Friday, April 18, 2008

Blast From The Past - The Malaysian Dilemma Part 5 of 6



by D.P. Pangai


As one fund manager after another began to realize their profits and pull out their investments out of Thailand and Indonesia, the stock markets in these countries rapidly collapsed (in Thailand it had been preceded by the collapse of an over-built property market). As these foreign fund managers converted their gains back to US Dollars from the local currencies, they were prepared to take some losses on the exchange and the values of the local currencies fell drastically (nothing compared, however, to the gains which had already been realized by them).

Malaysia of course could not believe that it would be next. Its economy had better "fundamentals" than Thailand or Indonesia or so it thought, believing in its own propaganda. It was different and better managed. Its population was generally better educated and more skilled and trained. It had a dynamic, uncorrupted and more stable government (which apparently could do no wrong).

But the harsh reality is that it had pretty much made the same mistakes that the Thai and Indonesian governments had, especially in allowing itself to fall under the vise-like grip of crony capitalism, nepotistic practices and the attendant corruption that came with this - the only difference being that in Malaysia the corruption was not so open or noticeable, having been masked by the generally higher levels and slightly better spread of economic development. Corruption was in fact rampant but only small fish got caught while the real sharks got away - the reason being not just that they were protected by the government but that they were the government and at all levels, departments and ministries that mattered.

Most of these cronies who had over-committed themselves were unable to respond effectively or in any timely manner to the rapidly changing economic scenario and the damage that foreign capital flight and foreign currency speculation had wrought. Neither was any immediate assistance to be had from the government, which staggered from one inappropriate and ineffective response to another. Mahathir’s ill-conceived remarks blaming the crisis thus caused on foreign currency speculators and hints of a Zionist plot further angered foreign fund managers who caused further damage by liquidating their shares and pulling out their funds - thus leading to successive slumps of the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange and drops in the value of the Malaysian ringgit each time he opened his mouth.

Whether Mahathir's criticisms had any truth is not really at issue. His being right in this matter did not undo the wrongs, perceived and actual, which his government was responsible for. Failure to recognize the damage and accept some measure of accountability, lack of transparency, generally inept and even inappropriate responses all combined to doom any real effort to redress the critical situation.

The local investors were all left in the lurch, since they had not expected any such capital flight or consequent attack on their currency, if at all these were really attacks or merely speculators taking advantage of Malaysia’s inherent weaknesses. Other markets have of course also been "attacked".

There were and still are of course powerful and invisible forces at work behind the scenes who are pushing a globalist agenda, one likely to hold hostage the economies of whole nations. Money to people like these is no different from any other commodity and in fact the best of all commodities and they have or are in control of lots of it. They are not concerned about the good that money can do, only how much more they can make, even if in the process they ravage countries who are foolish enough to open up and depend on them.

They move billions around the world with the mere push of a few computer buttons. But blaming them for what they do best is not a solution, especially if we ourselves have embraced the very economic system which they espouse. We have to play by their rules and they are not going to accommodate us if we wish to change the rules of what is essentially their game not ours. Can we blame them if we get whacked for not playing by the rules? Complaining bitterly to the referees who are themselves part of the game is not going to help us either but perhaps only earn us a red card and expulsion from the game.

For all his other faults, Mahathir may be right in this regard. But can this right reverse all the wrongs which he himself and his cronies have committed or the effects of those wrongs? At best it can serve as a diversionary tactic and have no effect other than to earn further punishment for his people and country the majority of whom are not even playing the game but watch on as hapless spectators.

Paul Krugman, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had dared to suggest in an article written in Foreign Affairs of the Economist on the East Asian miracle that the miracle was no miracle, nor a result of any special values, nor could it last without measures to improve total factor productivity. However, as he himself has since written, he did not mean that it would undergo the kind of spectacular collapse of the past year or so.

In a December 29 Fortune article "Seven Habits of Highly Defective Investors" on the financial market he says that foreign investors (represented by fund managers) are not quite a bunch of Machiavellian speculators, but an extremely dangerous flock of sheep.

He said, "…you must have noticed that markets have been behaving pretty strangely of late. As recently as June (1997) the "miracle" economies of Southeast Asia could do no wrong--investors cheerfully put billions into local stock markets. By October those same investors were in full flight; after all, everyone could see how corrupt and badly managed those economies were."

(To be Continued...Last Part)

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