Untapped Women Power: The key to a brighter Malaysia


January 12, 2017

Untapped Women Power: The key to a brighter Malaysia

by Dr. Anas Alam Faizli*

Received via e-mail from the writer)

Image result for women empowerment

Free them to pursue their dreams and they will make Malaysia great again

THE High Income Nation ambition or the “number game” has been our central economic discussion for the past seven years. Countless policies have been crafted for this end game but the solution remains elusive.

I have a revelation. The key and the secret to achieve this lies within humanity’s other half; Women. Let me explain.

Women empowerment could potentially unlock an additional income per capita of approximately US$2,300 for the country; which will easily enable an overnight achievement of our target.

The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mentioned that: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

However, the world is not ideal. It is true that all humans are equal, but some are more equal than others, and none more unequal than the status of women itself and everyone must be held responsible.

Women form one half of humanity, and are as equal to men in every aspect, except physical strength — hence, weaker sex, and more beautiful to look at — hence, fairer sex. Unfortunately, in this modern and progressive era, gender discrimination and stereotyping is still alarmingly prevalent.

Women in Tertiary Education

Image result for women in universitiesThis is what they do in Iran and Malaysia too is heading in that direction, thanks to our Ulamaks and UMNO salaried  Mullahs

The society at large has always been fast to dismiss women’s achievements. This also include women’s remarkable achievements in tertiary education; where women have shattered a glass sphere that was once only available to men.

This is not surprising considering tertiary education has traditionally been dominated by men throughout the centuries. Some have even argued that this is due to the simple fact that there are more women nowadays compared to men.

Data, however, contradict this. According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), as of 2016, Malaysia’s gender ratio indicates that there are 107 males to every 100 females. That brings the actual figure of 16.4 million males and 15.3 million females in Malaysia. Over the past decade, there has been a big shift in the gender balance; women have begun to outnumber men in university enrollments.

This global trend is seen not only in developed countries such America and Europe, but it also prevails in Asian countries such as Brunei, China, Philippines, and Indonesia; with Malaysia being an extreme case in the region.

Image result for woman graduates of the University of Malaya

In 2015, close to 55 percent of higher education intakes (public and private universities, community colleges, and polytechnics) were dominated by females at 280,296 versus males at 230,858. Females showed a higher domination in public universities’ intake at 106,277; equivalent to 63 percent, versus males at 61,850.

Note: On November 4, Nancy Malkiel, Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton visited Churchill College to give a talk to launch her new book “Keep the Damned Women Out”: The Struggle for Coeducation — exploring the decision in the 1960s and 70s by several Ivy League universities in the USA and colleges in Cambridge and Oxford to ‘go mixed’.

Her research took her to the archives of the three Cambridge colleges that were the first to go co-educational: Churchill, King’s, and Clare.

Churchill College is proud of being the first men’s college in Cambridge to decide to admit women. So it is salutary to remember that it was the last Cambridge college to be founded for men only. What was unexceptionable in 1960 had become unthinkable by 1970. A wave of reforms swept through higher education, and coeducation was one element in a multilayered revolution. On the larger canvas, Churchill’s decision in 1969 was unremarkable. In just five years, 1969-74, dozens of colleges on both sides of the Atlantic ‘went mixed’, including Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, and Vassar, and three Cambridge and five Oxford colleges. The momentous decision at Churchill is set in the wider context in an impressive new book by Nancy Weiss Malkiel, ‘Keep the Damned Women Out’: The Struggle for Coeducation (Princeton University Press).

Nancy Malkiel speaking to a seated audience in the Churchill Archives Centre

Professor Nancy Malkiel speaking at Churchill College, November 4, 2016.

She argues that, on both sides of the Atlantic, the move to coeducation was largely inspired, not by high principle, but a desire for positional advantage. Colleges were worried, as ever, about their competitive edge for the best students. Young people increasingly did not want to be at single sex institutions. In Britain, whereas Cambridge had just 10 per cent women among its undergraduates in 1965, the new universities reached ratios of around 40 per cent. Admitting women was part of a wider move toward diversifying student cohorts. In the USA that typically involved religion and race (Jews, Catholics, African Americans), in Britain it meant school background (grammar instead of public schools). There was little high-minded talk about justice and equality, and, in so far as general principles were expressed, it tended to be the language of national efficiency: avoiding wastage by exploiting a larger pool of young talent. The primacy of the competitive edge expressed itself nowhere better than in Princeton’s chaotic scramble to admit women in 1969 so as not to be upstaged by Yale.

According to Malkiel, the switch to ‘coed’ was more difficult in the US than in Oxbridge. The alumni were far more powerful and controlled purse strings, and the male dining clubs were more intransigent (it took the New Jersey Supreme Court to force the Princeton clubs to open up). Her book is depressingly rich in examples of visceral hostility. A Dartmouth alumnus expressed the sentiment which she uses for the title of her book. Women students experienced condescension from staff and horrendous misogyny from male students, especially in initiation rituals. She argues that the change in Oxbridge was much smoother (though I think she’s too roseate about the lack of sexism there). True enough, Oxbridge had been educating women for a century, and, similarly, Harvard and Radcliffe had been interacting for decades, whereas at Yale and Princeton the change was more abrupt. One thing certainly made things easier at Churchill: nobody could say that the College’s 600 year heritage was being betrayed. (At Clare, the Master wittily and accurately retorted that in 1870 it had been said that allowing Fellows to marry betrayed a 500 year heritage and would ‘distract’ men from scholarship.)

The relative impacts of college heads, faculty, and students varied as drivers of change. In Oxbridge, college heads sometimes set the pace, especially Sir Eric Ashby at Clare College. At Churchill, the decision was forced by the Fellows against the opposition of the Master, Sir William Hawthorne, with the Senior Tutor Dick Tizard leading the way. When Alison Finch became the second female Fellow in 1972 Sir William told her, ‘Well, Miss Finch, I voted against the admission of women’.

In the early coed years, Yale and Princeton maintained caps on female numbers, declaring that the production of ‘leaders’ (which meant men) must not be diminished. There was a cap at Churchill too, with the parallel case that the College had been founded to produce ‘leaders’ for industry and technology. But the quota, like single-sex staircases, and female tutors for female students, soon lapsed.

It is good to see a key aspect of Churchill College’s short career now becoming the stuff of history books. Malkiel’s Ch. 21 takes for its title a remark by Sir John Colville to Sir Winston Churchill when Winston dared to suggest that maybe his new College could have women. That would be ‘like dropping a hydrogen bomb in the middle of King’s Parade’.

 — Mark Goldie, November 2016

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Nonetheless, their male counterparts have balanced out the numbers in private universities; where the ratio is close to 50:50. The same year also saw 169,198 females successfully graduating from higher education versus males at 120,596.

