-take relationships, structures, institutions, and their legal and constitutional frameworks, before agreeing to form an ethnic-based coalition government that has ruled democratically since 1957 till today. This first consultation, in the early to mid-1950s, was multi-ethnic in format, but having major social and economic implications. These negotiations between political representatives of the main ethnic groups were conducted in tMalaya, and in the United Kingdom, and in the resultant “Social Contract” that they agreed on formed the basis of the 1957 Malayan National Constitution which laid out how (Malaya’s diverse people would live by.

In 1963, Malaya formed a political federation with the British colonies of Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah, and became known as Malaysia. The “Social Contract” of the 1950s became increasingly frayed. The Non-Malay ethnic Chinese and (some) Indians benefitted more from Malayan and since 1963 Malaysian economic development than did the numerically majority indigenous Malay peoples. These led to inter-ethnic rioting in the immediate aftermath of the 1969 Malaysian General Elections (known as the May 13, 1969 Incident), resulting in National Emergency Rule being imposed.

The Malaysian Government immediately called for a National Consultative Council in 1970 to discuss the crisis, and to propose economic, political, social and constitutional reforms to solve the underlying causes of social unrest: poverty in all the ethnic groups, and structural economic imbalances between the ethnic communities. All major societal sectors, political, ethnic, economic and social, appointed representative members of the NCC, and they met in private talks to avoid inflaming public opinion by openly discussing “sensitive issues.” A revised Social Contract was agreed by the NCC, and then by the Government which lifted the state of emergency, and announced a New Economic Policy (NEP) for the next two decades (1970-1990) during which national social re-structuring to eliminate inter-ethnic disparities, and poverty reduction among all Malaysians, would be systematically dealt with as the top national priority.

The 1970s and 1980s were two decades of rapid Malaysia economic and social transformation. However, by the mid-1980s it became clear to the mainly indigenous Malay community that despite economic “re-structuring” in their favor, they still lagged behind the targets originally set by the NEP in 1970. On the other hand, the Non-Malays (Malaysian Chinese, Indians and Others) felt that the NEP was over-favoring the ethnic Malays, and that they were being disadvantaged. They wanted the NEP to be abolished at the end of its 20-year period. Furthermore, absolute poverty among all ethnic groups, although reduced, was far from eliminated. This resulted in heightened public tension, mass demonstrations from both ethnic sides if the national divide, and a growing anxiety that ethnic rioting could once again occur.

To meet the growing national disquiet, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Mohamed, called for a National Consultative Council to discuss, and make proposals to Government on how Malaysia should proceed beyond the end of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1990. Some 150 Malaysians representing all political parties, both in the ruling political alliance and the opposition, all major economic and social (NGO) sectors, as well as those representing Malaysia’s diverse ethnic communities both large and small were appointed to this NCC. The writer of this paper was one of these 150 Malaysians appointed to this third national consultative council, and he participated in all the deliberations of the council from 1989 through 1990.

As in the case of the second national consultation in the immediate aftermath of the deadly May 13, 1960 ethnic riots, all deliberations of this new consultative council were held outside the scrutiny of the public and mass media, to minimize against any agitation in an already tense national situation. Members of the council were encouraged to give to and get feedback from their respective constituencies, but were barred from making public statements and leaking anything to the mass media, all to maintain the fragile peace and order situation.

This third national consultative council (officially known as the Malaysian National Economic Consultative Council) discussed not just economic issues arising from the impending end of the 20-years of the New Economic Policy (1970-1990), but all related social, cultural and even political issues. The council submitted its detailed multi-sectoral report and accompanying multi-volume appendices to the Malaysian Government in 1990, after more than one and a half years of intense deliberations. The Government of Dr Mahathir used the output of this third national consultative deliberation to formulate a Vision 2020 strategy to transform Malaysian society and economy to achieve the status of an “advanced society” by the year 2020, that is, in thirty years hence (1990-2020).

The 1990-2000s can be safely said to have become a “Golden Age” in Malaysian development, both social and economic, as Malaysians, for the most part, embraced the heady objectives of Vision 2020. Economic advancement was undeniable. The middle class grew appreciably in the Malaysian Chinese, Malay and Indian communities. The industrial and commercial sectors had now eclipsed agriculture and raw materials as the mainstay of the Malaysian society.

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Another NCC  for  Malaysia  under Najib Razak?

