How to Get Beyond Our Tribal Politics


January 15, 2017

The most-watched made-for-TV movie in American history is “The Day After,” a 1983 portrayal of life in Kansas and Missouri in the days just before and after an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. If you’ve had even fleeting thoughts that Tuesday’s election could bring about the end of the world or the destruction of the country, you might want to find “The Day After” on YouTube, scroll to minute 53 and watch the next six minutes. Now that’s an apocalypse.

It’s an absurd comparison, of course, but the absurdity is helpful. It reminds us that no matter how bad things seem, we have a lot to be grateful for. The Soviet Union is gone, and life in America has gotten much better since the 1980s by most objective measures. Crime is way down, prosperity and longevity are way up, and doors are open much more widely for talented people from just about any demographic group. Yes, we have new problems, and the benefits haven’t been spread evenly, but if you look at the big picture, we are making astonishing progress.

Watching “The Day After” also might help Americans to tone down the apocalyptic language that so many have used about the presidential race. On the right, some speak of this as the “Flight 93 election,” meaning that America has been hijacked by treasonous leftists who are trying to crash the plane, so electing Donald Trump to rush the cockpit is the only sane choice. On the left, some think that a Trump victory would lead to a constitutional crisis followed by a military coup, fascism and dictatorship.

Nearly half the country will therefore wake up deeply disappointed on the morning of Nov. 9, and many members of the losing side will think that America is doomed. Those on the winning side will feel relieved, but many will be shocked and disgusted that nearly half of their fellow citizens voted for the moral equivalent of the devil. The disgust expressed by both sides in this election is particularly worrisome because disgust dehumanizes its targets. That is why it is usually fostered by the perpetrators of genocide—disgust makes it easier for ordinary citizens to kill their neighbors.

In short, the day after this election is likely to be darker and more foreboding than the day after just about any U.S. election since 1860. Is it possible for Americans to forgive, accept and carry on working and living together?

We think that it is. After all, civility doesn’t require consensus or the suspension of criticism. It is simply the ability to disagree productively with others while respecting their sincerity and decency. That can be hard to do when emotions run so high. But if we understand better the psychological causes of our current animosity, we can all take some simple steps to turn it down, free ourselves from hatred and make the next four years better for ourselves and the country. Three time-honored quotations can serve as guides.

“Me against my brother, my brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers.” —Bedouin saying

Human nature is tribal. We form teams easily, most likely because we have evolved for violent intergroup conflict. Our minds take to it so readily that we invent myths, games and sports—including war games like paintball—that let us enjoy the pleasures of intergroup conflict without the horrors of actual war.

The tribal mind is adept at changing alliances to face shifting threats, as the Bedouin saying indicates. We see such shifts after party primaries, when those who backed a losing candidate swing around to support the nominee. And we saw it happen after the 9/11 attacks, when the country came together to support the president and the military in the invasion of Afghanistan.

But with the exception of the few months after 9/11, cross-partisan animosity has been rising steadily since the late 1990s. This year, for the first time since Pew Research began asking in 1994, majorities in both parties expressed not just “unfavorable” views of the other party but “very unfavorable” views. Those ratings were generally below 20% throughout the 1990s. And more than 40% in each party now see the policies of the other party as being “so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.” Those numbers are up by about 10 percentage points in both parties just since 2014.

So what will happen the next time there is a major terrorist attack? Will we come together again? Or will the attack become a partisan football within hours, as happened after the various lone-wolf attacks of the past year? Something is broken in American tribalism. It is now “my brothers and me against my cousins” all the time, even when we are threatened by strangers and even when there is no threat at all.

Democracy requires trust and cooperation as well as competition.

Democracy requires trust and cooperation as well as competition. A healthy democracy features flexible and shifting coalitions. We must find a way to see citizens on the other side as cousins who are sometimes opponents but who share most of our values and interests and are never our mortal enemies.

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?… You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”Jesus, in Matthew 7:3-5

Our tribal minds are equipped with a powerful tool: shameless and clueless hypocrisy. It is a general rule of psychology that “thinking is for doing”: We think with a particular purpose in mind, and often that purpose isn’t to find the truth but to defend ourselves or attack our opponents.

Psychologists call this process “motivated reasoning.” It is found whenever self-interest is in play. When the interests of a group are added to the mix, this sort of biased, god-awful reasoning becomes positively virtuous—it signals your loyalty to the team. This is why partisans find it so easy to dismiss scandalous revelations about their own candidate while focusing so intently on scandalous revelations about the other candidate.

Motivated reasoning has interacted with tribalism and new media technologies since the 1990s in unfortunate ways. Social media, hackers and Google searches now help us to find hundreds of specks in our opponents’ eyes, but no technology can force us to acknowledge the logs in our own.

“Nature has so formed us that a certain tie unites us all, but…this tie becomes stronger from proximity.” —Cicero, “On Friendship”

Humans are tribal, but tribalism can be transcended. It exists in tension with our extraordinary ability to develop bonds with other human beings. Romeo and Juliet fell in love. French, British and German soldiers came out of their trenches in World War I to exchange food, cigarettes and Christmas greetings.

The key, as Cicero observed, is proximity, and a great deal of modern research backs him up. Students are more likely to become friends with the student whose dorm room is one door away than with the student whose room is four doors away. People who have at least one friend from the other political party are less likely to hate the supporters of that party.

But tragically, Americans are losing their proximity to those on the other side and are spending more time in politically purified settings. Since the 1980s, Democrats have been packing into the cities while the rural areas and exurbs have been getting more Republican. Institutions that used to bring people together—such as churches—are now splitting apart over culture war issues such as gay marriage.

Ever more of our social life is spent online, in virtual communities or networks that are politically homogeneous. When we do rub up against the other side online, relative anonymity often leads to stunning levels of incivility, including racist and sexist slurs and threats of violence.

So are we doomed? Will the polarizing trends identified by Pew just keep going until the country splits in two? Maybe John Adams was right in 1814 when he wrote, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.”

But we have lasted 240 years so far, and both sides agree that America is worth fighting for. We just have to see that the fight isn’t always against each other; it is also a struggle to adapt our democracy and our habits for polarizing times and technologies.

Illustration: Luci Gutiérrez

Some of these adaptations will require changes to laws and institutions. Some will come from improving technology as we fine-tune social media to reward productive disagreement while filtering out trolling and intimidation.

And many of the changes must come from each of us, as individuals who have friends, co-workers and cousins who voted for the other side. How will we treat them as customers, employees, students and neighbors? What will we say to them at Thanksgiving dinner?

If you would like to let go of anger on Nov. 9 without letting go of your moral and political principles, here is some advice, adapted from ancient wisdom and modern research.

First, separate your feelings about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton from your feelings about their supporters. Political scientists report that since the 1980s, Americans have increasingly voted against the other side’s candidate, rather than voting enthusiastically for their own, and that is especially true this time. So don’t assume that most people on the other side like or even agree with their candidate on any particular issue. They may be voting out of fears and frustrations that you don’t understand, but if you knew their stories, you might well empathize with them.

