Lecture: MALAYSIA: From Kleptocracy to Democracy


May 30, 2018

Public Lecture Announcement

MALAYSIA: From Kleptocracy to Democracy

 

The Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations at The  University of Cambodia is pleased to announce that there will be a public lecture on June 2, 2018 at UC Main Campus by Prof. Din Merican. Prof Din’s lecture is titled Malaysia: From Kleptocracy to Democracy. He will discuss the May 9 Malaysian General Elections (GE-14) and its impact on his country; and he will also touch on Cambodia-Malaysia relations in the new Mahathir Administration.

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Prof. Chhea Keo, Dean, Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh

Biographical Sketch of Prof. Din Merican

Prof. Din Merican has had a long-standing history with Cambodia, and the experience he has brought to the study of International Relations in Cambodia is part of a career which encompasses a wide diversity of achievement in both the diplomatic and corporate world. He has connected Malaysians, Cambodians, and millions of others through his personal blog. which is devoured by those who share his passion for International Relations; it has received over 25 million hits.

In 2000-2002, he was consultant to the Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. In 2017 he was awarded the Dean’s Letter of Commendation for his contributions to the George Washington School of Business at George Washington University, and since 2015 he is  Associate Dean at the Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations.

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Prof. Merican has Bachelor of Arts Degree with Honours in Economic from The University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In 1970, he graduated from The George Washington School of Business, The George Washington University, Washington D.C., USA with Master’s  Degree in Business Administration in Finance and International Business (with distinction). He was the Best Graduate Student in International Business for the Graduating Class of 1970. In 1989 he attended the well-known Advanced Management Program at INSEAD (The European Business School), Fontainebleau, France.

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Over the years, Prof. Merican served in many positions in both the public and private sectors. He began his career in 1963 at the Malaysian Foreign Ministry as Assistant Secretary (Political) in charge of Southeast Asia (covering Indonesia,  Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand and Burma) and military intelligence. This is where he established his relationship with Cambodia, and quickly realized that Cambodia captured his attention and imagination. For his outstanding contributions to teaching and research on Cambodia and ASEAN, he awarded a Doctorate (h.c) in International Relations in 2016 by The Board of Trustees, The University of Cambodia.

INDIA: Congratulations, Prime Minister Modi on Successful 4 Years in Office


May 27,2018

Congratulations, Prime Minister Modi on Successful 4 Years in Office

NEW DELHI,

(Agencies),

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On the international front, the diplomatic initiatives of the Prime Minister all over the globe are being cited as examples of his ability to become an integral part of the global leadership, offering the Third World countries a model of development and diplomacy.

AS Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance Government completes four years on Saturday, the party is set to make a big competition between its 48 months performance and six decades of Congress rule.

The BJP leadership has drawn out elaborate programmes for launch of extensive campaign to highlight achievements of Modi Government. It will launch nationwide rallies to be addressed by about 15 Central Ministers. The rallies will commence on May 29 and will continue till June 5. Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, J P Nadda, Smriti Irani have been shortlisted among others for addressing these rallies, sources said.

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It was on May 26, 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet was sworn in, becoming the first Prime Minister to head a party with a clear majority in decades. That performance had been seen as sterling against the background of coalition politics that come to stay in the country. The BJP, however, continued with its NDA allies in the Government, thus demonstrating its faith in collectivism.  As he took oath of office, Prime Minister Modi had also demonstrated his vision by inviting heads of governments from neighbouring countries. And as he entered Parliament as Prime Minister, he knelt at the steps, placed his head at the anvil, and then walked in — to show his utmost respect to the highest institution of Indian democracy. Since that moment, the country has seen a surge of developmental activities, as well as aggressive politics by the BJP whose influence has grown from just a handful of States to the most parts of the country.

As the Modi Government enters the final year of its tenure, it has planned a lot of developmental initiatives in addition to political activities to prepare its rank and file for the electoral challenge next summer. Some of the most critical achievements of the Modi Government were the Jan Dhan Yojana, demonetisation, and introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Despite initial teething troubles, all the flagship initiatives have begun yielding great results, as the Government claims rightly.