However, in the current decade (2010s) there is again a growing realization that while there have emerged rich Malays, and Indians to join with their rich Chinese counterparts, and, yes, there is a growing mainly urban yet multi-ethnic middle class, there stubbornly remain persistent pockets of urban and, especially rural, poverty. The Bornean states of Sarawak and Sabah have openly become increasingly vocal against Peninsular Malaysian “colonization,” especially of their natural resources. And there is now an awareness of the widening gap between the rich (who keep getting richer, and regrettably profligately so, irrespective of their ethnic origins) and the poor (of all ethnicities) many of whom cannot break out of a cycle of poverty they find themselves trapped in.

Again, Malaysians are now once more facing the challenge of the need for structural reforms, these requiring economic, social and political transformations if they are to succeed in changing Malaysian society for the better. And, inevitably, there are now calls, being led by the influential banker-brother of the current Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, to hold yet another national consultative council, the fourth since the 1950s, to deliberate on, and make recommendations on how Malaysia ought to be moving forward.

What lessons for the Philippines do Malaysia’s over 60 years experience of holding national consultative consultations offer?

First, when faced with the need for major national structural changes in society, consulting with all major players (political, economic, social, cultural and even religious) is preferred over secret negotiations among just two (or a few) parties. The principle of FPIC (Free, Prior and Informed Consent) must guided such transformational discussions, involving all those to be impacted, and getting them to consensually agree, before tabling the proposals to the Executive (the Government of the day) to convert into actionable multi-sectoral strategies.

Second, multi-player consultations are best kept representative, but outside the public-eye because the (free) media, and ordinary persons (especially in this age of Twitter and other social media) can very easily stir up emotions, and scuttle any possibility of consensus building which, by its very nature, is a listening, and give-and-take process. Consultative council members, to be sure, must consult with their constituencies and to receive guidance and feedback from them, but all due care should be taken to preserve the consultative process which should be protected against all possible destructive events stirred against it from the outside.

Third, members of the consultative body must be chosen not only because they represent their particular sector, but because they are first and foremost Filipino nationalists who will put the big-picture nation first above narrow self and sectoral interests. Anybody who does not put the nation first is a possible “saboteur” of any consensus-building process, and should be replaced by his or her sector with someone who understands what consensus-building is.

Fourth, building a national consensus, especially in a complex society of 100 million Filipinos, is not going to be achieved over-night, or in weeks, nor possibly months. It will take stamina, and true grit to stay the long haul. Being a member of a national consultative council is truly national service, an honor not to be taken on lightly. Failure to achieve a truly national consensus is a personal failure, something to be mourned, not celebrated (for “standing up to principles”). The nation and all its people must come first, and take center stage, beyond self and sector.

Fifth, the national consultative council, cannot be too large (and risk not deciding on anything) nor too small (and risk not being representative enough). In the Malaysian National Consultative Council of the late 1980s of which this writer was a member, there were 150 persons chosen representing about 25 million Malaysians. The Philippines has 100 million people, and proportionately that could mean 600 Filipino consultative members! It may take 600 consultative members many years to collectively agree on anything as complex as transforming the Philippines into a more just society! More important than sheer numbers is that the various sectors of Philippine society ought to be proportionately represented in the national consultation. Women should expect representation near 50 per cent. Minority communities should expect up to 15 per cent membership to correctly represent their demographic numbers in the national population. Rural farm workers, the urban poor, youth etc. all need fair, not just token, representation. The council cannot be dominated by politicians and captains of industry. Yes, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) should be represented, but not as the 50 per cent partner of a two-only negotiation in Norway, but in a number which is fair to their true position or influence in the Philippine scheme of things. And always remember, national consensus is not a vote with 50 plus one winning. It is 100 per cent, or as near unanimous as possible agreement, by all who will agree that while they did not all get what they individually wanted, but they got that package of reforms which they could all live with, and support, that which they had consensually agreed on.

In the absence of any competing document which analyses the complexity of Philippine society in terms of its political, economic and social structures, CASER could, and perhaps should!, provide a starting point for discussion and deliberation in a Philippine National Consultative Council. CASER’s generally stated objectives of economic and social justice for all, a new and more nationalist development strategy, the inclusion of those marginalised ethnic communities, including Indigenous Peoples and the Bangsa Moro, and the large number, yet voiceless, rural and urban poor, are surely objectives all Filipinos of good-will, irrespective of class or ethnicity, can accept.