Second, step back and think about your goals. In the long run, would you rather change people or hate them? If you actually want to persuade or otherwise influence people, you should know that it is nearly impossible to change people’s minds by arguing with them. When there is mutual antipathy, there is mutual motivated reasoning, defensiveness and hypocrisy.

But anything that opens the heart opens the mind as well, so do what you can to cultivate personal relationships with those on the other side. Spend time together, and let the proximity recommended by Cicero strengthen ties. Familiarity does not breed contempt. Research shows that as things or people become familiar, we like them more.

Emotions often drive reasoning, so as our hearts harden, our thinking also calcifies, and we become dogmatic. We are less able to think flexibly and address the social problems that we claim to care about. As John Stuart Mill wrote in 1859, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” So cultivating a few cross-partisan friendships will make you smarter as well as calmer, even if polarization grows worse.

And if you do find a way to have a real conversation with someone on the other side, approach it skillfully. One powerful opener is to point to a log in your own eye—to admit right up front that you or your side were wrong about something. Doing this at the start of a conversation signals that you aren’t in combat mode. If you are open, trusting and generous, your partner is likely to reciprocate.

Tom Lehane, left, a Trump supporter, has a disagreement with Clinton supporter Hila Minshen before a Trump rally on Sept. 9, 2016 in Pensacola, Fla.
Tom Lehane, left, a Trump supporter, has a disagreement with Clinton supporter Hila Minshen before a Trump rally on Sept. 9, 2016 in Pensacola, Fla. Photo: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

Another powerful depolarizing move is praise, as we saw in the second Clinton-Trump debate. After more than 90 minutes of antagonism, a member of the town-hall audience brought the evening to a close with this question: “Would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”

Mrs. Clinton began with weak praise by saying that she respects Mr. Trump’s children. But then she made it strong and generous by noting how “incredibly able” those children are and how devoted they are to their father, adding, “I think that says a lot about Donald.” Mr. Trump responded in kind: “I will say this about Hillary. She doesn’t quit, and she doesn’t give up. I respect that.”

That brief exchange was emotionally powerful—the only uplifting moment of the night for many viewers. Had it been the opening exchange, might the debate have been more elevated, more constructive?

This has been a frightening year for many Americans. Questions about the durability, legitimacy and wisdom of our democracy have been raised, both here and abroad. But the true test of our democracy—and our love of country—will come on the day after the election. Starting next Wednesday, each of us must decide what kind of person we want to be and what kind of relationship we want to have with our politically estranged cousins.

Dr. Haidt is a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, a fellow at the Martin Prosperity Institute and the author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Dr. Iyer is a social psychologist and data scientist at the website Ranker and the executive director of CivilPolitics.org.

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.

Image result for Working Graduate Mothers

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

 

Dr. Munir looks back at 2016


January 7, 2017

Dr. Munir looks back at 2016

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

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Not a single Western political leader has had the guts to tell their people they had to accept a lower standard of living, that it was time for a great reset. Build up productivity and capacity again. Meanwhile, if you go to the pub, go only once a month. If you shampoo your hair once a week, do it fortnightly. Taking holidays abroad in countries whose people you come to hate when you get home will have to take a rest. If you work only 35 hours a week, as in France, what do you expect?–Dr. Munir Majid

The descent from globalism to nativism is the defining story of 2016, but the analysis of its cause and projection of the world into 2017 by intellectual custodians of the liberal order are flawed and offer no guide on how to break the fall.

The Brexit vote in Britain in June, the election of Donald Trump in November and the threatening reactionary outcome of elections in France and Germany next year all point to the end of a certain system by which the world has operated, even if what exactly would replace it is less than clear. If the great Western nations of the world change direction, then the rest must.

A broader perspective, however, would recognise the troubles and decisions of 2016 and what might come in 2017 had a gestation period that began at least from the Western financial crisis of 2008, too often called and accepted as the global financial crisis.

What the West continues to grapple with is how to live beyond its means. There was the criminal excess of the banks leading to the 2008 crisis, of course, but underlying it was the ethic of expectation of a certain standard of living, whether or not one worked for it or was productive enough to deserve it.

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Marie Le Pen, Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin–The End of Liberal Global Order

If you do not have the means to get what you want you have to borrow to get it, unless of course you stole and pillaged. So Western states and individuals kept on borrowing, or the central banks printed money to keep the economy going, which it always did not as the money kept going out where it could be more productively used.

Not a single Western political leader has had the guts to tell their people they had to accept a lower standard of living, that it was time for a great reset. Build up productivity and capacity again. Meanwhile, if you go to the pub, go only once a month. If you shampoo your hair once a week, do it fortnightly. Taking holidays abroad in countries whose people you come to hate when you get home will have to take a rest. If you work only 35 hours a week, as in France, what do you expect?

Did any of this happen? People may lose jobs as they could not compete, but they get state support and they blame others like the migrant European workers who could work, who took jobs they did not want to do.

Immigration becomes the issue. And when refugees pour in who also bring with them the threat, and execution, of terror, an inflection point is reached. Sociologists now analyse this as a threat to identity, which certainly is used in rousing emotions during political campaigns, but there was at least equally a revolt against the economic and social condition those not doing so well in life were in.

They are now so widely called the under-served. In the case of Brexit, there was no doubt the uprising of the Little Englander, but there was also the let-us-just-bloody-well-get-out-and-see-what-happens attitude.

While some in the shires thought like this, I also know of a few non-white working class Brits who voted to get out just on this basis. When I asked one such person in London, who is a chauffeur to an unbearable boss, why he did such an irresponsible act, he tried to justify it by associating himself with the workers in Sunderland of whom he knows absolutely nothing.

The thing is, who speaks to such people? The academics and intellectuals only talk among themselves in an idiom only they can understand. Even after Trump, when they pronounced there has been a great failure to address the under-served – which the President-elect on the other hand did so well – they are still talking to and being clever with one another.

My friend Francois Heisbourg, Chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, beautifully describes Marine Le Pen’s appeal to the French: “Donald Trump makes Marine Le Pen sound reasonable…..Everyone knows she’s not Trump – she knows how to use a noun and a verb and is intellectually coherent about what she wants and doesn’t want.”

What, for God’s sake, are the arguments that can be used effectively with the ordinary Frenchman that they can understand and appreciate in favour of the liberal order? Paul Krugman likens what is happening to America to how the Roman Republic was destroyed by individuals disloyal to it serving only their own selfish cause. Pray, how many among the Americans who voted for Trump know, or care, anything about the history of Rome?

The Economist, that great citadel of the liberal order, makes a clarion call for its defence and for liberals not to lose heart. How and what to do? Certainly not by talking to one another. Or by communicating in a language and idiom a lower order would not understand.

