The Padang Rengas Debate


March 20, 2017

COMMENT: I liken this Padang Rengas debate to  Gunfight at OK Coral. It is an encounter between old gunfighter looking for his last hurrah and a young, ambitious and astute gunslinger who knows that his adversary is no longer fast on the draw.  Advantage Nazri Aziz.

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The debate has been aptly described as a proxy fight between Tun Dr. Mahathir (Mentor) and our incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak (Mentee).  For Najib, this debate is  also a convenient diversion from his massive political troubles arising mainly from his failure to come to grips with  the 1MDB fiasco and the lies he and his supporters told the Malaysian public and the world .

I have never agreed with Nazri’s politics, and  neither have I understood the motives of the former Prime Minister who ruled Malaysia with an iron fist for 22 years and left office in a huff leaving in his wake a shattered nation whose institutions of governance have been irreparably damaged.Why the need for this debate in the first place?

It was my good fortune to know both Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.  I followed their political careers very closely over several years. I  admired their political survival skills and  recognize their service to our country.  Both are strong and competent people -centered leaders. However, I think,  Tun Dr. Mahathir has finally met his match. By exploiting  the man’s oversized ego, the younger politician is able to draw his nonagenarian opponent to his home ground, thereby giving himself a psychological advantage.  That Tun Dr. Mahathir should take the bait surprises me. 

I know the Tun to be a  sharp strategic thinker. It is clear  to me that  age has caught up with the former Prime Minister as it must with men and women of his and my generation.We are all slowing down and taking stock of and reflecting on our lives but not the Tun.

My intellectual friend, Dr Khoo Boo Teik, who authored  a book, Paradoxes of Mahathirism: An Intellectual Biography of Mahathir Mohamad, is right in saying that Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is an engima. –Din Merican

The Padang Rengas Debate: A Verbal Lambast  between Two Generations

by Jocelyn Tan @www.thestar.com.my

The debate between Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz next week is expected to be fiery but not as explosive as the former PM’s confrontation with the Otai Reformasi gathering.

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PADANG Rengas in Perak is hardly the sort of place where one would expect a political debate to take place, much less, a debate between a former Prime Minister and the Tourism Minister.

The debate, if it goes ahead, could be the most happening event Padang Rengas has ever witnessed.

Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz is the outspoken and rather capricious MP for Padang Rengas which sits somewhere between Kuala Kangsar and Taiping.  As for Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, there are few words that can adequately describe him these days so let’s just say he is even more vocal and mercurial than his would-be debater.

These two big personalities will face off in a grudge fight on March 25. All eyes will be on them even though no one has a clue as to what they intend to talk about because this debate is going to be about the personalities rather than the subject matter.

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This debate idea was not sparked off by any issue. Instead it was something that evolved following news that Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin would be there on March 23, followed by Dr. Mahathir on March 25.

Now, Nazri is a macho alpha male politician, with a sort of machismo that is quite unrivaled among his fellow politicians. The Parti Pribumi folk were entering the lion’s den and he responded in typical macho fashion. He said the two big-wigs were gunning for him because they considered him a great threat.

“I welcome them, selamat datang. But don’t just come for a visit, why not contest in Padang Rengas? It would be better if Mahathir were to contest but if he cannot, then Muhyiddin can do it.”

The old lion in Dr. Mahathir bared his fangs and challenged Nazri to take him on in Langkawi. There were gasps because it sounded like Dr. Mahathir was throwing down the gauntlet in Langkawi. A day later, he clarified that he would not be contesting the general election. But Dr. Mahathir has made so many U-turns that it is best to keep an open mind on whatever he says.

Nazri offered to roll out the red carpet but Dr. Mahathir said he did not mind walking in the mud.It was a rather childish exchange between two grown men or what a Penang politician described as “two Mickey Mouse characters”. But Nazri was merely taking from the Mahathir playbook. During his time as Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir was famous for challenging his critics to contest in elections instead of just talking.

This is not the first war of words between them. A few years ago, they had clashed over the Biro Tata Negara, which Nazri claimed promoted racial sentiments but Dr. Mahathir defended as an organisation that promoted good values.

Nazri called the former Premier a “racist” and was summoned to the Prime Minister’s office. Things then were still hunky-dory between Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Dr. Mahathir, and Nazri was told to back off the elder man.

Nazri, who had been likened to a Samurai committing hara-kiri for taking on Dr Mahathir, emerged from Najib’s office with the quip, “My Shogun has spoken”.

Suffice to say that this time around, the Shogun will not be telling his Samurai to pull back.“Nazri is loyal to the boss of the day,” said Pahang tourism exco member Datuk Sharkar Shamsudin who was with the Tourism Minister in Berlin last week.

Sharkar said Nazri had also stood by Dr. Mahathir during the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Nazri came to the defence of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when he was under attack by Dr. Mahathir. Likewise, he is standing by Najib now.

Nazri’s nickname in UMNO is “Chief”. He is younger than Najib by a year, they were contemporaries in UMNO but Nazri was too indepen­dent to be part of any camp.

Shortly after Najib became Prime Minister there was pressure from those around Dr. Mahathir for Najib to drop Nazri from the Cabinet. The political animal in Najib knew that people like Nazri could be problematic but they have their uses and his instincts have been spot on.