CASER becomes problematic when it goes beyond its statement of lofty objectives, and spells out the operational details to achieve these objectives, many of these which other Filipinos may well reject as detrimental in the extreme to their respective positions and interests, and crossing red lines drawn in the sand. A national consultative council is precisely the forum to deliberate on strategies, and detailed action plans, and to modify or replace those placed on the table alongside others such that in the ensuing dialectic, eventually there will emerge a range of proposals that all can agree on.

This writer suggests that the Philippines look at the six decades of Malaysian experience in successive national re-structuring efforts to achieve greater economic, social, and political justice using the mechanism of the National Consultative Council. When the consultation process comes to a national consensus, this consensus and its recommendations can then be brought forward to the Legislatures, and to the Courts if need be, and ultimately to the Executive to concretize and put into place the action plans to effect the long strategies (extending beyond the constitutionally-mandated single six-year presidential term) which will transform Philippine society from that which it is today, to a better tomorrow that all Filipinos envisage, and so set in motion the long-haul to build on the ground, in the years and decades ahead, this Philippines of Tomorrow.

Richard F. Dorall,
University of Malaya (1972-2007),
Member of the Malaysian National Consultative Council (1989-1990)

Steve Bannon, Ryancare and the Fate of Trump’s Agenda


March 18, 2017

Steve Bannon, Ryancare and the Fate of Trump’s Agenda

by Ryan Lizza

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the White House, Steve Bannon’s office, on the first floor of the West Wing, is called the war room. Bannon, the Administration’s chief strategist, has cleared out much of the furniture, and on one wall has hung an enormous whiteboard on which he has scrawled every promise that Donald Trump made during the campaign. Bannon and the war room are the heart of the effort to turn Trump’s populist campaign into a policy agenda that can pass Congress or be implemented through executive actions.

Bannon is trying to infuse Trumpism with a coherent nationalist “workers’ party” agenda. Trump’s health-care bill was written by the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, who is a more traditional conservative, and, as the Congressional Budget Office and other nonpartisan analysts have noted, older, rural, low-income white voters—the Trump base—would fare worse under the new legislation than under Obamacare. This makes the American Health Care Act a poor showpiece, to say the least, for Trump’s alleged transformation of the Republican Party into a vehicle for white-working-class assistance.

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Ryancare–Doomed to Failure

Nonetheless, Bannon knows that the Ryan bill’s failure would be catastrophic for the rest of Trump’s agenda, because it would break a core campaign promise and sap Trump’s already limited political capital. So, on Saturday night, Bannon secretly hosted Mark Meadows, the leader of the Freedom Caucus, for several of hours of negotiations in the war room. (At least one of Meadows’s own top staffers didn’t know he was there.) The Freedom Caucus, which is made up of some forty of the most conservative members of Congress, opposes the Ryan bill on the grounds that it’s too similar to Obamacare. The resistance from Meadows and his allies threatens to hobble the entire effort—Ryan cannot lose more than twenty-two House Republicans and still pass the bill

The details of the deal that may emerge between Meadows and the White House are still murky, and might not be enough to overcome all the obstacles in the House. But a top White House official insisted that the meeting was the moment that “the real deal started getting done.” A G.O.P. aide familiar with the negotiations said to me, about the meeting, “there’s a bigger play in the works here.”

It’s prudent to remain skeptical. Any concessions to Meadows—who laid out his demands for a less generous bill yesterday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored with Senator Ted Cruz—might scare off moderates who want more assistance for low-income Americans through Medicaid or the individual market. But perhaps Bannon and Ryan can overcome the bill’s challenges. From a political standpoint, the White House is correct in assuming that the downfall of the Ryan health-care bill could have a cascading effect on the rest of Trump’s agenda.

Consider for a moment how Trump’s agenda is faring compared to the last President’s. By this point in his Presidency, Barack Obama had passed an eight-hundred-and-thirty-one-billion-dollar stimulus bill, a sweeping piece of legislation that alone would have made his first term memorable. By early April his first federal budget had passed both chambers of Congress, laying the groundwork for his overhauls of health care and government spending on education. Obama signed these large-scale policy changes into law the following year, along with the rewrite of Wall Street regulations known as Dodd-Frank. Of all the major pieces of legislation that Obama pushed during his first two years, only his climate-change plan, which passed the House and died in the Senate, failed. In all, it was the most significant period of legislating since Lyndon Johnson’s first few years in office.