With perfect Euro-centrism an English commentator fears the Syrian conflict may turn out to be like the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Has he not heard of the Palestinian struggle which has spawned much of the bloodshed in the Middle East and beyond?

There are three gaping holes in the defence of the “global” liberal order. First there is a blind spot about having to have a lower standard of living unless you earn a higher one. Second, an inability among liberal intellectuals to communicate except among themselves. Third, a reflection on the threat through western eyes only.

The second weakness is endemic. It is a truly global malady. Intellectuals, whether in the West or Malaysia or anywhere else, should not disdain populism, which is the bad word now in all the commentary on the threat to the global liberal order. They will not stoop so low – as Trump did – to gain support. Well, stoop less low or in a different way. Dirty your hands. Reach out.

We don’t communicate simply, when there are simple terms that convey meaning. We think we are so high and mighty.

Actually if you think about it – and this is especially for the blinkered Western intellectuals – the exemplar of populism, and darned effective with it, is UMNO. You may wince at the kris-wielding antics and other forms of political theatre, and you may not agree with some or most of the policies propounded, but you have to admit they rabble rouse their way to considerable support.

Yucks… but that was the yucks that caused Donald Trump to win. You have to get popular support. You do not do so talking to one another from university pulpits, in the parlours of Georgetown in Washington DC, in Hampstead or indeed at the Royal Selangor Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur.

Now, why do Western intellectuals particularly not talk about having to accept a lower standard of living? Well, they too will have to do so. The levels of income of the journalists and professors and consultants actually are very high, and they do a lot of talking outside their paid job for which they are paid more. Can they look the lowly worker in the eye and say you have to be paid less?

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Farewell and Thank You Mr. President for keeping the world  safe, despite setbacks . We in Asia will miss you for your engagement with us.

There has been a historic transfer of savings from countries with a lower standard of living to those higher so they stay there. As these poorer countries need and want rich country currency – particularly the dollar – for their economic life in their global liberal order, the rich not only get the savings from the poor to sustain their economic life in that global liberal order. They also are able to print money for the extras they might want.

They would be risking their own interest if they began to start talking to under served workers in their domestic economy about income levels that can be sustained by actual production – which is what developing countries have to live by, global liberal order or not.

Now the most important main benefit poorer countries obtain from that order is being threatened – their ability and success in producing goods and services which can reach any consumer in open global competition.

Donald Trump is breaking the rules for America because the US cannot otherwise compete. So he wants to protect the American market against better able, more efficient and cheaper producers – the developing countries.

While enjoyment – and denial – of these goods and services is one thing, and while undoubtedly there will in the immediate-term be a rebound of the US economy, who in the medium and long-term is going to hold Western debt so that the high standard of living in rich countries can continue? They do not save to finance the economy. They do not efficiently produce many of the goods and services they enjoy. They need also to take advantage, through trade and investment, of the real growth in developing regions such as in East and South-East Asia.

Therefore on this score alone – the need for an open and competitive global trading system – there is true convergence of interest in the world. The poorer countries will have to take it, warts and all. And the rich Western nations, with their proponents of the global liberal order, will certainly want to keep it all.

The skewered balance in the global liberal order is sustained by an intellectual convention which is Euro-centric but commanding across the globe. Leaders in politics and thought in non-Western countries only have themselves to blame for this.

They accept almost carte blanche what Western liberals submit. Don’t get me wrong. There are so many good things about western liberals and the liberal order.

I don’t think there has ever been in history such a constituency of liberals as there are in the West who would fight for the rights of the victimized and the downtrodden, like refugees, non-whites and Muslims, as there is in the western world today. Even as extreme and violent Muslims blow them up. The adherence to the value of love against hate, and of tolerance against incitement, is of the highest human order.

The other thing developing countries could imbibe from the Western liberal order is the rule of law. This is the strongest defence and guarantee of individual rights there has ever been in human history.

Image result for Lee Kuan YewSuccessful leader: Lee Kuan Yew made Singapore economically successful as a result of the purely utilitarian benefit of the rule of the law

When the laws are applied and enforced without fear or favour, there is faith in the social contract that underlies the polity. This is the main failing of most developing countries, which they would do well to learn from the West, beyond the purely utilitarian benefit of the rule of law that drove Lee Kuan Yew to make Singapore economically successful.

But, despite all this truly profound contribution of liberals and the liberal order of the West, it does not mean we must accept everything from them hook, line and sinker, especially every bit of the analysis of what has gone or is going wrong with the world.

Or the selling of expertise on how to get things right. Their record on that score is poor. We have too many such offerings, in Malaysia for instance, of how to develop our financial system and to train our financial practitioners. We must not be stupid to give money for old rope.

As we go into the new year, we should not be overwhelmed by analyses of what happened in 2016 and why. We must have a clarity and sense of perspective of the causes leading to it. And we must look forward to 2017 without the colonial mentality which makes us slaves to Western thought.

 

Democracy in Southeast Asia: A Conversation Between Michael Vatikiotis and Bridget Welsh


December 31, 2016

Democracy in Southeast Asia: A Conversation Between Michael Vatikiotis and Bridget Welsh

http://thcasean.org/read/articles/319/Democracy-in-Southeast-Asia-A-Conversation-Between-Michael-Vatikiotis-and-Bridget-Welsh

Journey through the ebbs and flows of democracy in ASEAN via a conversation between Michael Vatikiotis, a veteran journalist and writer living in Singapore, and Dr. Bridget Welsh, who is a Senior Associate Fellow of the Habibie Center in Jakarta. Their conversation on the state of democracy in Southeast Asia traces the history of the push for democracy in the different countries of the region, current challenges and future prospects. (This article is first published in special issue.)

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Michael Vatikiotis is a writer and journalist living in Singapore. After training as a journalist with the BBC in London, he moved to Asia and was a correspondent and then editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review. He has written two novels set in Indonesia.

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Dr. Bridget Welsh is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University; a Senior Associate Fellow of the Habibie Center in Jakarta; and a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia. She analyzes Southeast Asian politics, especially Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Indonesia.

Image result for bridget welsh national taiwan universityDr. Bridget Welsh

Bridget Welsh (BW): Michael, why don’t you begin. Where do you think the state of democracy is in the region?

Michael Vatikiotis (MV): Well, if you take a glass half-full approach, then I suppose you would look at the long arch of history of democracy over the last 40 years. I argue that in many countries of Southeast Asia there has been a gradual improvement in the forms of governments that have begun to look more and more institutionally like functioning democracies.

