Connexion: The economy has deviated from the path of nature

 By Joachim Ng

Perak folks will soon be caught in a man-made dilemma: to save the environment or the economy, as if these are ladies falling over a cliff and you can only reach out to one of them. It is a fictitious choice.

We have waded into a yearly deluge that starts in October and drags on till January. Kinta Valley has joined the districts of Larut Matang & Selama, Hilir Perak, Batang Padang, Kampar, and Kerian in being hit. Ipoh is now the storm centre with a  tornado-style landspout destroying houses at the tail end in January.

The environment makes the economy possible, and what needs to be fixed is the economy so that it fits into the environment. The environment is nature, and we have deviated too far from the natural way. Almost every facet of the national and global economy has deviated from the natural economy. Here’s a glimpse of just two economic practices that are seriously deviant and how to correct them.

Foreign worker dependence 

Before the pandemic struck, documented foreign workers totalling 2 million from Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Thailand made up 15% of our workforce. Add the illegals, and it’s 20%. Foreigners dominate the elementary occupations, and you see them in factories, plantations, construction sites, farms, restaurants, homes, and condos. 

Ecological norms are violated as three-quarters of their employers fail to provide adequate standards of housing. It is usual for a company-rented apartment or house to be occupied by up to 15 foreigners. Lacking safe and conducive quarters for staying, they constituted one of the major categories of COVID-19 victims. Many foreign workers also carelessly discard litter including face masks in their neighbourhoods.

A workable solution is to combine the screening method and the schooling method in choosing foreigners. Malaysia conducts only health and security screening. It’s not enough. We have to institute behavioral screening to ensure that only those who are willing to comply with accepted behavioural codes are let in. With behavioral screening, we get the right people who may even set an example of good conduct for locals.

The schooling method calls for a reorientation of the educational system to abolish the arts and science streams, and instead create one stream for the physically inclined and another stream for the academically inclined. Equip the physically-inclined with technical, vocational, and trade skills. Without a mass base of local skilled workers, the maintenance of buildings, infrastructure, and equipment will deteriorate.

Already, this is happening with roads in poor condition and potholes badly repaired. Playground equipment is often broken, and some drains are built with insufficient gradient. Even big and well constructed monsoon drains are poorly maintained and fail to carry away storm waters. The lack of a maintenance culture will eventually pull the economy into a downward spiral.

There is a misconception fostered by employers that locals have no interest in dirty jobs. Can they explain how is it that dirty jobs in China, South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam — just to name a few Asian countries — are handled by locals?

The other stream — for the academically inclined — should combine arts and science with focus on research or job-relevant skills. Although our universities produce 500,000 graduates a year, a huge number don’t fit into industry well. The growing problem of construction defects in the building industry, to cite one example, is a telling indicator that our universities are failing to teach graduates the art of labour supervision. 

Forced early retirement 

Nature runs a circular economy. A circular economy is like the rain that falls into a river, flows into the sea, evaporates to the sky to form a cloud, and falls back as rain. Nothing is wasted. But humans run a linear economy. The best example of our linear economy is the labour law governing employment and retirement.

You show up at one end of the line as a fresh employee replacing a 60-year-old who has retired. You work until you reach the end of the line at age 60. Then you are pushed out to make way for a fresh employee. We do the same thing with plastic bags. Use it, throw it, and get a new one. Where do all the discarded plastic bags go? Where do all the retired 60-year-olds go? 

The retirement law was crafted 70 years ago when hardly anyone lived beyond 65. Salaries were also higher then, relative to cost of living. So you could retire comfortably at 55, the retirement age then, and die contentedly at 65. Today, medicines will keep you going till 80. But do you have enough savings to retire at the early age of 60? Less than 3% of retirees have enough to sustain them for 20 years without a job.

Scientists have discovered that today’s human brain is most active at age 60-75, although slower in processing data. Older workers can do a better job than youngsters at most occupations that do not involve hard physical labour and rapid-fire data processing. They also make good mentors imparting their well-honed skills, experiences, and maturity of decision-making to younger employees. 

There is widespread fear that raising the retirement age beyond 60 will cause unemployment among the young to rise. What this tells you is that we have adopted a push-out strategy. Do you know of any young deer that will push an aging deer out of the forest because there isn’t enough grass in the forest for both?

If there isn’t enough grass, then we shouldn’t create more babies. The way of nature is that the population of any animal breed must match the resources available and not exceed these resources. However, we have given away jobs to more than 2 million foreign workers, documented and undocumented. There is enough grass.

Furthermore, human resource specialist Sharmila Sinnathurai has pointed out that seniors have strong work ethic and reliability, lower absenteeism, more job loyalty, and very strong customer service skills.

Here’s the solution: amend the law to allow phased retirement. Employers must retain all well-performing 60-year-olds but can exercise the option of redesignating them to non-command positions and putting them on half-day work at less than half the last drawn salary with EPF. At age 67, there should be a further option of switching them to a three half-day work week on 60% of the previous pay with EPF.

Mandatory retirement should not be fixed at earlier than age 70. Watch how wild beasts run their economy. The old tigers hunt less and less but do not stop hunting altogether. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ipoh Echo.


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