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Even as the Modi Government continues its assertive performance on all fronts, the Opposition is now trying to build a common front to fight the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019. While the Opposition is treating the developments in Karnataka as a test case, the BJP has taken the episode as a proof of its growing political influence since it raised its tally of 40 legislators to 104. For the BJP as well, the Karnataka developments will come as another reason to believe its growing political and electoral prowess.  On the international front, the diplomatic initiatives of the Prime Minister all over the globe are being cited as examples of his ability to become an integral part of the global leadership, offering the Third World countries a model of development and diplomacy.

http://www.thehitavada.com/Encyc/2018/5/26/Modi-Govt-completes-four-successful-years-in-office.aspx–Third World Diplomacy.

Should Economists Make Moral Judgments?


May 26, 2018

Should Economists Make Moral Judgments?

At least since the days of John Maynard Keynes, professional economists have not had to worry too much about the moral implications of their technical work. But that is quickly changing with the global march of illiberalism, and economists now must ask themselves hard ethical questions before dispensing policy advice.

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BUDAPEST – I recently attended a PhD seminar in labor economics at the Central European University in Budapest. In it, we considered whether the Hungarian government’s scheme to focus on long-term unemployment is working efficiently, and we raised a host of technical problems for the doctoral candidate to address.

But I came away disturbed by the experience, wondering whether professional economists (particularly in the West) need to reassess the moral and political context in which they conduct their work. Shouldn’t economists ask themselves whether it is morally justifiable to provide even strictly technical advice to self-dealing, corrupt, or undemocratic governments?

To be sure, reducing long-term unemployment would alleviate a social evil, and possibly ensure a more efficient use of public resources. Yet improved economic performance can shore up a bad government. This is precisely the dilemma confronting economists across a range of countries, from China, Russia, and Turkey to Hungary and Poland. And there is no reason to think that economists in the “democratic heartland” of Western Europe and North America won’t face a similar dilemma in the future.

 

Over time, economists have offered three different moral or political justifications for their technical work. The first, and simplest, justification simply assumes that the “powers that be” (the ultimate recipients of their work) are “benevolent despots” in the mold that John Maynard Keynes described (though Keynes did not consider the British bureaucrats of his time to be despots).

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In the 1970s, this defense was challenged by economists at the other end of the Western political spectrum, who pointed out that bureaucrats were a supplier lobby like any other. As such, they will always have an interest in expanding their own individual and collective importance, regardless of whether it maximizes social benefits. This assumption led economists to become “intervention skeptics” who preferred market-based solutions for any problem where the need for regulation was not obvious.

Between these two positions, most economists have been content to ply their trade on the assumption that, however self-interested bureaucrats might be, they are subject to oversight from democratic politicians whose own self-interest is to get re-elected by keeping voters satisfied. So long as the economist’s technical solutions to policy problems are offered to officials with democratic legitimacy, according to this view, there is no cause for political or moral concern.

In fact, even economists in communist dictatorships could proffer their best technical advice with a comparatively clean conscience, because they were convinced that introducing more market-mediated outcomes would inject efficiency into planned economies and increase the sphere of individual freedom. This was true even in the Soviet Union, at least after Nikita Khrushchev’s accession to power in the 1950s.

But now, for the first time in many decades, economists must consider the moral implications of giving good advice to bad people. They are no longer exempt from the moral quandaries that many other professionals must face – a classic example being the engineers who design missiles or other weapons systems.

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The new moral dilemma facing economists is perhaps most stark within international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, where economic mandarins with significant influence over public policy earn their living.

After the fall of Soviet-style communism, the IFIs admitted Russia and the other former Soviet republics (as well as China) on the assumption that they were each on a path to embracing democracy and a rules-based market economy. But now that democratic backsliding is widespread, economists need to ask if what is good for authoritarian states is also good for humanity. This question is particularly pertinent with respect to China and Russia, each of which is large enough to help shift the balance of world power against democracy.

That being the case, it stands to reason that democratic countries should try to limit the influence of authoritarian regimes within the IFIs – if not exclude them altogether in extreme cases. But it is worth distinguishing between two kinds of international institution in this context: rule-setting bodies that make it easier for countries with hostile ideological or national interests to co-exist; and organizations that create a strong community of interest, meaning that economic and political benefits for some members “spill over” and are felt more widely.

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Among the IFIs, the WTO is an example of the first type, as is the United Nations among international political institutions. The European Union, on the other hand, is the preeminent example of a true community of interests. And the IMF, the World Bank, and many UN agencies lie somewhere in between.