So to break that down, you have of course a wave of democratization that began with the People’s Power revolution in the Philippines in mid-1980s which was itself an outgrowth of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution in the mid-1970s that sparked what Samuel Huntington called the ‘third wave of democratization.’ This eventually reached the shores of Southeast Asia and manifested itself initially in left wing movements, student disruptions and protests in mid 1970s. Thailand saw a crackdown on student movements that led to people fleeing into the jungle and joining the communist insurgency. Similarly in Indonesia, there was the Malari incident which led to a crackdown on campus politics. In Malaysia too, there was a student agitation in the mid-1970s. By the early 80s things had come to a head in the Philippines with the implementation of martial law, the corruption of Marcos’ rule and the deep sense of unease that many people felt because of the way that they were treated by Marcos, either arrested, detained or worse. In 1983, with the murder of Benigno Aquino as he stepped out of a plane from Taiwan at Manila Airport, these finally weld up into a massive popular protest.

At the time I was a young journalist in BBC. I remember covering it from London, and it was a very exciting time, especially the whole notion of ‘people’s power.’ This was well before any of the colored revolutions that have taken place in this century. This was before the end of Cold War. It was also the very first time that CNN had covered this sort of story so far away with live camera shots of the protests. There was a sense that nothing like this had really happened before in postcolonial Southeast Asia. It was shown and reported in a very vivid manner and it also very quickly brought an end to very despotic ruler. Within a matter of weeks Ferdinand Marcos was on a plane to Hawaii.

As a side note, I think it was also very important time because up until the mid-1980s, the United States and other Western powers firmly back autocratic regimes because they were anti-communist. This changed with the ‘people’s power’ revolution on the streets of Manila. The color of the revolution was yellow, not red. You had this mild-mannered widow of Benigno Aquino who took over. She was not threatening. She didn’t seem to be communist. This allowed the United States and other Western powers to embrace a popular revolution without having to abandon their sort of anti-communist credentials. There was a sense of relief that they didn’t have to support an autocrat, because he was anti-communist.

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This set the region on the path where people expected greater openness and democratization, but it was a faltering path. It led in 1989 to a rash of students protests in Indonesia, where there was pressure on Indonesia’s government to become more open. Soeharto grudgingly allowed more openness, but it did not really bring about democratization. Similarly in Malaysia, we saw attempts to have more open system. This was met by a crackdown in Operation Lalang. Initial pressures on governments to be more open did not really work. Most tragically in Burma, the 1988 student uprising which did take its inspiration directly from ‘people’s power’ failed, spectacularly and tragically so with a huge loss of life. The assumption that ‘people’s power’ would lead to greater democratization essentially let us all down and we experienced another decade of demi-democracy at best.

Then we had the financial crisis. In 1997 there was another round of turmoil, and again there were assumptions made about the impact of the economic financial crisis on the way it would affect authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes. It was assumed that now governments would need to be reformed, need to open up and be more transparent; and better serve the people. There was pressure in Malaysia. Obviously, what happened in Indonesia was the Soeharto regime fell, collapsed under the weight of its own authoritarian inefficiency. However, once again, we all felt that there was going to be a democratic dividend from the financial crisis. If one recalls the first few years of the Indonesia transition, the initial two or three years were disappointing. You essentially had a bunch of people who had served Soeharto who basically changed their shirts and became democrats all of sudden. There was marginally more open government, but it took at least five years for the reform period to have an impact. Decentralization of government in 1999 was a first good step. But, do not forget there was also a lot of violence associated in the reformasi period in Indonesia. Many people were generally unhappy with the first few years of that period.

There was no real democratic impact on the rest of the region. Burma continued to be ruled by a nasty military regime. Mahathir continued to rule the roost in Malaysia. In the Philippines during this period there was several setbacks to democratic government in a form of attempted military interventions and impeachments of politicians. So again, while there were these promises of reform and democratization, the overall regional democratic impact was less than expected.

BW: I think if we look at the situation now, we have three different patterns. The first of which is a democratic deficit in the region’s more democratic countries, namely Indonesia and Philippines. Here there are demands for better governance that are not being met by democratic governments. This is true particularly over the issue of corruption, but this extends to social services and economic policies that are not addressing the needs of the masses. This has fueled authoritarian nostalgia, support for more autocratic rule. This was evident in Indonesia’s 2014 election and more recently with the election of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Large shares of these societies want more strongman rule because of a lack of effective democratic governance. Furthermore, democratic conditions in democracies are contracting, with the rise of intolerance toward minorities and violations of civil liberties.

The second trajectory is the continued stranglehold of one party dominant systems in the region.  This is the case in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and, of course, Singapore. The trend has been increasing use of authoritarian measures against opponents. While opposition in all of these countries has expanded with greater access to information and rising aspirations of new generations, perhaps with the exception of Laos, Southeast Asians governments have used their control of political systems to stay in office. From the manipulation of electoral rules to arrests and control of the media, the incumbents are holding on. Some of these measures are more blatant than others, such as Malaysia’s Najib Tun Razak’s government’s arrest of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and more recently the imprisonment of Bersih chairperson Maria Chin-Abdullah for ‘terrorism,’ but the trend has been across the region. We have witnessed a broad democratic recession in Southeast Asia in the past five years, especially in the one-party dominant countries.

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A Thai Protester

The third pattern is one of regime change in two Southeast Asian countries. The first is military takeover in Thailand with the May 2014 coup. The Prayut government has arguably been one of the most repressive military governments in Thai history, with fear and repression deeply felt. Sadly, the other country affected by Huntington’s third wave, which began democratizing gradually from the late 1980s, is serving as the prime example of the region’s growing authoritarianism. The second has been in Myanmar, where the election of Aung San Suu Kyi National League for Democracy (NLD) has fundamentally opened up the system.  Myanmar is facing the same troubles you spoke about just now after 1999 in Indonesia. There is violence especially on the periphery, contributing to the serious humanitarian conditions of the Rohingyas, and other concerns for ethnic minorities. There are real challenges in weakening the power of the military as well, which extends to the economy as well as security situation. Democracy in Myanmar remains fragile.

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Protest in Myanmar

MV: The question to answer is why. If we move from glass half full at the end of last century to the glass half empty at the beginning the 21st century, the question is what can explain the democracy deficits? To be honest, it is quite hard to find a simple explanation that embraces the breadth of situations in the region. I believe we must categorize the failures.  I think the first failure is institutionalization. In all the countries where we see democratic progress, one of the weakest elements of the reform program has been institutionalizing the changes that have been made. That is mainly because the nature of political culture in Southeast Asia is personal. It largely involves groups of followers owing allegiance to individuals whether they are in bureaucracy or in the political establishment. There has never been a need to institutionalize these networks, because they are fluid and rest on a great deal of patronage. It is very paternalistic and in a paternalistic system you do not actually want to build an institution that would succeed you. I think this sort of combination of personality politics and leadership has contributed to a lack of institutionalization.

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For me, the best example is Indonesia. It is one of the tragedies of Indonesia. While there is no real question that Indonesia’s democratic foundation is firm, and no one would say that there is a danger of moving back to the system that they had before, an authoritarian leader would be unaccountable or even perhaps the military playing a role in politics. Although I think one can never completely rule these out.