No one has had the audacity to tackle Dr. Mahathir the way Nazri does. He does not give a damn about conventions, he can be quite irreverent about rules and stature and he is the only UMNO politician who has publicly referred to Dr. Mahathir as “senile”. He occasionally comes across as too much and even rude, but he is never boring.

Dr Mahathir has been drawing good crowds in Malay areas. He is still a novelty, and the rural Malays want to hear what he has to say. On the other hand, the debate could turn out to be another political fiasco. Dr. Mahathir had a rough time at the Otai Reformis convention in Shah Alam recently.

The Otai Reformis comprises hardcore veteran supporters of Anwar. Their loyalty to him has not wavered from the day he was sacked by Dr. Mahathir. The group, led by Hulu Klang assemblyman Saari Sungip, had endured tear gas and rough treatment by the FRU when they took to the streets to protest Anwar’s imprisonment.They are still critical of Dr. Mahathir and were upset that Anwar has reconciled with his oppressor.

Dr. Mahathir turned up at the convention thinking that he could slow-talk them to come along with him on the grounds that the real enemy is Najib. Unfortunately, many of those in the audience also regard Dr.  Mahathir as the enemy.

Dr. Mahathir was greeted by cries of “reformasi” and “bebas Anwar” (free Anwar) as he made his way to the rostrum. He could sense that this was far from an adoring crowd and he attempted some reverse psychology, saying that a politician has to accept that he cannot be loved by all. He said he knew that some called him “mahafiraun” (great pharoah) and “mahazalim” (tyrant).

He appealed to them to put aside other issues and focus on toppling Najib because without power, their struggle would fail. “After that, if you want to act against me, you can do so,” he said.

He was flanked by Saari and Anwar’s younger brother Rusli Ibrahim whose presence on stage was to signal that Dr. Mahathir was there with the blessings of Anwar. But the Otai Reformis is a seasoned group of people who have seen it all. They were cynical about Dr. Mahathir and his simplistic reasoning failed to wash on them. Besides, they did not trust him and the respect was not there.

There have been too many life-changing experiences between then and now and the emotional scars are still there.

Moreover, said an Otai Reformis politician from Terengganu, the audience was expecting no less than an apology from the former Premier and they had called out for him to “minta maaf” (ask for forgiveness).

When it became clear that he had not come to apologise, they broke out into jeers and heckled him.Dr. Mahathir tried to smile his way through it but there were moments when the mask dropped and he looked shaken.

“It was quite humiliating. I think he cut short his speech, it was over real fast,” said the Terengganu politician. On top of all that, Dr. Mahathir had to sit through a video detailing the Reformasi movement – Anwar addressing a sea of people from the balcony of the national mosque, the infamous black eye, the angry street protests and the controversial trial. It was a political chapter that he would rather forget.

When everyone in the audience raised their fists to cries of “reformasi”, Dr. Mahathir made a half-hearted attempt to do the same but his hand barely reached his chest. The event was quite a farce and some of those present said the organisers had deceived them by allowing Dr. Mahathir to take to the stage when he had no intention of asking for forgiveness.

“There is still a lot of anger. They want him to apologise to Anwar’s family who suffered so much,” said the same Terengganu politician. It is obvious that even the chief personalities like Saari and Rusli were not bowled over by Dr. Mahathir because they could be seen trying to control their amusement at the height of the jeering.

The gathering then passed several resolutions, one of which stated that “this convention is not a forum to seek Dr. Mahathir’s views on the reform agenda”. It was as good as a disavowal of Dr. Mahathir.

Dr. Mahathir ought to have an easier time in Padang Rengas. Hordes of his supporters will probably make a beeline to the debate to lend moral backing. This is traditional UMNO territory and the audience will not be anything like what happened at the Otai Reformis event. But this is also Nazri’s home ground. He is the most senior minister after Najib and has served under three Prime Ministers.

People often forget Nazri’s political seniority because of his contemporary image, from the way he dresses to the way he addresses issues. For instance, he sometimes turns up for official events in a sports shirt worn rapper-style, with the collar turned up. Nazri understands the local sentiments and is more than familiar with Dr, Mahathir and his lines of attack.

Two big personalities known for their wit and laser tongues, their fighting spirit and dislike for each other – it should be pure entertainment even if it yields little of consequence.

World Economic Forum–Davos 2017–On Leadership


January 21,2017

World Economic Forum–Davos 2017

What does it take to be a great leader in times of change? We asked six experts @ WEF, Davos, 2017

Written by Stéphanie Thomson Editor, World Economic Forum

Watch a Compact for Responsible Business Leadership and Responsive and Responsible Leadership in 2017 from the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2017.

Image result for wef klaus schwabWEF Founder and Intellectual Innovator Professor Klaus Schwab

“Leaders must understand that we are living in a world marked by uncertainty, volatility and deep transformational changes,” World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab wrote at the start of the year.

As thousands of global leaders descend on the Swiss village of Davos to discuss these very issues, we asked six of them this question: what does it take to lead in these times of turbulence?

Adam Grant, Professor, Management and Psychology, Wharton School

In times of uncertainty, a critical skill for responsible leaders is to say “I might be wrong” – and mean it. I work with too many leaders who cling to their convictions with an iron will. As intoxicating as that confidence can be, it’s a huge barrier to making wise decisions and pivoting as circumstances change.

