On Knowledge and statecraft


January 24, 2017

On Knowledge and statecraft

by Muhammad Husni Mohd Amin

http://www.thestar.com.my

Image result for Najib, Zahid Hamidi and Hishamuddin HusseinThe 3 UMNO Goons–Dr. Zahid Hamidi, Hishamuddin Hussein and Najib Razak. They do not qualify as Philisopber-Kings. They are Malaysia’s penyamun tarbus.

 

IN Plato’s Republic, the philosopher-king is a leader who loves and embodies the cardinal virtues of wisdom, temperance, courage and justice. Therefore, the community that produced him would dispense with the mechanisms of democracy meant to curtail misuse of power by corrupt politicians who preyed upon the masses because of their ignorance.

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those others that have been tried.” This may only refer to the inadequacies of the present set-up in producing leaders who do not require constant oversight.

The leader reflects the people. The Prophet said, “As you are, so shall your leader be.” He also said, “Each of you is a shepherd (ra‘in) and each of you is responsible for his flock (ra‘iyyah)”.

The Arabic word ra‘iyyah, from which the Malay word rakyat originated, has its root in ra‘in, which also means guide, guardian or caretaker. In the worldview of Islam, both the leader and the people form a unity; they are like a single body.

The Prophet also prophesied the emergence of leaders (umara) who “will be corrupt but God may put much right through them”. Therefore, the people are obliged to be thankful when leaders do good and patient when the leaders commit evil.

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The Proof of Islam, Imam al-Ghazali, in his Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Revival of the Religious Sciences), stated that religion is established through the sultan, who is not to be belittled.

We should not justify a wrongdoing when it is proven, but our limited senses may often lead us to believe that no good may come out of the things we perceive as evil because we think evil is the absence of good.

While weed follows the cultivation of rice and there seems to be no good in growing weed, it does not stop us from planting and harvesting the rice.

A well-known Sufi figure, Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad, said, “If I had one supplication that was going to be answered, I would make it for the sultan, for the sultan’s well-being and righteousness means well-being for the land and its people.”

Another Sufi figure, Sahl al-Tustari, was once asked, “Who is the best among men?” He replied that it was the ruler, which surprised his inquirers because it was thought that rulers were the worst.

Sahl continued, “Don’t be hasty! God Most High has two glances every day: one is for the safety of the Muslims’ possessions and another for their bodies. Then, God looks into the Register of Deeds and forgives him all his sins (for his protection of both).”

But the precondition for forgiveness is that the ruler must protect both.The establishment and statecraft of our centuries-old Malay sultanates mirrored those in Islam’s civilisational epicentre, which in turn were modelled after the Prophet’s Medina.

While colonial rule modernised our country’s administration, it did not abolish the sultanates but merely interrupted them. However, colonisation also displaced the ulama’s traditional role in advising the Rulers.

It also severely impaired the ability to follow the Prophetic practice called shura in consulting scholars and learned men as well as the ability to recognise and acknowledge them properly. This is the reason for today’s greater need for checks and balances.

Even so, we are lucky to be blessed with a unique system that combines constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. This is the time when rulers work closely with the ruled towards the common good.

While our Rulers do not interfere in politics, adherence to royal protocols should not conceal the fact that the Rulers are in the best position to decree the people so that they would choose the best stewards for the nation.

Image result for UMNO members

UMNO is full of learned members –the dedaks led by Big Momma

The counsel of learned people is important in guiding a ruler’s politics because statecraft is like a knife in the kitchen – a housewife could wield the knife as a utensil or a burglar as a weapon.

Muhammad Husni Mohd Amin is senior research officer at Ikim’s Centre for Science and Environ­ment Studies. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Racism has to be opposed from the top down.


January 20, 2017

Racism has to be opposed from the top down.

by Azmi Sharom
Image result for racist najib razak

DEMOCRACY takes power away from the few, or the one, and places it in the hands of the many. Which is why we hear phrases like “people power” and “returning power to the people” bandied around when speaking about democratic reform.

Image result for mahathir mohamad

A Born Again Democrat. The late Lee Kuan Yew called him an Ultra.

Theoretically, if there is a free press, fairly delineated constituencies, independent state agencies and a respect for human rights, then the government of the day will be a reflection of the will of the people.

