Saturday, January 10, 2009
Focus on Trengganu: Our own Rockefellars
Below is an excerpt of an essay I wrote on Malaysia's robber barons:
The image presented to the public, to hide the image of conspicuous consumption of the elite, is the image of the growing number of bumiputera billionaires and millionaires - the notion that everybody can make it in a society that is increasingly entrepreneurial. If a Felda settler can become a millionaire, why can’t a politician become a billionaire? This is the psychology of corporate crony capitalism that is forming the basis of our base and superstructure.
Do we need more cell phones, more satellite TVs, more cars, more malls, more junk TV programmes, more technologies that are being pushed to the public? Who is creating these ‘needs’ out of the things they do not want? We have created the ‘untouchable class’ of the political-economic elite that will use the ideological state apparatus to maintain its status quo so that they can plunder more and project the image of hard-working ‘natives’ who knows how to do business. Little did they realise that their economic activities, in collaboration with the ruling party, create (according to Chaos Theory) these shifts of ‘butterfly effects’ that will create changes in the indices of the stock market that will inevitably change the lives of millions of people (the masses) whose livelihood are tied to the decision made by those who owns the means of intellectual and economic production.
From the time of the second premier Abdul Razak Hussein and his alliance with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund up to now, we have been trapped in this kind of economic thinking. It is this framework of thinking about economic arrangement and power relations that hides the issue of the growing gap that is already becoming a major focus of struggle of the Opposition parties as well the enlightened ones in the ruling front.
The collapse of the economy in 1997 is a testament to the fragile economy that has weak fundamentals. From the period of 1969-1997 (almost 30 years in the Kondratiev cycle of a nation) we saw the breakdown of social-capital accumulation.
"Emulating a robber baron?"
A 25-year-old can become a multi-millionaire with these dealings based on the business-political nexus, and next use his/her ‘intelligence’ to control people, things, places and politics, given the right connections. That is a recipe of the emergence of the modern dictator. And given this context of success and given the fact of how one uses the media to craft one's glory, this is possible. But what will the Malaysian story of the American dream mean to the 25 million poor?
Is the individual more glorified that the society in which he or she exists? One has to look closely - not just the at individual and how he/she writes his/her own story of success in this land of the rising son/son-in-law or the daughter/daughter-in-law.
If there is a control mechanism to human desire to accumulate wealth and unfairly transform the lives of others, we will have a society conscious enough not to let the rich become richer and the poor living their lives as modern-day slaves. Are there anti-trust laws in Malaysia, to break monopolies? Or probably we should elect a truly nationalistic government that will reverse the trend of privatisation and rethink Malaysia Inc, so that we can better control human desire and the desire to build personal empires.
The story of America's and the world's first billionaire, John D Rockefeller, clearly shows this ethos of the insatiable urge to monopolise. It is a story of monopoly capitalism executed in the name of Protestant ethics. It is about capitalism that is enmeshed contradictorily - make lots of money and control everything until anti-trust laws slow one down. The individual became bigger than the (already corrupt) state.
The control of oil (Standard Oil of Ohio) led to the control of the steel industry and lead to the control of resources in other parts of the world related to the global ideology of industrialism. Rockefeller in the 1900s controlled 90 percent of the American oil industry. We glorify billionaires without asking the question - how did he/she get all the money, at whose expense, and how is it possible in a nation whose riches need to be shared equitably as promised by those who promulgated the statements of our declaration of Independence?
How much durian can one eat in a lifetime? How much land and water is used to build the playground of the rich and famous in Malaysia at the expense of the land of the poor who frequently gets thrown out of squatter areas? How many more helicopter pads the poor in the squatter areas in KL need to see - with envy? How much can the rakyat endure the burden of rising costs when many are struggling to make ends meet, and when even the middle class are living from paycheck to paycheck?
Think. Think about reinventing our economic reality.
Are we seeing the seeds of destruction germinating in this nation that is now looking like the 297th colony of the American Empire?
Our dream might turn into a nightmare.