Obama had several major advantages over Trump: a high approval rating, a large majority in Congress that was relatively united (including, for a stretch in late 2009, a filibuster-proof Senate), and an economic crisis that created a sense of urgency. Obama, like previous Presidents, understood that his best chance for getting big things accomplished was at the start of his first term.

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As Trump hit fifty days in office this week, his Presidency was teetering on failure. Health-care reform is hobbled by divisions between conservatives who want to cut Medicaid deeper and faster and moderates who want to preserve the Obama-era expansion. Yesterday Trump released a budget with eye-popping cuts to discretionary spending that many Republicans have described as dead on arrival. Even with the proposed increase in Pentagon spending, many defense hawks are opposed to the draconian cuts at the State Department.

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After 50 days

More moderate Republicans, especially the two dozen who are in districts carried by Hillary Clinton in the last election, are balking at the annihilation of popular programs, such as federal assistance for Meals on Wheels and spending on clean-air and water programs. Unlike Obama’s first budget, Trump’s will be rewritten in Congress, as numerous Republicans made clear yesterday. Meanwhile, Trump’s second attempt at an executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries is again being successfully challenged in the courts, eating up more time and resources in an overwhelmed White House. The Russia investigation, which will begin on Monday with potentially damaging testimony from the F.B.I. director, James Comey, is only beginning.

But Trump’s first test is his ability to fashion a complex deal on health care—a task that would be difficult for even the most skilled Washington negotiator. In the Bannon war room, there are only a few items with check marks next to them on the whiteboard. If health care dies, there won’t be many more.

*Ryan Lizza is the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, and also an on-air contributor for CNN

Healthcare Reform–Backing Paul Ryan’s handiwork


March 12, 2017

Healthcare ReformBacking Paul Ryan’s handiwork is a risky proposition for The White House and The Republicans

by John Cassidy*

http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/exposed-donald-trumps-sham-populism?intcid=mod-lates

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Affordable Care Act- A Disaster or Trump’s Politics?

Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority Leader, went on Sean Hannity’s show on Thursday night and tried to talk up the awful health-care bill that his party had just rushed through two committees. His message was aimed at the ultra-conservative groups, such as the Freedom Caucus and Heritage Action for America, that have come out strongly against the proposed legislation. McCarthy didn’t try to claim that the bill would make health care more affordable or widely available. Instead, he defended its conservative bona fides, twice pointing out that it would repeal all the taxes that were introduced under the Affordable Care Act—taxes that mainly hit the one per cent.

Hannity, who is one of President Trump’s biggest boosters, didn’t hide his loyalties or his concern about the political firestorm that the bill has set off. “This has to work: there is no option here,” he said at one point. Later, he warned, “As soon as it passes, you own it.”

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Message to Mr. Trump and the Republicans– It is not Obamacare, but Affordable Care Act

Intentionally or not, Hannity summed up the political dilemma facing Trump and his Administration. The White House has embraced Paul Ryan’s handiwork—the House Speaker is the bill’s top backer—and they are now trying together to persuade the full House and the Senate to vote for at least some version of it. But if the bill does pass and Trump signs it into law, what happens then? The health-care industry will be thrown into turmoil; many millions of Americans will lose their coverage; many others, including a lot of Trump voters (particularly elderly ones), will see their premiums rise sharply; and Trump will risk being just as closely associated with “Trumpcare” as Barack Obama was with Obamacare.

Two questions arise: Why did Ryan and his colleagues propose such a lemon? And why did Trump agree to throw his backing behind it?

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House Speaker Paul  Ryan–A Healthcare Reformer or just another Politician

The first question is easier to answer. For seven years, promising to get rid of Obamacare has been a rallying cry for Republicans on Capitol Hill—one supported by both Party leaders and activists, as well as by big donors, such as the Koch brothers. It was inevitable that, if the G.O.P. ever took power, it would move to fulfill this pledge, despite the human costs of doing so.

