Home 2008: 5 Discard neo-liberal ideology

Discard neo-liberal ideology

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The rakyat are now suffering under the burden of neo-liberal economic ideology, which Wong Kok Keong says has done more harm than good. 

Since the 1980s, neo-liberalism has been promoted as a panacea for almost whatever that might ail an economy.  It would revive a sagging economy or kickstart one, promising wonderful benefits once the economy opens up everything under the sun for privatisation and commoditisation.  And chief among them targeted for privatisation and commoditisation have been essential or basic services/goods such as public utilities (water, electricity), public transportation, and health care.
In recent years, there has been an increasing push to more fully privatise and commoditise health care in Malaysia .  As usual, neo-liberals argue that market forces will deliver more efficient, affordable service to all.  But this is actually a lie; this trend is actually a capitalist (as opposed to people-oriented) ideology served up to benefit mainly the economic elites.

Just look at the systemic crisis in health care in the US, which has adopted the privatisation policy all along, despite a larger amount of taxpayers’ money being spent on it.  And now, all US apologists for the system can say is that their system offers the best kind of health care service, ignoring the fact that even if true, that is only for those who can afford it, that is, the rich.
The neo-liberal approach has led to a major crisis in US health care as its health insurance has put it out of reach of many in the US.  It is estimated that 17 per cent of Americans (about 51 million) do not have any health insurance and, by all accounts, this is going to increase in the future.  No wonder this has been a constant issue for politicians running in the past few US presidential elections.

READ MORE:  Prioritise funding to improve basic services

About 60 per cent of Americans in recent polls expressed support for universal health care.  But politicians who tried to promote universal health care have been unsuccessful in introducing substantive changes that would essentially undercut the neo-liberal approach partly because of strong resistance from major lobbying groups, the Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs) and insurance companies.

Meanwhile, many Americans like to ridicule or slam the health care system of the Canadians, who have resisted the neo-liberal ideology as much as possible by trying not to take their system down the same sorry path as the US even though they know their system can still perform better in the interests of truly providing affordable “universal” health care.
Up until the 1970s, economics textbooks clearly stated that certain basic services and goods should not be privatised or commoditised but should be provided by the government using taxpayers’ money. After all, isn’t that the main purpose of taxation? These basic services included utilities, public transport and, of course, health care.

There were several strong reasons for the thinking. More coordinated implementation of such services by a centralised entity in the form of the government was one and making such basic services affordable to as many people as possible was another.

An economic burden

Then came the 1980s and the neo-liberal ideology was promoted to all corners of the world from the US and the UK led by demagogues President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher respectively.  Suddenly, all those basic services could be privatised and commoditised, after all.  And many economists like to champion econ as an objective, science subject!  And so, for neo-liberalists, everything under the sun has become fair game for privatisation and commoditisation.

READ MORE:  Has Mahathir's privatisation agenda failed the nation?

Here in Malaysia in the 1980s, Mahathir was happy to privatise all kinds of utilities, public transport and even health care for two main reasons. One was that privately run services were touted to operate more efficiently involving less bureaucratic delays than publicly/state run services.  The other was the services could be privatised to his cronies without going through open tender the better to shore up his political support.
Well, we all know now that privately run services are not necessarily efficient while publicly run services are not necessarily inefficient.  Singapore’s civil service shows that government- or state-run services, by definition, do not operate inefficiently or are not necessarily riddled with bureaucratic delays.  Much, indeed, has been written about its wonderful efficiency.  Here at home in Malaysia, the Immigration Department has recently been shown to be fast and efficient in renewing passports within only hours of their application.  All the talk about government- or state-run services being inherently inefficient and slow turns out to be a myth.
Also, privatisation of basic services is becoming more and more an economic burden on ordinary Malaysians as private corporations owning and offering these services are driven by their bottom line of profit maximisation.  This is shown by the increasing toll charges on the many privatised highways in Malaysia unlike the relatively inexpensive tolls, even to low-income wage earners, on highways built by the state/government in the US before the 1980s.
Furthermore, the bottom-line mentality of private corporations has little if any concern for environmental degradation.  This is a negative impact stemming from that mentality but, instead of assuming full responsibility for it, including using some corporate profits to deal with the impact, neo-liberal economists called it an externality.  In so doing, they go around promoting the impact as everyone’s problem in order to get the government to set aside more taxpayers’ money to help deal with it.

READ MORE:  Has Mahathir's privatisation agenda failed the nation?

It is high time that Malaysians become wary of the neo-liberal ideology and not be fooled by its lies about the beauty of health care privatisation.  There are other models we can look into besides that of the US, which typifies the neo-liberal approach with all its attendant ills.  Many Americans, through ignorance or arrogance, like to make fun of the Canadian model, but the Canadian model is actually more affordable, ethical and caring.
In the final analysis, neo-liberalism does more harm to more people and the environment than good.

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