 Adam Grant quote:

The leaders who fare best at predicting the future are the ones who recognize that the future is unpredictable. By embracing doubt, they stay open to new ideas. As a result, they’re ready to act when headwinds turn into tailwinds. So I have a simple message for leaders: if you want to increase the odds that you’ll be right, accept that you’re probably wrong.

Phil Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Authors of Superforecasting

Heightened uncertainty puts a premium on good judgement. And nothing is more fundamental to good judgement than intellectual humility.

Note the adjective. This isn’t self-denigration. Intellectual humility simply means appreciating both the infinite complexity of reality and the fallibility of human beings. It’s invaluable because, taken seriously, three consequences follow.

One, intellectual humility causes the wise leaders to distrust quick-and-easy answers. The intellectually humble always want to learn more and explore different perspectives, in hopes of finding additional bits and pieces of truth.

Two, intellectual humility spurs introspection. Mistakes are inevitable. Only relentless critical examination of one’s own thoughts can catch and correct them.

Three, and perhaps most importantly, intellectual humility dispenses with certainty. Indeed, for the intellectually humble leader, “nothing is certain” is axiomatic. All judgements are matters of probability only, with the goal of this “probabilistic thinking” being to accurately distinguish ever-finer degrees of uncertainty.

Want to know if you could predict future trends? Take the survey at http://wef.ch/forecasting

Linda A. Hill, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Leaders must be able to build organizations that are agile and can routinely innovate. People don’t want to follow a leader to the future – that is yesterday’s model. They want to co-create it.

 Linda A. Hill quote:

Innovation is a collective activity, one in which different people – depending on their particular talents – come forward at different times to move the group where it needs to go. Leading innovation is intellectually and emotionally taxing work, much of which takes place behind the scenes. It requires a belief in others’ slices of genius and a sense of generosity to share power, control and credit. Leading innovation is more about being the stage-setter than the performer, not always easy for leaders with star talent themselves.

Kishore Mahbubani, Dean, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

One key skill that all responsible leaders need to have today is a deep understanding of the key global trends driving change. Three tidal forces are sweeping across our world simultaneously.

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The first is the return of Asia and the end of Western domination of history. The second is accelerated globalization creating a small, interdependent, borderless world. The third is explosive change in technology, which is driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution that Klaus Schwab has spoken so eloquently about. Each of these tidal waves must be understood in depth.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is working out how each tidal wave affects the other. This is why it is so difficult to work out the future of US-China relations. Globalization and technology are creating a deep interdependence between them. The shift of power is driving them apart. Hence, it is not enough to watch personalities like Xi Jinping or Donald Trump. We also need to understand the deeper forces driving their behaviour. Any leader who fails to understand this unique complexity of our time is ill-equipped to provide leadership to their society.

Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, London Business School

The path to leadership is both an inner and outer journey.

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The role of the inner journey is to create within the leader a deep sense of their values, a narrative that is unique to them, and the courage to act on their values.

The outer journey connects the leader to the world, to understanding the place of their leadership in this time of extreme change, and to use wisely the power and resources that are at their disposal.

Listen to  Philip Tetlock:

Economic Crises and the Crisis of Economics


January 17, 2017

Economic Crises and the Crisis of Economics: Economists should learn to be humble and accept their own limitations

by Paola Subacchi@www.project-syndicate.org

Paola Subacchi is Research Director of International Economics at Chatham House and Professor of Economics at the University of Bologna. She is the author of The People’s Money: How China is Building an International Currency.

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Is the economics profession “in crisis”? Many policymakers, such as Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, believe that it is. Indeed, a decade ago, economists failed to see a massive storm on the horizon, until it culminated in the most destructive global financial crisis in nearly 80 years. More recently, they misjudged the immediate impact that the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote would have on its economy.

Of course, the post-Brexit forecasts may not be entirely wrong, but only if we look at the long-term impact of the Brexit vote. True, some economists expected the UK economy to collapse during the post-referendum panic, whereas economic activity proved to be rather resilient, with GDP growth reaching some 2.1% in 2016. But now that British Prime Minister Theresa May has implied that she prefers a “hard” Brexit, a gloomy long-term prognosis is probably correct.

Unfortunately, economists’ responsibility for the 2008 global financial crisis and the subsequent recession extends beyond forecasting mistakes. Many lent intellectual support to the excesses that precipitated it, and to the policy mistakes – particularly insistence on fiscal austerity and disregard for widening inequalities – that followed it.

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Some economists have been led astray by intellectual arrogance: the belief that they can always explain real-world complexity. Others have become entangled in methodological issues – “mistaking beauty for truth,” as Paul Krugman once observed – or have placed too much faith in human rationality and market efficiency.

Despite its aspiration to the certainty of the natural sciences, economics is, and will remain, a social science. Economists systematically study objects that are embedded in wider social and political structures. Their method is based on observations, from which they discern patterns and infer other patterns and behaviors; but they can never attain the predictive success of, say, chemistry or physics.

Human beings respond to new information in different ways, and adjust their behavior accordingly. Thus, economics cannot provide – nor should it claim to provide – definite insights into future trends and patterns. Economists can glimpse the future only by looking backwards, so their predictive power is limited to deducing probabilities on the basis of past events, not timeless laws.

