It’s the right time to change


WE need a new economic regime. We can’t hang on to the current one.

For far too long we have allowed rabid capitalism to overwhelm us. We use globalisation as an excuse for capitalists to subsume us and annihilate others in the name of the free market.

Wealth needs a new definition. Even economist and theorist Adam Smith has to rewrite his supposition on wealth creation. Never before in history have there been so few making so much at the expense of so many.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us how imperfect the present economic construct is. And how vulnerable we are within the system. We must work toward changing the entire structure of the economy. We must get rid of the old normal as we are heralding the new one. This is the right time.

We now know how grossly unjust, unfair and uncharitable the present capitalist practice is. We must promote the idea of a “moral economy”, one that is led not by greed and hubris but justice and fairness for all. We are talking about companionate economic principles first and last.

The concept of a moral economy was made famous by historian E.P. Thompson in his book The Making of English Working Class (1961) and his seminal essay, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteen Century.” There has been some serious discourse on the concept and merits of such a notion since then. The term is nothing new; it had gained traction from as early as the 18th century when economists raised the issue of economic and moral concerns that were already drifting apart.

But lets not waste our breath on the definition. What matters is the idea. Under current circumstances, where humanity is brought down to its knees, free-market thinking alone is not enough. We must not just blame the pandemic. Something is wrong somewhere. We tend to amalgamate rationality with utility maximisation while creating a free- for-all-scenario. We must have the audacity to acknowledge that economic activities must be hinged upon moral obligations.

It has to be a win-win situation for humanity as a whole. We must rebuild an economy where people’s rights supersede that of market demands.

Some will argue the very principle of a free economy is to allow openness and free trade. No one should complain if anyone’s personal wealth is equivalent to the GDP of some nations, or if one company’s revenue wreaks havoc on the earnings of millions of other outfits.

We used to frown upon any notion of monopoly, but monopolistic imperatives in other forms are destroying the world of media, entertainment, hospitality and education, not to mention commerce and finance.

We are creating super rich individuals and super companies. The Internet provides new opportunities but again, there is a huge gap between the players. The big get bigger and the small ones shrink and eventually disappear.

It is unacceptable that while one in every five human being is still living on RM4 a day, one per cent of humanity controls 90% of the world’s wealth. It is sacrilegious to have financial institutions making huge profits while lesser mortals suffer from the threat of bankruptcies, disclosures and repossessions the world over, especially during troubling times like this.

Perhaps it is true that the Covid-19 pandemic is a sobering check on humanity as a whole. It is time for humans to take stock and to relook at themselves and their vulnerabilities. It is the single most devastating disease of the Internet era. It has affected more than 57 million people and killed at least 1.3 million, and counting.

The scourge is redefining us in more ways than one. We are painfully adjusting to the new reality. The term “new normal” has entered the lexicon of humankind.

But perhaps there is a silver lining to all this. This is an opportunity to rethink and rework. The old ways are not applicable anymore. New dynamics are in place.

Our yearly budget should reflect that too. It should be one that takes into account important factors for our collective well-being, including justice and fairness. It is not about helping Mak Cik Kiah on a one-off basis and leaving her to fend off the financial wolves at her door for the next eight months. It must truly reflect the kind of compassionate budget that it claims to be.

Adam Smith’s notion of liberal economy only works best when the economic and political power are well distributed. We are not in that mode anymore.

We have to find an alternative.

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. He is also a diehard rugby fan. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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