From this categorization, we can derive guidelines for economists to follow when advising authoritarian regimes. Advice or scholarship that allows authoritarian governments to avoid conflict with other countries would be morally acceptable in most cases. After all, as Winston Churchill famously observed, “jaw-jaw” is better than “war-war”. A good example would be research into how best to share scarce freshwater among Middle Eastern countries.

On the other hand, economists need to take great care when providing advice or conducting research with clear policy implications for authoritarian governments. Economists should not be in the business of helping authoritarian regimes advance nefarious ends on the back of stronger economic growth or resources saved. That probably means not giving advice to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on how to reduce long-term unemployment.

Needless to say, every case will be unique, and economists will have to decide for themselves. As in the past, some may even embrace authoritarianism. But for the profession as a whole, the moral consequences of translating economic analysis into practice can no longer be ignored.

Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir creates Council of Elders led by Tun Daim Zainuddin


May 13, 2018

Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir creates Council of Elders and appoints a team of our truly outstanding Malaysians led by Former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has appointed a ‘council of elders’ comprising eminent persons who will serve as advisors to the government.

In a press conference today, he listed the former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, former Bank Negara Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz, former Petronas President Mohd Hassan Merican, Yycoon Robert Kuok, and  Award winning Malaysian Economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram as members of the council.

“Many of us have little or no experience in running a government. We need some expertise on this.

“Of course, expertise must come from people with knowledge or previous knowledge of administration, or being in the government, or having held some responsible post. (That is why) we have decided to set up a council of elders, or rather a council of eminent persons,” Mahathir said in a press conference at the Bersatu headquarters today.

 

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Award Winning Malaysian Economist, Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram (right) seen with Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar, Managing Director, Khazanah Malaysia Berhad

This council will conduct studies and prepare papers for the cabinet, he added, while ministries are being set up. It will also assist the new government in implementing its 100-day promises in its manifesto, and is expected to last for approximately the same duration.

“Eventually the papers for the cabinet will be prepared by the ministries, but in the interim, before we have proper ministries going, we need to do investigations into a lot of things.

“Some of these things may involve the ministries and the personnel themselves, so we need people who are not involved to be vetting and studying reports made, either by the ministries or by certain bodies which we will consult,” Mahathir explained.

Earlier in the press conference, he named Ministers for Finance, Defence and Home Affairs.

DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng was appointed Finance Minister, while the Presidents of Amanah and Bersatu, Mohamad Sabu and Muhyiddin Yassin, too the Defence and Home Affairs portfolios respectively.

 

Is Marx Still Relevant?


May 5, 2018

Is Marx Still Relevant?

by Peter Singer*@www.project-syndicate.org

“The most important takeaway from Marx’s view of history is negative: the evolution of ideas, religions, and political institutions is not independent of the tools we use to satisfy our needs, nor of the economic structures we organize around those tools, and the financial interests they create. If this seems too obvious to need stating, it is because we have internalized this view. In that sense, we are all Marxists now.”–Peter Singer

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Remembering Karl Marx–200th Anniversary of his birth on May 5, 1818

On the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth on May 5, 1818, it isn’t far-fetched to suggest that his predictions have been falsified, his theories discredited, and his ideas rendered obsolete. So why should we care about his legacy in the twenty-first century?

From 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists triumphed in China’s civil war, until the collapse of the Berlin Wall 40 years later, Karl Marx’s historical significance was unsurpassed. Nearly four of every ten people on earth lived under governments that claimed to be Marxist, and in many other countries Marxism was the dominant ideology of the left, while the policies of the right were often based on how to counter Marxism.

Once communism collapsed in the Soviet Union and its satellites, however, Marx’s influence plummeted. On the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth on May 5, 1818, it isn’t far-fetched to suggest that his predictions have been falsified, his theories discredited, and his ideas rendered obsolete. So why should we care about his legacy in the twenty-first century?

Marx’s reputation was severely damaged by the atrocities committed by regimes that called themselves Marxist, although there is no evidence that Marx himself would have supported such crimes. But communism collapsed largely because, as practiced in the Soviet bloc and in China under Mao, it failed to provide people with a standard of living that could compete with that of most people in the capitalist economies.

These failures do not reflect flaws in Marx’s depiction of communism, because Marx never depicted it: he showed not the slightest interest in the details of how a communist society would function. Instead, the failures of communism point to a deeper flaw: Marx’s false view of human nature.