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And because economics is a social science, it can readily be used to serve political and business interests. In the years leading up to the financial crisis, global economic growth and profits were so strong that everyone – from small investors to the largest banks – was blinded by the prospect of bigger gains.

Economists employed by banks, hedge funds, and other businesses were expected to provide a short-term “view” for their employers and clients; and to dispense their “wisdom” to the general public through interviews and media appearances. Meanwhile, the economics profession was adopting more complex mathematical tools and specialized jargon, which effectively widened the gap between economists and other social scientists.

Before the financial crisis, when so many private interests and profitable opportunities were at stake, many economists defended a growth model that was based more on “irrational exuberance” than on sound fundamentals. Similarly, with respect to Brexit, many economists confused the referendum’s long-term impact with its short-term effects, because they were rushing their predictions to fit the political debate.

Owing to these and other mistakes, economists – and economics – have suffered a spectacular fall from grace. Once seen as modern witch doctors with access to exclusive knowledge, economists are now the most despised of all “experts.”

Where do we go from here? While we should appreciate Haldane’s candid admission, apologizing for past mistakes is not enough. Economists, especially those involved in policy debates, need to be held explicitly accountable for their professional behavior. Toward that end, they should bind themselves with a voluntary code of conduct.

Above all, this code should recognize that economics is too complex to be reduced to sound bites and rushed conclusions. Economists should pay closer attention to when and where they offer their views, and to the possible implications of doing so. And they should always disclose their interests, so that proprietary analysis is not mistaken for an independent perspective.

Moreover, economic debates would benefit from more voices. Economics is a vast discipline that comprises researchers and practitioners whose work spans macro and micro perspectives and theoretical and applied approaches. Like any other intellectual discipline, it produces excellent, good, and mediocre output.

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But the bulk of this research does not filter into policymaking and decision-making circles, such as finance ministries, central banks, or international institutions. At the commanding heights, economic-policy debates remain dominated by a relatively small group of white men from American universities and think tanks, nearly all of them well-versed devotees of mainstream economics.

The views held by this coterie are disproportionately represented in the mass media, through commentaries and interviews. But fishing for ideas in such a small and shallow pond leads to a circular and complacent debate, and it may encourage lesser-known economists to tailor their research to fit in.

The public deserves – and needs – a marketplace of ideas in which mainstream and heterodox views are afforded equal attention and balanced discussion. To be sure, this will take courage, imagination, and dynamism – particularly on the part of journalists. But a fairer, more pluralistic discussion of economic ideas may be just what economists need as well.

The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics


August 25, 2016

The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics

By Marton Jacques

In the early 1980s the author was one of the first to herald the emerging dominance of neoliberalism in the west. Here he argues that this doctrine is now faltering. But what happens next?

 

Donald Trump seeks a return to 1950s America, well before the age of neoliberalism. Photograph: H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images

The western financial crisis of 2007-8 was the worst since 1931, yet its immediate repercussions were surprisingly modest. The crisis challenged the foundation stones of the long-dominant neoliberal ideology but it seemed to emerge largely unscathed. The banks were bailed out; hardly any bankers on either side of the Atlantic were prosecuted for their crimes; and the price of their behaviour was duly paid by the taxpayer. Subsequent economic policy, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, has relied overwhelmingly on monetary policy, especially quantitative easing. It has failed. The western economy has stagnated and is now approaching its lost decade, with no end in sight.

After almost nine years, we are finally beginning to reap the political whirlwind of the financial crisis. But how did neoliberalism manage to survive virtually unscathed for so long? Although it failed the test of the real world, bequeathing the worst economic disaster for seven decades, politically and intellectually it remained the only show in town. Parties of the right, centre and left had all bought into its philosophy, New Labour a classic in point. They knew no other way of thinking or doing: it had become the common sense. It was, as Antonio Gramsci put it, hegemonic. But that hegemony cannot and will not survive the test of the real world.

But the causes of this political crisis, glaringly evident on both sides of the Atlantic, are much deeper than simply the financial crisis and the virtually stillborn recovery of the last decade. They go to the heart of the neoliberal project that dates from the late 70s and the political rise of Reagan and Thatcher, and embraced at its core the idea of a global free market in goods, services and capital. The depression-era system of bank regulation was dismantled, in the US in the 1990s and in Britain in 1986, thereby creating the conditions for the 2008 crisis. Equality was scorned, the idea of trickle-down economics lauded, government condemned as a fetter on the market and duly downsized, immigration encouraged, regulation cut to a minimum, taxes reduced and a blind eye turned to corporate evasion.

The first inkling of the wider political consequences was evident in the turn in public opinion against the banks, bankers and business leaders. For decades, they could do no wrong: they were feted as the role models of our age, the default troubleshooters of choice in education, health and seemingly everything else. Now, though, their star was in steep descent, along with that of the political class. The effect of the financial crisis was to undermine faith and trust in the competence of the governing elites. It marked the beginnings of a wider political crisis.