These numbers are showing that women are in the forefront in higher education. With over 50,000 more females whom have managed to graduate as compared to males in 2015 alone, imagine the existing disparity formed over the past decade.

Unfortunately, significant gains by women in tertiary education have not translated into better labour market outcomes. Aside from the teaching industry, women are not seen to be participating dominantly in the workforce nor as leaders in the corporate, legal, academic, economic or the political scene in proportion to the educational gain demonstrated.

Labour Force Participation Rate

In 2015, our women’s labour force participation rate was at a modest 54.1 percent (out of the total 9.9 million potential women labour force), a far cry from the men’s rate of 80.6 percent.

This number has improved only slightly from 47.2 percent in the year 2000.

Aside from the formal sector, women are seen to be prospering in the informal sector where they are offered more flexibility in working hours.

Aside from the formal sector, women are seen to be prospering in the informal sector where they are offered more flexibility in working hours.

Our neighbours are faring better where women’s labour force participation rate for Myanmar is at 75.2 percent, Cambodia 78.8 percent, Laos 76.3 percent, Vietnam 73 percent and Thailand at 75.2 percent.We are left questioning, “Where have the women gone to and where are they now in our society?”

The next set of questions would be, “what are the socio-economic benefits in empowering women?” and “What are the challenges and how should we address them?”

A study by the World Bank on Malaysian women participation in the workforce found a pattern that suggested Malaysian women older than the age of 26 are more sensitive to life-cycle transitions as compared to other countries in the world.

Married women both in urban and rural areas have the lowest participation rate. Additionally, Malaysian women also retire earlier than their male counterparts.

The World Bank attributes this factor to women being caught in a “double burden” syndrome of managing both the home and caring for their children or the elderly. Another contributing factor to the labour force participation rate gap is that women that leave the workforce after the age of 26 will never return.

This is called a “single-peaked” profile. As opposed to other countries in Asia, an example being in Japan and Korea, they have “double-peaked” profiles; where there is a recovery in labour force participation after women hit the age of 35.

These conditions leading to a woman’s decision to remain or withdraw from the labour force must be assessed within the context of Malaysian cultural and social values to determine the appropriate policy environment and incentives to retain a larger number of women in the labour force after marriage.

Aside from the formal sector, women are seen to be prospering in the informal sector where they are offered more flexibility in working hours.

One of the most popular routes taken by these women are by conducting businesses through social media platforms.

Women in Politics, Local, and State Governments

Since our independence, Malaysian women have had the right to vote in elections and to hold public office. Today, women comprise one half of the registered voters and are active in political life. However, instead of being political leaders themselves, a majority of women have continued the trend of only engaging themselves primarily in raising financial support, turning out in full force during elections, carrying out routine tasks related to daily campaigning, and facilitating voter participation during the election process for their political parties.

The old-fashioned gender roles remain where women are adherent of male leaders and retain traditional positions in political parties. The number of women gaining electoral office in the federal and state governments is also dismal. Gender inequality still persist in this sphere, as indicated by the extremely low percentage of women at all levels of political office.

Malaysia ranks number 156 out of 189 countries in the number of women representatives in the national parliament at a dismal 10.4 percent or 23 seats of the total 222 parliamentary seats. The state assemblies also indicate a similar trend at a measly 10.8 percent or 55 seats represented by women, of the total 505 state parliamentary seats.

Perhaps Malaysia should take a cue from our neighbours, Vietnam (24 percent), Lao (25 percent), Singapore (25 percent), and the Phillipines (27 percent) where women have higher levels of political participation.

The same situation in the Executive arm of the Malaysian Government also transpires in the Legislature. Since 1957, the number of women ministers has never exceeded three and that remains as of today where of the 35 members Cabinet; one is a Women Minister and the other two are ministers in the Prime Minister’s Office. This scenario is similar across the board for all state governments while Terengganu and Sarawak have never appointed a female Exco.

The Pakatan Rakyat State Government in Selangor made a breakthrough when they lined up four women of the total ten exco positions in 2008. However, they did not do the same for Perak when they were in power, failing to appoint any female excos despite having the second highest number of women to the State Assembly and Selangor reduced their women excos to two in 2013.

Women are also observed to be given limited appointments as local authority council members where they are only appointed to 362 (14.1 percent) of the total 2,567 positions.

Women Leaders in Civil Service and Corporations

As of 2015, there are 718,044 (57.1 percent) women civil servants from a total of 1,257,166 civil servants in professional and support services (Grade 1-54), however in the top management tiers (Grade Jusa C and above), only 1,498 (37.1 percent) women made it from the total of 4,041 government servants.

Subsequently only 5 (11.4 percent) were appointed as director of government’s statutory bodies, 13 (31.7 percent) as deputy secretary-general and 7 (29.2 percent) as secretary-general.

While in corporations, according to Bursa Malaysia for the year of 2015, women held 26.3 percent of top management positions across public listed corporations. However, women only form 15 percent of the total members of Board of Directors in MOF (Incorporated) companies.

Women have previously held high positions as the Bank Negara Governor, Chairman of the Securities Commission, Managing Director of a Bank, Bar Council Chairman, Chief Executive Officers of Air Asia X and SME Corp, and many others. Women remain an exception in these positions and not the norm.

Women as Educators and in the Legal System

There are 421,828 teachers in Malaysia and close to 72 percent of them are women. However, only 3,580 (37.2 percent) women made it as the primary school master, or secondary school principal or the residential school principal out of the total 9,615 positions. There is a sizeable gap here considering the number of women teachers who made it into decision-making positions.

The same disparities persist in Universities, while there are 11,931 (56.6 percent) women lecturers of the total 21,077, and only 13 (19.12 percent) of 68 are appointed as deputy vice-chancellors and four (20 percent) of 20 are appointed as vice chancellors.

Women in the legal system are growing in numbers, which hopefully will be the key to inducing reforms that will improve the legal status of women. Women represent 3 (27 percent) out of the 11 judges in the Federal Court, 12 (41.4 percent) judges from a total of 29 judges in the Court of Appeal and 29 out of the 58 (50 percent) judges in the High Courts.

The Syariah courts are lagging behind where women represent only 8 (10.8 percent) out of the total 74 judges. In the legal practice, women form 8,551 (51.7 percent) of the total 16,537 lawyers.

Like teachers, there still persists a disparity in the gender ratio between junior and senior lawyers as opposed to female lawyers in partner positions and even in the executive committee of Bar Councils in the country. More women should be placed in decision-making positions.

Empowering Women for Socio-Economic Benefits

A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Gender Inequality found that increasing the share of household income controlled by women changes spending in ways that benefit children and family as a whole. The study also found that increasing women and girls’ education contributes to a higher economic growth for about 50 percent in OECD countries over the past 50 years.

