Drop discrimination, seek diversity to attract talent, says economist

Malaysian Institute for Economic Research’s Shankaran Nambiar says discrimination doesn’t encourage the most efficient outcomes. (File pic)

PETALING JAYA: An economist has called for the end of discriminatory practices of every form and the promotion of diversity, saying this would make for an environment conducive to the attraction of talent to benefit the country.

Shankaran Nambiar, the head of research at the Malaysian Institute for Economic Research, said discrimination could get in the way of the efficient functioning of markets.

“If a section of the population is discriminated against, say on racial grounds, that section can be excluded from the market,”he told FMT.

He gave the example of a tendering process in which certain suppliers are excluded because of their race and said this could mean the exclusion of the most efficient and cost-effective suppliers.

“Discrimination does not work very well with getting the most efficient outcomes,” he remarked.

He said “caste, creed and colour would be irrelevant attributes” if the aim was to improve efficiency and productivity.

Nambiar acknowledged the wisdom of policies to benefit disadvantaged segments of society, but he said clear criteria must be established so that those who were truly disadvantaged would get access to opportunities.

He also spoke of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, noting that authorities in Singapore “do not actively hunt down gays in their favourite haunts” although the country has a law criminalising sex between men.

He said this could be because Singapore depended on a large and influential workforce contributing significantly to its economy and would not want expatriates to resent working in an environment intolerant of alternative lifestyles.

He called for the striking of a balance between domestic sensitivities and diversity.

He said diversity was something developed countries were harnessing to stay ahead in technology and business.

“In the face of ever increasing competition in technology, for investment, and to create a conducive and attractive environment to establish Malaysia as a global hub for talent, discrimination has to give way to diversity,” he said.

“And this does not necessarily mean a dilution of personal values, beliefs and preferences.”