A NEW compass has been put in place for the journey ahead, following the tabling of the 2019 Budget. It is all about humanising growth — putting humanity back at the heart of economic policies and articulating a greater purpose in economic development.
Together with the tabling of the Mid-Term Review of the 11th Malaysia Plan last month, it appears that the right alchemy and thinking has been formulated for the economic challenges of the 21st century.
Economics should not be seen as an endeavour of managing scarcity or tracing the laws that govern the market and industry, but more critically, it must have clear purposes and goals.
In the context of Malaysia, it means the government must ensure that all Malaysians reap the benefit of economic growth.
Their purchasing power would be significantly improved through addressing the high cost of living and increasing income levels; wealth and income gaps would be reduced; and an increase in economic opportunities through new job creation.
The sorry state of society, as evident in the State of Households 2018 report published by the Khazanah Research Institute recently, would be addressed, particularly the gap between the haves and have-nots.
Although it takes time to effectively address this issue, there are commendable measures in the Budget, such as the focus on invigorating the spirit of entrepreneurship, revamping the education system, improving social wellbeing and prioritising the small- and medium-sized enterprises.
Humanising growth also means that efforts to improve gross domestic product (GDP) must be sustainable. Hence the focus on renewable energy and challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (41R) in the Budget is a step in the right direction.
As for the green agenda, the time is ripe for electricity generation based on solar energy.
This must be the new normal for Malaysia. The third national car project, for example, can adopt the electric car technology, or else it would be better to invest more to improve public transportation.
The government must emphasise 41R in its future budget planning. This is crucial in the aspect of education.
The education system needs to be overhauled in line with new technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and the Internet of Things.
More needs to be done to strengthen subjects which a redeemed less important such as literature, history, philosophy, and the arts, and put them on a par with “hard ” subjects such as science and mathematics.
It is a lost cause to compete with the mighty algorithms in the future, where many of the human professions involving high IQ would likely be replaced by robots and AI, such as specialist doctors.
We would be confronted by existential and ontological questions as robots and technology flood, not just our external life, but also internally — the body and mind — in the form of cyborg engineering, biological engineering, and engineering of inorganic life.
Our political and philosophical underpinnings, which have glued us as a society, may be irrelevant as we encounter a different reality.
In this scenario, we need more philosophers, poets, culturists, artists and historians than scientists. Thus our education system must be prepared for these 21st-century challenges.
I’m relieved that this is not an austerity budget. Although new taxes were introduced, the impact on people’s pockets appears to be minimal.
The GDP target has been revised downward, but this is in line with regional and global growth rates. What’s more, the gloomy outlook of the world economy and trade next year explains the lower-than-expected growth trajectory.
The government should be less concerned about trimming the deficit and focus more on stimulating the economy by providing consumers and businesses more money to spend.
The plus points in the budget include addressing corruption and making the accounting systems more transparent.
My hope is that these measures are translated into reality to improve the wellbeing and happiness of Malaysians.
DR IRWAN SHAH ZAINAL ABIDIN
Associate professor of eonomics and director, Asian Research Institute of Banking and Finance, Universiti Utara Malaysia