BW: Indeed, we should never said ‘never.’

MV: Yes. If you look at the real weaknesses of the system and its hostage to extreme elements of prejudice whether they are racial or religion, it is because the political parties are weak. There are no platforms to speak of. The institutions for mature political debates and exchange are simply underdeveloped and not respected.

You have at the same time have successful decentralization. Many people would argue that the strengths lie here. The elections at regional and local levels are among the most successful. They are bringing forward the future politicians. They have already given Indonesia a president. Having said that, institutional weaknesses plaque Indonesia’s democracy and those of the region.

BW: I would take this issue of institutionalization a little bit further, Michael. It is not just about the relationship between the personal and institutions in places like Indonesia and Philippines and in political parties, but rather we see the weakening of political institutions that did exist. Previously functioning institutions have become personalized.

Perhaps the best example is that of Malaysia where the line between the dominant party UMNO and the system is not there anymore. Essentially all of the checks on executive power have been removed in a systematic way as power has become concentrated around the person who holds the executive office. The office is the person and the person is the office.  We see this pattern throughout the region, in Cambodia and Singapore as well. In the latter institutions function, but they closely reflect the leadership of the PAP.

MV: Well, I tend to agree, but I would break it down into two different factors. One is whether or not this was avoidable or unavoidable. I think in the case of Malaysia, it was avoidable, because the institutions and checks were working. Mahathir weakened many of them, with his very firm, autocratic sort of style of rule. Don’t forget there was this interregnum with Abdullah Badawi when many of different power centers and institutions came a life again because he allowed them to.

BW: Because he was so weak rather than due to any genuine desire for democracy. He needed to look like a reformer to win power, but when he left office there was actually very little substantive reform.

MV: Because he was weak. Najib came to power in 2009, essentially promising further reform. Many of people of the time including myself saw Najib as a competent parliamentary politician but weak. He was weak as a personality, and therefore did not seem as necessarily much of a threat if things would not go his way. As we see, things did not go his way. The precipice that Malaysia has fallen down from in terms of the undermining of the last remaining institutions of democracy essentially was brought about by the 1MDB scandal. He suddenly found himself led in that direction.

BW: Najib was doing the leading, he is the key person in the 1MDB scandal. He was weak and greedy and has abused his office to prevent prosecution.

MV: Exactly, because of that, the 1MDB scandal, he has completely turned everything on its head for democracy in Malaysia. He needs to defend his position to assure that he does not go to the jail. I have known Najib for many years. I do not recognize him now at all. He is the man who is actually more English than Malaysian. He does not even speak the Malay language properly, who essentially was led there because of the wife.

BW: There is this tendency to blame her, as women are often blamed. It is a partnership. For me he is the prime minister and he is ultimately responsible.

MV: Fundamentally he is weak. for whatever reason. He is never going to stand up either to his wife or to anything that is the least bit trouble and so therefore everything had to change. The direction has to change. The thing that I least understand and this gets back to the what we said earlier, is why there has not been any real opposition to him. Najib is not a particularly strong person. I know that a lot of people have talked about the use of the money and the payments that have been made to keep people in line. This is the idea that people are selfishly essentially going along with it because why bother to resist, why make trouble for yourself when you could essentially make money out of this situation. In that sense I shift the blame a little bit away from Najib onto a generation of politicians, many of whom I knew when they were quite young, who essentially don’t appear to have any moral principles either.

BW: Well, I think there is something more fundamental going on. There is no question that in a serious moral vacuum in terms of the incumbent Malaysian leadership. I would extend this to the Islamist party as well, that has turned away from decent political principles and in effect endorsed corruption. I would say, however, that this is not just about the politicians. It is about the whole state-business nexus, the way the economies in the region work. They are driven by those who control political power, and businesses have very strong crony relationships that feed corruption and buttress incumbent elite rule. Look at the Economist’s list of the top countries in the world for crony-capitalism. The proportion of Southeast Asian countries in top is striking, Malaysia is no.2; Philippines is no. 3 Singapore is no. 4; Indonesia is no 7 and Thailand is no 12.

MV: This is the second factor that I was going to bring up after institutionalization, the utter selfishness of elites. They really do not care. If you take the corruption issue, why would you address corruption when in a case of Thai, Cambodian, Malaysian or Indonesian elite, it means you would have to queue up; it means you would have actually dismantle this system that essentially enhances your status and gives you a privileged position. Why would you dismantle a system where you benefit from it so directly? You just perpetuate it; it keeps your family and your relatives basically in a much better position than everyone else. This has been going on for decades, and this has meant that whatever happens to the economy, there is a consistent and very discernible increase in inequality. Even with the middle class now, the middle class now is so far remote in terms of income from members of elites in many of these countries. The elite share of the amount of money accumulated perpetuates their position. They can buy whatever political process, whether is semi-democracy or even a more democratic context. They can simple buy their way into power.

BW: I think you place too much emphasis on individual politicians in the system. The political-economic relationship has evolved for years, shaped by decades of business-political ties. The structure is as important as the agents.

MV: We have variation. In Indonesia, you have a much more horizontal society because of the geography. You have more cities of more than a billion than another part of the region, and that actually breaks things out a little bit.

BW: Agreed, but Indonesia is still very hierarchical. At a fundamental level, they are few incentives to engage in fundamental economic and political reforms. The role that elites, especially business elites play, should not underestimated. When we look at a place like Malaysia and its trajectory, the business elites have been Najib’s enablers, his bankers and business partners. This extends across borders. Businessmen prefer to work with someone who they can pay off and make a deal with. Najib as minister of finance was the par excellence deal maker. Sadly, most Malaysians have been on the losing end of the deals.

MV: I think this brings us to the third reason for the region’s democratic deficit: a complete lack of sufficient counterbalance by the rule of law to political or corporate power. I have seen this situation fairly close up in Malaysia, in Thailand, less so in Indonesia. There are huge problems with a functioning judiciary. You see this in Thailand in particular, where there has been aggressive politicization of the judiciary. There is a misplaced sense that the judiciary should be politically controlled rather than apply moral pressure to the corrupt politicians. In a case of Malaysia the judiciary was one of the strongest institutions bequeathed by the British at the end of colonial period. It is striking to go back and look at some of the High Court decisions that were made in early years of independence, cases that were referred to the High Court of United Kingdom before Mahathir stopped this practice. Kelantan actually tried to bring a case to a High Court to succeed before the Federation was fully formed. That case was allowed. None of that would not happen today.

BW: Never said ‘never’. Pressures in East Malaysia are growing.

MV: Indeed, never said never. Nevertheless, the insufficiency of the law to provide a check and balance on what we talked about earlier in terms of weak institutions and elite power is a major factor in the deficit of democracy.