Additionally, another study by Dr Emmanuela Gakidou from University of Washington found that; for every one additional year of education for women of reproductive age, child mortality is decreased by 9.5 percent (based on historical data from 219 countries from year 1970 to 2009).

McKinsey & Company (2014) deduced that women’s economic equality is good for businesses. Companies reap bountiful benefits in terms of organisational effectiveness by increasing leadership opportunities for women.

Companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all the measured dimensions of organizational effectiveness.

Women are able to perform better in this particular arena as they generally have higher aspirations and emotional intelligence.

If we are to be on par with the women labour participating rate of Singapore which is at 63 percent; an additional 1.4 million more women in the workforce are needed and if we are to use Canada as a model at 74 percent; that’s an additional 2.3 million women needed in the workforce. That’s only half from the total missing women in action of 4.5 million.

The World Bank estimated that the 2.3 million women missing in action from the workforce can leapfrog our income per capita by 23 percent from entrepreneurial activities (six percent) and “absent” women workforce (17 percent) translated to about US$2,300 per capita, which will enable an overnight achievement of the high-income status for Malaysia.

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Working Mothers Produce Better Sons and Daughters

A comprehensive study of 50,000 adults from 25 different nations by the Harvard Business School inferred an interesting result contrary to popular and admittedly traditional beliefs. The study found that growing up with a working mother improves future career prospects for daughters and sons and is unlikely to harm children socially and economically when they become adults.

Women growing up with working mothers show better performance in the workplace. They are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility at those jobs, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full time.

But the study found no effect to their sons’ performance at work as men are naturally expected to work. However, sons of working mothers do better in domestic duties and spend more time caring for family members.

The study also found that sons who have working mothers spend nearly twice as many hours on family and child care as those hailing from more traditional households; a weekly average of 16 hours compared to 8.5 hours.

Barriers and Challenges in the Workforce

Where do we rank in the gender inequality charts? Malaysia ranks 111 out of 145 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. In contrary, based on the UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index (GII), Malaysia did better; coming in at 62 out of 188 countries. Regardless, there is still much to be improved.

A study by the United Nations have found that women bear disproportionate responsibilities for unpaid care work. Women devote one to three hours more a day to housework than men; two to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly, and the sick), and one to four hours less a day for paid labour.

This is similar to Malaysia. These differences, deeply rooted in gender roles, reduced women’s leisure, welfare, and well-being. As a result of these different domestic responsibilities, men and women have different patterns of time usage; periods of leisure and high activity.

These patterns have implications for women’s ability to invest in education, their ability to take up economic opportunities and entrepreneurship, and to participate more broadly in current economic, political, public and social life.

In Malaysia, 67 percent of women cite care and other familial and personal responsibilities as the reason for not being in the labour force, versus only two percent of men. This is a wide difference from EU’s 25 percent. This directly and negatively impacts women’s participation in the labour force in Malaysia.

Women are also more vulnerable to economic shocks considering a majority of women are employed in low and semi-skilled positions.

Salary disparity between men and women is still prevalent in Malaysia where women earn less than men in all occupational sectors, notably in elementary occupations in the range of between 10-40 percent compared to men. (Source: Salaries & Wages Survey, 2014)

Additionally, a safer environment for women to commute to work is also a challenge considering crimes, especially snatch thefts, are on the rise; with women being their primary target.

Discrimination against Pregnant Women

The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)’s Workplace Discrimination Survey found that 40 percent of women polled have experienced job discrimination due to their pregnancy.

The survey revealed that the top five ways used by employers to discriminate pregnant women are by making their positions redundant, denying them promotions, placing them on prolonged probation, demoting them, and terminating their jobs.

The survey also showed that about 20 percent of women have had their job applications rejected or job offers revoked after they disclose their pregnancy.

Survey results indicate that 30 percent of women are likely to delay their pregnancy plans because they fear losing their job or promotion. But only about one in eight women who have lost their jobs or have been looked over for promotions due to pregnancy, have actually lodged formal complaints.

Majority of women do not know their rights or fear backlash and harassment for speaking up. Additionally, both the Employment Act 1955 and the Industrial Relations Act 1967 provide very minimal relief, if any at all. Existing legal safeguards are insufficient and there are no specific laws in Malaysia that deal with pregnancy related discrimination.

Sexual Harassment against Women

Sex-based discrimination takes on many forms at the workplace and in public. Sexual harassment may include verbal, non-verbal/gestural, visual, psychological, and physical harassment.

As with pregnancy discrimination, there is no specific law in Malaysia that deals with sexual harassment. Currently, women can lodge a complaint under The Employment (Amendment) Act 2012 which has expanded the definition of sexual harassment and put into place legal ramifications for sexual harassment at the workplace.

Unfortunately, the law only applies for harassment in the workplace; which is, at most, limited. The act only covers women in employment and excludes those working in the informal sector.

Provisions in the Act also excludes many sections of the female community, such as Member of Parliament (MP)s who are sexually harassed by fellow male MPs, domestic workers by employers, students by teachers, nurses by patients, patients by doctors, and passengers by bus drivers.

The Federal Court in June 2016 made a landmark ruling paving the way for sexual harassment suits to be heard in civil courts beyond the current narrow limits dictated by the Employment Act and the judges too agreed that the Employment Act is insufficient.

Barriers and Challenges in Politics

There are five major obstacles that stand in the way of women who wish to participate in politics, namely, social perception of women’s leadership abilities, role conflicts, religious and cultural constraints, structural constraints within political parties, and finally, limited financial resources.

Structural constraints within political parties exist, where the existence of women are in subordinate status modes confined to the women’s wing within the parties; being only party auxiliary. The real power remains within the firm grasp of men who hold the gate to party positions and electoral candidacy.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat is paving the way for change with its woman party president and one woman vice president who is also in charge of its electoral candidacy. For supreme council members, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Parti Maju Sabah are leading at 26.7 percent and 23.1 percent women representation while BERSATU, UMNO, MIC, DAP behind at 13 percent, 11.7 percent, 10.3 percent, 10 percent respectively and both PAS and MCA at 8.6 percent. AMANAH and UPKO most behind at 6.9 percent and 4.5 percent.

Furthermore, in politics, women face the same problem as in the workforce, carrying “double burden” which remains an inhibiting factor to their full political participation. These challenges result in lower women representatives in both federal and state legislature; providing direct causal effect to the number of executives in the government. So how do we move forward to face all the barriers and challenges in women empowerment?

Women’s Institutions and Decision Making

The Malaysian government in 1975 introduced the National Advisory Council on the Integration of Women in Development (NACIWID) as a machinery to mobilise women’s participation in development. It was tasked with advising the entire government on women’s issues.

In 2001 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was formed with Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil acting as the Minister to solely focus on the development of women.

Three years later, the scope of the Ministry was widened to include family development and social welfare and the name was changed to its current name, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.

