Saturday, 7 July 2012

Applying people power to public choice — Sakmongkol AK47

JULY 7 — We are familiar with the seasonal bargain sales whenever we approach the days of cultural and religious festivities. Even before Hari Raya (the Muslim religious festivities after a month long of fasting), the public is flooded with all sorts of bargain sales.

A popular clothing merchant has launched its pre-Hari Raya sales of fine textiles. Other merchants have also launched their own bargain sales.

These bargain sales, however, pale in comparison with the bargain sales offered by the chief snake-oil peddler in Malaysia — the PM.

By means of logrolling bargains, he dishes out economic morsels large enough to secure the votes from the public. Logrolling is a term used commonly in the US to refer to the granting of fevers by politicians seeking re-election to selected groups in exchange for their support and votes.

Najib’s grant of an advance of RM 15,000 to Felda settlers is a logrolling act. Now, Felda settlers realize they have been short-changed. The 15,000 is a sweetener to lessen the anger at receiving 810 units of share amounting to around RM 600 gross value in profit. Settlers have been used and piggybacked by rent seekers to make a killing at the stock market.

Najib announces the grant of free tyres to cab drivers is another example of logrolling act aimed at getting votes from tax drivers. The RM 500 assistance after 50 years amounting to RM10 a year of our existence is another sorry example of a logroller. Why the necessity of giving the RM 500 in the first place unless your policies of ameliorating poverty has failed miserably?

Indeed, if one observes carefully, this is how he thinks he solves people’s problems. Providing short-term solutions to long-term problems. Providing snake oil for short-lived relief rather than long-term and longer-living solutions.

So he does the entirely opposite to what the second PM of Malaysia resolved to do — to give people fish instead of providing them the means to fish. So the short-term handing out of the fish will allow recipients to eat once. That, to Najib, is his most effective way of resolving problems.

Public choice theory

I have been receiving comments from one particular individual who has been writing on the subject of public choice theory. I believe this person has done some extensive reading on the subject or he/she is a lecturer at a university teaching that subject.

The issue of public choice has also been studied by economists especially in their attempts to explain how public choices are determined. I am sure readers can read on this subject freely at their own time. I don’t want therefore to impose my own lack of understanding on this subject on them.

Here, I am going to write on my interpretation of one aspect of public choice. Knowing that it’s too risky to allow decisions affecting our lives to be made by a single person or even a legislative body, we need to demand the setting up of institutions to compensate for the inherent weaknesses of the legislator.

We must insist on the setting up of institutions and institutionalised rules and regulations and strict adherence to them to establish respect to law and order. We don’t have strict adherence to them now because the snake oil salesman keeps on moving the goalposts. Otherwise we are going to be manipulated by a maverick and a trickster such as the snake-oil salesman.

We need an institutionalised system even if Pakatan Rakyat takes over to compensate, like I said, for the inherent weaknesses and excesses of the legislator. Decisions are made by a committee or the entire legislative body is a myth, really.

Because decisions are made by individuals and when made by individuals, they reflect invariably their personal motivations and values. Najib’s motives, for example, are purely to seek re-election and to stay on as the worse half of the first couple.

Contrary to popular thinking, the decisions involving the lives of the public (education, business projects) are not determined by the people collectively. We only have the illusion that the legislators we elected before, give form and substance to what we want.

The reality is the choices that eventually affect the lives of the public are made by the select few because of their own self interests. Here is the upshot of the whole theory: When framing the choices that are made out as choices decided upon by the public; it’s done essentially by the lone or select few decision makers.

The choices these people make have nothing to do with the wishes of the general public. They are done mostly to ensuring the longevity of the re-election seeker.

Furthermore, the choices made by the chief decision maker reflect his personal motivations. He is not entirely motivated by the pursuit of public welfare but more by the pursuit of his self-preservation. He trades favours by logrolling. Money in exchange for allegiance and support.

Money to taxi drivers to get their support. The long-term solution of giving direct taxi permits will only be implemented in two years’ time. By that time, the Umno division heads and those proximate to corridors of power would have filled up their bellies. The small morsels will be handed to tax drivers.

Why not now? In two years’ time, some of the taxi drivers may even be dead. —

* Sakmongkol AK47 is the nom de plume of Datuk Mohd Ariff Sabri Abdul Aziz. He was Pulau Manis assemblyman (2004-2008).

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