There is, Marx thought, no such thing as an inherent or biological human nature. The human essence is, he wrote in his Theses on Feuerbach, “the ensemble of the social relations.” It follows then, that if you change the social relations – for example, by changing the economic basis of society and abolishing the relationship between capitalist and worker – people in the new society will be very different from the way they were under capitalism.

Marx did not arrive at this conviction through detailed studies of human nature under different economic systems. It was, rather, an application of Hegel’s view of history. According to Hegel, the goal of history is the liberation of the human spirit, which will occur when we all understand that we are part of a universal human mind. Marx transformed this “idealist” account into a “materialist” one, in which the driving force of history is the satisfaction of our material needs, and liberation is achieved by class struggle. The working class will be the means to universal liberation because it is the negation of private property, and hence will usher in collective ownership of the means of production.

Once workers owned the means of production collectively, Marx thought, the “springs of cooperative wealth” would flow more abundantly than those of private wealth – so abundantly, in fact, that distribution would cease to be a problem. That is why he saw no need to go into detail about how income or goods would be distributed. In fact, when Marx read a proposed platform for a merger of two German socialist parties, he described phrases like “fair distribution” and “equal right” as “obsolete verbal rubbish.” They belonged, he thought, to an era of scarcity that the revolution would bring to an end.

The Soviet Union proved that abolishing private ownership of the means of production does not change human nature. Most humans, instead of devoting themselves to the common good, continue to seek power, privilege, and luxury for themselves and those close to them. Ironically, the clearest demonstration that the springs of private wealth flow more abundantly than those of collective wealth can be seen in the history of the one major country that still proclaims its adherence to Marxism.

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Under Mao, most Chinese lived in poverty. China’s economy started to grow rapidly only after 1978, when Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping (who had proclaimed that, “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice”) allowed private enterprises to be established. Deng’s reforms eventually lifted 800 million people out of extreme poverty, but also created a society with greater income inequality than any European country (and much greater than the United States). Although China still proclaims that it is building “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” it is not easy to see what is socialist, let alone Marxist, about its economy.

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President Xi Jinping, China’s Globalist and Man of the moment. Read on: https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/04/xi-jinping-china-distracts-from-massive-debt-rural-poverty/

If China is no longer significantly influenced by Marx’s thought, we can conclude that in politics, as in economics, he is indeed irrelevant. Yet his intellectual influence remains. His materialist theory of history has, in an attenuated form, become part of our understanding of the forces that determine the direction of human society. We do not have to believe that, as Marx once incautiously put it, the hand-mill gives us a society with feudal lords, and the steam-mill a society with industrial capitalists. In other writings, Marx suggested a more complex view, in which there is interaction among all aspects of society.

The most important takeaway from Marx’s view of history is negative: the evolution of ideas, religions, and political institutions is not independent of the tools we use to satisfy our needs, nor of the economic structures we organize around those tools, and the financial interests they create. If this seems too obvious to need stating, it is because we have internalized this view. In that sense, we are all Marxists now.

 

*Peter Singer is Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, Laureate Professor in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne, and founder of the non-profit organization The Life You Can Save. His books include Animal Liberation, Practical Ethics, The Ethics of What We Eat (with Jim Mason), Rethinking Life and Death, The Point of View of the Universe, co-authored with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek, The Most Good You Can Do, Famine, Affluence, and Morality, One World Now, Ethics in the Real World, and Utilitarianism: A Very Short Introduction, also with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek. In 2013, he was named the world’s third “most influential contemporary thinker” by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute.

Reimagining Security and Rethinking Economics


April 7, 2018

Reimagining Security and Rethinking Economics

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US President Donald Trump signs trade sanctions against China–Making a Non-Issue  into a Global Probem–Trump’s Economics

Economic and financial issues nowadays tend to be discussed in intellectual silos, by specialists who give little mind to security concerns or the interplay between national and international objectives. But sooner or later, economists will realize that global security demands a new approach, just as it did in the interwar period.

PRINCETON – Now that the world is facing a trade war and the growing possibility that the West could find itself in a real war, we would do well to reconsider the lessons of the interwar period.

Many of today’s economic and security disorders are frequently attributed to the 2008 global financial crisis. In addition to exposing the flaws in conventional economic policies, the crisis and its aftermath accelerated the global rebalancing from the Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific region, while fueling political discontent and the rise of anti-establishment movements in the West.