NACIWID has then been placed under this ministry and is called as Majlis Wanita. Instead of advising the entire government, it now only advises this one ministry.

To begin addressing women’s challenges and spearheading a way forward, the “toothless” Majlis Wanita must be revamped as the National Women’s Commission given the prime authority and power to direct, oversee, and monitor national implementation of Gender Equality and Woman Empowerment.

In accelerating women’s political leadership, an independent, non-partisan Women’s Political Institute must be set up to flourish and nurture women leadership abilities. More studies and institutes for women like the Kanita (Institut Kajian Wanita) at USM and the Gender Studies department at UM must be established and supported.

More women should be placed in decision-making positions in all spheres of life; politics, civil service, corporations and the general public.

The current simplistic target of having at least 30 percent women in decision-making positions in both the government and the private sector is beneficial. Unfortunately, we end up with an hourglass structure.

Women’s participation is observed to be heavy on top management (within the 30 percent target) and entry-level positions with hollow participation in between. More measures are required to strengthen the occupational pipeline.

Unleashing Women for a Brighter Future

While current initiatives to leverage and highlight women’s talent are laudable, other policy options must be explored, evaluated, and tailored, to enable Malaysian women to fully contribute to Malaysia’s transformation towards a high-income, inclusive, and sustainable economy.

Initiatives must be taken to end all forms of discrimination against women, to eliminate all forms of violence against women, to ensure women’s full and effective participation in all political, corporate and public affairs, to undertake reforms to equal rights to economic resources, and most importantly, to recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work.

Women are leading both in class and extracurricular activities over their minority men cohort within the higher education environment and it is pertinent for this to continue after leaving universities. A change in the stereotype of women as only housewives and child bearers must take a paradigm shift.

The status quo has been broken. Women are fast becoming income earners and providers equivalent to men but at the same time unpaid care work is not recognised. Women are tasked to work and at the same time no efforts are made to lessen their care burden. This is not healthy and is not sustainable.

In the long-term, prevailing social norms need to evolve for gender gaps to be bridged. A social re-engineering and going back to the drawing board is required to formulate the best solution for this new emerging social dynamic.

Gender sensitive education must start from school, enforced by the legal system, engendering government institutions, and also the authorities; including the police force.

Legal Support for Women

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is synonymous as an international bill of rights for women.

It has a prominent preamble and 30 articles, defining what constitutes discrimination against women and measures to end such discrimination.  As a ratifying member to CEDAW, Malaysia must integrate these articles into domestic legislation and enact the Gender Equality Act.

A revisit on existing legislation must be conducted to amend legislations which are discriminatory against women. Subsequently, every state must establish its own Gender Policy guided by pressing national concerns.

This will ensure Gender Equality will be mainstreamed in all policies and programmes from federal to state governments. Comprehensive laws must be in place to protect women from sexual harassment by enacting the Sexual Harassment Act.

Gender discrimination must be halted at all cost by penalising government departments or companies found to condone such acts and its perpetrators.

We need to protect pregnant women by adopting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Both Acts will provide legal protection to women and ensure that they feel secure at their workplace and in society, as a whole. Remember, anything that makes a woman feel inferior and takes away her self-respect is abuse.

Making Work Family Friendly

The existing tax relief for enrolling children aged 6 years and below to registered nurseries and preschools is not enough. Free nurseries at all government agencies and linked companies are severely required to assist in reducing the burden of childcare and to assist families in achieving work-life balance. This must be implemented in achieving a family friendly workplace.

As of 2015, there are 3,193 registered private child care institutions, and on top of that there’s 118 government offices and 24 private offices that provided child care. This illustrates a huge demand of private child care institutions that the government and private offices should be providing.

The government sector is slightly ahead compared to the corporate sector. Both are lacking in initiative and is largely failing to provide working mothers with better access to child care, flexible working hours and longer maternity and paternity leaves.

Childcare is a shared responsibility; which means that the attitude and treatment towards fathers will also need to change. More measures must be undertaken to ensure women have more social protection in the informal sector. This would drastically reduce the number of women leaving the workforce. Support must also be given to inculcate more women entrepreneurs.

To address the different needs between women and men, these issues have to be reflected in public transportation policy, healthcare delivery, women in politics, and strengthening corporations in promoting gender diversity.

Stakeholders’ Responsibility

All of the above calls for every stakeholder to relentlessly push for changes with full support from the government; including the agencies and the private sector.

Third party players from the civil society must be supported as they will be able to dive deep into the grassroots level, increase the awareness of Malaysians at large, and will be supplementing both the government and the private sector.

A prime example would be The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), formed in 1985, a coalition of 12 non-governmental organisations that work towards gender equality by the Association of Women Lawyers (AWL), Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), Women’s Centre for Change (WCC), Tenaganita and others.

JAG must be credited for spearheading multiple campaigns and legal reform efforts, leading to the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 1994 and the inclusion of “gender” under Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution in 2001.

Emerging NGOs such as Lean In Malaysia, Women: girls, The G-Blog, and also a social media initiative like the Leading Ladies of Malaysia and others must also be supported and sustained.

There exists a huge socio-economic benefit of tapping into and unlocking women’s potential that this country badly needs.

*Anas Alam Faizli holds a doctorate in Business Administration. He is a construction and an oil and gas professional, a concerned Malaysian and is the author of Rich Malaysia, Poor Malaysians and tweets at @aafaizli‎

 

Economists versus the Economy


December 26, 2016

Economists versus the Economy

by Lord  Skidelsky

Robert Skidelsy, Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at Warwick University and a fellow of the British Academy in history and economics, is a member of the British House of Lords. The author of a three-volume biography of John Maynard Keynes, he began his political career in the Labour party, became the Conservative Party’s spokesman for Treasury affairs in the House of Lords, and was eventually forced out of the Conservative Party for his opposition to NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999.

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https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/mathematical-economics-training-too-narrow-by-robert-skidelsky-2016-12

LONDON – Let’s be honest: no one knows what is happening in the world economy today. Recovery from the collapse of 2008 has been unexpectedly slow. Are we on the road to full health or mired in “secular stagnation”? Is globalization coming or going?

Policymakers don’t know what to do. They press the usual (and unusual) levers and nothing happens. Quantitative easing was supposed to bring inflation “back to target.” It didn’t. Fiscal contraction was supposed to restore confidence. It didn’t. Earlier this month, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, delivered a speech called “The Specter of Monetarism.” Of course, monetarism was supposed to save us from the specter of Keynesianism!

With virtually no usable macroeconomic tools, the default position is “structural reform.” But no one agrees on what it entails. Meanwhile, crackpot leaders are stirring discontented voters. Economies, it seems, have escaped from the grasp of those supposed to manage them, with politics in hot pursuit.

Before 2008, the experts thought they had things under control. Yes, there was a bubble in the housing market, but it was no worse, current Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in 2005, than a “good-sized bump in the road.”

