ACCORDING to my Chinese birth year zodiac, this year is auspicious for me. However, the sceptical part of my brain argues this point with the realism that it would not be possible for a whole year to go by with only good luck.
Further, I believe that luck is a culmination of hard work and determination.
“Being lucky” means you just need to tweak some circumstances, or as a famous saying goes – you cannot wish to win the lottery if you have not even bought a ticket.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with a Grab driver recently. He moonlights as a cyrptocurrency agent, therefore routinely asks his passengers what we would do if we were given RM5mil to spend.
I answered that I would pay off my mortgage and loans, then invest the rest to start a charity that champions women’s rights. He claimed that my answer was unusual, with many of his passengers suggesting lives of extravagance, travel and leisure.
I commented that there is nothing wrong with any of our answers – that life’s circumstances would dictate how we value money. What matters most is understanding privileges, where my privileges afforded me the luxury to value money as something that I must be responsible with, and when I have the chance, to pay it forward.
Not everyone is afforded the same luxury. Only this past week, as many of us are attending reunion dinners and celebrating the Lunar New Year, a jobless married couple was sentenced to seven months’ jail for having stolen RM133 worth of food items.
The public is left in the dark on the fate of the couple’s two children, aged four and eight, while their parents are incarcerated. The judge adjudicated based on the couples’ past drug offense, bringing to light the need for our legal system to recognise issues that require rehabilitative measures versus punitive ones.
Further, this is not the only case of poverty that we see in the news recently. The tragic death of two elderly women during a free food promotion programme for senior citizens in conjunction with Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur on Jan 28 is a case in point.
Such cases of poverty and inequality should no longer surprise us. Due to the rising cost of living complemented with stagnant wages, we now see households in Kuala Lumpur earning below RM7,640 categorized as the bottom 40 (B40) according to Khazanah Research Institute’s 2018 State of Households report.
Those who are worst hit are usually the elderly and usually have addiction problems and mental health issues. What do you do when you can no longer earn a living wage but to seek financial help from local councils, your members of parliament, or charitable bodies?
On the flip side, how long can these institutions sustain aid for the B40? With only a meagre percentage of Malaysians paying taxes and with a national median income of RM5,228 – is disbursement of financial aid the only way to help such households?
Would the argument on financial literacy play a part here? A common stigma with financial aid is the poor would purchase what policymakers deemed as unnecessary items.
A working-class single mother when receiving a windfall payment, would splurge on expensive toys for her children. Some case studies have also made a gendered argument – where monies should be disbursed to the female in the household, as male recipients “waste” aid monies on cigarettes, alcohol, and in some cases, drugs.
As someone who studied public policy, my moral compass is uneasy by these assumptions. It is a question I raised many times – where policies should be dictated by those who are affected by it alongside a data-driven approach.
Which brings me back to the question of luck. Does this auspicious year mean that those born in the Chinese year of the boar would have good finances merely on the basis of luck, or do we still need to work towards such luck by being financially savvy and making the right investments?
How about those of us who are down on our luck – those desperate enough to steal or risk death just to get that extra bit of money? How best can the government step in with policies that would assist and rehabilitate, rather than punishing people for being poor?
I am not an economics expert, but I am nudged by my reading of Kate Raworth’s book, Doughnut Economics on shifting economic policies from a capitalistic model to a distributive one. Similar arguments were brought up in Davos recently, where governments are urged to tax the wealthy rather than covert them for philanthropic or merely political financing purposes.
Perhaps only one in a million people in the world will be lucky enough to receive a RM5 million windfall. But should we all only wait when we are multimillionaires to affect the change we want to see around us?
Lyana Khairuddin is a virologist turned policy nerd living in Kuala Lumpur. The views expressed here are entirely her own.
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