We, the ordinary men and women, choose our leaders. We can also “fire” them by voting them out. Therefore, we have ultimate power. However, just because power ultimately lies with the people, this does not mean that leaders have to bend to the will of the people all the time.

Sure we can vote them out (theoretically), but while they are in authority, they have a degree of freedom to do what they may deem to be right, even though the people might not like it. This is known as leadership.

This is why unpopular but ultimately worthy policies and legislation come into place. It takes leadership to do this. A person who is scared of losing popularity, especially among his core supporters, to the point of supporting noxious views, does not have leadership qualities.

Which is why if a government believes in certain things, the leaders must speak up accordingly. Conversely, they must speak up against things they don’t believe in.

Image result for racist najib razak

You are known by the company you keep: Hadi Awang, Zakir Naik,  Rani Kulop, Jamal Ikan Bakar, et.al

Let me give you an example. If a group spouts obnoxious racism, a true leader would speak out against it, even if the group members are among his supporters. If he does not do so, what it means is that he is condoning such views. Even if he is keeping silent so as to not alienate his support base, he is acting in a cowardly fashion and is in effect legitimising racism.

Now, I am saddened by the fact that racism in Malaysia is alive and well. When writing and teaching, I have consistently argued for us to move away from such attitudes. I honestly thought that there were more and more Malaysians who are of the same view. Sadly this is not so.

Surveys have shown that most Malays will vote based on race.This is depressing to the extreme. Yet, this is also the reality.

One of the reasons Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is the chosen Prime Minister candidate for Pakatan Harapan is so that he can woo the Malay vote. I am presuming his Malay nationalist background will make him palatable to those who still think along those lines.

This is the political reality, and it is beyond sad. Now, Pakatan has always claimed to be non-racially motivated. Yet they have to pander to a racially motivated electorate. This is realpolitik and it is upsetting yet understandable.

The question is, if Pakatan wins, will it try to move the nation away from such repulsive racist thinking? Will it be able to show some true leadership?

  • Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

 

How Economics Survived the Economic Crisis


January 19, 2018

How Economics Survived the Economic Crisis

by Robert (Lord) Skidelsky

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/why-no-intellectual-shift-in-economics-by-robert-skidelsky-2018-01

Unlike the Great Depression of the 1930s, which produced Keynesian economics, and the stagflation of the 1970s, which gave rise to Milton Friedman’s monetarism, the Great Recession has elicited no such response from the economics profession. Why?

LONDON – The tenth anniversary of the start of the Great Recession was the occasion for an elegant essay by the Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman, who noted how little the debate about the causes and consequences of the crisis have changed over the last decade. Whereas the Great Depression of the 1930s produced Keynesian economics, and the stagflation of the 1970s produced Milton Friedman’s monetarism, the Great Recession has produced no similar intellectual shift.

Image result for Paul Krugman

The Conscience of a Liberal–Keynesianism, Friedmanian Monetarism— Macroeconomics still needs to come up with a big new idea.

This is deeply depressing to young students of economics, who hoped for a suitably challenging response from the profession. Why has there been none?

Krugman’s answer is typically ingenious: the old macroeconomics was, as the saying goes, “good enough for government work.” It prevented another Great Depression. So students should lock up their dreams and learn their lessons.

A decade ago, two schools of macroeconomists contended for primacy: the New Classical – or the “freshwater” – School, descended from Milton Friedman and Robert Lucas and headquartered at the University of Chicago, and the New Keynesian, or “saltwater,” School, descended from John Maynard Keynes, and based at MIT and Harvard.

Freshwater-types believed that budgets deficits were always bad, whereas the saltwater camp believed that deficits were beneficial in a slump. Krugman is a New Keynesian, and his essay was intended to show that the Great Recession vindicated standard New Keynesian models.

But there are serious problems with Krugman’s narrative. For starters, there is his answer to Queen Elizabeth II’s now-famous question: “Why did no one see it coming?” Krugman’s cheerful response is that the New Keynesians were looking the other way. Theirs was a failure not of theory, but of “data collection.” They had “overlooked” crucial institutional changes in the financial system. While this was regrettable, it raised no “deep conceptual issue” – that is, it didn’t demand that they reconsider their theory.

Faced with the crisis itself, the New Keynesians had risen to the challenge. They dusted off their old sticky-price models from the 1950s and 1960s, which told them three things. First, very large budget deficits would not drive up near-zero interest rates. Second, even large increases in the monetary base would not lead to high inflation, or even to corresponding increases in broader monetary aggregates. And, third, there would be a positive national income multiplier, almost surely greater than one, from changes in government spending and taxation.

