The state as market

THE more I study the Indian and Chinese growth models, the more I realise that the current debate over the state versus the market is a false dichotomy.

Both the state and the market are social institutions that are not independent of each other. Indeed, they are inseparable, interactive and interdependent.

Human development or evolution is a complex interaction or feedback between the two. In Small is beautiful author EF Schumacher‘s view, “Maybe what we really need is not either-or but the-one-and-the-other-at-the-same-time”.

India and China could not have become global powerhouses of growth, without the leading role of the state in planning for development. But those states that have worked with markets have succeeded better than those that worked against markets.

London Business School Prof John Kay defines the market as a relatively transparent, self-organised, incentive-matching mechanism for the exchange of goods and services, usually in monetary terms.

In plain language, the market helps to match willing buyer, willing seller under certain rules of the game to determine market price. The market clears when it functions properly, but market failure happens when the market is imbalanced.

Kay reminds us that capitalism is less about ownership than “its competitive advantages its systems of organisation, its reputation with suppliers and customers, its capacity for innovation”.

Because of globalisation and technological change, we are living in a situation of change within change, as if the national state is not in total control of our destinies. Because of the global economy, state policies such as monetary, exchange rate and trade, cannot be independent of what is happening globally.

No man, no company, no state is an island. Globalisation has changed the rules of the game irreversibly.

Why is the state so much bigger and more powerful than before?

In the 19th century, most governments were not larger than 15% of GDP. By 1960, the size of governments in OECD countries had doubled to 30% of GDP. Today, the average has increased further to 40% of GDP.

The state has grown because there has been demand for more and more state services, but there is also concern that bureaucracies tend to grow to perpetuate itself.

I find it useful to think about the state as a market-like institution for exchange of power (in non-monetary terms). Power comes from social delegation the people give the power to the state to protect them and to fairly enforce social rules and laws. Hence, the “state as market” has the same dilemmas as the market information asymmetry and the principal-agent problem.

In large countries like India and China, there are many levels of government central, provincial, city, town, village and rural governments, each with their own departments and even enterprises. Most citizens find it difficult and confusing to deal with complex bureaucratic power. The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto was one of the first to point out that rural poverty exists, because the poor’s property rights are not protected adequately and their transaction costs are extremely high because of complex government.

In other words, markets are efficient and stable when the state is efficient and stable. It is not surprising from recent experience that financial crises are results of governance failures. As the European debt crisis amply demonstrates, financial markets cannot clear when the fiscal condition of the state is on shaky grounds, and there is no mechanism to make fast, simple, clear decisions.

Finding the right balance between state and market is the real challenge in all economies today. As 20th century British philosopher Bertrand Russell reminded us, “people do not always remember that politics, economics and social organisation generally belong in the realm of means, not ends”.

Today’s demands on the state to provide stability, growth and social equity are complex, because recent dominance of free market ideology has ended up with serious problems of wealth and income disparities and environmental degradation.

Realising that large states with geopolitically significant human and ecological footprints cannot consume like the United States or Europe on a per capita basis, China and India are embarking on ambitious 12th five-year plans to change their growth models to become more environmentally sustainable economies with greater social inclusiveness.

But large economies with many layers of government struggle between centralisation and decentralisation of people, resources and power.

For systems to be stable and sustainable, they have to be adaptable to complex forces of change from internal and external shocks.

To maintain integrity, there are complex trade-offs between winners and losers in each society. Such rules and bargains are difficult when the causes and effects of losses are unclear (such as crisis) and when vested interests resist change for fear of losing what they have. Vested interests are often unwilling to change because they value present gains far more than uncertain futures. Politics is the compromise of contending interests.

The belief that markets are always right assumes that markets always balance. The market cannot balance when the state cannot balance the contending interests. The main reason for the advanced country debt crisis is because their consumption has happened today by postponing the costs to future generations.

This raises a fundamental problem. Whichever way you term it, central bank quantitative easing is ultimately state intervention.

The rise in Spanish bond yields, despite ECB long-term refinancing operations, suggest that the markets are saying there are limits to the growing euro public debt.

At the same time, global financial markets are watching carefully whether inflation in China and India will rekindle global inflation.

In other words, the anchor of global financial stability rests on state debt stability. The state cannot escape being priced by the market.

THINK ASIAN By ANDREW SHENGAndrew Sheng is president of the Fung Global Institute.


Jimmy Choo honoured with Chinese award in arts and culture

Jimmy Choo shoes.
Jimmy Choo shoes.

BEIJING: Datuk Jimmy Choo has been honoured as one of the most influential Chinese personalities in the field of arts and culture.

The internationally-renowned Malaysian shoe designer had become the first Malaysian to receive the “You Bring Charm to the World World’s Most Influential Chinese Award” from Phoenix Television in China under the arts and culture category at Peking University two weeks ago.

The award under the same category was also given to Hong Kong actress Deanie Ip, who won 15 best actress awards worldwide.

As a Chinese of Hakka descent, Datuk Jimmy Choo was very moved and honoured to be given the award.

“When I first started designing my own shoes, no one would buy them even though the price was only £50 (RM246),” said Choo.

“But today, Jimmy Choo has become a household name and I am proud that I am able to bring honour to the Chinese community because of my name.”

Last year, Choo had also won the prestigious “The World’s Outstanding Chinese Designer 2011” Design for Asia award.

