From Obamacare to Ryancare to Don’t Care and maybe Trumpcare


March 15, 2017

From Obamacare to Ryancare to Don’t Care  and maybe Trumpcare

Twenty-Four Million Reasons the G.O.P. Health-Care Bill Is No Good

 By John Cassidy
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Is Ryancare the alternative to Obamacare?

For days, the political world had been waiting nervously for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) ’s assessment of the House Republicans’ Trump-endorsed proposal to replace Obamacare. On Monday afternoon, when the numbers-heavy report finally appeared, one figure it contained dominated all the others: twenty-four million.

This was the C.B.O.’s estimate of how many fewer people would have health insurance if the Republican legislation—which is called the American Health Care Act—passes. In 2018, the first year that many of the bill’s changes would go into effect, fourteen million “more people would be uninsured under the legislation than under current law,” the report said. The difference “would rise to 21 million in 2020 and then to 24 million in 2026.”

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By anybody’s terms, twenty-four million is a lot of people. It is far larger than the fifteen million that two economists from the Brookings Institution had suggested last week that the C.B.O. might come up with. “To put the 24 million coverage loss in perspective, that reverses the entire coverage gain from the ACA,” one of the Brookings economists, Loren Adler, said Monday on Twitter.

As recently as January, Trump was promising that his Administration would provide “insurance for everybody.” Even for a President whose acquaintanceship with the truth is a casual one, explaining away the figures in the C.B.O. report could be tricky. It was not surprising, therefore, that the White House quickly dispatched Tom Price, the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, to rubbish the C.B.O. analysis. “We disagree strenuously” with the coverage estimates in the report, Price told reporters at the White House. Price insisted that the G.O.P. plan would “cover more individuals at a lower cost.”

Price didn’t provide any numbers to back up this claim. He hasn’t got any. (In fact, on Monday night, Politico reported that the White House’s own internal analysis of the health-care bill projected that twenty-six million fewer people would have coverage over the next decade.) The only thing that the Administration and its allies on Capitol Hill have to fall back on is the vague promise to follow up the A.H.C.A. with a second piece of legislation that would give insurers more freedom to offer cheaper, lower-quality plans, which, in turn, might persuade more young and healthy people to sign up. But that’s a pie-in-the-sky promise. Changing the rules for insurers would require sixty votes in the Senate, which the Republicans don’t have.

The C.B.O. analysis didn’t account for the possibility of insurers being able to offer cheap and lousy plans. The main thing driving its conclusions wasn’t changes to the individual market but the House Republicans’ reckless and deliberate assault on Medicaid, the federal program that provides health care for the poverty-stricken and the working poor. In estimating that twenty-four million people stand to lose their insurance coverage, the C.B.O. said that fourteen million of this total would be accounted for by reductions in Medicaid rolls.

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Any Hope for Trumpcare?

It is important to understand how this estimate was arrived at, and why it is reasonable. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government lifted the income threshold for Medicaid eligibility to nearly a hundred and forty per cent of the poverty line. At the same time, Washington also promised states, which administer Medicaid, that it would pay ninety per cent of any costs entailed in this expansion. Thirty-one states, including sixteen that now have Republican governors, took the feds up on this offer. The G.O.P. bill would end the Medicaid expansion in 2020—sooner, possibly, if the White House accedes to demands from ultra-conservative groups. The legislation would also change the way the rest of the Medicaid system is financed, shifting to a “block grant” model in which Washington would pay a fixed amount to the states for each recipient.

As a result of these changes, the C.B.O. report said that “some states would discontinue their expansion of eligibility, some states that would have expanded eligibility in the future would choose not to do so, and per-enrollee pending in the program would be capped.” The end result would be a big drop in enrollment and also a big drop in spending—eight hundred and eighty billion dollars over ten years. “By 2026, Medicaid spending would be about 25 percent less than what CBO projects under current law,” the report says.

The drop in spending on Medicaid helps explain why the C.B.O. estimated that the G.O.P. reform would reduce the deficit by three hundred and thirty-seven billion dollars—a fact that some Republicans seized upon. But why, you might ask, would the deficit be reduced by just three hundred and thirty-seven billion dollars over ten years when spending on Medicaid would fall by eight hundred and eighty billion dollars? The answer is that the bill would take most of the money that is saved from reducing Medicaid and hand it out to rich people in the form of tax cuts. The legislation would abolish the 3.8-per-cent Medicare tax on investment income and the 0.9-per-cent surtax on ordinary income that the A.C.A. applied to people who make more than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year. According to the C.B.O., getting rid of these taxes and some annual fees that the A.C.A. imposed on insurers would reduce revenues by five hundred and ninety-two billion dollars over ten years.