It should be noted that, by historical standards, the neoliberal era has not had a particularly good track record. The most dynamic period of postwar western growth was that between the end of the war and the early 70s, the era of welfare capitalism and Keynesianism, when the growth rate was double that of the neoliberal period from 1980 to the present.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, pictured in 1984, ushered in the era of neoliberalism.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, pictured in 1984, ushered in the era of neoliberalism. Photograph: Bettmann Archive

But by far the most disastrous feature of the neoliberal period has been the huge growth in inequality. Until very recently, this had been virtually ignored. With extraordinary speed, however, it has emerged as one of, if not the most important political issue on both sides of the Atlantic, most dramatically in the US. It is, bar none, the issue that is driving the political discontent that is now engulfing the west. Given the statistical evidence, it is puzzling, shocking even, that it has been disregarded for so long; the explanation can only lie in the sheer extent of the hegemony of neoliberalism and its values.

But now reality has upset the doctrinal apple cart. In the period 1948-1972, every section of the American population experienced very similar and sizable increases in their standard of living; between 1972-2013, the bottom 10% experienced falling real income while the top 10% did far better than everyone else. In the US, the median real income for full-time male workers is now lower than it was four decades ago: the income of the bottom 90% of the population hasstagnated for over 30 years.

A not so dissimilar picture is true of the UK. And the problem has grown more serious since the financial crisis. On average, between 65-70% of households in 25 high-income economies experienced stagnant or falling real incomes between 2005 and 2014.

The reasons are not difficult to explain. The hyper-globalisation era has been systematically stacked in favour of capital against labour: international trading agreements, drawn up in great secrecy, with business on the inside and the unions and citizens excluded, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and theTransatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being but the latest examples; the politico-legal attack on the unions; the encouragement of large-scale immigration in both the US and Europe that helped to undermine the bargaining power of the domestic workforce; and the failure to retrain displaced workers in any meaningful way.

As Thomas Piketty has shown, in the absence of countervailing pressures, capitalism naturally gravitates towards increasing inequality. In the period between 1945 and the late 70s, Cold War competition was arguably the biggest such constraint. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been none. As the popular backlash grows increasingly irresistible, however, such a winner-takes-all regime becomes politically unsustainable.

Large sections of the population in both the US and the UK are now in revolt against their lot, as graphically illustrated by the support for Trump and Sanders in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK. This popular revolt is often described, in a somewhat denigratory and dismissive fashion, as populism. Or, as Francis Fukuyama writes in a recent excellent essay in Foreign Affairs: “‘Populism’ is the label that political elites attach to policies supported by ordinary citizens that they don’t like.” Populism is a movement against the status quo. It represents the beginnings of something new, though it is generally much clearer about what it is against than what it is for. It can be progressive or reactionary, but more usually both.

Brexit is a classic example of such populism. It has overturned a fundamental cornerstone of UK policy since the early 1970s. Though ostensibly about Europe, it was in fact about much more: a cri de coeur from those who feel they have lost out and been left behind, whose living standards have stagnated or worse since the 1980s, who feel dislocated by large-scale immigration over which they have no control and who face an increasingly insecure and casualised labour market. Their revolt has paralysed the governing elite, already claimed one prime minister (David Cameron), and left the latest one fumbling around in the dark looking for divine inspiration (Theresa May).

The wave of populism marks the return of class as a central agency in politics, both in the UK and the US. This is particularly remarkable in the US. For many decades, the idea of the “working class” was marginal to American political discourse. Most Americans described themselves as middle class, a reflection of the aspirational pulse at the heart of American society. According to a Gallup poll, in 2000 only 33% of Americans called themselves working class; by 2015 the figure was 48%, almost half the population.

Brexit, too, was primarily a working-class revolt. Hitherto, on both sides of the Atlantic, the agency of class has been in retreat in the face of the emergence of a new range of identities and issues from gender and race to sexual orientation and the environment. The return of class, because of its sheer reach, has the potential, like no other issue, to redefine the political landscape.

The re-emergence of class should not be confused with the labour movement. They are not synonymous: this is obvious in the US and increasingly the case in the UK. Indeed, over the last half-century, there has been a growing separation between the two in Britain. The re-emergence of the working class as a political voice in Britain, most notably in the Brexit vote, can best be described as an inchoate expression of resentment and protest, with only a very weak sense of belonging to the labour movement.

Indeed, Ukip has been as important – in the form of immigration and Europe – in shaping its current attitudes as the Labour party. In the United States, both Trump and Sanders have given expression to the working-class revolt, the latter almost as much as the former. The working class belongs to no one: its orientation, far from predetermined, as the left liked to think, is a function of politics.

The neoliberal era is being undermined from two directions. First, if its record of economic growth has never been particularly strong, it is now dismal. Europe is barely larger than it was on the eve of the financial crisis in 2007; the United States has done better but even its growth has been anaemic. Economists such as Larry Summers believe that the prospect for the future is most likely one of secular stagnation.

Worse, because the recovery has been so weak and fragile, there is a widespread belief that another financial crisis may well beckon. In other words, the neoliberal era has delivered the west back into the kind of crisis-ridden world that we last experienced in the 1930s. With this background, it is hardly surprising that a majority in the west now believe their children will be worse off than they were. Second, those who have lost out in the neoliberal era are no longer prepared to acquiesce in their fate – they are increasingly in open revolt. We are witnessing the end of the neoliberal era. It is not dead, but it is in its early death throes, just as the social-democratic era was during the 1970s.