So why did they miss the storm? This was exactly the question Queen Elizabeth of Britain asked a group of economists in 2008. Most of them wrung their hands. It was “a failure of the collective imagination of many bright people,” they explained.

But some economists supported a dissenting – and much more damning – verdict, one that focused on the failure of economics education. Most economics students are not required to study psychology, philosophy, history, or politics. They are spoon-fed models of the economy, based on unreal assumptions, and tested on their competence in solving mathematical equations. They are never given the mental tools to grasp the whole picture.

Image result for Adam Smith John Stuart Mills and friends

This takes us back to John Stuart Mill, the great nineteenth-century economist and philosopher, who believed that nobody can be a good economist if he or she is just an economist. To be sure, most academic disciplines have become highly specialized since Mill’s day; and, since the collapse of theology, no field of study has aimed to understand the human condition as a whole. But no branch of human inquiry has cut itself off from the whole – and from the other social sciences – more than economics.

This is not because of its subject matter. On the contrary, the business of earning a living still fills the greater part of our lives and thoughts. Economics – how markets works, why they sometimes break down, how to estimate the costs of a project properly – ought to be of interest to most people. In fact, the field repels all but connoisseurs of fanciful formal models.

This is not because economics prizes logical argument, which is an essential check on faulty reasoning. The real trouble is that it is cut off from the common understanding of how things work, or should work. Economists claim to make precise what is vague, and are convinced that economics is superior to all other disciplines, because the objectivity of money enables it to measure historical forces exactly, rather than approximately.

Not surprisingly, economists’ favored image of the economy is that of a machine. The renowned American economist Irving Fisher actually built an elaborate hydraulic machine with pumps and levers, allowing him to demonstrate visually how equilibrium prices in the market adjust in response to changes in supply or demand.

If you believe that economies are like machines, you are likely to view economic problems as essentially mathematical problems. The efficient state of the economy, general equilibrium, is a solution to a system of simultaneous equations. Deviations from equilibrium are “frictions,” mere “bumps in the road”; barring them, outcomes are pre-determined and optimal. Unfortunately, the frictions that disrupt the machine’s smooth operation are human beings. One can understand why economists trained in this way were seduced by financial models that implied that banks had virtually eliminated risk.

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Good economists have always understood that this method has severe limitations. They use their discipline as a kind of mental hygiene to protect against the grossest errors in thinking. John Maynard Keynes warned his students against trying to “precise everything away.” There is no formal model in his great book The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. He chose to leave the mathematical formalization to others, because he wanted his readers (fellow economists, not the general public) to catch the “intuition” of what he was saying.

Joseph Schumpeter and Friedrich Hayek, the two most famous Austrian economists of the last century, also attacked the view of the economy as a machine. Schumpeter argued that a capitalist economy develops through unceasing destruction of old relationships. For Hayek, the magic of the market is not that it grinds out a system of general equilibrium, but that it coordinates the disparate plans of countless individuals in a world of dispersed knowledge.

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From left, Russell Brand, Naomi Klein, Thomas Piketty, Yanis Varoufakis and Paul Krugman. © David Fisher/Rex, Mars Jerome/JDD/SIPA/Rex, Ben Cawthra/Rex, P Anastasselis/Rex

What unites the great economists, and many other good ones, is a broad education and outlook. This gives them access to many different ways of understanding the economy. The giants of earlier generations knew a lot of things besides economics. Keynes graduated in mathematics, but was steeped in the classics (and studied economics for less than a year before starting to teach it). Schumpeter got his PhD in law; Hayek’s were in law and political science, and he also studied philosophy, psychology, and brain anatomy.

Today’s professional economists, by contrast, have studied almost nothing but economics. They don’t even read the classics of their own discipline. Economic history comes, if at all, from data sets. Philosophy, which could teach them about the limits of the economic method, is a closed book. Mathematics, demanding and seductive, has monopolized their mental horizons. The economists are the idiots savants of our time.

The Pangs of an Itinerant Thinker– Of Ethics and Deathics


December 19, 2016

The Pangs of an Itinerant Thinker– Of Ethics and Deathics

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

In the course of my long-running participation in the human race, and my increasingly urgent strivings to figure-out where I’m likely to be placed in this enthralling event when old age and death finally force me to drop out of it, I’ve become increasingly confused about its rules.

At the start it seemed to be childishly simple. Obey the so-called commandments of some alleged heavenly father and earthly representatives like priests, parents and teachers, and you’re a guaranteed winner in either this life or the next, if not both.

But then adolescence kicked-in, activating not just antagonism to the rules, but a growing awareness that adults seemed to be running the human race according to not just a single set of rules, but countlessly competing and conflicting ones.

Some clearly and sincerely intended to render the race as fair as humanly possible, and thus genuinely ethical; but others designed to rig the contest in favour of themselves and their running-mates, and thus downright unethical, or, if you like, deathical to the rest of us also-rans.

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In other words, there is an ethical/deathical divide in the human race that explains but by no means excuses the dismal fact that, as Aristotle wrote 2,500 or so years ago in his ‘Politics’, “man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is the worst of all when divorced from law and justice.”

And, despite the system of ‘virtue’ ethics that Aristotle famously advocated as a solution to this infernal contest between good and evil in the human race, and all the myriad other ethical systems, both ‘sacred’ and secular that have been proposed before and since, the problem is seemingly eternal.

Possibly the oldest and most widely-known ethical principle, and certainly the first secular one I recall hearing about, is the so-called ‘Golden Rule’ to do unto others what we would wish others to do to us.

But, while at first sight this is a perfectly reasonable rule for the fair and successful running of the human race, on further examination it has a fatal flaw lurking in the apparently innocent word ‘others’.

Because as has been horribly evident throughout history, the word ‘others’ has been routinely (mis)interpreted as meaning and including ‘others just like ourselves’, and thus excluding all other others.

As including only other Aryans, to cite an especially evil perversion of the Golden Rule by the Nazis, but excluding non-Aryans and even allegedly non-humans like Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and other groups thus targeted for torture and killing.

And in a perennial virtually worldwide sense, including ‘others’ of our own race, skin-colour, creed, gender, nationality or some other equally spuriously significant common factor, and excluding other others accordingly.

‘He who makes the rules gets the gold’

A further problem with the Golden Rule as an ethic, of course, is that it is so easily subverted by such cynically self-serving deathics, as, for example, ‘he who has the gold makes the rules’, and the corollary intended to form greed into a vicious circle with power, ‘he who makes the rules gets the gold’.

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These Guys of the Eastern Philosophy School are beginning to make sense to us in the 21st century world–Holistic Thinking

Given all these difficulties with the Golden Rule, I personally, like Confucius (551-479BC), Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and doubtless many other philosophers, vastly prefer the Silver Rule: do not unto others what you would not want them to do to you.