If the Republicans really wanted to fulfill Trump’s promise of insuring everybody—or, at least, preventing a big fall in insurance rates—they could have taken the five hundred and ninety-two billion dollars and used them to maintain the Medicaid expansion. Or to enlarge the new tax credits they want to offer for the purchase of individual insurance, which, in some cases, would be much smaller than the subsidies offered under Obamacare.

And I mean much smaller. In a table at the end of its report, the C.B.O. provided some “illustrative examples” of how different types of people might fare under the new system. Take a single sixty-four-year-old with an annual income of twenty-six thousand five hundred dollars. Under Obamacare, after receiving a generous federal subsidy, this person would pay seventeen hundred dollars in annual premiums. Under Trumpcare, or Ryancare, or whatever we want to call it, this person would pay fourteen thousand six hundred dollars. That’s an increase of twelve thousand nine hundred dollars!

To be sure, the way the new system would be set up, not everybody would be a loser. For example, a single forty-year-old with an annual income of sixty-eight thousand two hundred dollars could end up saving more than four thousand dollars a year, according to the C.B.O.’s figures. But, in general, people would pay more, at least in the early years after the measure goes into effect.

In the first few years, as some healthy young people drop their insurance plans because they are no longer mandated to purchase them, premiums would go up fifteen or twenty per cent, the report says. After 2020, average premiums could start dropping, and by 2026 the C.B.O. projects they would be ten per cent lower than under the current law. But that would mainly be because insurers would be offering cheaper, crappier plans to young people, and older people would be dropping insurance because they could no longer afford it. It will be interesting to see how Trump tries to sell that prospect to his supporters, many of whom are older and living on modest incomes.

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

Playing Malaysia’s Number Game


March 13, 2017

Manjit Bhatia’s article’s article is on my blog.

https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/najibs-criminal-state-of-mind/

Image result for Najib Razak and the Malaysian economyThe Malaysian Treasury is all but full

What follows is my friend Nurhisham Hussein’s response.

My own reaction is that I do not trust Malaysian government statistics since they are subject to manipulation by politicians in power. I do respect Nurhisham’s views and commend him for attempting to defend  “economic data from Malaysia”.

The sad truth is that there is so much fake news from Najib Razak and his cohorts in recent years that I have difficulty in knowing what is fact and what is fiction. It is something I experienced in attempting to figure out Donald Trump. But when it comes to Malaysia it is pretty straight forward since in the Malaysian context, fiction is fact.

By the way, what China has to do with the issues raised in Manjit’s article. This statement which I quote from Nurhisham’s article –“One of the key tests to determine whether economic data is falsified is internal consistency and statistical irregularity. China, for example, fails on both counts”–is irrelevant.

Allow me to quote a comment from Greg Balkin who regards Nurhisham’s article as: “A very strong rebuttal to Manjit Bhatia’s shoddy arguments.

Unlike MB who simply fights against the wind and even with his own shadow, at least Nurhisham Hussein provided actual facts and statistics for readers to contemplate on and question if necessary.

As a long-time Southeast Asia watcher, I have been very concerned about Malaysia which is increasingly beset with contradictory developments. Economically, it continues to grow faster than some neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Cambodia (That is bull Greg, check your facts on Cambodia from the Asian Development Bank before making your comment. In its most recent assessment,the Bank described Cambodia as an emerging tiger economy), yet it is mired in a series of financial scandals over the past three years, not to mention the worrying political scene.

The problem is many Malaysians have lost faith in the Najib Administration to the extent that any article that chastises Putrajaya is welcome even if it is not backed up with facts and statistics. One can read many of them on Malaysiakini or Free Malaysia Today. But it does not help Malaysians to develop a more critical mind when it comes to holding the powers-that-be to account.

This explains why many opposition leaders, blinded by popular support and swayed by populist sentiment, simply make one unsubstantiated allegation after another, only to find their position untenable and forced to retract thereafter.

No worries, for they have the people behind them whose negative perceptions of the government are already cast in stone and it matters not if these allegations hold water. If this vicious circle persists, I would not surprise to see Malaysia vote out UMNO and replace it with another set of arrogant politicians armed with half-baked policies to administer the country.

But it is a politician’s job to make sensational yet unsubstantiated claims, and an economist’s one to right them. Precisely why MB’s latest article is not only a huge letdown, but one that is unbecoming of his credentials, if any.”