BW: I’m not sure whether or not this is also a reflection of public opinion. We find in multiple surveys that many Southeast Asians do not support checks and balances such as an independent judiciary in any meaningful sense. I am drawing from the Asian Barometer Survey. Southeast Asians do not conceptualize horizon accountability with check and balances, because in part of the legacy of strongman rule and the personalized and hierarchical nature of politics that we spoke about earlier. The problem goes beyond the judiciary. It is the lack of other effective horizon accountable institutions such as independent election commissions and anti-corruption bodies. These institutions do not have any real power in most of the countries of the region. Southeast Asians have few meaningful checks within the system. Laws surrounding these bodies are often manipulated in a very fundamental way to suit those in office. It is a vicious cycle, the lack of operating checks contributes to a lack of support of these institutions and further political manipulation of these institutions for political ends.

MV: We have to consider the other side of situation which are the responses by ordinary people. This is much less clear. For example, impunity is another major problem in Southeast Asia. The lack of resolution of issues does not mean people do not suffer and do not want redress. Throughout this period, there have been successful ways in which civil society has brought pressure and staved off, in some cases, some of the worst excesses or abuses of power. It is not completely a black and white picture. I would say that civil society has in some cases made considerable progress. But, maybe not enough, as they too have hampered because by the strong or selfish grip of elites in the system. They are often just scratching at the surface of some of the problems. Nonetheless it is important to acknowledge the aspirations of people and those who have been on the frontline in the struggle for democratic change.  In the thirty plus years I have been in the region, I have met some of the most inspiring people who work in small NGOs, small law offices or in opposition political parties. They really struggle. It is not always a violent struggle, although at times it is. We see Southeast Asia punctuated time and time again by needless violence, more often than not violence for political reasons. It is very often a mundane, sometimes lonely, fight for change.

BW:  I think you quite rightly point to the bravery of ordinary people. Here too, however, when we look at society, we see two very worrying trends. The first of which has been the deepening of political polarization across the region, the red and yellow shirts. You talked about the yellow shirts of the Philippines in the 1980s. Now we have open clashes in Thailand and Malaysia, large splits in Cambodia and Singapore with very different perspectives shown in survey research and divides in Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines as evident in recent elections. Even in Myanmar where everybody talks about the Aung San Suu Kyi’s ‘landslide,’ she only won 57% of the popular vote. Prabowo almost won in Indonesia in 2014. Duterte only won with 38% of the vote. Across the board in Southeast Asia, we have very deeply politically polarized societies. Governments often use this polarization to their advantage, either to as an excuse for intervention in the case of Thailand or they perpetuate this polarization in a place like Malaysia. Divisions are used as a way to justify authoritarian rule and perpetuate their power in the name of stability. Sadly, large shares of the political aspirations of Southeast Asian societies have been dismissed politically, as they are being so economically as well.

MV: Yes, I think the polarization has always been there. Now certainly there is a greater ability to mobilize and simultaneously to exploit the polarization as you pointed out. I think one of the things that interests me about the polarization is the limited channels for addressing differences and grievances. I am struck by the steady narrowing of opportunities for different ideologies, for the ideology of sort of the socialist’s nature that would revive channels for people to actually ask for more in a political context. The collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War is still to a large extent being felt across the Southeast Asia. This great fear of the left wing persists.  What is happening is that people channel a lot of the polarization into sort of racial or religion sentiments. The reality is that people do suffer and despair under the weight of equality. They yearn for some kind of inspiration, a motivational ideology that gives them an avenue for protest. If it is in fact cut off because communism is still banned in places such as Indonesia, or frowned upon the Philippines and Thailand. In Thailand the leader of the red shirts is in fact a former communist. She has tried to establish a party that aspires to represent the massive of people. It is very difficult then to actually channel that polarization into something less violent, more constructive.

BW: We know that in terms of research, most Southeast Asians conceptualize democracy in terms of equality disproportionately compared to other parts of the world. We also know that there are no real substantive open policy debates taking place in most of the region’s political environment. Admittedly, there are some areas and some pockets that we do not want to dismiss those, but at the sense of meaningful discussion of the directions of development policy or allocations of funding, there are real discussion vacuums. In the last five years especially, a lot of government policies had been low hanging fruit, basically throwing money to stave off problems. If there is one area that has been focused it has been infrastructure, hard development, an area that has created few jobs for the region’s youth and reinforced corruption. Regional governments are not meaningfully dealing with underlying challenges that these countries are facing in terms of moving their economies forward and transforming their societies towards the future, especially for the younger generations. The promise of greater social mobility is not being realized.

A second worrying concern in society involves the violations of others by members of society themselves.  Disproportionately, governments are not intervening on the significant human right violations that are being conducted by non-state actors, whether they are in the name of religion, drugs or greed.

MV: That is true. Let me come back to that. There is something else needs mentioning. In the early period of independence in Southeast Asia, many of these countries were conceived of as democracies, the pre-1965 period in Indonesia, pre-1962 period in the Burma, even in the very first year after 1954 in Cambodia. These formation democracies were led by a group of people who had been imbued with the notion of democracy from the outside. They had received education outside. If you look at some of the early leaders of Indonesia, they were essentially were Fabian Socialists. They brought these values to the establishment of the republic. That had all gone by the 1980s. One of the things that I find most interesting about what is driving this democratic deficit is the emergence of a generation of leaders who actually did not share democratic values in the same way. They simple didn’t. Mahathir never went to the West for his education. Lee Kuan Yew is another example. The whole ‘Asian values’ debate in the 1990s, was built around a lot of resentment and frustration by a generation that succeeded the founding fathers. In a patronizing way, the departing colonial powers left it to the founding leaders to set up democracy, because they were imbued the same values. That was all gone by the 1980s. Instead you have a generation who were imbued with traditional notions of power and politics.

BW: I think you continue to place considerable emphasis on leaders and their values. For me, this was broader, it was about the wealth they were accumulating and the synergy between economic and political power. Many of these leaders allied with business and other elites, and were willing to challenge those that challenged them. They were not really willing to share power.

MV: The successive generations emerging in power were not imbued in these democratic values. That is why it was very difficult for them to accept change or reform.

Now we come to the issue of human rights. In my view Southeast Asians have a really good sense of survival, family and land. Security for themselves and their families was the most important. Very often these things are prioritized against more universal things you think might be important to people. You know, if you look at the victims of 1965 in Indonesia, maybe what they want in return is not so much justice, but compensation.

BW: There should not be a trade-off. They should get both.

MV: They should get both, but I think in the end what people often settle for is the material and not the other. There helps us understand the issue of human rights not being enshrined or carried out properly. Weak institutions and power holders are simply not interested. You also have a society that is unfortunately less interested than you expect them to be in pushing for these things.

BW: Advocated for human rights are clearly minority across Southeast Asia, but this is not as simple as you suggest. A majority of Southeast Asians want better, fairer and moral governments. It is much more than the material you suggest. Survey research in the Asian Barometer Survey provides insights. For example, there is no majority of public opinion supporting a secular government a single country in Southeast Asia, including Singapore.

