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Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Non-Economic Factors in the Economic Retardation of the Rural Malays (4/4)

"Some of the features of child-rearing in rural Malaya help to reinforce and perpetuate these tendencies. Both M. G. Swift and Judith Djamour mention the tendency of Malay parents to tolerate or even encourage indulgence on the part of their younger children. This takes the form of either giving the child anything that it requests or pampering it whenever it has a tantrum. Swift asserts, from an early age the Malay is brought up 'to see only a loose connexion between reward and effort', something which spills over into his economic attitudes and organization in his later life. On the other hand, the over-protection given to the child discourages it from learning to be self-reliant, and this merely helps to reinforce any tendency to accept without question what exists, and to discourage experimentation with anything new. And this, when combined with the effects of the hierarchical social structure, does lead to a general dislike of making decisions for oneself. Anyone who has lived in a Malay village cannot help remembering the frequent coffee-shop discussions about various local matters, where points are made and re-made, argued and re-argued, in an attempt to arrive at a consensus, with nobody ever appearing to make a decision.

The Malays' resistance to radical changes in their way of life is in no way irrational, but it does preclude great changes in the ways in which they combine the available factors of production. Were the Malays to accept the changes that offer good opportunities for higher incomes, these changes would all cause a major disturbance in their way of life; indeed it would need a significant change in Malay attitudes and beliefs for these changes to occur at all.

Modern psychologists and sociologists maintain that a strong motivating force in the lives of most of us is the desire to succeed. This desire to succeed is no more absent from rural Malay society than it is from any other, but to the Malay success means something quite different from what it does, for example, to the Malaysian Chinese. The Chinese seem to regard success as being the improvement of their economic position even if this requires some fundamental change or innovation. The Malays seem to regard success as doing what their forebears have approved and practised, but doing it as well as they can. Wealth and economic advancement are desired by the Malays, but not at the expense of renouncing utterly the traditions and traditional occupations of their forefathers to which they have grown accustomed, and which offer them a level of satisfaction greater than that offered by the mere pursuit of economic advancement and wealth.

The economist's maximizing postulates can be interpreted in a similar way. The Chinese and the Malays, because they possess different cultures, attitudes, values and motivations, maximize different things. Neither one is necessarily superior to the other, it is simply that the maximizing postulates of the Chinese are more likely to lead to economic development in the Western sense than are the maximizing postulates of the Malays...

It has been said that 'shrewdness in handling money was an important part of the equipment which the ordinary Chinese took with them when they went overseas in search of a livelihood. Their financial skill rested above all on three characteristics of the society in which they were raised: the respectability of the pursuit of riches, relative immunity of surplus wealth from the confiscation by political superiors, and the legitimacy of careful and interested dealings between neighbours and even close kinsmen.'... succeed or fail, the main point is that they are not content to accept, or to follow unquestioningly, a financially unrewarding occupation if it is in their power to change that occupation. It is the fact that so many of them are trying to improve their economic lot, trying to master their economic environment, and are willing to take risks and to innovate, that enables many of them to succeed. And it is upon this type of creative individual that economic growth under capitalism, rightly or wrongly, depends...

There is nothing irrational about Malay values, and to criticize them
in terms of other values is reprehensible. But if the values of the Malays
remain basically unaltered, and there is no reason in Malay terms to
explain why they should alter, then it is likely that economic advance
for them will remain relatively slow."

--- Non-Economic Factors in the Economic Retardation of the Rural Malays / Brien K. Parkinson (in Modern Asian Studies, 1967)

Footnote on Malay exploitation:

"Even though 'exploitation' is difficult to define in economic terms, the 'exploitation' of the rural Malays has not been a racial clash as some commentators seem to imply, even though most of those who do the 'exploiting' are non-Malays and many of those who are 'exploited' are Malays. It is more accurate, and far less dangerous, to think of this 'exploitation' as being a clash of groups, the one exerting its superior bargaining power on the other. The character of the two groups is coincidental to the 'exploitation'. The Chinese 'exploit' other Chinese in just the same way as they are said to 'exploit' Malays, and vice versa. In Temiar Jungle, by J. Slimming (London, 1958), p. 20, it is observed 'the Malays are probably more unscrupulous than the Chinese' in the way 'they advance payments to unsuspecting aborigines who are kept constantly in their debt'."

I was inspired to look up this article because of:

Lee Kuan Yew on Malay vs. Chinese Culture

"In Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas, his biographers relate how Lee sought explanations for the different economic approaches -- and degrees of success -- found in Singaporean Chinese and Malay communities. Long before becoming Singapore's Prime Minister -- in fact, while still a student -- he had rejected colonialist notions that some races were superior to others, and so he sought other explanations. Turning to contemporary anthropology, he came upon a convincing one in the work of Bryan Parkinson, a Fellow at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hull, whose 1968 article in the journal Modern Asian Studies argued that Malays and and Chinese had different "maximising postulates" or ways of conceiving success...

Attempting to solve this "extremely delicate problem," Singapore has tried several approaches, the first being a form of affirmative action that provides "free education from primary school right up to university for any Singapore citizen who is a Malay. This is something we don't give to the majority ethnic group -- the Chinese. They pay fees from secondary school onwards." Second, the government has employed "judicious intermingling of the communities so that, thrown into the more multiracial milieu we have in our new housing estates, Malay children are becoming more competitive and more striving""
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