What wasn’t anticipated was that the Republican leadership would run into hostility from the right. But that, too, is explainable. After November’s election, Ryan and his colleagues were forced to face the reality that fully repealing the A.C.A. would require sixty votes in the Senate, which wasn’t achievable. Many of the things that ultra-conservatives see as shortcomings in the bill now being considered—such as the retention of rules dictating what sorts of policies insurers can offer—are in there to make sure that the Senate can pass the bill as part of the budget-reconciliation process, which requires just fifty-one votes. As McCarthy explained to Hannity, “The challenge is the process of how we have to do this.”

The more interesting question is why Trump would stake his credibility on such a deeply regressive, and potentially unpopular, proposal. During the campaign, he frequently promised to repeal Obamacare—but it wasn’t one of his main issues. Clamping down on immigration, embracing economic protectionism, rebuilding infrastructure, and blowing a raspberry at the Washington establishment were much more central to his platform.

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Early in the campaign, in fact, Trump praised socialized medicine, and promised to provide everybody with health care. “As far as single-payer, it works in Canada. It works incredibly well in Scotland,” he said in August, 2015, during the first Republican debate. A month later, he told “60 Minutes,” “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

Part of what is going on is that Trump needs a quick legislative success. He is keenly aware that, by this stage in his Presidency, Obama had signed a number of important bills, including a big stimulus package. Trump also badly needs to change the subject from Russia. It might sound crazy to suggest that a President would embrace a bill that could do him great harm in the long term just for a few days’ respite, but these are crazy times. If nothing else, the political furor surrounding the House G.O.P. proposal has eclipsed the headlines about Trump claiming that Obama wiretapped him. For much of this week, Trump has ducked out of sight, letting Ryan and his bill take the spotlight.

That’s not the only way the Russian story may have played into this. As the pressure grows for a proper independent probe of Trump’s ties to Moscow, he must retain the support of the G.O.P. leadership, which has the power to block such an investigation. It has long been clear that the relationship between the Republican Party and Trump is based on a quid pro quo, at least tacitly: in return for dismissing concerns about his authoritarianism, self-dealing, and Russophilia, the Party gets to enact some of the soak-the-poor policies it has long been promoting. For a time, it seemed like Trump was the senior partner in this arrangement. But now Republicans like Ryan have more leverage, and Trump has more of an incentive to go along with them.>

Still, even if he had more leeway to speak out against the House G.O.P. bill, is there any reason to think he would? The thing always to remember about Trump—and this week has merely confirmed it—is that he is a sham populist. A sham authoritarian populist, even.

Going back to late-nineteenth-century Germany, many of the most successful authoritarian populists have expanded the social safety net. Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor, introduced health insurance, accident insurance, and old-age pensions. “The actual complaint of the worker is the insecurity of his existence,” he said in 1884. “He is unsure if he will always have work, he is unsure if he will always be healthy, and he can predict that he will reach old age and be unable to work.”

During the twentieth century, Argentina’s Juan Perón, Malaysia’s Tunku Abdul Rahman, and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew were among the authoritarian leaders who followed Bismarck’s example. Today, if you look at the election platform of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front, you see something similar. Like Trump, Le Pen is a nativist, a protectionist, and an Islamophobe. But she is not proposing to dismantle any of the many social benefits that the French state provides. Rather, she says she will expand child-support payments and reduce the retirement age to sixty.

Trump, on the other hand, has little to offer ordinary Americans except protectionist rhetoric and anti-immigrant measures. Before moving to gut Obamacare, he at least could have tried to bolster his populist credentials by passing a job-creating infrastructure bill or a middle-class tax cut. Instead, he’s staked his Presidency on a proposal that would hurt many of his supporters, slash Medicaid, undermine the finances of Medicare, and benefit the donor class. That’s not populism: it’s the reverse of it. And it might be a political disaster in the making.

*John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He also writes a column about politics, economics, and more for newyorker.com.

MARA: Stop being an albatross around Malay Entrepreneurs


February 17, 2017

MARA: Stop being an albatross around Malay Entrepreneurs

“…there is something wrong with Mara. From business to education, it seems to be making all the wrong moves. It needs to have more faith in bumiputeras. Bumiputeras cannot flourish or advance themselves in spaces closed off to other races and cultures. Mara must recognise that bumiputeras are not just competing with other Malaysians, but also the citizens of the world. It must lead, not stubbornly cling to the old ways.–Syukri Tahir

Mara is one of the most important and respected institutions in Malaysia. Since its formation in 1966, it has helped countless thousands of bumiputeras succeed in business and industry. But has Mara adapted enough to remain relevant and effective today? Sadly, I don’t think so.