MV: Indeed, the growth of Christian community in Singapore is one of the most understudied phenomena in Southeast Asia.

BW: I also think have the emergence of a religious nationalism that is intolerant and undemocratic. This is not just the extremism we associate with terrorism, but an intolerance that is eating away at the fabric of society. There are clearly counter forces, but the authoritarian rhetoric and closed education systems of many governments reinforce this lack of nuance, empathy and understanding. Civic education is missing, as many governments often work against creating problem-solving and critical thinking in their education systems. Many of the forces that are challenging democracy are coming from below, shaped of course by the institutional and leadership context in which they operate.

MV: Indeed, many dynamics are coming from below. In Indonesia there is more primordialism

BW: Well, it is broader than primordialism in my view.

MV: We have reached a point in the second decade of 21st century, where we have to all ask ourselves are we going to see incremental progress. Can we assume that these hiccups along the way for democracy that we have described will continue to be hiccups and ultimately these societies are reaching the goal of becoming more democratically countries? I am doubtful frankly. I see continuing cycles of upheaval. It is possible for instance in Indonesia that what we saw in the last couple of weeks, the ability of hardline extreme group to put pressure on a very popular elective president could see the undermining not so much of his legitimacy, but of his power. People will exploit the weakness of the presidency. They will not think of the institution of the presidency. They will simply think of their own interests. They all are thinking of their own interests. This could spin-off into a cycle of instability.

Similarly, Cambodia is facing elections in the next two years, the commune election this year and general election after that. It is clear that a younger generation of voters, increasingly a majority of voters, want change. It is also clear that the ruling party and Hun Sen is not prepared to provide them with that change. He wants his son to take over the prime minister eventually when he decides to retire. He wants to retire not according to the electoral schedule.

In Thailand, we have a military that is now entrenched in power. It is not likely that they will give up power in a time soon. There might be an election in 2018. In Myanmar as you point out democracy is fragile.

BW: Democracy is definitely stagnating. but let me take an alternative view. You may be doubtful about the future, but I am hopeful. I think these authoritarian leaders, the Najib, Hun Sen and others are not delivering on expectations either. There are very serious governance deficits in Southeast Asian societies, especially in many of those led by autocrats. This is why we have seen the democratic recession in the region; they are fighting to hold on. Today we have the big catch: we have a contracting economy. We have a very different global and regional economic conditions now. It is not increasing as it was in the 1990s or even in the 1980s. The democratic pendulum can swing back. I am confident it will. There are large shares of Southeast Asians ready to accept change, with the poles on the other side ready and waiting for the tipping point to move in their direction.

MV: I am doubtful. We had exactly the same conditions in the late 1990s, and there was no a hint of the time that there was a Duterte on the horizon or that the military was going to come back to power in Thailand. We cannot use that kind of analysis because economies contract and grow again; leaders do not rise and fall in that basis. We are not see the evidence of autocrats losing power. In fact, quite the opposite. Look at Duterte, who only basically decided to run for election a few months before the election itself. He is widely popular. This is in spite the death of four thousands or more people without the judicial process. We simply can’t predict that won’t happen again.

BW: Populist autocrats are a real possibility in democracies. This is happening across the world, especially in democracies. Trump’s election is case in point. Southeast Asia is different, as the dominant mode is more authoritarian governments rather than democracies. Authoritarianism rather than democracy will be targeted. Failures of economic reform are important and now more than ever this lack of economic and political reform is affecting the system. We are not in the 1990s. There is more information and reservoirs ready to embrace change, the excludes political poles. There is unprecedented pressure on autocrats in terms of their abilities to deliver and serious shortcomings in this regard. The leaders lack the same level of legitimacy than earlier leaders, with more impatient, diverse and demanding societies. This opens up the possibility for hope.

MV: It opens up the possibility but more people like Duterte will come along

BW: Maybe, maybe not.

The Geo-Politics of Populism


December 20, 2016

The Geo-Politics of Populism

by Danny Quah

 

Image result for Danny Quah and Kishore Mahbubani

Danny Quah is Li Ka Shing Professor of Economics at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He is the author of The Global Economy’s Shifting Centre of Gravity.

and

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Kishore Mahbubani

Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is the author of The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World. He was selected as one of Prospect magazine’s top 50 world thinkers in 2014.

https://www.project-syndicate.org/columnist/kishore-mahbubani

For Asian countries, the policy prescription is clear: take care of disadvantaged populations and provide retraining and new employment opportunities for displaced workers.–Quah and Mahbubani

SINGAPORE – The big question in Asian countries right now is what lesson to take from Donald Trump’s victory in the United States’ presidential election, and from the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum, in which British voters opted to leave the European Union. Unfortunately, the focus is not where it should be: geopolitical change.

Instead, for the most part, economic narratives have prevailed: globalization, while improving overall well being, also dislocates workers and industries, and generates greater income disparity, creating the anxious electorates that backed Brexit and Trump. An alternative narrative asserts that technological advances, more than globalization, have exacerbated economic inequalities, setting the stage for political disruptions in developed countries.

In either case, policymakers in emerging countries have identified inequality as a major problem, and rallied around efforts to improve social mobility, lest globalization and new technologies displace their middle and working classes, and clear a path for their own versions of Trump and Brexit. For Asian countries, the policy prescription is clear: take care of disadvantaged populations and provide retraining and new employment opportunities for displaced workers.

Of course, all societies should look out for their poorest members and maximize social mobility, while also rewarding entrepreneurship and challenging people to improve their lot. But focusing on such policies would not address the public disaffection underlying the populist uprising, because inequality is not its root cause. Feelings of lost control are.

Even if countries closed their domestic income and wealth gaps and ensured social mobility for all their citizens, the forces fueling public dissatisfaction around the world today would remain. Consider the US, where the inequality narrative’s poster child has become the displaced, older, less-educated, white working-class male. Many people credit these voters for Trump’s victory, but the poster-child cohort did not actually have the biggest impact on the election outcome.

According to exit polls, Trump won 53% of white male college graduates, and 52% of white women (only 43% of the latter group supported Clinton); he won 47% of white Americans between the ages of 18 and 29, compared to 43% for Clinton; and he beat Clinton by 48% to 45% among white college graduates overall. These Trump supporters do not fit the stereotype at the center of the economic narrative.

Meanwhile, more than half of the 36% of Americans who earn less than $50,000 annually voted for Clinton, and of the remaining 64% of voters, 49% and 47% chose Trump and Clinton, respectively. Thus, the poor were more favorable toward Clinton, and the rich toward Trump. Contrary to the popular narrative, Trump does not owe his victory to people who are most anxious about falling off the economic ladder.

A similar story unfolded in the UK’s Brexit vote, where the “Leave” campaign asserted that the EU’s supposedly burdensome regulations and exorbitant membership fees are holding back the British economy. This hardly amounts to an agenda to fight economic inequality and exclusion, and it is revealing that rich businessmen wrote the largest checks to support Leave.

