Let’s not shut everything down with, “that’s socialism”

Let’s not shut everything down with, “that’s socialism”

Talks about social inequality has gained more airtime in the recent past. As wealth becomes more unevenly distributed to the top, its dire consequences are now coming to fruition. In search of answers, people are voting in ‘strongman’ leaders to lead them towards economic prosperity. Often, voters fail to see that the leaders they have elected in may have been part of a group that caused the problem in the first place. Consequently, discriminatory, authoritative governments are put in power, often addressing the wrong issues, leading to more oppression, and more inequality.

Seeing this, proponents egalitarian societies have begun speaking up, demanding for more equitable solutions, to see less people falling between the cracks. Many people, especially among the young, find appeal in socialist-leaning, redistributive measures.

As quickly as socialism became popular, naysayers have also began to appear.

Surprisingly, arguments against welfare measures not only come from the usual right-wing apologists, but also from people who are expected to be a little more progressive.

This is not to imply that anti-redistribution is a conservative trait, but I would expect that self-claimed progressives would be more understanding of the root for social inequality and the dangers of an unfettered laisez faire approach to everything.

To quickly shut down the merit of re-distributive policies, opponents often fall back to – what I recently learnt as, argumentum ad Venezuelum – which just means that, when people present left-leaning ideas, the usual retort is, “socialists policies are bad, we’ll end up like Venezuela”.

From older people, arguments against social policies comes in the narrative of walking down memory lane, “these kids who cry for socialism haven’t experienced the breadlines of communist Russia,” accompanied with a black and white photo of people queuing up for food. Some times, if you do a quick reverse image search, you’ll discover that these are photos of breadlines in capitalist America during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

But before we dive into reducing “capitalism” as the cause of America’s Great Depression, let’s quickly acknowledge that many other factors (which I won’t go into here) led to the great crash. And here is where I would appeal to everyone that if we can give capitalism a free pass to problems it may have caused, we can also pause and give socialism the benefit of the doubt.

It’s true, that there have been cases where communist and socialist experiments have failed (Venezula, Soviet Russia, to name a couple), but a closer look at these examples often reveal other factors involved, like how they both devolved into despotic, autocratic regimes with no respect for public or private institutions. But we mustn’t overlook cases where social welfare programs have worked.

What I’m essentially trying to say is that when it comes to political and economic discourse, there seems to be a case of intellectual…laziness. When outlining the merits of socialistic policies, it’s easier to just drop the Venezuelan trainwreck bomb and walk off smugly, as one does when winning a cerebral discourse.

This type of intellectual dishonesty serves no benefit other than to stroke one’s own ego. Within circlejer…private forums, the consequences are little to none. However, when in the arena of policy-making, brushing aside honest discussions about welfare and re-distributive policies can have real outcomes. Outcomes that affect people, particularly disenfranchised people who depend on their elected representatives to voice out their plight on the national stage.

I think that it’s important for policymakers to not immediately shelf policy recommendations that seeks to expand the welfare state by simply branding it as a socialist idea.

Sweeping things aside in trying to avoid looking like a “lefty” could mean ignoring ideas that can help many people. And as we have come to see, when people feel detached and disregarded, despots come in to fill that despair with hope.

And in the end, nobody is better off.

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Be the change (yeah yeah)

Be the change (yeah yeah)

This post is going to be pretty rant-y(?).

Many times when I write, I avoid as practically as possible any generalisations without backing it up with some kind of data or research.

But this time I’m going to throw everything to the wind, and I’m going to use all the anecdotes, and wield a giant brush to paint over everything and make unsubstantiated conclusions. Because I’m just frustrated.

I am going to be as sanctimonious as I can probably be. And I rarely do sanctimony, because I despise it. I am not better than anyone. But I’m pretty sure you will be able to relate.

Who am I frustrated with? Well, with us. Malaysians in general really. The urban, generally-assumed-to-be-highly-educated, modern progressive types.

I am annoyed in general because if social media, or mass media is to be believed, the lot of us want change. The good kind of change – we want more civility, more transparency and accountability, less corruption and all the pretty things. We demand all these good things from everyone, from our neighbours, from our colleagues, and most especially from our government.

Very often though, we fail to demand this from the most important agent in society: ourselves.