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I say this because Mara seems more interested in protecting bumiputeras from the world than letting them compete in it. This is a recipe for stagnation and backwardness. Take the Mara Digital Mall, for example – it was set up as a bumiputera alternative to Low Yat Plaza. What exactly has it achieved?

Because it was created and promoted as a platform for bumiputera IT traders, non-bumiputera customers have largely stayed away, choosing to shop at Low Yat instead. How are bumiputera traders supposed to survive – let alone thrive – when their customers are only limited to one race?

I recently paid a visit to the Mara Digital Mall in Kuala Lumpur and found the traders to be demoralised. Many shops had stock shortages, confirming what traders told online news portal Free Malaysia Today last December. If you want to buy anything, you will have to pre-order in advance. Rather serve as a vehicle for bumiputera empowerment, the mall may well turn out to be an embarrassment to bumiputera entrepreneurs.

Image result for Minister Ismail Sabri is an idiotMinister Ismail Sabri from Pahang

Mara’s short-sightedness also extends to education. Recently, now suspended Mara chairperson Annuar Musa said that UniKL, which is wholly-owned by Mara, recognises the Chinese-education-based Unified Examinations Certificate (UEC) as an entry qualification. He correctly bases this on long-standing government policy. Because UniKL is a private institution of higher learning rather than a public one, it is allowed to recognise the UEC.

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In recognising the UEC, Annuar saw an excellent opportunity to grow UniKL, expand the diversity of its students, and give it an international outlook. Sadly, the rest of Mara disagreed with him, including the minister who oversees the institution – Ismail Sabri Yaakob. Annuar has the right idea, but he got into trouble for speaking it. How can Mara advance the cause of bumiputeras if Mara’s leadership can’t even see or comprehend the bigger picture?

They need to realise a few things. UEC recognition will allow us to keep talented Chinese-educated students in the country instead of having them leave for places like Taiwan and Singapore. Also, it will boost race relations and national unity because campuses will have students of different races and backgrounds.

It would not make sense to reject the UEC when prestigious universities around the world – from Australia to the UK to the United States – recognise it. The UEC is accepted at Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford, and Cambridge. If these are considered role models in education, then why shouldn’t UniKL follow in their example?

Furthermore, UEC students will expand the revenue base of UniKL and Mara. After all, Mara only sponsors bumiputera students – non-bumiputeras will have to pay, enhancing Mara’s ability to sponsor even more bumiputera students. In the end, it is bumiputeras who benefit the most from UEC recognition.

But as you can see, there is something wrong with Mara. From business to education, it seems to be making all the wrong moves. It needs to have more faith in bumiputeras. Bumiputeras cannot flourish or advance themselves in spaces closed off to other races and cultures. Mara must recognise that bumiputeras are not just competing with other Malaysians, but also the citizens of the world. It must lead, not stubbornly cling to the old ways.

ASEAN to-do List in 2017


January 30, 2017

ASEAN to-do List in 2017

by Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my

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IT is not business as usual. As ASEAN’s array of official and private sector meetings roll out for the year, urgent thought must be given to dramatically new challenges beyond the stubborn issues that continue to arrest the region’s meaningful integration.

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The Alternative to Donald Trump’s Rejection of TPP–China’s Gain, America’s Loss

The advent of Donald Trump as President of the United States has overturned many regional assumptions and threatens to cause economic as well as political turmoil. These developments should make ASEAN think crisis management – even if, in the end, the worst does not happen.

There are a number of “what ifs” which should be addressed. What if Trump causes a trade war to break out between America and China by imposing the punitive import duties on Chinese goods that he has threatened?

It will then not be a simple outcome of relocation of manufacturing centres from China to low-cost Vietnam, for instance, as some have rather sanguinely suggested. The supply chains to which many ASEAN exports are linked for the finished Chinese product would be broken. There will be export disruption – not just for China.

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There are countries in ASEAN, apart from Vietnam (90%), like Singapore (176%), Thailand (69%) and Malaysia (71%) whose exports amount to a substantial proportion of their GDP.

On top of exports through China, their own direct exports to the US will also be affected, as will any relocated exports from Vietnam.

