Malaysia Human Development Report 2014

Hi, I just received an email from UNDP about the release of the first Malaysia Human Development Report 2014, so below I share it with everyone.

The Malaysia Human Development Report 2013 (MHDR) is the country’s first nationally-owned, independent report of its kind, with a focus on inclusive growth. Themed Redesigning an Inclusive Future, the report is an analysis of the country’s development since the New Economic Policy (NEP) was implemented in 1971.

What’s the connection between Human Development and the Environment?

Since MESYM is an environmental platform, I need to justify why caring about human development is related to caring about the environment. I’m not good with words myself, so I’ll just quote Naomi Klein, who in her new book This Changes Everything (available in Malaysia, at least in Borders Mid Valley) makes this connection very compelling, specifically to address climate change. Excerpt extracted from Climate Change Is a People’s Shock, an article about this book by The Nation (emphasis mine):

It must always be remembered that the greatest barrier to humanity rising to meet the climate crisis is not that it is too late or that we don’t know what to do. There is just enough time, and we are swamped with green tech and green plans. And yet the reason so many of us are greeting this threat with grim resignation is that our political class appears wholly incapable of seizing those tools and implementing those plans. And it’s not just the people we vote into office and then complain about—it’s us. For most of us living in postindustrial societies, when we see the crackling black-and-white footage of general strikes in the 1930s, victory gardens in the 1940s, and Freedom Rides in the 1960s, we simply cannot imagine being part of any mobilization of that depth and scale. That kind of thing was fine for them, but surely not us—with our eyes glued to our smartphones, our attention spans scattered by click bait, our loyalties split by the burdens of debt and the insecurities of contract work. Where would we organize? Who would we trust enough to lead us? Who, moreover, is “we”?

In other words, we are products of our age and of a dominant ideological project—one that has too often taught us to see ourselves as little more than singular, gratification-seeking units out to maximize our narrow advantage. This project has also led our governments to stand by helplessly for more than two decades as the climate crisis morphed from a “grandchildren” problem to a banging-down-the-door problem.

All of this is why any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews—a process of rebuilding and reinventing the very idea of the collective, the communal, the commons, the civil, and the civic after so many decades of attack and neglect. Because what is overwhelming about the climate challenge is that it requires breaking so many rules at once—rules written into national laws and trade agreements, as well as powerful unwritten rules that tell us that no government can increase taxes and stay in power, or say no to major investments no matter how damaging, or plan to gradually contract those parts of our economy that endanger us all.

And yet each of those rules emerged out of the same coherent worldview. If that worldview is delegitimized, then all of the rules within it become much weaker and more vulnerable. This is another lesson from social-movement history across the political spectrum: when fundamental change does come, it’s generally not in legislative dribs and drabs spread out evenly over decades. Rather, it comes in spasms of rapid-fire lawmaking, with one breakthrough after another. The right calls this “shock therapy”; the left calls it “populism” because it requires so much popular support and mobilization to occur. (Think of the regulatory architecture that emerged in the New Deal period or, for that matter, the environmental legislation of the 1960s and 1970s.)

So how do you change a worldview, an unquestioned ideology? Part of it involves choosing the right early policy battles—game-changing ones that don’t merely aim to change laws but also patterns of thought. This means a fight for a minimal carbon tax might do a lot less good than, for instance, forming a grand coalition to demand a guaranteed minimum income. That’s not only because a minimum income makes it possible for workers to say no to dirty-energy jobs, but also because the very process of arguing for a universal social safety net opens up a space for a full-throated debate about values—about what we owe to one another based on our shared humanity, and what it is that we collectively value more than economic growth and corporate profits.

Indeed, a great deal of the work of deep social change involves having debates during which new stories can be told to replace the ones that have failed us. Because if we are to have any hope of making the kind of civilizational leap required of this fateful decade, we will need to start believing, once again, that humanity is not hopelessly selfish and greedy: the image ceaselessly sold to us by everything from reality shows to neoclassical economics.

Fundamentally, the task is to articulate not just an alternative set of policy proposals, but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis—embedded in interdependence rather than hyperindividualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy. This is required not only to create a political context to dramatically lower emissions, but also to help us cope with the disasters we can no longer avoid. Because in the hot and stormy future we have already made inevitable through our past emissions, an unshakable belief in the equal rights of all people and a capacity for deep compassion will be the only things standing between civilization and barbarism.

MHDR 2014

UNDP Malaysia recently launched the first Malaysia Human Development Report 2014: Redesigning an Inclusive Future in November 2014. You may view or download the report at http://www.mhdr.my.

Some Facts:

  1. Absolute poverty has decreased but relative poverty has emerged as a growing concern in recent years.
    • Relative poverty, which measures the number of households living with less than half of the median income, is a better approach to assess inclusiveness compared to absolute poverty, which measures the number of households living below the poverty line.
  2. Sabah has the most poor people compared to any other state. More than half of its population are Bumiputera minorities.
    • Bumiputera minorities in Sabah and Sarawak and the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia remain the most vulnerable ethnic groups in Malaysia, lagging far behind the Malays, Indians and Chinese in benefiting from the country’s progress.
  3. The distribution of wealth is extremely skewed and is concentrated at the top.
    • Asset inequality is nearly double that of income.
    • The relative income gap between the rich and the poor has not changed in 20 years.
    • Strengthening the pro-poor policy and introducing active redistribution policies will positively impact income distribution to benefit all members of society.
  4. If the priority before was to ensure full employment, the new challenge is to address wage inequality and wage stagnation.
    • Wage share to national income has decreased despite the sharp increase of corporate profits to national income.
    • The rise in wages has been staggering further and further behind the rise of productivity in the country.
    • Introducing a minimum wage has the highest positive impact on improving inequality.
  5. The country’s middle class remains small at 20% of total households, despite continuing economic growth.
    • This figure has not improved significantly over the last two decades, indicating limited upward social mobility.
    • Social safety nets such as access to income security, basic services and opportunities help protect vulnerable groups with limited assets and capabilities, and prevent them from falling back into the bottom 40%.

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