Friday, December 05, 2014

From Tom Yum to Nasi Kandaq Effect: Malaysia's Free-falling Ringgit

by Azly Rahman

How do we explain the free falling of the Malaysian Ringgit and that of the oil prices and try to make sense where Malaysia is heading towards? The 1997 Asian Contagion that made the currencies of South-East Asia collapse, ala the Domino Effect, has visited this region creating the ‘Nasi Kandaq Effect’; a hot and spicy too delicious of an economic recipe that is bad for the health and will create in the long run a massive heart attack for the nation.

Are Malaysians seeing our winter of economic discontent and ready to face a blizzard of social-political upheavals as the next general election approaches?

It is a cycle for any economy in the world tied to globalisation and world politics, whether one call it a Kondratieff Cycle/Waves or any other name - of fluctuations, over-consumption, rogue trading amd speculation, comparative advantage on global exchange of goods, etc.

Maybe the fallen Ringgit is good for Malaysia as it will expand local economy but if and only if other factors remain the same and the rakyat/people really know what is happening. What we have now is a secret government doing secret things and all we know is that the goods and sales tax is for the poor to pay for the expenses of the rich and to offset the plunging oil prices.

The argument that the rich need not be taxed more for fear of capital flight is quite ridiculous, I believe. They will still be taxed in the countries they park their money in; whether they move their operations to the United States, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, or South Africa or even Zimbabwe. Unless in the Cayman Islands and they drink beer on the beach all day and let the poor drink cheap cendol, wondering what life is about as homo economicus/economic beings.

Yes, that is the plight of the poor as they pay for the lifestyle of the rich and filthy, whether the latter comes from the class of landed, branded, or created aristocracy. And who knows too who’s playing with the currency to destabilise the country.

We don’t know how to learn from the Norwegians, and the wise men and women of the Scandinavian nations; how to invest in the future by strengthening the present inspired by the ethics of the culture. A true Viking of a spirit of survival.

If a rich enigmatic man can shake the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange just by sneezing, what about 10 filthy rich people and their children can then do with a cough filled with the phlegm of political vengeance? It is also a game, compounded by the precarious global economy (commanding heights of the world economy governing).

We are fed with Nasi Kandaq politics to cover all these beer-and beach-partying in Cayman Islands, I suppose, or to hide the true wolves of Wall Street from the public eye - this and that issue on race and religion propped up to hide the political - economic nature of things that are in upheavel.

Maybe Malaysia is now in a period of ‘Winter storm’ of this Kondratieff Cycle, with massive debt as a consequence of excessive capacity of the economy; this hyper-modernised Asian state ready to exhale and explode.

A springtime of discontent

The early Mahathir Mohamad years were a springtime of contentment, with new politics at play making things pretty easy and breezy, and next in the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi regime we saw the man enjoying a summer of things beginning to heat up, and when Najib Abdul Razak took over, his Najib-onomics showed us what "prosperity" looked like with massive spending, over-consumption, conspicuous consumption (Imelda-Marcos effect on the wealthy women) and all kinds of issues contributing to the cracks in the economy build upon perhaps the discourse of deceit, behind the shibboleth of the rhetoric of “high-income nation”?

And now we are seeing the coming of a dark winter with socio-political consequences emerging, including a 25 percent foreign workers in our midst and the country will one day not know what to do with this coming Depression and the shift in technological-expertise demands.

Maybe this is the explanation. Maybe Marx, Lenin, Hayek and Keynes were right - these are patterns of human evolution that affect any society that will experience rise and fall and how it struggles finding the right political-economic balance in order for the nation-state to maintain its stability and sanity culturally, economically, and educationally.

With the Ringgit falling, oil price plunging, new tax items shoved into the lives of the poor, and political parties having their own implosions and some on the brink of suicide, what then must we do in order for the Nasi Kandaq Effect to be put under control?

What does it take to stop our own Asian contagion in order for us to not descend into total chaos, like what the 1997 Tom Yum Effect brought - a deputy prime minister ousted and jailed, young and propped-up multi-millionaires gone instantaneously mad, massive umemployment, mass street protests adorned the city streets, panicking political and financial leaders trying to stop the bleeding, and massive arrests under the Internal Security Act set in?

What is different then? What is different now? Or is it still the same cycle - of the rise and fall of a Tongkat Ali society?

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