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The Earth Institute@Columbia University’s Jeffery Sachs

A sure sign of the declining influence of neoliberalism is the rising chorus of intellectual voices raised against it. From the mid-70s through the 80s, the economic debate was increasingly dominated by monetarists and free marketeers. But since the western financial crisis, the centre of gravity of the intellectual debate has shifted profoundly. This is most obvious in the United States, with economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Dani Rodrik and Jeffrey Sachs becoming increasingly influential. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been a massive seller. His work and that of Tony Atkinson and Angus Deaton have pushed the question of the inequality to the top of the political agenda. In the UK, Ha-Joon Chang, for long isolated within the economics profession, has gained a following far greater than those who think economics is a branch of mathematics.

 Meanwhile, some of those who were previously strong advocates of a neoliberal approach, such as Larry Summers and the Financial Times’s Martin Wolf, have become extremely critical. The wind is in the sails of the critics of neoliberalism; the neoliberals and monetarists are in retreat. In the UK, the media and political worlds are well behind the curve. Few recognise that we are at the end of an era. Old attitudes and assumptions still predominate, whether on the BBC’s Today programme, in the rightwing press or the parliamentary Labour party.

Following Ed Miliband’s resignation as Labour leader, virtually no one foresaw the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn in the subsequent leadership election. The assumption had been more of the same, a Blairite or a halfway house like Miliband, certainly not anyone like Corbyn. But the zeitgeist had changed. The membership, especially the young who had joined the party on an unprecedented scale, wanted a complete break with New Labour. One of the reasons why the left has failed to emerge as the leader of the new mood of working-class disillusionment is that most social democratic parties became, in varying degrees, disciples of neoliberalism and uber-globalisation. The most extreme forms of this phenomenon were New Labour and the Democrats, who in the late 90s and 00s became its advance guard, personified by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, triangulation and the third way.

But as David Marquand observed in a review for the New Statesman, what is the point of a social democratic party if it doesn’t represent the less fortunate, the underprivileged and the losers? New Labour deserted those who needed them, who historically they were supposed to represent. Is it surprising that large sections have now deserted the party who deserted them? Blair, in his reincarnation as a money-obsessed consultant to a shady bunch of presidents and dictators, is a fitting testament to the demise of New Labour.

‘Virtually no one foresaw the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn’, pictured at a rally in north London last week.

‘Virtually no one foresaw the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn’, pictured at rally in north London last week. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

The rival contenders – Burnham, Cooper and Kendall – represented continuity. They were swept away by Corbyn (pic above), who won nearly 60% of the votes. New Labour was over, as dead as Monty Python’s parrot. Few grasped the meaning of what had happened. A Guardian leader welcomed the surge in membership and then, lo and behold, urged support for Yvette Cooper, the very antithesis of the reason for the enthusiasm. The PLP refused to accept the result and ever since has tried with might and main to remove Corbyn.

Just as the Labour party took far too long to come to terms with the rise of Thatcherism and the birth of a new era at the end of the 70s, now it could not grasp that the Thatcherite paradigm, which they eventually came to embrace in the form of New Labour, had finally run its course. Labour, like everyone else, is obliged to think anew. The membership in their antipathy to New Labour turned to someone who had never accepted the latter, who was the polar opposite in almost every respect of Blair, and embodying an authenticity and decency which Blair patently did not.

Labour may be in intensive care, but the condition of the Conservatives is not a great deal better.

Corbyn is not a product of the new times, he is a throwback to the late 70s and early 80s. That is both his strength and also his weakness. He is uncontaminated by the New Labour legacy because he has never accepted it. But nor, it would seem, does he understand the nature of the new era. The danger is that he is possessed of feet of clay in what is a highly fluid and unpredictable political environment, devoid of any certainties of almost any kind, in which Labour finds itself dangerously divided and weakened.

Labour may be in intensive care, but the condition of the Conservatives is not a great deal better. David Cameron was guilty of a huge and irresponsible miscalculation over Brexit. He was forced to resign in the most ignominious of circumstances. The party is hopelessly divided. It has no idea in which direction to move after Brexit. The Brexiters painted an optimistic picture of turning away from the declining European market and embracing the expanding markets of the world, albeit barely mentioning by name which countries it had in mind. It looks as if the new prime minister may have an anachronistic hostility towards China and a willingness to undo the good work of George Osborne. If the government turns its back on China, by far the fastest growing market in the world, where are they going to turn?

Brexit has left the country fragmented and deeply divided, with the very real prospect that Scotland might choose independence. Meanwhile, the Conservatives seem to have little understanding that the neoliberal era is in its death throes.

‘Put America first’: Donald Trump in Cleveland last month. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Dramatic as events have been in the UK, they cannot compare with those in the United States. Almost from nowhere, Donald Trump rose to capture the Republican nomination and confound virtually all the pundits and not least his own party. His message was straightforwardly anti-globalisation. He believes that the interests of the working class have been sacrificed in favour of the big corporations that have been encouraged to invest around the world and thereby deprive American workers of their jobs. Further, he argues that large-scale immigration has weakened the bargaining power of American workers and served to lower their wages.