These propositions made the case for budget deficits in the aftermath of the collapse of 2008. Policies based on them were implemented and worked “remarkably well.” The success of New Keynesian policy had the ironic effect of allowing “the more inflexible members of our profession [the New Classicals from Chicago] to ignore events in a way they couldn’t in past episodes.” So neither school – sect might be the better word – was challenged to re-think first principles.

Image result for Milton Friedman

This clever history of pre- and post-crash economics leaves key questions unanswered. First, if New Keynesian economics was “good enough,” why didn’t New Keynesian economists urge precautions against the collapse of 2007-2008? After all, they did not rule out the possibility of such a collapse a priori.

Krugman admits to a gap in “evidence collection.” But the choice of evidence is theory-driven. In my view, New Keynesian economists turned a blind eye to instabilities building up in the banking system, because their models told them that financial institutions could accurately price risk. So there was a “deep conceptual issue” involved in New Keynesian analysis: its failure to explain how banks might come to “underprice risk worldwide,” as Alan Greenspan put it.

Second, Krugman fails to explain why the Keynesian policies vindicated in 2008-2009 were so rapidly reversed and replaced by fiscal austerity. Why didn’t policymakers stick to their stodgy fixed-price models until they had done their work? Why abandon them in 2009, when Western economies were still 4-5% below their pre-crash levels?

The answer I would give is that when Keynes was briefly exhumed for six months in 2008-2009, it was for political, not intellectual, reasons. Because the New Keynesian models did not offer a sufficient basis for maintaining Keynesian policies once the economic emergency had been overcome, they were quickly abandoned.

Krugman comes close to acknowledging this: New Keynesians, he writes, “start with rational behavior and market equilibrium as a baseline, and try to get economic dysfunction by tweaking that baseline at the edges.” Such tweaks enable New Keynesian models to generate temporary real effects from nominal shocks, and thus justify quite radical intervention in times of emergency. But no tweaks can create a strong enough case to justify sustained interventionist policy.

Image result for Milton Friedman

The problem for New Keynesian macroeconomists is that they fail to acknowledge radical uncertainty in their models, leaving them without any theory of what to do in good times in order to avoid the bad times. Their focus on nominal wage and price rigidities implies that if these factors were absent, equilibrium would readily be achieved. They regard the financial sector as neutral, not as fundamental (capitalism’s “ephor,” as Joseph Schumpeter put it).

Image result for paul a samuelson
Image result for paul a samuelson

Paul Anthony Samuelson (1915-2009)

Without acknowledgement of uncertainty, saltwater economics is bound to collapse into its freshwater counterpart. New Keynesian “tweaking” will create limited political space for intervention, but not nearly enough to do a proper job. So Krugman’s argument, while provocative, is certainly not conclusive. Macroeconomics still needs to come up with a big new idea.

*Lord Skidelsky, 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.

 

Next to Read:

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/paul-samuelson-economic-crisis-by-robert-skidelsky-2015-01

https://www.project-syndicate.org/onpoint/economics-in-transition-by-diane-coyle-2017-06

Racing the Machine


December  30, 2017

Racing the Machine

by Robert Skidelsky

ttps://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/automation-mckinsey-mgi-report-by-robert-skidelsky-2017-12

Economists have always believed that previous waves of job destruction led to an equilibrium between supply and demand in the labor market at a higher level of both employment and earnings. But if robots can actually replace, not just displace, humans, it is hard to see an equilibrium point until the human race itself becomes redundant.

Image result for automation

LONDON – Dispelling anxiety about robots has become a major preoccupation of business apologetics. The commonsense – and far from foolish – view is that the more jobs are automated, the fewer there will be for humans to perform. The headline example is the driverless car. If cars can drive themselves, what will happen to chauffeurs, taxi drivers, and so on?

Image result for Driverless cars

Economic theory tells us that our worries are groundless. Attaching machines to workers increases their output for each hour they work. They then have an enviable choice: work less for the same wage as before, or work the same number of hours for more pay. And as the cost of existing goods falls, consumers will have more money to spend on more of the same goods or different ones. Either way, there is no reason to expect a net loss of human jobs – or anything but continual improvements in living standards.