There will be no winners in a trade war, no benefits to be derived from China’s apparently singular predicament. The knock-on effect will be widespread. In time, as excess capacity looks for export sales, dumping will become a problem, as will protection against it.

Motor cars that cannot get into America will have to go somewhere. Steel turned away from the US as Trump seeks to protect mills and jobs in the mid-west will have to be shipped somewhere else. Even the textile industry will be spinning in different directions as Trump has promised to revive it in America.

The whole global free trade ecosystem will go topsy-turvy. How will free trade within the ASEAN Economic Community, such as it is, be maintained? Can ASEAN+6 move on to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as the fallout from Trump’s America First trade policy hits the world?

Asia – and ASEAN – will have to stick together and carry on with the open, albeit reduced, global free trade and investment system. Will that happen? Some ASEAN states with larger domestic economies are less dependent on international trade than others. Already, now, they take a different position on opening up their market. Will it get worse in the situation of stress, should it come about?

ASEAN must talk about these possibilities now, before they happen. Someone must take the lead. Too often this does not happen in ASEAN. Can the officials, or the secretariat, or the private sector do this scenario-setting for the ministers, for the leaders? Or is Asean going to carry on as if everything is not changing around it?

I am reminded of what George Orwell has been said to have remarked: In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. The tendency to take to the Asean level what routinely happens in many ASEAN domestic systems should be snapped. Some functionary in ASEAN must warn the regional grouping of the dire threat facing it.

The other challenge facing Asia and ASEAN is the risk Trump poses to regional peace and stability.

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This comes from the challenge again thrown at China, this time in respect of its claim to the South China Sea. As China’s predominance in the disputed expanse of territory is by no means ideal, its exposure to a more counter-assertive and belligerent American stance under Trump – no Chinese access to islands artificial or militarised that do not belong to China “under international law” – may encourage claimant ASEAN states to be less compliant with the China-set path of dispute management.

Since the law of the sea tribunal decision last July, there has been a lowering of temperature in the South China Sea dispute, even if at the cost of not highlighting the baselessness of China’s claims under international law. The return has been a commitment by China in the diplomatic channeling with ASEAN to having a code of conduct (COC) finally in place this year – although only in framework form.

It has been a long-term ASEAN objective to have this COC for peaceful conduct in the South China Sea. China has hitherto been dragging its feet on this. With a more assertive American policy against China, would there be among ASEAN states a disposition to push with the US to get a better deal on the South China Sea?

This kind of geopolitical arbitrage may be attractive, but it would come at a longer-term cost to regional cooperation, which has become critical because of Trump’s foreign economic and trade policies. This is a dilemma ASEAN states would do well to address together.

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India flirting with Trump’s USA?

Already, beyond ASEAN, India appears attracted to taking advantage of the predicament China might be in with Trump. India, of course, has long-standing border disputes with China, which Beijing has been happy to keep unresolved. At the same time, there is strategic competition between the two over their regional place in Asia.

Another could be Japan which, again, has many unresolved disputes and issues with China. As usual, India, in particular, appears to want to flirt with Trump even at the cost of frustrating conclusion of the RCEP. The cost to India, however, could be isolation from the Asia-Pacific region for an uncertain alliance with Trump’s America.

You cannot do strategy with a counter-party whose leitmotif is transactional. With Trump it is not going to be win-win. It is going to be win-win-win for America, given his America First posturing.

ASEAN states should want to address these profound issues. Even dissuade member and partner countries from wanting to sup with the devil, as it were.

China, of course, has not been the ideal big country partner beyond platitudinous statements and suffocation of ASEAN with money. Its actions in the South China Sea are not indicative of a great power that will not grind your face in the dirt if you did not do its bidding.

Will China become the good big brother it claims it wants to be, even as America becomes the bad and ugly one? It looks like ASEAN might be caught between a rock and a hard place. Individual member states no doubt will be doing their calculation with the hope to position themselves in a better than survival mode.

However they will all be better off if they also worked together among themselves and partnered Asia-Pacific countries to achieve better economic integration, whose benefit will discourage them from playing dangerous geopolitical games.

So, as ASEAN under Philippines leadership looks at themes such as inclusive growth, an excellent focus, and addresses the many stubborn issues that are barriers to better integration, it must prepare also for the very difficult economic and political environment which will be fashioned by the Trump administration.

Tan Sri  Dr. Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.