It’s All For Profit Not People
Urban woes due to profit emphasis, says prof
Fauwaz Abdul Aziz
Aug 20, 05 1:15pm
Kuala Lumpur is ‚Äòa city in crisis from pollution to poverty‚Äô as a result of many public amenities no longer being seen as social services to be provided by the government but as purely economic commodities to garner profit, an anthropology professor observed today.
‚ÄúRoads used to be a government responsibility. Now everybody has to pay toll. The only way you can make roads is if you make them into a business and make them profitable,‚Äù said Professor Emeritus Clive S Kessler.
‚ÄúNow, the way roads are built up is not the way what drivers need or what the public needs. They are built up based on what the concession-holders require and the level of profitability to be maintained,‚Äù he said.
Public health facilities were similarly affected as illnesses are ‚Äònot sexy‚Äô from the economic point of view and those diseases that are not going to make a lot of money do not get research funding.
‚ÄúThe effect is that we no longer live in a society that has an economy. The society is there to serve the economy rather than the other way around,‚Äù said Kessler.
He was speaking to malaysiakini after delivering a talk to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Universiti Malaya‚Äôs Institute for Malaysian and International Studies (Ikmas) which made him an Overseas Fellow following his retirement from University of New South Wales, Australia.
Expounding further he said from pollution to poverty, problems plaguing societies – including Malaysia‚Äôs – derive in large measure from the way economics and its technocrats have been allowed to determine the world view and rules which shape our lives,.
He said as long as such technocrats and economic considerations maintain their hold over the formulation of social policies, distortions will continue to affect us.
‚ÄúIn different ages, there have been dominant disciplines. In different ages, religious theory and theology was the dominant discipline and everybody had to reconcile their thinking to what theology allowed or didn‚Äôt allow,‚Äù said Kessler.
‚ÄúAt a later age, philosophy became the dominant discipline. Now, economics has that role and economists in our age are the priests and theologians of the earlier ages.‚Äù
Although economics provides powerful and valuable tools and techniques by which to measure one aspect of human activity, many people forget that this is merely one dimension of society which should not determine the other areas, Kessler expounded.
‚ÄúEconomics tells us how society works. We have economists saying society needs to work the way markets do, that if theories can help us to explain markets, then our economic theories would also be our social theories,‚Äù said Kessler.
‚ÄúThey think that laws of economics are built into the structure of the universe and part of human nature, but they are not. The problem is that the longer economists have this political power, the more they force us to act in the way their theories require of us.
‚ÄúEconomic theories, in this way, have distorted social policy,‚Äù he noted.
In his lecture, delivered as part of Ikmas‚Äô Bangi Public Lecture series, Kessler paid tribute to former Ikmas director the late Professor Ishak Shari.
Ishak and his work, said Kessler, represented a ‚Äòthird way‚Äô of approaching economics and society ‚Äònot as dichotomous or even integrated but as identical, as a complex and ultimately undifferentiated unity‚Äô.
The event also saw the launch of the book Elections and democracy in Malaysia, which looks at the objectives and effects of elections and the electoral system in Malaysia within a broader historical and socio-cultural context.
Its editors, Mavis Puthucheary and Norani Othman, are senior fellows at Ikmas.