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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #14

Chapter 3: Diamond of Development (Cont’d)

Primacy of Individuals

Goh Keng Swee, Singapore’s longtime Economics Minister and the man credited for the remarkable transformation of that republic, attributed the success less to the sound policies and strategies planned by him and his fellow leaders, rather to the collective decisions of the average Singaporeans.(12) As parents they encouraged their children to study English and pursue the sciences instead of shunning those tough subjects. It was individual citizens who decided to tame their nationalistic zeal and encouraged their children to take up English. It was their individual decisions to forego current consumption in favor of savings, thus enabling the nation to have its stupendously high saving rates to fund its ambitious development projects.

Yes, the government (leaders) provided the broad policies and executed them well. It built schools with well-equipped laboratories and well-trained teachers, and mandated pensions so workers could save some of their earnings. It ensured that the funds were prudently managed to benefit the workers as investors as well as from the jobs and services provided by those wise investments. Those workers saw and experienced the tangible benefits resulting from their savings, which encouraged them to save even more.

Just as individuals and their enterprises produce the goods and services, likewise it is their actions and initiatives that push society forward. When the first hunter-gatherer settled down, it was the decision of individuals. He may have been a rebellious member not sufficiently deferential to tradition and was left out by the wandering tribe. Or an inquisitive hunter who discovered that the seeds he threw out the season before were now sprouting and bearing fruits. So he tried a primordial experiment of intentionally planting them and staying put to see the results. He succeeded, and the rest of his tribe followed his example. The tribe certainly did not have a meeting and decided that they had enough of the wandering life and wanted to try something new like staying put.

They were successful; others seeing how well fed they were picked up on the idea. They too began settling down and cultivating the land. They amplified on the original idea; instead of eating all their harvest they stored the juiciest, biggest and sweetest seeds for planting in the next season. Before long the whole valley followed suit, spelling an end of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and with that, a quantum leap in the progress of mankind.

The first domesticated animals probably came along the same way. Again the tribe did not suddenly decide to capture some wild animals to domesticate them. More than likely, a doting father gave his son a pair of baby wild sheep that were orphaned after their mother was killed. The little boy became attached to the pair and would not let their father slaughter them. The pair bred, and suddenly the tribe had another sheep without having to hunt. The enterprising young boy also discovered that the milk the lamb suckled tasted good, and a primitive dairy industry was begun. A few animals later, the tribe discovered that the hides could be used for clothing, footwear, and bedding. A millennium later and with a few enhancements along the way, we have fancy Armani shoes and handbags.

The tale may not have gone as described. The first fellow who stayed behind and not followed his fellow hunter-gatherer tribesmen may not have been successful planting his seeds, and did not survive to tell his story. Similarly, the first man who tried to domesticate an animal may have chosen the wrong specie like a prehistoric rattlesnake, thinking that it could solve the rat problem of his cave simultaneously. He too did not live to tell his tale.

Nonetheless there were enough inquisitive and enterprising individuals who were not satisfied with the status quo and decided to try something new. One or two succeeded, and their ideas were copied, amplified, and improved.

Throughout history, human progress has been the cumulative result of such individual efforts. The emancipation of the Arabs and the beginning of a great faith began with one man. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not form a committee to explore the possibility of a new faith.

The discovery of the New World and inventions like the steam engine were all the result of the ideas of individuals, likewise with the great ideas of today. If a society aspires to progress, it must respect its most important asset, its members. Individuals drive progress. Society must respect the primacy of individuals, and provide every opportunity for them to develop fully their God-given talent.

Government does not create wealth; individuals, companies, and industries do. Economic growth occurs when people take resources (physical, human and others), rearrange them, and then make them more valuable or desirable to users (consumers). The same ingredients in the hands of the resourceful would result in the creation of untold wealth. Put the same resource in the hands of the untrained and unprepared, and it would be squandered.

A kitchen metaphor will illuminate this point. With the same set of ingredients, a skillful chef would whip up a gourmet omelet; a klutz, an overcooked tasteless egg. That same tasty omelet served on fine china in a fancy restaurant by an attentive waiter would cost RM10; served on a banana leaf by a sweaty server in tattered T-shirt at a roadside stall across an open drain and it would fetch 50 cents, at best. The same ingredients and almost the same product, but all the other seemingly unrelated factors cumulatively accounted for the twenty-fold difference in value.

The key to Malaysia’s competitiveness is to ensure that its citizens are equipped with the necessary knowledge so they can effectively leverage the wonderful assets of the country. In Part Two, I will delve into greater details on each of the four cardinal elements of my Diamond of Development, relating them specifically to Malaysia. Before doing that, I will first explore what it means to be competitive, and examine the consequences of progress.

Next: Chapter 4: On Being Competitive


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr Mohd Bakri Musa

Goh Keng Swee, Singapore’s longtime Economics Minister and the man credited for the remarkable transformation of that republic, attributed the success less to the sound policies and strategies planned by him and his fellow leaders, rather to the collective decisions of the average Singaporeans.(12)

First, excuse me if I got your name wrong and please do correct me, Doc.

Now, I would appreciate it when one may study the truth of the statement in bold above
and the time frame of the changes. Are there other bona fide materials that one may pour over dilligently apart from Dr Michael Barr's, as an example,



and which is more recent and where one may access for free.

Thank you.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John a Stebengs where are you?
Chasing the seladangs or kerbu back to their pens?

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just remember that I have read your "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization" and it is a frivolous reading peppered with con man arguements fit only for a pre-med student in his leisure moments. It is for who?

It needs to be rewritten if it is to entice even below average Malaysian to fork out that RM60.

For the discerning readers, it is a no even if it is with a 100% discount. No wonder one may find it in the public libraries at the most bottom shelves.

Should you blame the librarians then, Bakri?

Perhaps John a Stebengs is right after all in this post Mahathir era.

Think!(or is this blogspot under the care of Karen?)

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know this song, dear?

Soley Soley

Just a little bit lonely
just a little bit sad
I was feeling so empty
until you came back
until you came back
until you came back.


Just a little bit closer
can you lay by my side
can we get it together
lazing in the sand
lazing in the sand
lazing in the sand.


Comments about this lyric Soley Soley by Middle Of The Road(?)

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I will delve into greater details on each of the four cardinal elements of my Diamond of Development, relating them specifically to Malaysia. Before doing that, I will first explore what it means to be competitive, and examine the consequences of progress.

I am waiting with glee, Bakri.

7:40 AM  

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