Let me present an alternative reaction to Nurhisham’s article. It is from someone who calls himself Bumiputera Graduate as follows:

“I am unsure if Nurhisham is trying to shore up confidence in the Malaysian economy or defend the credibility of social and economic data produced in Malaysia.

I think Nurhisham is an expert at  the sleight of hand.  He has shifted the focus in the article from the main points that Manjit is making to those where Manjit is inaccurate.

Among the inaccuracies Nurhisham pointed out is that Malaysia does publish its labour force participation numbers, and that its budget deficit is going down. But Nurhisham doesn’t deny that perceived inflation figures are higher than reported figures; he only says it’s also the case with the US, which is not an answer at all.

He doesn’t touch on Manjit’s point on Bank Negara Malaysia manipulating the currency. Is Manjit right? Or is he wrong? Nurhisham says that his friends and associates at IMF and the World Bank have full confidence in Malaysia’s statistics.

Who knows if Manjit’s friends at the Fund and the Bank don’t have any confidence in Malaysia’s statistics. Hardly an argument worth a pinch of salt coming from the general manager, economics and capital markets of a government agency – the Employers Provident Fund – whose investment decisions are themselves questionable.

Again, when there are conservative estimates of 2 million undocumented migrant workers, with what confidence will you say that the minimum wage is implemented?

The labour market, going by his 3.6% indicator, may be at full employment, but he’s sweeping away the big problem of graduate unemployment (predominantly a Malay problem), the huge migrant labour problem, and the low productivity.

But if Manjit does a bit more of research and does a full article on the Malaysian economy, he may come up with a longer menu of issues that plague the economy than Nurhisham will be able to defend.

Manjit Bhatia, the byline says, is with a risk analysis company. If people like Manjit have views like this, that says a lot for the confidence that foreign analysts have in the Malaysian economy.

I think Nurhisham fails miserably in trying to shore up optimism in the economy, if that was his intention, even as he defends the credibility of data coming from Malaysia. With rebuttals such as his, what little confidence the public has, will further slide down.”

I leave you, my blog readers, to decide between the two views (Greg Balkin and Bumiputera Graduate). As far as I am concerned, and if I have surplus cash to invest, I will stay out the Malaysian stock exchange, the bond market and the Malaysian ringgit for a while, since I have no confidence in the Najib Administration’s management of the Malaysian economy. –Din Merican

 Playing Malaysia’s number game

by Nurhisham Hussein

The article further states that there is no data for the job participation rate in Malaysia. This is rather unconventional classification, as everyone else uses the term labour force participation rate (LFPR) instead. In any case, the article is completely mistaken. The LFPR for Malaysia has been available at monthly frequencies since 2009, quarterly since 1998, and annual frequencies going back to 1982. The annual numbers are further broken down by age, gender, education, and ethnic background. The data shows, far from a decline in labour market conditions, a steeply rising LFPR from 62.6 per cent in 2009, to a near record high of 67.6 per cent in 2016 (with a long term average of 65 per cent). It should also be noted that Malaysia’s long term average unemployment rate is just under 4 per cent. At the current rate of 3.6 per cent, the labour market would still be considered to be at full employment.

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Between Idris Jala and Najib Razak–A Deformed Malaysia

The article goes on to say that Malaysia’s minimum wage is scarcely enforced. On the contrary, data from the EPF, to which all salaried workers are required to contribute, show a massive shift in Malaysia’s salary distribution when the minimum wage was introduced in 2013. Fully 10 per cent of the workforce shifted from below the minimum wage to above it, and the wage effect was evident across the entire bottom half of the distribution.

Fourth, the article claims that, “In Kuala Lumpur alone, credible estimates put inflation at least twice the ‘official’ number”, and “inflation hits close to double-digits, in real terms, according to some investment banks’ research.” The second statement is nonsensical – there is no such thing as inflation in “real” terms, because in economics real prices of goods refer to inflation-adjusted prices. But the larger point – that inflation is perceived to be higher than official statistics – is actually well known. Well known because the same discrepancy has been documented nearly everywhere.

A recent Federal Reserve research note explicitly addressing this issue, found that US citizens perceptions of inflation were consistently twice as high as the official statistics. Why that is so is an interesting question in itself and would take far too long to explore, but the larger point is that differences between perception and official statistics cannot be taken as prima facie evidence that those statistics are false. There is plenty of evidence that the opposite is true, for example via MIT’s Billion Prices Project, that it is perceptions that are mistaken and not the statistics. Furthermore, research into the methodology and mechanics of constructing consumer price indices conclude that if anything, the CPI tends to overstate inflation, not understate it.

Fifth, the article claims Malaysia’s fiscal deficit and national debt are “ballooning”. In fact, the deficit has been halved since 2009, to just 3.1 per cent for 2016, while the debt to GDP ratio has been kept under the 55 per cent limit the government imposed on itself. Manufacturing, far from being routed, has continued to thrive, with sales breaching an all time high of ringgit 60 billion a month over the past few months. Moreover, Malaysia has been one of the very few countries in the region to record positive trade growth over the past two years.

In the Age of Trump, democratic institutions are under attack everywhere. Trust in public institutions has declined, not just in Malaysia, but globally. Globalisation itself is in retreat, and schisms and conflicts that we thought were gone, have arisen anew. Be that as it may, undermining confidence in public institutions without substantive evidence reinforces these troubling trends, and works against the very foundations of a democratic society. Without them, the very thing that Manjit Bhatia appears to be arguing for, becomes further from reality.

Nurhisham Hussein is General Manager, Economics and Capital Markets at Employees Provident Fund, Malaysia.

A blinkered Fiscal Vision-There is no such thing as a free lunch, Mr. Trump


Match 7, 2017

Donald Trump may have veered from self-inflicted crisis to self-inflicted crisis over the course of his young presidency, but he has kept one policy goal steadily before him: tax cuts for the wealthy. A case in point is his recent proposal to find $54 billion more for military spending by slashing Head Start, food aid for low-income pregnant women, environmental protection and other programs. Those trade-offs are bad enough in themselves. But they also reveal a ruinous worldview in which nondefense spending is always excessive and tax cuts are necessary for growth. This sort of thinking will only weaken the economy and betray the people who put their hopes in Mr. Trump.

Spending on the nonmilitary discretionary programs that have been targeted by Mr. Trump comes to 3.2 percent of the economy — well below the average of 3.8 percent going back to 1962. By calling for cuts that would average about 15 percent in almost every category other than defense and “mandatory” programs like Social Security and Medicare, Mr. Trump would undermine his promises to make sure “every child in America has access to a good education,” to help the “poorest and most vulnerable” and to rebuild infrastructure. Other categories at risk of being cut include scientific and medical research, job training, national parks, air traffic control and maintenance of dams.

Worse yet, some Republicans may call for limiting Mr. Trump’s proposed reductions by cutting instead from Social Security and Medicare, which Mr. Trump has pledged to protect. That would be needlessly tightfisted. A rich nation with a resilient economy can afford to care for both the poor and the elderly. Besides, support for the elderly is already becoming stingier as a result of changes instituted years ago, including an increase in the Social Security retirement age from 65 in 2002 to 67 by 2027.

That is not to imply that all spending cuts are off limits. But it’s sensible to mix them with tax increases. The approach of Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans would deeply cut taxes even as spending is slashed.

Mr. Trump has essentially called for three tax cuts: a personal income tax cut, a corporate income tax cut and a cut achieved by repealing the Affordable Care Act. Specifics are scant, but one thing is clear: All three would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans. A campaign draft of the income tax plan indicated that at least half of the proposed multitrillion-dollar tax cut would flow to the top 1 percent of earners in 2025, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Repealing the A.C.A. would end the additional 0.9 percent Medicare Hospital Tax on incomes above $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples).

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Donald Trump is a bold conservative. But he’s not just a conservative on fiscal issues… He is a foreign policy conservative, too! That’s why  on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Donald Trump explained his plan to do what President Barack Obama is unable to do: Destroy the Islamic State (ISIS). But make sure that these mentally deranged Islamic fanatics don’t screw  you first like they did to George W. Bush on September 9, 2011

Mr. Trump and Republican lawmakers say tax cuts spread prosperity by generating economic growth and thus increasing federal revenue — a thoroughly debunked claim. Experience shows that large tax cuts either deepen the nation’s debt or necessitate spending cuts. Forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office indicate that if tax revenue is not increased in the coming decade, spending cuts of $3 trillion — or about 25 percent outside of Social Security and Medicare — will be required to keep the debt at its current level of 77.5 percent of the economy. Clearly, if defense spending rises in the coming decade, as Mr. Trump has called for, while tax revenue declines, either the debt will rise or spending cuts will need to be even deeper.

Both outcomes can be avoided by abandoning deep tax cuts. It would be wise to take on new debt for stimulus during economic downturns or for infrastructure investments, but not to finance tax cuts during a military buildup. Economic activity could be encouraged by bolstering wages, including federal overtime protections. Tax revenue could be raised in constructive ways, including a carbon tax.

Giving the wealthy never-ending tax cuts while gutting programs for the middle class would create more of the resentment and inequality Mr. Trump has promised to address.

2017: Due Year for Najib, Rosmah and Gang


December 31, 2016

2017: Due Year for Najib, Rosmah and Gang

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

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Look at those high heel shoes of Malaysia’s Beauty Queen!

Best wishes to all those who’ve done something – anything – in 2016 to deserve a happy New Year of 2017. And worst possible wishes to all the others for the decidedly unhappy New Year that they’re due for having deliberately done wrong or else failed in their duty to do right by their fellows over the past 12 months, or in many cases far longer, and have no intention of changing their ways.

Of course in the former category I include a whole spectrum of people ranging from those who’ve strenuously striven to be outstanding human beings in their ordinary, everyday lives on the one hand, to heroic humanitarians and ferocious fighters for justice and human rights on the other.

I’m conscious that I should be careful in naming any of the people or organisations I have in mind here, lest I cause offence to some by forgetting or not having sufficient space to include them, or else embarrass or endanger them through public exposure.

Suffice to mention, then, by way of example, such friends and former colleagues as ‘Chemical’ Ali, Alice and her husband Stephen; fellow-travellers in the quest for truth, integrity and transparency in government, like the management, staff and most of the readers of Malaysiakini; literally countless fellow pro-democracy writers and bloggers like Azly (Rahman), Din (Merican), Mariam (Mokhtar), KJ (John), S Thayaparan and Zan (Azlee); and, last but as far as possible from least, the inimitable and unquenchable anti-regime cartoonist and lampoonist, Zunar.

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Some of the similarly countless organisations I can’t help thinking of as well-and-truly due the happiest-possible wishes for this and every other New Year include Malaysia’s Sisters in Islam, Sarawak Report and now sadly inactive Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM), France’s Médicins Sans Frontières, Reporteurs Sans Frontières, Syria’s non-government civilian volunteer rescue workers, the White Helmets, and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

As for all those who are not due a New Year at all, let alone wishes for a happy one, the first lot I can think of, as long as I’m concentrating on Malaysia for this column, are the members, cronies and supporters of the ever-ruling UMNO-BN regime.

As of 2017, this cartel of ‘criminals’ posing as a coalition government has enjoyed an unbroken run of 60 years of allegedly happily robbing Malaysians of their rights, freedoms and protections and their nation of its natural resources. Thus these political ‘predators’ deserve to rot for years in prison, not to be wished, let alone allowed another happy year in power at the public’s expense.

All the signs are there, however, that they have every intention of celebrating in 2017 as happily for themselves and as unhappily for the people as they did in 2016 and for decades before.

Continuing to avoid and evade the fact

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Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak continues to avoid and evade the fact of, let alone his responsibility for, the massive 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) brouhaha. And his cabinet ministers and other sycophants, supporters and apologists are still solidly behind him in his campaign of denial and deception.

Meanwhile the regime has even more daylight robberies in train. Literally, as in the case of the allegedly monstrously over-priced MRT rail system currently under construction.

So rather than yet another happy year, I, along with the majority of Malaysian citizens, I suspect, hereby wish UMNO-BN a decidedly crappy or even accursed year.

In the fond if admittedly faint hope that the US Department of Justice will finally bring criminal charges against Najib and his accomplices in the 1MDB imbroglio; or that Najib will call the 14th general election (GE14) and that Chinese numerology will come to the party and make sure that for UMNO it turns out to be truly ‘forever die’.

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And then there’s always the chance that the RAHMAN prophecy will come true, and Najib’s fall will finish off BN forever.

But of course it’s not only Najib and UMNO-N who are well and truly due, in fact way overdue, for a deservedly unhappy New Year.

There are also Bashar al-Assad, his murderous regime and its brutal Russian allies, for example, who are due endless retribution for five years of slaughter of the Syrian people and destruction of their homeland.

Then there are the likes of Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and all the other similar death-squads, many of which have been happily getting away with their crimes against humanity for far too many years.

And finally, who knows whether to wish the US and its citizens a Happy New Year? With president-elect Donald Trump just weeks away from being sworn-in to office, it’s anybody’s guess how 2017 will turn out for ‘God’s Own Country’ and the rest of the world.

Given Trump’s stated intention of greatly beefing-up the US’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, chances are that rather than a Happy New Year we could well find ourselves facing the unthinkable horrors of a Happy Nuke Year.