When asked whether his designs are influenced by Western or Eastern culture, Choo said he used a mix of both cultures and traditions in his shoe designs because he always remembered his Chinese roots.

He added that he was proud of his Chinese name Choo Yeang Keat (pronounced “Zhou Yang Jie” in Mandarin) and urged Chinese people to believe in themselves.

“Everything in the world is the same there is no East or West.

“The most important thing is that your design is elegant, beautiful and comfortable, and you will be successful,” said Choo.

Other notable ethnic Chinese personalities who had won the “You Bring Charm to the World Award” this year include New York Knicks rising basketball star Jeremy Lin and Chinese scientists Zhenyi and Chen Zhu for their research work in cancer treatment.


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Living life by finding fulfilment without landing in debt

ARE you driven by a desire for instant gratification? Today, it has become a norm to splash the cash on ourselves, and it seems to be getting harder to keep in check the urge to spend and spend.

Unfortunately, current gain may mean future pain unless we are in control of our expenses. The good news is that it is possible to stay in charge if we know how to change our behaviour and what tools we need to do the job.

Falling prey

When the latest gadget or fad is in town, our lives seem to turn unbearably dull until we go out and get a piece of the action for ourselves.

We see others enjoying their iPads or Galaxy Note, and feel so left behind because we don’t have one ourselves. A few months ago, we had barely spared a thought on it, but for some strange reason, it suddenly feels like we just cannot function without having one. So, before we can check ourselves, we’ve gone and bought one too, although we may not really know what we want to use it for, except endlessly checking our Facebook accounts.

That is just one among the many temptations around us that are competing for our hard-earned money. Media messages of dream getaways fuel our desire to go to enchanting overseas locations, and we can’t wait to blow a small fortune on a holiday it has to be next month or we could almost burst.

Advertisements sell us the idea that we deserve to live a privileged existence, no matter what our station in life. We indulge in fine dining at the drop of a hat. When the stress of our jobs gets to us, shopping comes to the rescue in the name of retail therapy.

No wonder we find that there’s a big hole in our pockets. For those of us who have become used to living life large, it may seem strange that not long ago, that was far from the norm. Just one generation earlier, it was quite usual for people to save patiently towards their financial goals, i.e. to delay gratification until they had the money to spend.

Before and now

If they wanted to buy a car, our folks would not simply look for the latest model, but consider what was on the second-hand market. They would save towards a bigger downpayment, to reduce the interest they have to pay on the hire-purchase loan.

The first step was to save, not seek enjoyment. They kept money aside for education and important financial goals. The habit of accumulating savings was strongly ingrained in them. Sadly, that is virtually non-existent now. If you found yourself in a deep level of debt, this is a habit you have to re-learn in order to regain control of your finances.

For sound money management, delayed gratification is a key behaviour to adopt, while instant gratification can set us on the road to serious financial problems. Worse yet is “advance gratification”, when we spend money before we have earned it. Seeking instant enjoyment is not as bad. It just means that we cannot keep cash and spend it as soon as we have it in our hands.

Today, with the massive use of credit cards to pay for high lifestyles, we are in danger of being buried under consumer debt. This is a growing problem which is being seen particularly among the young.

In the past, a person who had no savings was seen as someone with poor money management skills. Now, it is quite common for people in their 20s and 30s to already be in debt to the tune of RM30,000 to RM50,000. Addressing this problem requires a change in mindsets.

Not so long ago, a person entering the job market would use the bus or get a second-hand motorcycle for about RM2,000 to RM3,000. Purchasing a car would be delayed until after about five years of work. Even then, it would probably be a used car costing between RM10,000 and RM12,000.

Today, many young people expect to drive a car before they work, usually looking to their parents for financing. For better money management, this expectation should be replaced by the habit of delayed gratification. If the young learn to save towards the car they want to drive, they can avoid building up a heavy burden of debt. Taking the LRT or commuter train can be among the options.

Growing materialism

The easy availability of consumer credit can contribute to debt accumulation becoming a larger problem for the economy, as is seen in debt-driven societies like the United States and some European countries. The Malaysian authorities can avoid the mistakes of those countries by taking further action to tighten lending rules.

Personal debt management problems are closely related to another trend in society today growing materialism. The idea that happiness depends on the number of material possessions we have appears to be stronger as time goes by.

More than ever, we now need to rediscover the value of non-material interests such as watching the sunset, jungle trekking or volunteering our time in order to find happiness and fulfilment in our lives. We need to find a balance between material wealth and life-enriching experiences that are not measured in monetary terms but build our self-esteem.

For most of us, the amount of money available is limited. In fact, there is never enough for anyone. If we change the way we look at ourselves, many of the problems associated with excessive spending will be resolved.

Instead of dining out at a fancy restaurant, we can have a fulfilling meal at home with our families and enjoy the warmth of their happiness. Instead of spending on more clothes, we can save the money for a good end. Instead of splurging on an expensive holiday, we can find joy and accomplishment in playing a musical instrument.

These are values that adults can inculcate in the young that will pay dividends all their lives. Perhaps the current debt crisis is a reminder to pay attention to the lifestyle choices we unwittingly teach the young.

MONEY & YOU By YAP MING HUI Yap Ming Hui ( is an independent financial advisor. He is the managing director of Whitman Independent Advisors

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