Striking a balance essential to good governing

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By TK Chua

We can learn a lot from the United States presidential election campaign rhetoric.

There are those who want to tax the rich more and those who want to tax less. We have the trickledown economics and those who believe in direct economic empowerment of the middle class and the lower income groups.

Then there are those who are anti-trade proponents and those who are pro-trade advocates. We have the liberals and the conservatives and their many perspectives imposed on religions, sexual orientation, way of life, freedom of choice, and on regulation and control.

If we look at our own country today, the same things are happening. The rhetoric is always based from one extreme to the other – whether we are inclusive or parochial, religious or liberal, progressive or reactionary, economic empowerment or creating more dependency, regulation or deregulation, privatisation or state control, and centralisation or more devolution.

Rarely do the extremes work. It is always the middle path. In fact, the challenge of governing is to find the trade off, balancing the conflicting interests and demands of various groups, avoiding the excesses of policies and containing and controlling the abuse of unfettered power.

Hence, there should never be indiscriminate and unfettered entry of foreign workers, despite the shortage of manpower experienced in this country. Foreign workers must always be balanced with our national cohesion, level of unemployment, infringement on wage level, and Malaysia’s long-term productivity growth.

Privatisation is a good policy to leverage on private sector flexibility and efficiency but we must never lose sight of private monopolies, post-privatisation control and regulation, as well as the need to ensure fair profit and quality of service rendered.

Taxing the rich for the poor has been debated for centuries. Ultimately, it is still about finding the right balance – not to kill the incentives to work or to encourage evasion or relocation.

The poor are best served by empowerment rather than dishing out to them more transfer payments – BR1M here and unfettered welfare in the West. It inculcates laziness and destroys human dignity.

Of course creating economic opportunities and providing meaningful jobs are more difficult than taxing the rich or selling national assets.

However, we know one is sustainable while the other is not.

By the way, no one is saying governing is an easy job. If our ministers think it is so, they must be either stupid or ignorant of their ministerial functions and responsibilities.

I believe most of us want more freedom and our way of life. It is best that the government plays a neutral and impartial role.

I must say in the West the LGBT community has started to impose their will on others while here they are still very much discriminated. Again a right policy mix is needed.

We love our fresh air, clean water and pristine habitat. But we also want our opulent homes, marques on the roads, and boundless consumption and extravagance.

Although we often blame environmental degradation on others, it is usually about ourselves. Think about it, again it is the government that must strike the balance.

We all want a more equalitarian society, but we also know that economic advancement must always be based on work and reward. We must help the poor and the less fortunate but when the policy has become a burden to economic dynamism, we know it has become excessive.

Similarly, if society has become very unequal, we know too many privileges and resources will be concentrated in the hands of the few. Again, the job of the government is to balance the two – between ugly capitalism and feeble socialism.

Sometimes we find the middle path so difficult to attain simply because the people who run our government just prefer one extreme to another. It is easier and more beneficial to them.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

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