History suggests as much. For the last 200 years or so, productivity has been steadily rising, especially in the West. The people who live in the West have chosen both more leisure and higher income. Hours of work in rich countries have halved since 1870, while real per capita income has risen by a factor of five.

How many existing human jobs are actually “at risk” to robots? According to an invaluable report by the McKinsey Global Institute, about 50% of time spent on human work activities in the global economy could theoretically be automated today, though current trends suggest a maximum of 30% by 2030, depending mainly on the speed of adoption of new technology. The report’s midpoint predictions are: Germany, 24%; Japan, 26%; the United States, 23%; China, 16%; India, 9%; and Mexico, 13%. By 2030, MGI estimates, 400-800 million individuals will need to find new occupations, some of which don’t yet exist.

This rate of job displacement is not far out of line with previous periods. One reason why automation is so frightening today is that the future was more unknowable in the past: we lacked the data for alarmist forecasts. The more profound reason is that current automation prospects herald a future in which machines can plausibly replace humans in many spheres of work where it was thought that only we could do the job.

Economists have always believed that previous waves of job destruction led to an equilibrium between supply and demand in the labor market at a higher level of both employment and earnings. But if robots can actually replace, not just displace, humans, it is hard to see an equilibrium point until the human race itself becomes redundant.

The MGI report rejects such a gloomy conclusion. In the long run, the economy can adjust to provide satisfying work for everyone who wants it. “For society as a whole, machines can take on work that is routine, dangerous, or dirty, and may allow us to use our intrinsically human talents more fully and enjoy more leisure.”

This is about as good as it gets in business economics. Yet there are some serious gaps in the argument.

The first concerns the length and scope of the transition from the human to the automated economy. Here, the past may be a less reliable guide than we think, because the slower pace of technological change meant that job replacement kept up with job displacement. Today, displacement – and thus disruption – will be much faster, because technology is being invented and diffused much faster. “In advanced economies, all scenarios,” McKinsey writes, “result in full employment by 2030, but transition may include periods of higher unemployment and [downward] wage adjustments,” depending on the speed of adaptation.

This poses a dilemma for policymakers. The faster the new technology is introduced, the more jobs it eats up, but the quicker its promised benefits are realized. The MGI report rejects attempts to limit the scope and pace of automation, which would “curtail the contributions that these technologies make to business dynamism and economic growth.”

Given this priority, the main policy response follows automatically: massive investment, on a “Marshall Plan scale,” in education and workforce training to ensure that humans are taught the critical skills to enable them to cope with the transition.

The report also recognizes the need to ensure that “wages are linked to rising productivity, so that prosperity is shared with all.” But it ignores the fact that recent productivity gains have overwhelmingly benefited a small minority. Consequently, it pays scant attention to how the choice between work and leisure promised by economists can be made effective for all.

Finally, there is the assumption running through the report that automation is not just desirable, but irreversible. Once we have learned to do something more efficiently (at lower cost), there is no possibility of going back to doing it less efficiently. The only question left is how humans can best adapt to the demands of a higher standard of efficiency.

Philosophically, this is confused, because it conflates doing something more efficiently with doing it better. It mixes up a technical argument with a moral one. Of the world promised us by the apostles of technology, it is both possible and necessary to ask: Is it good?

Is a world in which we are condemned to race with machines to produce ever-larger quantities of consumption goods a world worth having? And if we cannot hope to control this world, what is the value of being human? These questions may be outside McKinsey remit, but they should not be off limits to public discussion.

Robert Skidelsky, 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.

 

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh for Xmas and 2018


December 23, 2017

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh for Xmas and 2018

Image result for merry christmas and happy new year
Dr. Kamsiah Haider in Kuala Lumpur and Din Merican in Phnom Penh wish all our friends and associates around the world a Merry Christmas 2017 and prosperous New Year, 2018. We are indeed grateful for your warm friendship and support we enjoyed during 2017. We forward to working with you in the coming year and together we can make our world a better place.
Image result for Din Merican and Kamsiah Haider
We have little time for politicians and ideologues as they are a crop of egoistic, misogynistic  and greedy people. All we have to do is to look at Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan and other places to see for ourselves their handiwork. People are their victims, especially women, children and the elderly. They have lost the moral high ground and we must put our differences aside and work hard for peace.
On the occasion of Christmas and the New Year 2018, may we ask Michael Jackson to sing for us his famous song, Make The World a Better Place. –Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican.