As fairy-tale like as this sounds, what we need to tell ourselves is that, “change begins with me”. Yes, “me”, as in you, the individual. Things would be so much better if we lived each day with the mentality of wanting to make each other’s lives a little bit better.

I think in general, we go about our daily activities with one thing in mind, and that is “how can I make things better for ME?”

We’re a selfish society. We don’t want to admit it, but it’s true. As true as the sun rising in the East, every single day.

We do things with only ourselves in mind. How did I come to this conclusion?

Stuck in traffic at a ‘give-way’ junction, and what do we do? Cut in front and try to squeeze in at the end, causing even more congestion, because why? BECAUSE WE’RE THE ONLY MOTHERFUCKER WHO NEEDS TO GET TO WORK ON TIME! AND OOOH I’M SO CLEVER CUTTING ACROSS ALL THIS TRAFFIC TO BEAT EVERYONE!

In residential parking lots, what do we do? WE DRIVE AT 60km/h BECAUSE HEY I’M A RACECAR DRIVER AND RELAX-LAH, NO ONE ELSE WALKING WHAT???

We hate racial discrimination when it hits us on the nose. But treating foreign workers who do jobs we’d never do, or let our offsprings do? HEY FINE BY ME! WE PAY THEM WHAT! ALSO THEY’RE DIRTY AND SMELL!

There were a couple more example that I had thought of but they seemed to have fizzled as I went on typing this down. My anger dissipated as profanities flew out of my oral cavity and as my fingers tapped angrily over my keyboard. So I guess writing can be pretty therapeutic – LOL.

Anyways, in general, the point I’m trying to make, and what I’ve always been saying is that, we all want the good stuff. We want a harmonious society, one where everybody gets along with each other (okay this statement is a little redundant, but screw it). We want society around us to be civil, our government to be honest, and our environment to be nice – but we always want someone else to do it first.

And the problem is this, we rarely want to do it first, because, WIIFM. What’s in it for me? If I play nice, some dirtbag is always going to cut in front in traffic anyway. Can’t beat them, join them, right?

Wrong.

Hey, I’m idealistic, and I’m often disappointed because I can be too entrenched in my idealism. But I believe that if each individual can live through everyday thinking about how to make things a little more pleasant for themselves and everyone around them, life could turn out to be that little bit nicer indeed.

Sure, one individual may not have that much power, but when individuals make up a collective, things can really change.

It’s like voting, right? One vote changes nothing. Individual votes coming together? History happens.

We’re not going to see everything change overnight, no, but little by little, I think we turn ourselves into the the community we’ve always dreamed of being a part of.

We don’t need the government to do it for us, it starts with ourselves first.

I try my best, we should all try our best.

Be the change you want to see.

And all that jazz.

And done!

And done!

Phew, what a hectic couple of months it has been. This is obviously an excuse for lack of updates to this blog, but I’ll ask you to forgive me anyway.

For a good six moons, I have slogged through piles of texts, formulas and diagrams (as much as I could anyway), and, I even went volunteering solo with The Kechara Soup Kitchen (fighting off all my anxieties and panic attacks when I’m around people) to finally complete my studies!

I did it! After seven, long, painful colourful years, I finally did it!

I can’t explain how much weight was lifted off my shoulders when I saw, typed in letters, on the University’s letter head that I “…had successfully completed the programme and fulfilled all the requirements for graduation”.

It was almost like I was Atlas, and that the weight of carrying the world was lifted off my shoulders. I could now stand up straight, and stare into the horizon, the future for my taking.

True to nature, a voice at the back of my head tried to pull me down, telling me that I merely achieved what everyone has, but much much later.

I won’t let it win.

This victory is mine, sure, my pace might be slower different, but it’s my victory nonetheless, and nobody can take this from me.

Now, onwards to new challenges.

unsplash-logoIan Stauffer

Book Review: Adults in The Room

Book Review: Adults in The Room

Wow, almost two weeks since I last wrote anything. Tsk tsk.

For this entry I thought I’d do something way out of my comfort zone – a book review. People who know me, knows that I am a notoriously slow reader. It’s something to do with having to find the time to squeeze a page or two (mostly on the comforts of a toilet seat) and the fact that my reading speed is comparable to glacial motion – granted that nowadays, glaciers may be moving faster, thanks to global warming.