In which case the displays of fireworks on which Sydney and so many other cities squander such a fortune for the sake of celebrating the New Year could this time around portend the possibility that far more serious and deadly global or regional fireworks, or at least a decidedly dangerous arms-race, may be due in the very near future.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

 

Latest World Bank Report on MALAYSIA


December 23, 2016

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Malaysia’s Finance Minister: He needs a lot of help; in stead as Prime Minister he is a victim of sycophancy

Note: All reports by the IMF, World Bank, Asian Development and other multilateral institutions should be read between the lines to discern what is not said. I am confident my readers will exercise due care when they are presented with reports on Malaysia by these institutions.–Din Merican

Latest World Bank Report on MALAYSIA

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Malaysia Economic Monitor December 2016: The Quest for Productivity Growth

Malaysia’s economic growth has slowed down but remains resilient to external challenges.

  • The gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate is projected to reach 4.2% in 2016 and 4.3% in 2017.
  • Private consumption is expected to continue driving economic growth, supported by low unemployment and government income-support measures.
  • Private investment growth is expected to moderate, as commodity prices and global economic activity remain subdued.
  • Fiscal consolidation remains on track despite lower oil-related revenues.
  • Uncertainties around the rebalancing of the Chinese economy, further declines in the world commodities’ prices, and evolving US economic policies on global trade are some of the key sources of risks to Malaysia’s economic outlook.

Productivity is the main driver of Malaysia’s economic development, though productivity growth has slowed over the past decade.

  • Capital and labor have mainly driven Malaysia’s robust economic growth over the past 25 years. While significant, Malaysia’s productivity growth over the past 25 years has been below several global and regional countries.
  • As capital and labor are expected to slow down, rising productivity growth, greater female labor-force participation, and continued investment in physical and human capital will be necessary for Malaysia to achieve high-income status.
  • Malaysia has performed relatively well on key aspects of productivity, such as in the quality of infrastructure, and non-technical innovations.
  • Malaysia’s existing institutional architecture has sustained consistent productivity growth for more than two decades. Challenges in the skills gap, quality of infrastructure, and research and development system need to be addressed in order to refocus attention on productivity growth.
  • Overcoming skill gaps, building innovation capacity, and addressing distortion in markets where firms sell their goods and services, could help accelerate productivity growth further.

LINKs FOR DOWNLOADING THE PRESENTATION AND THE FULL REPORT

http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/183141482112459157/MEM-Productivity-Presentation-December-19.pdf

http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/773621481895271934/Malaysia-economic-monitor-the-quest-for-productivity-growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Former Malaysian Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin–The Economy under Corrupt Najib Razak


December 22, 2016

Former Malaysian Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin–The Economy under Corrupt Najib Razak

Received via e-mail

Get rid of the feudalism mindset, especially among those who are the trustees of this nation. If the leader is wrong or has committed a crime, it is the fiduciary duty of the subordinates, particularly the civil servants, to take corrective actions, instead of being in cahoots to cover up the wrongdoings.–Tun Daim Zainuddin

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I have been asked to share my thoughts on key structural issues facing the country, and what we can do about it. I am most reluctant to put my thoughts into words or share them with the public. Since my retirement, I have stayed away from public discussions as I prefer to spend my time travelling. But times have changed and we are facing a very serious crisis.

Clearly, there are important long-standing structural issues that may affect our march towards developed country status. These are related to education, the labour market, the government’s fiscal policy, inclusive growth and sustainability, among others.

However, what this country needs at this moment is much simpler but seems harder to solve. What we need to address now, which I have repeated so many times, is the chronic trust deficit. In order to overcome this deficit, we must first understand its origins. There are a few reasons why we are facing this trust deficit.

First, it is the lack of integrity, honesty and moral courage. The lack of good moral character seems pervasive among the elites in this country, especially among those in power. Corruption and bribery remain rampant, to the extent that cases of public money being siphoned off for private use or government servants stashing away obscene amounts of hard cash do not amaze us anymore. It is as though systemic corruption has taken a hold of us and our nation, and we have accepted it. The culprits must be punished. We should have no sympathy for them.

But in some instances, politically connected culprits were not brought to the courts fast enough. In the case of the Sabah Water Department, it has been nearly two months since the main officers were released on bail. This has given room for further speculation and abuse of the system. The same goes for the Ministry of Youth and Sports’ case. And, of course, who can deny the existence of the biggest elephant in the room pertaining to corruption and abuse of power?