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Likewise, the Great Depression of the 1930s is usually thought to have produced a seismic shift in economic thinking. According to the conventional narrative, policymakers at the time, having vowed never to repeat the errors that led to the crisis, devised new measures to overcome their economies’ prolonged malaise.

The conceptual and institutional reordering of economics that followed is usually credited to one towering figure: the British economist John Maynard Keynes, who published The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money in 1936. Keynes also orchestrated the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, which led to the creation of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the post-war global monetary order.

According to Keynes’s collaborator and biographer Roy Harrod, Keynes enjoyed a god-like presence at the Bretton Woods talks. But some of Keynes’s other contemporaries, notably the British economist Joan Robinson, always doubted that he deserved so much credit for ushering in the new order.

 

After all, the real reason that Keynesian thinking took hold was that its method of calculating aggregate consumption, investment, and savings proved invaluable for American and British military planning during World War II. With consistent national accounting, governments could make better use of resources, divert production from civilian to military purposes, and curtail inflationary pressures, thereby maintaining consumption and staving off civil unrest.

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The same tools turned out to be just as useful in reorienting the post-war economy toward higher household consumption. But the point is that the revolution in economics, followed by the economic miracles of the post-war era, was a product of wartime calculation, not peacetime reflection. Pressing security concerns and the need to ensure domestic and international stability made policymakers more willing to challenge longstanding economic orthodoxy.

This era holds important lessons for the present. Nowadays, many economists complain that the financial crisis did not prompt a serious rethinking of conventional economics. There are no modern-day equivalents to Keynes. Instead, economic and financial issues tend to be discussed in intellectual silos, by specialists who give little mind to security concerns or the interplay between national and international objectives.

Still, as in the interwar period, there are security threats today that will make rethinking economic assumptions necessary, if not inevitable. Though the financial crisis did not lead to a holistic intellectual reckoning, three broader challenges to the liberal international order since 2016 almost certainly will.

The first challenge is the existential threat of climate change, which will have far-reaching geopolitical consequences, particularly for areas already facing water shortages, and for tropical countries and coastal cities already experiencing the effects of rising sea levels. At the same time, some countries will enjoy temporary gains, owing to longer growing seasons and increased access to minerals, hydrocarbons, and other resources in polar regions.

Ultimately, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will serve the common good. But, without an international mechanism to compensate those most at risk of a warming planet, individual countries will weigh the trade-offs of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions differently.

The second global challenge is artificial intelligence and its foreseeable disruption of labor markets. AI threatens not just employment but also security, because it will render obsolete many technologies that states use to defend their populations and deter aggression. It is little wonder that larger powers like the United States and China are already racing to dominate AI and other big-data technologies. As they continue to do so, they will be playing an increasingly dangerous and unstable game, in which each technological turn could fundamentally transform politics by rendering old defenses useless.

The third challenge is the monetary revolution being driven by distributed-ledger technologies such as block chain, which holds out the promise of creating non-state money. Since Bretton Woods, monetary dominance has been a form of power, particularly for the US. But alternative modes of money will offer both governments and non-state actors new ways to assert power or bypass existing power structures. Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are already disrupting markets, and could someday alter the financial relations on which modern industrial societies are based.

In the new political geography, China, Russia, India, and others see each of these challenges as opportunities to shape the future of globalization on their own terms. What they envision would look very different from the model of the late twentieth century. China, for example, regards AI as a tool for recasting political organization through mass surveillance and state-directed thinking. By replacing individualism with collectivism, it could push global politics in a profoundly illiberal direction.

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Fortunately, there are alternative paths forward. In rethinking economics and security, we will need to develop an approach that advances innovation within a framework of coordinated deliberation about future social and political arrangements. We need to apply human imagination and inventiveness not only to the creation of new technologies, but also to the systems that will govern those technologies.

The best future will be one in which governments and multinational corporations do not control all of the information. The challenge, then, is to devise generally acceptable solutions based on cooperation, rather than on the destruction of competing vision.

*Harold James is Professor of History and International Affairs at Princeton University and a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation. A specialist on German economic history and on globalization, he is a co-author of the new book The Euro and The Battle of Ideas, and the author of The Creation and Destruction of Value: The Globalization Cycle, Krupp: A History of the Legendary German Firm, and Making the European Monetary Union.