Anyways, the book I’ll be talking about is, Adults in the Room, written by Lord Voldermort, Yanis Varoufakis, the infamous, leather-jacket-clad, no-tie-worn-at-meetings, self-proclaimed radical left wing, former Greek Minister of finance, and co-founder of Diem25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025).

Narrated by Yanis, Adults in the Room is a political memoir, dubbed “one of the greatest of all time” by The Guardian. It is an account of his journey as reluctant finance minister who has to re-negotiate Greece’s asphyxiating austerity program, administered by the often sinisterly portrayed creditors, the Troika (made up of the European Commission, The European Central Bank and the IMF).

The book itself is engrossing. It is written in a style that reads like a thriller, that kept me flipping from one page to the next.

Yanis portrays himself as somewhat of a lone wolf, navigating through crocodile infested waters, made up of people who he thought was his ally, as well as vultures flying overhead, awaiting for the demise of the newly elected Greek government (or mostly for his downfall).

Throughout the book, the finance minister, is seen to be motivated by the plight of the Greek, particularly a recurring character, a homeless translator named Lambros. The interpreter, named Lambros, made Yanis promise that he would do all he can to stop the ongoing humiliation that the European administration has continued to impose on ordinary Greek citizens.

Varoufakis depicts the battles that he had to forge, to renegotiate the austerity plan imposed by the Troika in exchange for Greece’s bailouts. The plan, as Yanis puts it was never going to work. A nation that very clearly was already under economic distress, was never going to recover by further pressing its peoples. Without a recovery in sight, he argues that the continued austerity would not have allowed Greece to generate enough economic activity to be able to pay back its creditors.

The central theme around the ‘story’ is that Greece would go to Brussels to negotiate a deal with the Troika that revolved around debt restructuring and reform plans to help Greece get back on its feet to economic recovery. But as the book progressed, it started to look very clear that Greece’s creditors weren’t really looking to get their money back. In fact, it seemed apparent that they knew they were never getting their money back. The entire drama surrounding Grexit, according to Yanis, was pretty much just a show of power, about keeping someone’s dead project alive, rather than admitting that the austerity plan wasn’t working and that a new, more practical plan was required.

Every now and then, Yanis would portray going into a meeting with his creditors with every intention of meeting in the middle and seeking solutions that are not only pragmatic but also allowed the Greeks some dignity and a sense of autonomy in charting their country’s course, only to be smitten down by people who had no interest in Greece’s welfare, out of fear of having to admit to implementing a fallacious and potentially disastrous economic policy.

Of course, the entire story was written through the eyes of Varoufakis himself, so a lot of times you have to take a step back and ask yourself, “is this really impartial?”. The answer is of course, a resounding no. It is his version of the story after all. And as a story of someone who feels victimised by the large machinations of European politics, you can expect it to be laced with a lot of emotion.

As written by Helena Sheehan in her review, Varoufakis very often presents himself as Prometheus, fighting against the Gods, but often does sound like Narcissus. It almost does sound like he’s the only person who had the Greek’s well-being in mind (along with a few allies here and there), while everyone else seemed to be acting in their own self interest, or the Troika’s.

Despite the expected bias that you would find in the book, you do have to take serious note of how broken the system has become. So much so that a European official would rather see Greece pay up its creditors and let ordinary Greeks continue to suffer than to negotiate a more practical approach to Greece’s crisis.

A riveting read, one I’d highly recommend.

Yanis Varoufakis wants you to read his book

The last mile

The last mile

Back in 2012, I began pursuing a degree in economics. Seven years later, I’m finally in my final semester. A lot of things have happened in between. I’ve had to put studying off every now and then because of work, or personal commitments.

Long story short is that after I came back from Australia with an advanced diploma in accounting, nobody would offer me a job, because my qualification wasn’t a degree and that it was also not recognised by MQA. The MQA, or the Malaysian Qualifications Agency are the people who determine whether your qualifications are…uhm…suitable, or good enough (I guess?) to be applied in Malaysia. Basically, they provide recognition for your education.