It is worth being reminded that lack of integrity has disastrous consequences, and it extends beyond the damage to the current generation. Studies have shown how countries that are perceived to be corrupt tend to grow at a much slower rate than those that are corrupt-free and this has a negative impact on long-term growth. No one would want to invest in a country that does not respect the rule of law.

Lest we forget, the root cause of why a community or a nation succeeds or fails, why great civilisations or empires collapsed, always comes back to one reason — integrity or the lack of it.

Tun Daim Zainuddin (right) and author of ‘The Colours of Inequality’ Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid during the launch of the book at the International Islamic University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, November 11, 2014. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Thus, solving all those structural issues will depend on ensuring the highest level of integrity among those in power. In fact, a nation’s survival and its success depend on the integrity of everyone, most crucially, its leadership.

The leaders must always uphold the highest level of integrity and not betray the trust assigned to them or take advantage of their position. Those with positions must remember that there is no honour in abusing their power.

Second, the lack of empathy and common sense among those in power plays a role in widening the trust deficit in the country. When the people are feeling the pinch of slower wage growth, higher cost of living with the removal of subsidies and weakening of the ringgit, we are pouring more than half a billion ringgit of the rakyat’s money into a public park. This is outright insensitive and mind-boggling when allocations for essential services, such as health and education, have been reduced. Yet, if the government is sincere about its concern about parks, why hasn’t it gazetted Bukit Kiara?

Third, expertise in oversight of the nation’s economy is seriously lacking. We proudly proclaim that our “fundamentals are strong”. But the economic growth is fuelled by debt. This is not sustainable. Government debt with its contingent liability has easily exceeded the debt limit. In fact, for next year’s budget, we have to borrow about 90% to finance our development expenditure.

For every RM1 we expect to collect next year, 98 sen will be spent on operational expenses, such as paying salaries, interest and subsidies, among others. This is not sustainable.

Household debt is already at an all-time high; in fact, it is one of the highest in the region. With lack of savings, our households are vulnerable to poverty. Our outstanding non-financial corporate sector debt is also high, about 105% of GDP as at end-2015, which is higher than the debt of emerging economies.

Yet, we are still proud to state that the economy is growing, and we are proud when the incoming president of US reportedly is impressed by our high economic growth. But the US is approaching full capacity as evidenced by falling unemployment and rising wages.

But growth alone is not enough. It needs to benefit the country and the rakyat. Despite registering positive growth, the number of unemployed in Malaysia keeps growing. Since early last year, the number of unemployed grew nearly 16%. Our graduates do not have jobs; a graduate engineer has to sell nasi lemak and the government seems proud of that!

Firms also are not hiring as before; the number of vacancies reported this year is the lowest in about a decade. In fact, the number of jobs created are mostly low to mid-skilled, and not high-skilled. Not surprisingly, the share of low-skilled workers in the labour force has increased while that of high-skilled workers has declined. This does not augur well for the country becoming a high-income nation. It is pointless for a country to achieve high income when the rakyat remains low income.

These are among the factors that lead to people losing trust in the government. What do we do then?

Image result for Daim and Najib

Household debt is already at an all-time high; in fact, it is one of the highest in the region. With lack of savings, our households are vulnerable to poverty. Our outstanding non-financial corporate sector debt is also high, about 105% of GDP as at end-2015, which is higher than the debt of emerging economies.

Yet, we are still proud to state that the economy is growing, and we are proud when the incoming President of US reportedly is impressed by our high economic growth. But the US is approaching full capacity as evidenced by falling unemployment and rising wages.

But growth alone is not enough. It needs to benefit the country and the rakyat. Despite registering positive growth, the number of unemployed in Malaysia keeps growing. Since early last year, the number of unemployed grew nearly 16%. Our graduates do not have jobs; a graduate engineer has to sell nasi lemak and the government seems proud of that!

Firms also are not hiring as before; the number of vacancies reported this year is the lowest in about a decade. In fact, the number of jobs created are mostly low to mid-skilled, and not high-skilled. Not surprisingly, the share of low-skilled workers in the labour force has increased while that of high-skilled workers has declined. This does not augur well for the country becoming a high-income nation. It is pointless for a country to achieve high income when the rakyat remains low income.

These are among the factors that lead to people losing trust in the government. What do we do then?

Two things need to be undertaken, one easier than the other. First, a new economic team must be assembled and empowered to fix the economy.

The rakyat and investors, both local and foreign, must have faith and confidence in those managing the economy. The members of this team must be professionals who are technically competent, with the highest level of integrity and dare to speak the truth. Lack of intelligence and incompetence cannot be compensated for by loyalty to the leader.