He proposes that US corporations should be required to invest their cash reserves in the US. He believes that the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) has had the effect of exporting American jobs to Mexico. On similar grounds, he is opposed to the TPP and the TTIP. And he also accuses China of stealing American jobs, threatening to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports.

To globalisation Trump counterposes economic nationalism: “Put America first”. His appeal, above all, is to the white working class who, until Trump’s (and Bernie Sander’s) arrival on the political scene, had been ignored and largely unrepresented since the 1980s. Given that their wages have been falling for most of the last 40 years, it is extraordinary how their interests have been neglected by the political class. Increasingly, they have voted Republican, but the Republicans have long been captured by the super-rich and Wall Street, whose interests, as hyper-globalisers, have run directly counter to those of the white working class. With the arrival of Trump they finally found a representative: they won Trump the Republican nomination.

The economic nationalist argument has also been vigorously pursued by Bernie Sanders, who ran Hillary Clinton extremely close for the Democratic nomination and would probably have won but for more than 700 so-called super-delegates, who were effectively chosen by the Democratic machine and overwhelmingly supported Clinton. As in the case of the Republicans, the Democrats have long supported a neoliberal, pro-globalisation strategy, notwithstanding the concerns of its trade union base. Both the Republicans and the Democrats now find themselves deeply polarised between the pro- and anti-globalisers, an entirely new development not witnessed since the shift towards neoliberalism under Reagan almost 40 years ago.

Another plank of Trump’s nationalist appeal – “Make America great again” – is his position on foreign policy. He believes that America’s pursuit of great power status has squandered the nation’s resources. He argues that the country’s alliance system is unfair, with America bearing most of the cost and its allies contributing far too little. He points to Japan and South Korea, and Nato’s European members as prime examples.He seeks to rebalance these relationships and, failing that, to exit from them.

As a country in decline, he argues that America can no longer afford to carry this kind of financial burden. Rather than putting the world to rights, he believes the money should be invested at home, pointing to the dilapidated state of America’s infrastructure. Trump’s position represents a major critique of America as the world’s hegemon. His arguments mark a radical break with the neoliberal, hyper-globalisation ideology that has reigned since the early 1980s and with the foreign policy orthodoxy of most of the postwar period. These arguments must be taken seriously. They should not be lightly dismissed just because of their authorship. But Trump is no man of the left. He is a populist of the right. He has launched a racist and xenophobic attack on Muslims and on Mexicans. Trump’s appeal is to a white working class that feels it has been cheated by the big corporations, undermined by Hispanic immigration, and often resentful towards African-Americans who for long too many have viewed as their inferior.

A Trump America would mark a descent into authoritarianism characterised by abuse, scapegoating, discrimination, racism, arbitrariness and violence; America would become a deeply polarised and divided society. His threat to impose 45% tariffs on China, if implemented, would certainly provoke retaliation by the Chinese and herald the beginnings of a new era of protectionism.

Trump may well lose the presidential election just as Sanders failed in his bid for the Democrat nomination. But this does not mean that the forces opposed to hyper-globalisation – unrestricted immigration, TPP and TTIP, the free movement of capital and much else – will have lost the argument and are set to decline. In little more than 12 months, Trump and Sanders have transformed the nature and terms of the argument. Far from being on the wane, the arguments of the critics of hyper-globalisation are steadily gaining ground. Roughly two-thirds of Americans agree that “we should not think so much in international terms but concentrate more on our own national problems”. And, above all else, what will continue to drive opposition to the hyper-globalisers is inequality.

 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/21/death-of-neoliberalism-crisis-in-western-politics

The inner life of a restless intellect


May 24, 2016

Benedict Anderson

Indonesian scholar

The inner life of a restless intellect

May 21st 2016 | From the print edition

 

IN SOUTH-EAST Asia Benedict Anderson, who died last December aged 79, was an intellectual giant. In 1966 he was part of a team at Cornell University that published an influential report on what really happened during the violent takeover of Indonesia in October of the previous year. The report was leaked to the Washington Post and Anderson was eventually barred from entering the country.

He remained cut off from Indonesia for 27 years until the fall of Suharto’s dictatorship. But he found new passions, studying Thailand and the Philippines. In 1983 his meandering studies and wide reading led him to write the book he is most famous for, “Imagined Communities”, which explores the enduring allure of nationalism.

Benedict Anderson: Ilmuwan Amerika Pencinta Indonesia

by Yogira

Ada beberapa ilmuwan dan cendikiawan warga negara asing [WNA], yang sangat  mencintai Indonesia, bahkan akhirnya jadi WNI. Salah satunya Benedict Anderson.

Sejak dulu keilmuan seputar Indonesia mendapat selalu mendapat perhatian publik dunia. Mereka mengkaji berbagai bidang sesuai minat dan latarbelakang pendidikannya. Sekedar menyebut beberapa nama:  A. Teeuw, Katrin Bandel, Berthold Damshäuser [pengkaji kesusastraan Indonesia], Dieter Mack [pengkaji musik gamelan], Franz Magnis Suseno [pengkaji filsafat dan budaya Indonesia], dan Benedict Anderson [pengkaji sejarah dan budaya Indonesia]. Menariknya, Saking terlanjur mencintai Indonesia, di antara mereka akhirnya mengukuhkan diri sebagai Warga Negara Indonesia [WNI]. Sebutan “Indonesianis” pun melekat pada dirinya.