Anyways, that has always been a bummer for me, because I’ve slaved away pretty hard, to get good results to be told that my qualifications weren’t recognised (despite being a pretty good TAFE qualification in Straya). So my disappointment defined me for the past few years. I never felt I was good enough for anything (and most of the time I still feel that way now).

My experience with the uni I’m currently studying at has been less than stellar. To be honest, I might be to blame. I never really did apply myself to the work-studying life. I never cared about who my coursemates were. I just wanted to get this shit done. I did pretty awesomely during my first few semesters, clocking in Dean’s list awards in consecutive semesters.

I then went into a slump. Why? It dawned on me that at the end of the day, this paper qualification I’m after means diddly squat. Nobody was going to look into hiring a 30 year old economics grad for the price that I’d be asking. “Oh but your experience counts for something”

Yeah, booshit.

People would be better off hiring young graduates, who are as eager to learn, but are paid a lot less.

This slump would go on for some time, and I stopped applying myself even more.

I’ve made it this far now, and I’m in the home stretch. I can see the end coming and now, being a bit older – 7 years older since I started, to be precise (lol) – I realise that I owe it to myself to do the best I can. Who cares if people are going to appreciate my struggle. I should appreciate my struggle. I have to prove to myself that I am as smart as I used to think I was.

The paper qualification doesn’t mean so much to me, now that I think about it. It’s just about finishing what I started, and not looking back with regret about all the time I’ve wasted.

I’ll gun it on my last lap, til my heart beats out of my chest.

Then when I cross the finish line, I’ll fall in a heap, looking back, with a smile, and I want to say

I did my best.

And…we’re off!

And…we’re off!

2018 ended without a bang…both literally and figuratively.

The year ended off with everyone in the falling asleep well before the hands of the clock struck midnight; before a line in the sands of time was drawn, signifying the start of something new.

It was probably a neat allegory of how we (or maybe just me) were so tired of the year. We just had to fall asleep, we wanted it to be over, so that we could wake up in the new year, ready to go, to pick up where we left off, and start over fresh.

This year brings about new challenges too. Our eldest is now in primary school (how time flies) and the youngest will be sent off to a daycare center. Daughter number one will do fine. Despite a demeanor that many may describe as, coddled, she can more than handle her own when necessary. She’s been an absolute star in adapting to the recent changes in our family. She will do fine, and she will grow. Daughter number two is a bit more of a challenge. Being a high need baby, taking care of her can be difficult. And having taking care of her for the past four months, we’re more than a little anxious about dropping her off at daycare. We can only hope for the best.

We’re all adjusting to the new routine of waking up early in the morning, getting everyone prepared and out the door by a set time. We’ll get there, and we’ll be better because of it. Because hey, the early bird gets the worm – right?

Let’s go 2019! We got this!

Whoa nelly!

Whoa nelly!

The last one and a half month or so has been pretty challenging. It’s like a mad dash to the finish line with a mile to go, your joints failing you and only fumes to power you to the end.

To say that I have been handling it well would be an understatement. The year has been a pretty bad one – or maybe not, it hasn’t been great, or too bad – I don’t know, it’s a little bit all over the place.

We approach the end of the year. An arbitrary line in the sand where we say we’re resetting whatever has happened in our last journey around the sun and begin our new journey with renewed vigour and determination.

But life doesn’t work that way does it? Everything in the recent past gets carried forward, whether you think you’ve dealt with it or not. Though I suppose setting a new zero lets us re-evaluate ourselves and re-purpose ourselves to meet challenges, new and old.

I’m really hoping that 2019 will let me grow into a better version of myself, and that things will turn out really well. 2018 has been mentally draining, and I can’t really say if I’m leaving the year behind as an improved version of myself.

Just like the stock markets, I can say that I’ll be impairing myself at the end of the year and starting anew with a lower base. I can then over exaggerate my self improvement in 2019. After all, moving up by 1 from a base of 1, is a lot better than moving up by 1 from a base of 100. See? No?

Anyways, for next year, would like to come out of this mental funk, write more (on this blog, and on whatever projects I’m working on), get healthier, be more useful professionally, and maybe travel a little bit more.

Most of all, I just want to be a better husband, a better father, and a better friend to everyone.

Here’s to a better 2019.