While superficially this seems just a negative version of the Golden Rule, the crucial difference that becomes clear on further examination is that, while what we want for ourselves and others tends to be impossibly vague and various, we’re far more sure what we definitely don’t want and thus should not inflict on others, or, for that matter, on other others.

In other words, the Silver Rule in both theory and practice sets us free to aspire and strive toward the most golden of our aspirations by equally denying us the right to kill, rob, abuse, persecute, impoverish or otherwise disadvantage each other in ways that anybody in his or her right mind would possibly want.

And, thank goodness it’s largely the Silver Rule that forms the basis for our systems of ‘religious’ and secular law.

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UMNO’s Strategic Thinker

Unfortunately, however, laws and the systems of ethics underpinning them have always, as today by Islamic State, Boko Haram and similar rogue organisations, along with allegedly criminal ruling regimes in countless countries ranging from Russia and Syria to Zaire and Zimbabwe, not to mention Malaysia, been supplanted by the deathic variously known as the Law of the Jungle or the Iron Rule declaring that ‘might is right’.

And under this deadly deathic it is possible to discern a good many subsidiary ones that might be called, for example, the Steel Law that apparently grants the potentates, or in the case of Malaysia, the UMNOputras, the power to take what they want from the people; the Copper Law that decrees that the regime owns the police; and the Rubber Law designed to render the constitution and laws of the country sufficiently flexible as to always protect the regime and its cronies and to punish its critics and opponents.

But thankfully there are finally some signs that UMNO-BN’s Steel Law is getting rusty, its Copper Law terribly tarnished, and its Rubber Law perished beyond repair. And that there are so many good, honest, courageous and truly ethical Malaysians who are hell-bent on finally destroying this deathical regime that it’s finally and deservedly doomed.

 

“Inspiration lurks around every corner”


November 17, 2016

“Inspiration lurks around every corner”

By Ooi Kee Beng

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One of the first things that any undergraduate learns is that when writing a scientific text, he or she must provide references. In fact, without such references, a text is not considered scientific.

This referencing behaviour is meant to show that the student has been reading the correct material; and that he has been digesting the words so thoroughly that he can now include the thoughts in his own writing. Now, what a Malaysian student will end up doing is provide references to books and articles written by professors based in faraway universities and colleges.

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Dr. Ooi Kee Beng, ISEAS (Yusuf Ishak Institute, Singapore

My argument is not with this jarring asymmetry in global knowledge. It has always been the case in human history that in every period of time, knowledge is concentrated and generated at certain centres much more than at others. At the moment, much first appears in the English language and in countries using that language. What’s more, the spread of new knowledge is also strongly overseen by a global network based on that language.

Sanskrit, Latin and Chinese, among others, have played that role before. But none has the global reach and the amazing speed and width of dissemination that English today commands. The soft power that America enjoys today – and no other culture comes close to the reach of its soft power – is not merely of its own doing; it rides on the back of hundreds of years of English imperial strength and colonial mastery, during which the English language and its cultural preconditions penetrated the farthest reaches of the world.

My concern is with a serious side effect of the sharp imbalance in knowledge generation in our times. What happens is that people outside the English-speaking world are left nursing a lack of confidence, not only in themselves but also in those in close proximity to them. Their behaviour where the transfer and generation of knowledge are concerned becomes rather warped.

In writing a scientific text, for example, it is much more probable than not that a Third World person will refer an idea or train of thought to a known person from a distant land even when that idea may have come to him through some other more immediate and personal channel. This is because he had learned to assume that he gains more points among his peers by referring to the politically and academically correct person; and that his own ideas are merely approximations of that bigger idea expressed better by others.

But if we contemplate the matter and observe what actually happens in our daily life, we should realise that inspiration comes most of the time from proximate impulses and from individuals in our surrounding.

Given the habit of referring distantly, the chances of us giving credit to those around us are also diminished, and complimenting things and people in our immediate surrounding – for referencing someone is indeed a high form of compliment – is rendered suspect.

The competition among students and scholars of showing that they know something that their peers have as yet not gotten around to knowing cultivates in them the tendency to be stingy with praise and to be secretive about their immediate sources of inspiration.

This is an impoverishment of the soul and of our culture; where we withhold praise and admiration from those close to us and give generously of the same to distant and often dead persons.

Note that I am merely using academic referencing to initiate a debate on a more general matter. In my experience, inspiration can come from anywhere at any time, but if I were to inform people around me of personal epiphanies, I would not get as good a hearing as I would if I referred whatever idea I just had to some distant knowledge authority.

Perhaps this explains why prophets always come from distant lands speaking exotic languages; and sometimes bearing superior arms. Those who dare to be prophets in their homeland are forced to flee into exile or are crucified in one way or another.

Catholic hymns are sung in Latin, Japanese Buddhists chant in Chinese, and Muslim thoughts are preferred in Arabic. In the secular sphere, Coolness wears an American accent. Indeed, we seem tobe talking here about something generically human.

We tend not to join clubs that will accept us as members. Since you know me, you cannot possibly be a significant person. But I am being far too categorical here; I am not being generous. Come to think of it, there are two ideal types of people. There are those who cannot imagine that people they come into contact with can be important; and then there are those who treat all coming into their orbit as meaningful and significant. Most of us are sometimes the one, and sometimes the other.

My basic point is that, epiphanies are always waiting to happen and inspiration can come to us at any time and place. We just have to let this take place by not imagining that profundity dwells far away, and are foreign to us.

We just have to realise instead that inspiration lurks around every corner, and is present at every meeting.

This article is republished in Merdeka for the Mind: Essays  on Malaysian Struggles in the 21st Century by Dr Ooi Kee Beng (Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Centre, 2015). pp 9-11.

 

 

A.C. Grayling on why Read


October 9, 2016

Why Read

by A.C. Grayling

How many a man dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book–THOREAU

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A library is like a hive storing honey, a part of the best, sweetest and most nourishing exudate of human experience–A.C. Grayling

It seems that some doctors prescribe books instead of medicines to patients suffering from depression, stress and anxiety. The patients are referred  to a bibliotherapist–yes, bibliotherapist–who gives patients reading lists suited to their conditions. The treatment’s inspiration was the observation by librarians  that borrowers are apt to say, on returning a book, that it did them good by making them or by distracting  them from their troubles.

There are almost too many things to say about something about this amazing fact. Cynics will ask,What sort of pass are we in that people need a doctor’s prescription to prompt them to read? When did we forget that reading is, for a thousand reasons, one  of the chief resources of life! Will doctors turn to prescribing dinner for the hungry and sleep for the tired as the next step in the medicalization of human existence, or as a response to the supine inability to think and act for themselves?