Baru-baru ini, Indonesia kehilangan salah satu indonesianis. Ya, Benedict Richard O’Gorman Anderson, meninggal di Batu, Malang, Sabtu malam [12/12]. Ilmuwan asal Amerika yang lebih dikenal dengan nama Ben Anderson ini wafat pada usia 79.

Ben adalah professor emeritus bidang studi internasional Universitas Cornell, Amerika. Sebelum meninggal, Ben sempat memberi kuliah umum tentang Anarkisme dan Sosialisme di Universitas Indonesia. Dia juga tengah menyiapkan bedah buku terbarunya bertajuk Di Bawah Tiga Bendera.

Ilmuwan kelahiran Kunming, China, 26 Agustus 1936 ini menerbitkan banyak karya tulis, baik dalam bentuk buku, jurnal, maupun artikel, antara lain:  Imagined Communities, Debating World Literature, Language and Power: Exploring Political Cultures in Indonesia, dan Java in a Time of Revolution. Banyak karyanya yang menjadi rujukan studi mahasiswa dan akademisi. Bahkan Imagines Communities jadi salah satu  karyanya yang paling monumental.

Penjelajahan intelektual Ben di Indonesia menularkan kajian-kajian kritis, yang sempat ‘memanaskan’ kuping rezim Orde Baru lantaran pandangan dan analisinya berbau “kekiri-kirian”. Imbasnya, dia dilarang masuk Indonesia. Setelah Soeharto lengser, Ben kembali ke Indonesia untuk berkutat dengan keilmuannya.

Selama tinggal di Indonesia, Ben kerapkali berkunjung ke berbagai daerah untuk menjalani penelitian. Dari hasil beberapa kali kunjungan itulah, dia semakin suntuk mendalami Indonesia, terutama dari aspek sosial dan budaya. Salah satu yang menjadi cirikhas Ben dalam menulis adalah, ia acap menggunakan Bahasa Indonesia ejaan lama dalam beberapa tulisannya.    

Selamat tinggal Om Ben. Sumbangsihmu untuk Indonesia semoga terus berharga.

[][teks @firza/berbagai sumber | foto chaiwanbenpost.blogspot.com, niallodoc.wordpress.com]

Outside South-East Asian circles, Anderson’s prolific and diverse output is more obscure. This should change with the publication of his memoir, “A Life Beyond Boundaries”. As the title suggests, Anderson is an enemy of the bubble, whether nation, school or language. He returns again and again to an image in Thai and Indonesian cultures of a frog who lives its entire life under half of a coconut shell. “Sitting quietly under the shell, before long the frog begins to feel that the coconut bowl encloses the entire universe,” he writes. “The moral judgment in the image is that the frog is narrow-minded, provincial, stay-at-home and self-satisfied for no good reason. For my part, I stayed nowhere long enough to settle down in one place, unlike the proverbial frog.”

Reading Anderson feels like emerging from the coconut shell. You come away wanting to see films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a Thai film-maker he admired, to learn Tagalog on the side or to read a grand Filipino novel, “Noli Me Tangere” (“Touch me not”), by José Rizal, which Anderson tried to translate line by line in an effort to learn Spanish. He praised Indonesia’s great young novelist, Eka Kurniawan.

Born in 1936 in Kunming, in Yunnan province, to an Irish father and an English mother, Anderson (pictured in China with his nanny) moved to Ireland, along with his two siblings, in 1945 after a brief period in America. His father died soon after; his mother became a guiding force. Anderson went to Eton and then to Cambridge, before going to Cornell as a teaching assistant. There, he met George Kahin, a leading expert on Indonesia whose lectures set Anderson on his path. This willingness to be open to new experiences and challenges was the key to his brilliance.

“Scholars who feel comfortable with their position in a discipline, department or university will try neither to sail out of harbour nor to look for a wind,” he writes, paraphrasing an expression in Indonesia. “But what is to be cherished is the readiness to look for that wind and the courage to follow it when it blows in your direction.” Although “A Life Beyond Boundaries” is about the life of a scholar, it is asides like these that give the book a universal touch. Anderson went to three privileged institutions of learning. They could have given him many opportunities to remain in his bubble. But he just wasn’t that kind of frog.

http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21699109-inner-life-restless-intellect-indonesian-scholar?frsc=dg%7Ca

The University of Cambodia Launches Global Network of ASEAN Study Centers


May 12, 2016

The University of Cambodia launches The Global Network of ASEAN Study Centers (GNASC)

All ASEAN/Southeast Asian Study Centers, some 70+ throughout the world, will be invited to be members of The Global Network of ASEAN Study Centers (GNASC). The objectives of GNASC are clearly stated in the Press Release from The University of Cambodia.

All are welcome to participate in this open and inclusive network. There will be an international conference named ” ASEAN Global Dialogue” to be held in Phnom Penh in November, 2016. to which all leaders of ASCs around the world with be invited. You will be hearing from us soon.–Din Merican, Dean, Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia.

 

 

 All are welcome to participate in this open and inclusive network. There will be an international conference named ” ASEAN Global Dialogue” to be held in Phnom Penh in November, 2016. to which all leaders of ASCs around the world with be invited. You will be hearing from us soon.–Din Merican, Dean, Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia.