A rant on the state of our economy
By Zan Azlee
My wife and I are a very romantic couple that does many things together. One of those things is going to buy groceries every week. Our local supermarket is just a two-minute drive away and we make it like a date. We chat and update each other about our lives and joke around and laugh. It really is a good time!
However, recently, it hasn’t been so good and it is all thanks to the feeling we get once we cross the cashier counter. My wallet suddenly feels so much lighter than when we entered the supermarket. How this is so can be quite confusing as nothing physical leaves the wallet. It really is just a tap of a card and the sound of a beep.
I have weighed my wallet before. I would do it before going to the supermarket and then one more time after I have left. The actual weight remains the same. But the feeling in our hearts seems much more hollow and empty. It is as if our souls have left our bodies. Yes, groceries have become more expensive.
It is concerning times when the news is just filled with stories that involve prices going up. It is even scarier when the things that are getting more expensive are essential items for our actual practice of living. For example, food like chicken and cooking oil, or utilities like electricity and petrol.
Prices up, income drops
Actually, it wouldn’t be so scary if the prices went up along with the average salary or income of the people. Unfortunately, the prices went up drastically with no change in the average income. Not only that, we are facing a situation where income is dropping due to the loss of jobs and even just basic demand for work.
In just the last week or two, the government has announced the removal of ceiling prices and subsidies for these items that I have mentioned. Chicken and cooking oil ceiling prices were removed. The price of petrol has gone up and electricity tariffs were hiked up as well. All things that are used by all people.
One of the key responsibilities of a government is to ensure that the people are able to live a decent quality and standard of life. When the cost of living goes up drastically and the people struggle just to live, then this usually indicates a government that is inefficient in managing and administering the country.
It would seem that the current Malaysian government has not done anything to ensure that Malaysians can afford to have the basic living essentials. There are many things that can be done to soften the blow of a bad economy, but instead, they chose to just allow the prices to increase and burden the people.
To be fair, we have been warned that things are going to get bad, not just in the country but globally as well. All this is stemming from the two years of pandemic that we have gone through. People have lost jobs, companies have lost business and governments have lost revenue.
There really is nothing that can be done when a pandemic happens and lives are threatened. But what can be done is for governments to manage the pandemic properly, not just in terms of the health and safety of the people, but also the economic state of the country and society.
What is the point of achieving zero deaths from Covid-19 in a day when the people who have remained alive will eventually starve and struggle? For many Malaysians, starvation may seem like an unbelievable dystopia. But believe me, there are many Malaysians who can actually visualise it happening.
I love listening to the Freakonomics podcast and do so religiously every week when a new episode is released. I also like reading The Edgenewspaper. But I’m not an economist. I am just a mere journalist. So maybe I am not the person with the right credentials to give economic advice to the government.
But I think I do have the right comment on how life is going for me and my fellow Malaysians, and at the moment, I have to say that life isn’t going very well. Logically speaking, from a layman’s point of view, there could be many things the government could do instead of straightaway lifting subsidies and ceiling prices.
Keeping control of a bloated cabinet could be one thing. Deprioritising the spending and expenditure of ongoing mega projects could be another. Look at what is important right now. It involves the people’s ability to eat. Nothing is more basic than that. So the priority is to make sure people can afford to put food on the table.
Just giving on-off cash handouts is not going to do any good. Haven’t they heard of the very common saying – “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day but teach a man to fish and he eats forever”? Isn’t that just common sense? Well, I guess common sense just isn’t, huh?
So now the government has gone back on their decision to remove the ceiling price for chicken and cooking oil. Electricity tariffs are also not going to be increased. Okay, good then. But it does seem like they are doing it only because of the terrible backlash they have received.
Do they actually have any plans to buffer the economy so that we can recover? If so, I would really like to know what these plans are. Even when they decided on raising prices, we were only told why they had to do it but we were never told how that would help the economy in the long term. So how?
So please dear government. Do something to fix the situation. All I really want is to have my supermarket excursions with my wife to be enjoyable again. Don’t take our date time away from us and allow us to be that loving and romantic couple again.
[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]
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