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Monday, January 16, 2012

Ignorant Mahathir shames Malaysia

Sulaiman Kamal | 4:24 AM | | | Best Blogger Tips

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The Financial Times has been running a series of article entitled ‘Capitalism in Crisis’ this month. Due perhaps to his notoriety from the days of the Asian currency crisis, Mahathir was invited to pen an article as part of this series. Or it may be that FT wanted to amuse its readers with an illustration of the kind of rabid, ignorant louts that hold sway over less-developed nations. In the event, Mahathir did not fail to make a fool of himself. Unfortunately for Malaysians, he was described as a former Prime Minister of Malaysia, embarrassing us all.
Mahathir started off with his usual rant about how Malaysia was asked to raise interest rates and let inefficient banks and companies go under in 1998; yet the West did not follow their own advice during the 2008 crisis. In fact, Mahathir is wrong to compare these two dissimilar events in the fashion that he does.

Malaysia’s currency came under attack for at least the following reasons :
  • Reserves that were too low (USD28 billion), lower even than the amount of mobile capital (USD50 billion) in the country
  • Performance deterioration of the financial sector
  • A credit-funded stock and real-estate bubble
  • Deterioration of the real exchange-rate
All of the above factors were caused by Mahathir’s mismanagement of the economy based on the advice of individuals who can only be described as his cronies. The Finance Minister’s and BNM’s warnings, almost two years before the crisis, were ignored and dismissed by Mahathir.
The US subprime crisis was caused by an entirely different reason, which was financial innovation. Without innovation, no industry can progress and finance was no different. In this particular case it was the securitization of mortgages known as subprime mortgages because of their relatively higher risk. Few, including the US Federal Reserve Bank, foresaw the danger that would be caused to the global financial system by these products.
Despite Mahathir’s claims, the US did allow banks and companies to go under, including Lehman, and Bear Sterns. If the US had not then stepped in , it would have caused a far worse global crisis which would have have also impacted Malaysia.
Mahathir also claims that Malaysia, thanks to his currency controls, recovered faster than its neighbours. This is untrue as there was little difference in the timing of the recoveries. In terms of the quality of recovery, we are definitely worse off than our neighbours.
In an attack on the finance industry, Mahathir claims that it creates no jobs, businesses or trade. This is of course entirely untrue as the Finance Industry plays the critical role of funneling savings to the best possible use. If Mahathir thinks it creates no jobs, he should visit the City of London. We will add that the export surplus in the Finance Industry contributes to almost 3% of the UK’s GDP. There will also be no business or trade without Banks to provide loans to those who need it.
Nor should Mahathir be running down the complex financial products that are found in the market today. They serve a purpose, to hedge, to protect investment value or to avoid large volatilities in investments. So indeed we need options and swaps and  forwards and futures.
Mahathir then suggests, incredibly, that Bretton Woods be revived and gold reestablished as the basis for currency exchange rates. Clearly, Mahathir has no interest in learning from the lessons of history or he would not make so foolish a suggestion. During the Great Depression in the 1930’s, it was the economies that hung on the longest to the gold standard (including Brittan and the US) that took the longest time to recover. It will also mean that countries will no longer have control over their monetary policy. Money supply will grow fast or slow based on the pace of gold discoveries. Effectively, this means that a without gold discoveries, we would end up with deflation which would inevitably lead to the contraction of economies. It is ignorance and a lack of a clear thought process that prompts Mahathir to come up with such ideas. We should be grateful, one supposes, that Malaysia is now free of his grandiose schemes or we will be saddled with yet more failed enterprises like the Perwajas and the Protons. Unfortunately he still wields enough influence in the BN to get the odd crackpot idea approved.
Mahathir then proposes that currency trading be banned. How then would one determine rates of exchange? Based on Mahathir’s less than informed opinion, perhaps?
Forex trades essentially ensure that any given product, a packet of groundnuts shall we say, costs the same in Malaysia as it does in South Korea, assuming there are no transportation costs. If Malaysian groundnuts cost more than South Korean groundnuts then demand for it would dissapear. The result would be a depreciation in the ringgit until the groundnuts cost the same again in both countries. To attempt to manage these scenarios and far more complex situations without a forex market would be foolhardy.
Mahathir and his like yet control the Barisan Nasional and are even now leading us into disaster in 2012 by denying an abyss that is already upon us. For us to engage in reasoned and rational economic dialogue, practice and policies, we will have to jettison the BN by voting in a new Pakatan government. The alternative is unthinkable. The alternative is economic disaster.


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