The Glory of Democracy


December 16, 2017

 

Image result for the fall of the berlin wall

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Communism fell with it. Liberal democracy seemed triumphant. Democracies sprouted in Central Europe. Apartheid fell in South Africa. The Oslo process seemed to herald peace in the Middle East.

Then it all went bad. Tribalism and authoritarianism are now on the march while the number of democracies declines. Far worse has been the degradation of democracies, especially in our own country. The Congress barely functions. We have a president who ignores facts and violates basic decency. On college campuses, according to a Brookings/UCLA survey, 50 percent of students believe that “offensive” speech should be shouted down and 20 percent believe it should be violently crushed.

In short, we used to have a certain framework of decency within which we held our debates, and somehow we’ve lost our framework. We took our liberal democratic values for granted for so long, we’ve forgotten how to defend them. We have become democrats by habit and no longer defend our system with a fervent faith.

So over the next few months I’m going to use this column, from time to time, to go back to first principles, to go over the canon of liberal democracy — the thinkers who explained our system and why it is great.

Image result for Thomas Mann on Democracy

I’m going to start with Thomas Mann’s “The Coming Victory of Democracy.” Mann, possibly the greatest novelist of his era, fled the Nazis and came to America. In 1938, he gave a series of lectures against fascism, Communism and the America Firsters

Democracy begins with one great truth, he argued: the infinite dignity of individual men and women. Man is made in God’s image. Unlike other animals, humans are morally responsible. Yes, humans do beastly things — Mann had just escaped the Nazis — but humans are the only creatures who can understand and seek justice, freedom and truth. This trinity “is a complex of an indivisible kind, freighted with spirituality and elementary dynamic force.”

“Man is nature’s fall from grace, only it is not a fall, but just as positively an elevation as conscience is higher than innocence,” he writes. Original sin “is the deep feeling of man as a spiritual being for his natural infirmities and limitations, above which he raises himself through spirit.”

Democracy, Mann continues, is the only system built on respect for the infinite dignity of each individual man and woman, on each person’s moral striving for freedom, justice and truth. It would be a great error to think of and teach democracy as a procedural or political system, or as the principle of majority rule.

It is a “spiritual and moral possession.” It is not just rules; it is a way of life. It encourages everybody to make the best of their capacities — holds that we have a moral responsibility to do so. It encourages the artist to seek beauty, the neighbor to seek community, the psychologist to seek perception, the scientist to seek truth.

Monarchies produce great paintings, but democracy teaches citizens to put their art into action, to take their creative impulses and build a world around them. “Democracy is thought; but it is thought related to life and action.” Democratic citizens are not just dreaming; they are thinkers who sit on the town council. He quotes the philosopher Bergson’s dictum: “Act as men of thought, think as men of action.”

In his day, as in ours, democracy had enemies and the prospects could look grim. Mann argued that the enemies of democracy aren’t just fascists with guns. They are anybody who willfully degrades the public square — the propagandists and demagogues. “They despise the masses … while they make themselves the mouthpiece of vulgar opinion.” They offer bread and circuses, tweets and insults, but have nothing but a “rabbit horizon” — all they see is the grubby striving for money and power and attention.

Image result for Thomas Mann’s “The Coming Victory of Democracy.

The authoritarians and the demagogues subjugate action through bullying and they subjugate thought by arousing mob psychology. “This is the contempt of pure reason, the denial and violation of truth in favor of power and the interests of the state, the appeal to the lower instincts, to so-called ‘feeling,’ the release of stupidity and evil from the discipline of reason and intelligence.”

They possess the “kind of contempt which strives with all its might to degrade and corrupt humanity in order to force the people to do its will.”

Mann has confidence in democracy’s ultimate victory because he has confidence in democracy’s ability to renew itself, to “put aside the habit of taking itself for granted.”

Renewal means reform. He calls for economic and political reform that, quoting a French deputy, “will create a true hierarchy of values, put money in the service of production, production in the service of humanity, and humanity itself in the service of an ideal which gives meaning to life.”

Mann’s great contribution is to remind us that democracy is not just about politics; it’s about the individual’s daily struggle to be better and nobler and to resist the cheap and the superficial. Democrats like Mann hold up a lofty image of human flourishing. They inspire a great yearning to live up to it.