Contradictheory: Time to be radical, while Malaysia Baru euphoria is still high


  • Living
  • Sunday, 15 Jul 2018

England's exit from the World Cup on July 11 must have been a huge disappointment to many people in Malaysia who are huge football fans. When only one step away from reaching the final, England were found wanting. They had two shots in total on target, compared to seven by Croatia. Basically, England spent too much of the game trying to not let goals in, instead of scoring them, which is rather the point of the game.

Nevertheless, English fans applauded their team after the final whistle. What they recognised was the bigger picture, that this young England team has exceeded expectations and sent a signal that the nation is now on par with the best in the world, even if they struggle to beat them.

In fact, the World Cup has proven a distraction to the country from the high temperatures possibly linked to global warming and hot air definitely familiar of British politicians.

The football gave optimism and hope for a better future. It seems bizarre that the future of a country should depend so much on a football game, but with optimism comes hope and an idea that anything is possible.

Does this seem familiar? It should, it mirrors the excitement that is Malaysia Baru. Remember when people lauded the cheap bags and old shoes paraded by our new first couple? And how people rushed to contribute to Tabung Harapan, never mind that in practical terms, it wasn’t quite clear how the money donated would help alleviate the national debt.

But these are small missteps that are largely forgiven by the optimism of a better future. Like the football fans, what’s important is that there’s hope and all good things will flow from it.

Really? Winning the World Cup makes peoples’ lives better?

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer seems to be yes – but only for a short while. This was the conclusion drawn in a 2014 study by Goldman Sachs that looked at how winning the World Cup affected market performances in the successful country, beginning with 1974.

On average, the victor outperforms the global market by 3.5% in the first month. The report doesn’t conjecture why this happens, but the glib answer is presumably that the confidence of producing a winning team is reflected in confidence in the market.

However, when you look further, the stock market underperforms by around 4% on average over the year following the final, which means that overall, winning the World Cup has a long-term downside.

One way of interpreting this is that people at first are giddy with the excitement of success, but then reality eventually hits them: it’s just a football competition. Your everyday problems are still the same. The realisation that nothing really has changed not only brings everyone back to Earth, it’s kind of a downer.

In this light, we should then anticipate that this euphoria of a shiny new government will eventually subside, and cynicism will creep in. Remember how everybody said, it’s a new Malaysia now, we are better versions of ourselves, people will not litter, and they will put away their trays after they finish eating.

How’s that going for you?

Let’s face it, by the end of the year we’re probably hearing more people saying, “Malaysia Baru very much like Malaysia Lama, what?”. And it won’t just be troublemakers from the opposition that propose this, but also those otherwise hard-core supporters who for one reason or another feel let down or left out.

This paints a rather bleak future. But what if there was another way of interpreting the results of the study? What if, the short-term positive market actually reflects a willingness to invest in new ideas and try things you wouldn’t otherwise choose?

It seems quite logical that increased confidence would lead to increased risk-taking. You’ve seen success, you feel you can take on the world, so you are more willing to take a chance on the market, and probably invest more of your money at that.

However, it will eventually bite back. Because people underestimate the risk, many of them are losing propositions, which is then reflected in the overall downward trend.

If this the more accurate picture, then it guides us to what the government should do going forward: Take advantage of the vigour and enthusiasm to push forward daring proposals. Those crazy moon-shot ideas that otherwise gets batted down by cynical naysayers, now is the time to be daring, to grab the reins and will us down the improbable path.

Like what? Like how about revamping the Malaysian education system by getting rid of exams? Replace it with a system which moves away from do-or-die examinations and instead evaluates students continuously. And recognise that assessment is not about achievement but as a measuring tool to see how to best customise an individual student’s learning.

Or how about taking a stand and becoming a leader in Asean by setting good examples of governance, promoting human rights and improving international relations? Do what should be done for the betterment of all, so that countries can look at Malaysia and say, if they can do it, why can’t we? And get rid of this idea that we cannot comment on internal issues of Asean member countries, because when something reflects badly on one country, it casts a shadow on us all.

These are somewhat crazy, ambitious ideas that will more likely fall short of the ideal mark. And we must never forget that in a way, optimism is not the end result we want and it isn’t a warrant to be reckless.

But like England and their lack of bravado on the pitch, you will definitely miss all the shots that you don’t take.


In his fortnightly column, Contradictheory, mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi explores the theory that logic is the antithesis of emotion but people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions. Write to Dzof at star2@thestar.com.my.


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