There is a tincture of justice in these exclamations, but it is not appropriately directed at doctors. It should be directed at the failure of our culture to show people what rich deposits of pleasure and usefulness, and what expansion of horizons, are to be found in reading. An education in reading includes guidance–very easy to give; it takes five minutes (much less if you say, ‘Ask a librarian’, which is excellent advice)–on how to find any required book or a kind of book. And just a little experience as a reader grants access to the great country where one flies as an eagle over the history, comedy, tragedy and variety of human experience, at every point garnering much, if reading is attentive, from the abundance on offer.

The key is ‘attentive’. The best thing any education can bequeath is habits of reflection and questioning. Reading can be a passive affair, an entertainment leaving  no impression on the mind beyond a pleasant present distraction. Many books are skillfully written to demand no more, and there is nothing wrong with that But for anything more, reading has to be an activity , not a passivity. It is hard to define what makes  good books good, because good books come in so many different kinds, but one thing common to most of them is that  they make readers think and feel, elevating or disturbing them, and making them see the world differently as a result. In short, they elicit the activity in active reading. “We find little in a book but what we put there”, Joseph Joubert said. “But in great books, the mind finds room to put many things.”

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Rodin’s Thinker @ Columbia University, New York

Reading does not automatically people wiser or better. When it has that effect  it is because readers have the work themselves, quarrying the materials from  their response to the printed page (or today the e-page). But apart from practical experience of life, which is everyone’s chief tutor,scarcely anything compares with books as the mine where that quarrying can begin. To read is to enter other points of view; it is to be an invisible observer of circumstances which might never be realised in one’s own life; it is to meet people and situations exceeding in kind and number the possibilities open to individual experience. As a result, reading not only promotes self-understanding, it equips one with insights into needs, interests and desires that one might never share but which motivates others, in this way enabling one to understand, and tolerate, an even to sympathize  with, other people’s concerns. As an extension of how this informs one’s behavior towards others; it is also  the basis for civil community and the brotherhood of man.

I keep a photograph on my desk of the Philosophical Library in Strahof Monastery in Prague. Taken from the upper gallery, it captures the tranquil beauty of that deep room, filled with light from the clerestory windows in the right-hand wall.The photograph shows one long bar of sunshine  lying across a tier of book-shelves, illuminating  the richness of the leather bindings ranked there. Below, on the ground floor, three desks are disposed, among an ingenious reading wheel any scholar would envy.

This scene is wonderfully expressive to do with books, and the reading of books, with study and thought, with books as the distillations of time and man’s endeavors–even of the world itself, brought into reflective equilibrium and clothed in quietness and retreat. If, off to one side, there were a closet with a bed in it and wherewithal to make tea, one would not mind being locked in there, and the key thrown away.

A cynic might proclaim this beautiful and evocative library a mere dead mortuary of dead books, a past curiosity for dull-eyed tourists to glance at, a selling point for postcards that now represent its only product. But I think it is a work of art, and represents something opposed to the uneasy, fickle, failing norm of most human life and its compromises.

In the Library, The University of Cambodia

A library is like a hive storing honey, a part of the best, sweetest and most nourishing exudate of human experience. A commentator on Virgil’s Gerogics Book IV, which tells of honey-bees and lost love, remarked that only four things withstand time–gold, sunlight, amber and honey. Some archeologists digging in Greece once came across an ancient amphora filled to the brim with honey 2000 years old. They took a little each day to spread on their bread at breakfast. After a time they noticed that at the bottom of the amphora. When they looked, they found that it was the body of an infant.

It is an extraordinarily touching thought that the mourning parents of this child, so long ago, buried it in honey to preserve it forever. The action of great wealth and great love.

Note: This essay is from A.C. Grayling’s book, The Meaning 0f Things–Applying Philosophy to Life ( London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2001). pp. 178-181. I recommend this book because, to quote the publisher’s note, it is “a wonderfully stimulating book and an invaluable guide to what is truly  important in living life whether  facing success, failure, passion, intolerance, love, loss or any other of life’s profound experiences”– Professor Din Merican, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Henry Kissinger by Naill Ferguson


September 30, 2016

Naill Ferguson’s Kissinger: Setting the Record Neat

by Andrew Roberts

It is very rare for an official biography to be also a revisionist biography, but this one is. Usually it’s the official life that the revisionists attempt to dissect and ­refute, but such is the historical reputation of Henry Kissinger, and the avalanche of books and treatises already written about him, that Niall Ferguson’s official biography is in part an effort to revise the revisionists. Though not without trenchant criticisms, “Kissinger. Volume I. 1923-1968: The Ideal­ist” — which takes its subject up to the age of 45, about to begin his first stint of full-time government service — constitutes the most comprehensive defense of Kissinger’s outlooks and actions since his own three-volume, 3,900-page autobiography, published between 1979 and 1999.

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Unlike the revisionists, Ferguson has had access to every part of Kissinger’s vast archive at the Library of Congress, which weighs several tons and comprises 8,380 documents covering 37,645 pages on the digitized database alone. These include a heartfelt essay on “The Eternal Jew” written by the 22-year-old German-born Sergeant Kissinger after witnessing the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp; some loving but uncompromising letters to his parents about his separation from their Orthodox faith; a jejune and somewhat cringe-making teenage note to a would-be girlfriend; and the minutes he took as secretary of a Jewish youth organization to which he belonged as the Nazis were seizing power in his homeland. Although this book is long at 986 pages, and Kissinger has only just joined the Nixon administration as national security adviser when it ends, the sheer quality of the material unearthed justifies the length and detail.

Ferguson gives the full story of the Kissinger family’s experience under the Third Reich before they emigrated in 1938, and Ferguson has identified at least 23 close family members who perished in the Holocaust. (Of the 1,990 Jews who lived in their hometown, Fürth, in 1933, fewer than 40 were left by the end of the war.) The first chapters covering the Kissingers’ life in the late 1930s and early 1940s in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York recapture the Jewish immigrant experience superbly and put into perspective the fact that Henry (born Heinz) became the first foreign-born United States citizen to serve as Secretary of State.

Whereas Kissinger has regularly underplayed his bravery during World War II, Ferguson shows that he saw action during the Battle of the Bulge, where he came under severe shelling. “His very presence” in the Meuse town of Marche “was hazardous in the extreme,” Ferguson writes, as German 88s, mortar shells and a V-1 rocket pulverized “the narrow streets of the town center where the divisional HQ was based.” After V-E Day, Kissinger became an extremely effective Nazi hunter with the Counter-­Intelligence Corps.

The subtitle of the book will surprise many for whom Kissinger’s name is almost synonymous with modern realpolitik and who are familiar with the revisionist accounts that equate him with Machiavelli, Bismarck and other such thinkers and statesmen normally thought far from idealists. Yet Ferguson’s investigation of Kissinger’s intellectual roots, especially through the influence of his Army mentor Fritz Kraemer and his Harvard supervisor William Yandell Elliott, shows Kissinger was indeed an idealist in the Kantian sense, rather than in its modern American political version. Kissinger’s unpublished senior thesis, “The Meaning of History,” was an investigation into Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of history, especially in contrast to the views of Arnold Toynbee and Oswald Spengler, although Ferguson slightly dismisses it as “an exercise in academic exhibitionism.”

