My friend’s father laughed when I told him about the country’s aspiration to become a high-income economy by the year 2020. He said we were already there once, when he was a young bank clerk. Back in the 1970s he bought himself a nice little Mini Cooper with ten-month’s worth of salary. Today, a Mini Cooper would cost a bank clerk ten years of his wages.
My classmate who graduated from university in 1990 drew RM1,900 for his first pay check. Today he is paying fresh graduates slightly less than what he got some 20 years ago.
It’s mind-boggling, isn’t it?
According to the government, Malaysia’s per capita GNI currently stands at US$6,700 (RM20,790), now if you multiply that by 4, which is the average capita per household, you get a RM83,160 average annual household income, or RM6,930 per month. But according to the same government, more than 5 million out of 7 million of our total households earns less than RM3,000 a month and therefore are qualified for BR1M handouts.
It doesn’t make sense, does it?
Now imagine you are seated at dinner with nine others, and the per capita GTI (gross table income) is RM100,000 per month, but nine of you are only making RM10,000 per month. The one guy who is making RM910,000 per month makes the rest of you look GTI-rich without actually being rich.
Okay, now you understand how meaningless GNI could be to you personally, so why are we so obsessed with the high-income economy label when higher GNI may or may not translate to more money for you and I?
Perhaps a better focus would be quality of life issues like safety, substance in mass media, accessibility to good arts and leisure, and happiness in general?
Inflation will not stop, things will cost more and more each year; the World Bank’s definition of “high income” will keep on climbing. Unless and until one learns to live within one’s means, the chase will be perpetual, painful, and sisyphean.
To quote from William Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, “It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank, and independent.” Anything more than that is a bonus.
I think in a democracy, everyone should have a fair chance at achieving the independence described above. And the government’s job is to provide a fair chance.
The information and views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Kopitiam Ekonomi.