Indeed, the special economic team that was set up in August last year is a complete failure. It should be dissolved. Concurrently, the Prime Minister must let go of the Finance Minister’s post; this is bad governance.

Second, which is equally important, is to get rid of the feudalism mindset, especially among those who are the trustees of this nation. If the leader is wrong or has committed a crime, it is the fiduciary duty of the subordinates, particularly the civil servants, to take corrective actions, instead of being in cahoots to cover up the wrongdoings.

Bear in mind that political leaders who are elected by the rakyat to lead the government are basically the rakyat’s servants. They are merely given the mandate and power by the rakyat to lead the government and to rule on their behalf. Thus, the ability to be respectful and accountable towards the people who voted them in is paramount.

The leaders are not gods that must be obeyed. This clarion call is not new; nearly half a century ago, our great philosopher and sociologist, Syed Hussein Alatas, warned us of the danger: “…man in authority … expects the subordinate to be loyal and faithful in a manner that sometimes comes into conflict with the norms or ethics … he is supposed to be loyal under almost all circumstances, even if the circumstances violate the present values and philosophy of Malaysian society” (Feudalism in Malaysian society: A study in historical continuity. Source: Civilisations, Vol. 18, No. 4 [1968], pp. 579-592).

This requires, again, integrity and honesty, even if that means one is in the minority. Our first prime minister said it best: “If you think you are rich, there are many who are richer than you. If you think you are clever, there are more people cleverer than you. But if you think you are honest, then you are among the few and in this instance, it is best to be among the few.”

 

In dealing with the rakyat, whether on economic, social or political issues, honesty is really the best policy. Lies can only lead to more lies, and once the rakyat has lost faith in you, even when you are stating the truth, they will not believe you. You cannot fix the problems of the nation when there is a trust deficit.

In my experience during the 1986 and 1998 crises, I was upfront about the problems we faced but the people had the confidence to give us time and space to solve the problems. Without the people’s trust and support, it will be difficult to solve the economic problems, especially when it affects them. It is a partnership between government and the governed.

Reforms in institutions are also required. We must take all necessary actions, including amending laws, to ensure the independence of judiciary and security institutions. Tolerance for dissent and differences in opinion and ideologies must be welcomed, and not prosecuted. These are the ingredients for a truly open and functioning democracy.

Failure to undertake these paramount reforms means we are moving away from prosperity. Otherwise, we all should be seriously worried about the future that we are leaving for our children and grandchildren.

Bear in mind that political leaders who are elected by the rakyat to lead the government are basically the rakyat’s servants. They are merely given the mandate and power by the rakyat to lead the government and to rule on their behalf. Thus, the ability to be respectful and accountable towards the people that voted them in is paramount.

The leaders are not gods that must be obeyed. This clarion call is not new; nearly half a century ago, our great philosopher and sociologist, Syed Hussein Alatas, warned us of the danger: “…man in authority … expects the subordinate to be loyal and faithful in a manner that sometimes comes into conflict with the norms or ethics … he is supposed to be loyal under almost all circumstances, even if the circumstances violate the present values and philosophy of Malaysian society” (Feudalism in Malaysian society: A study in historical continuity. Source: Civilisations, Vol. 18, No. 4 [1968], pp. 579-592).

This requires, again, integrity and honesty, even if that means one is in the minority. Our first Prime Minister said it best: “If you think you are rich, there are many who are richer than you. If you think you are clever, there are more people cleverer than you. But if you think you are honest, then you are among the few and in this instance, it is best to be among the few.”

 

In dealing with the rakyat, whether on economic, social or political issues, honesty is really the best policy. Lies can only lead to more lies, and once the rakyat has lost faith in you, even when you are stating the truth, they will not believe you. You cannot fix the problems of the nation when there is a trust deficit.

In my experience during the 1986 and 1998 crises, I was upfront about the problems we faced but the people had the confidence to give us time and space to solve the problems. Without the people’s trust and support, it will be difficult to solve the economic problems, especially when it affects them. It is a partnership between government and the governed.

Reforms in institutions are also required. We must take all necessary actions, including amending laws, to ensure the independence of judiciary and security institutions. Tolerance for dissent and differences in opinion and ideologies must be welcomed, and not prosecuted. These are the ingredients for a truly open and functioning democracy.

Failure to undertake these paramount reforms means we are moving away from prosperity. Otherwise, we all should be seriously worried about the future that we are leaving for our children and grandchildren.

Daim Zainuddin is former finance minister of Malaysia