In his thesis, Kissinger argued that “freedom is . . . an inner experience of life as a process of deciding meaningful alternatives” and that “whatever one’s conception about the necessity of events, at the moment of their performance their inevitability could offer no guide to action.” He also said, “However we may explain actions in retrospect, their accomplishment occurred with the inner conviction of choice.” The importance of choice led Kissinger to a belief in democracy. “Kissinger was never a Machiavellian,” Ferguson argues, but neither was he an idealist of the Woodrow Wilson variety. “It was an inherently moral act,” Ferguson says of Kissinger’s outlook, “to make a choice between lesser and greater evils.”

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Henry Kissinger and his Biographer, Naill Ferguson

What brought Kissinger to huge public prominence while still only an assistant professor was his radical prescription for how to deal with the perceived (though in fact chimerical) relative weakness of the United States vis-à-vis the Soviet Union at the time of the successful launch of the Sputnik space satellite in October 1957. As Ferguson puts it, “Sputnik launched Kissinger into a new orbit.” Kissinger had only months earlier published his widely reviewed and highly controversial best seller “Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy,” which argued that the threat of a limited nuclear war was a more effective deterrent to Soviet incursions in the third world than the Eisenhower administration’s strategy of mutually assured destruction. And as Kissinger wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine, “The best opportunity to compensate for our inferiority in manpower” is “to use our superiority in technology to best advantage” (although he did rule out using any bomb of more than 500 kilotons in a tactical situation). For Ferguson, Kissinger’s argument “fails to convince,” but it won Kissinger interviews on “Face the Nation” and with The New York Herald Tribune that — once his accent and acerbic wit came to be appreciated by the American public — put him on the trajectory to intellectual rock star status that he never lost.

Partly because he described himself as an independent, Kissinger could be called upon by both political parties for advice. After failing to make an impact as a consultant to the Kennedy administration — he didn’t like the men or the methods, and they didn’t see him fitting the Camelot image — he went to work for Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York. Ferguson is clearly fascinated by what he calls the “turbulent friendship” between the aristocrat and the immigrant, and is at pains to point out that “Henry Kissinger has often been portrayed as very ruthless and calculating in his pursuit of power. But in committing himself again and again to Rockefeller, he failed to see that he was backing a man who would never be president.” Kissinger’s loyalty was based on affection and genuine admiration, rather than mere miscalculation.

Ferguson’s access to the diaries Kissinger kept before, during and after his visits to Vietnam in 1965 and 1966 allows him to argue, totally convincingly, that on his missions for the Johnson administration, Kissinger realized very early on that the United States had little or no hope of winning the war and therefore needed to enter into direct negotiations with Hanoi sooner rather than later, albeit from a position of strength. This book contains the first full account of the abortive initiative to start talks with Hanoi in 1967; as Ferguson puts it, “to an extent never previously recognized by scholars,” Kissinger attempted “to broker some kind of peace agreement with the North Vietnamese, using a variety of indirect channels of communication to Hanoi that passed through not only Paris but also Moscow.”

Yet it is in Ferguson’s comprehensive demolition of the revisionist accounts of the 1968 election by Seymour Hersh, Christopher Hitchens and others that this book will be seen as controversial. For he totally rejects the conspiracy theory that blames Kissinger for leaking details of the Paris peace negotiations to the Nixon camp, details that enabled Nixon, it was said, to persuade the South Vietnamese that they would get better treatment if he and not Hubert Humphrey were in the White House. Ferguson goes into this theory in great detail, disproving it on several grounds, but especially for its lack of even the most basic actual or circumstantial evidence. (It turns out that one of the reasons Kissinger was in Paris in 1967 was that he was secretly going to the Sorbonne to woo the only great love of his life, Nancy Maginnes, whom he subsequently married.)

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Of course it will be in the second volume that Ferguson will come to grips with the revisionists’ attacks on Kissinger’s actions involving places like Chile, Argentina, Cyprus, East Timor (and Cambodia too) and Bangladesh. The book’s introduction strongly implies that he will be acquitting Kissinger of the monstrous charge of war criminality that the revisionists have made over the years.

Yet this is no hagiography. As well as being highly critical of Kissinger’s theory of limited nuclear war, Ferguson describes a letter of his as a “solipsistic screed”; says of one of Kissinger’s books that it “remained, at root, the work of a committee”; and states that Kissinger was “even more demanding to his own subordinates” than Rockefeller was to him: “He learned to rant and rage.” The criticisms — and there are many more waspish ones — absolve Ferguson from the charge of whitewashing Kissinger and make his praise all the more credible.

This is an admiring portrait rather than a particularly affectionate one. Ferguson acknowledges in his preface all of the “conversing with him, supping with him, even traveling with him” that he did over the many years he spent researching and writing this book. But if Kissinger’s official biographer cannot be accused of falling for his subject’s justifiably famed charm, he certainly gives the reader enough evidence to conclude that Henry Kissinger is one of the greatest Americans in the history of the Republic, someone who has been repulsively traduced over several decades and who deserved to have a defense of this comprehensiveness published years ago.

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Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger

Part of Kissinger’s charm of course derives from his highly developed sense of humor, which is given full rein here. “Nobody will ever win the battle of the ­sexes,” he once joked. “There’s just too much fraternizing with the enemy.” When someone came up to him at a reception and said, “Dr. Kissinger, I want to thank you for saving the world,” he replied, “You’re welcome.” All of this was delivered in the trademark voice that the journalist Oriana Fallaci described as like “that obsessive, hammering sound of rain falling on a roof.”

Niall Ferguson already has many important, scholarly and controversial books to his credit. But if the second volume of “Kissinger” is anywhere near as comprehensive, well written and riveting as the first, this will be his masterpiece.

 

Editors’ Note: October 2, 2015

After this review of the first volume of Niall Ferguson’s authorized biography of Henry Kissinger was published, editors learned that the reviewer, Andrew Roberts, had initially been approached by a publisher to write the biography himself; he says he turned the offer down for personal reasons, and Ferguson was eventually enlisted to undertake the task. In addition, Roberts and Ferguson were credited as co-authors of a chapter contributed to a book edited by Ferguson and first published in 1997 (Roberts describes their relationship as professional and friendly, but not close). Had editors been aware of these connections, they would have been disclosed in the review.

Andrew Roberts is the Lehrman ­Institute ­Distinguished Fellow at the New-York ­Historical Society.

A version of this review appears in print on October 4, 2015, on page BR12 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Kissinger the Idealist. Today’s Paper.