Moreover, the street-level emotions that contributed to Leave’s victory were not rooted in income inequality or “the 1%”: alienated poor voters directed their anger at other alienated poor people – particularly immigrants – not at the rich. The Mayor of London’s office reported a 64% increase in hate crimes in the six weeks after the referendum, compared to the six weeks before it. So, while income equality may have been a part of the Brexit campaign’s background noise, it was not the first issue on Leave voters’ minds.

What unites Trump and Leave supporters is not anger at being excluded from the benefits of globalization, but rather a shared sense of unease that they no longer control their own destinies. Widening income inequality can add to this distress, but so can other factors, which explains why people at all levels of the income distribution are experiencing anxiety. Indeed, many people in Eastern Europe felt a sense of lost control during the harsh socialist experiments of the post-war era, as did many Chinese during the Cultural Revolution, and these societies had minimal visible income inequality.

Paradoxically, Brexit and Trump supporters might be feeling the effects of globalization because overall inequality has actually declined. Globalization’s largest effect has been to lift hundreds of millions of people in emerging economies out of poverty. Throughout the 1990s, emerging countries’ combined GDP (at market exchange rates) amounted to barely one-third of the G7 countries’ combined GDP. By 2016, that gap had essentially vanished.

Geopolitics of Populism

Low international income inequality, rather than growing income inequality in individual countries, is putting unprecedented stress on the global order. There is a growing mismatch between what Western countries can provide, and what emerging economies are demanding. The power of the transatlantic axis that used to run the world is slipping away, and the sense of losing control is being felt by these countries’ political elites and ordinary citizens alike.

Trump and the Leave campaign appealed to voters by raising the possibility that transatlantic powers can reassert control in a quickly changing world order. But with the geopolitical rise of emerging economies, especially in Asia, that order will have to achieve a new equilibrium, or global instability will persist. Closing the income gap can help the poor; but, in the developed countries, it will not alleviate their anxiety.

World Bank Doing Business Report Continues to Mislead


December 16, 2016

More of the Same: World Bank Doing Business Report Continues to Mislead

Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

Eight of The World Bank's "Doing Business" report 2017’s ‘top 10 improvers’ including  Kenya, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have, in fact, worsened workers’ rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. Credit: IPS

Eight of The World Bank’s “Doing Business” report 2017’s ‘top 10 improvers’ including Kenya, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have, in fact, worsened workers’ rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. Credit: IPS

Image result for Professor Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Malaysia’s Professor Jomo Kwame Sundaram

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, December 15, 2016 (IPS) – The World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2017, subtitled ‘Equal Opportunity for All’, continues to mislead despite the many criticisms, including from within, levelled against the Bank’s most widely read publication, and Bank management promises of reform for many years.

Its Foreword claims, “Evidence from 175 economies reveals that economies with more stringent entry regulations often experience higher levels of income inequality as measured by the Gini index.” But what is the evidence base for its strong claims, e.g., that “economies with more business-friendly regulations tend to have lower levels of income inequality”?

Closer examination suggests that the “evidence” is actually quite weak, and heavily influenced by countries closer to the ‘frontier’, mainly developed countries, most of which have long introduced egalitarian redistributive reforms reflected in taxation, employment and social welfare measures, and where inequality remains lower than in many developing countries.

The report notes that relations between DB scores and inequality ‘differ by regulatory area’. But it only mentions two, for ‘starting a business’ and for ‘resolving insolvency’. For both, higher DB scores are associated with less inequality, but has nothing to say on other DB indicators.

Other studies — by the OECD, IMF, ADB and the United Nations — negatively correlate inequality and the tax/GDP ratio. Higher taxes enable governments to spend more on public health, education and social protection, and are associated with higher government social expenditure/GDP ratios and lower inequality. The DBR’s total tax rate indicator awards the highest scores to countries with the lowest tax rates and other contributions (such as for social security) required of businesses.

Bias

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The DBR’s bias to deregulation is very clear. First, despite the weak empirical evidence and the fallacy of claiming causation from mere association, it makes a strong general claim that less regulation reduces inequality. Second, in its selective reporting, the DBR fails to report on many correlations not convenient for its purpose, namely advocacy of particular policies in line with its own ideology.

The World Bank had suspended the DBR’s labour indicator in 2009 after objections — by labour, governments and the ILO — to its deployment to pressure countries to weaken worker protections. But its push for labour market deregulation continues. For example, Tanzania’s score is cut in 2017 for introducing a workers’ compensation tariff to be paid by employers while Malta is penalized for increasing the maximum social security contribution to be paid by employers.

New Zealand beat Singapore to take first place in the latest DBR rankings following reforms reducing employers’ contributions to worker accident compensation. Nothing is said about how it has become a prime location for ‘money-laundering’ ‘shell’ companies.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Belarus, Serbia, Georgia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — eight of DB 2017’s ‘top 10 improvers’ –– have recorded poor and, in some cases, worsening workers’ rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. A DBR 2017 annex claims that labour market regulation can ‘reduce the risk of job loss and support equity and social cohesion’, but devotes far more space to promoting fixed term contracts with minimal benefits and severance pay requirements.

In support of its claim of adverse impacts of labour regulations, DBR 2017 cites three World Bank studies from several years ago. Incredibly, it does not mention the extensive review of empirical studies in the Bank’s more recent flagship World Development Report 2013: Jobs, which found that “most estimates of the impacts [of labour regulations] on employment levels tend to be insignificant or modest”.

DBR 2017 adds gender components to its three indicator sets — starting a business, registering property and enforcing contracts — concluding: “For the most part, the formal regulatory environment as measured by Doing Business does not differentiate procedures according to the gender of the business owner. The addition of gender components to three separate indicators has a small impact on each of them and therefore a small impact overall”.

Should anyone be surprised by the DBR’s conclusion? It ignores the fact that the policies promoted by the Bank especially adversely affect women workers who tend to be concentrated in the lowest paid, least unionized jobs, e.g., in garments and apparel production or electronics assembly. The DBR also discourages regulations improving working conditions, e.g., for equal pay and maternity benefits.

Despite its ostensible commitment to ‘equal opportunities for all’, the DBR cannot conceal its intent and bias, giving higher scores to countries that favour corporate profits over citizens’, especially workers’ interests, and national efforts to achieve sustainable development.

Sadly, many developing country governments still bend over backwards to impress the World Bank with reforms to improve their DBR rankings. This obsession with performing well in the Bank’s ‘beauty contest’ has taken a heavy toll on workers, farmers and the world’s poor — the majority of whom are women — who bear the burden of DBR-induced reforms, despite its proclaimed concerns for inequality, gender equity and ‘equal opportunities for all’.

 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-of-the-same-world-bank-doing-business-report-continues-to-mislead/