Malaysia has one of the highest income inequalities in Asia

Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim took his pet themes of good governance and equal opportunity to a Tokyo conference on globalisation last week, where he hailed the phenomenon’s boons while lamenting its principal blight – glaring inequality – and suggested prescriptions for the condition.

Anwar flew to the Japanese capital after Parliament had ended its opening week on Thursday afternoon to give the opening address at a conference whose theme ‘Globalisation: Inequality and Social Justice’ has been familiar grist for umpteen speeches on the campaign trail in Malaysia.

In remarks delivered at the conference’s opening, Anwar said globalisation has generated great wealth for elites skilled at navigating the labyrinthine complexity of economic systems where the bigger the stakes, the higher the value of marginal increments in skills invested.

“I’m not about to deprecate the benefits of globalisation with its emphasis on deregulation, unfettered markets and balance in budgets,” he said.

“No doubt these processes have brought with it huge increases in trade and investment flows with knock-on effects on poverty alleviation in the underdeveloped nations,” he conceded.

“But these benefits have come with a heavy price – glaring inequality – not only between the elites and the rest in the developed countries, but also within the developing countries where the structural disparities are exacerbated by the issues of lack of transparency and good governance,” Anwar expatiated.

“Seriously, nobody would envy the amassing of wealth in the hands of a few people who invented the technological marvels of this age, but when much of the largesse at the top went to finaglers in stock and currency markets, the case for the unfettering of markets is weakened,” he contended.

Ticking time bomb
The Pakatan Rakyat leader described the growing inequality of economic outcomes within developed and in developing countries as “ticking time bombs” that must be defused by prescriptions emphasising social justice and economic equity.

He said the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, is growing at faster rate in developing countries than in the advanced ones such that blind reliance on the “invisible hand” of free market to spur growth and distribute income would only worsen the problem.

Anwar called for a more productive and meaningful discourse on globalisation that meets the pre-requisites of good governance and social justice that he said were the fundamentals of any broad-gauged scheme to eradicate poverty and bring people to the fullness of their potential.

According to the Gini index, Malaysia has one of the highest income inequalities in Asia – the country’s gap between rich and poor is second only to Papua New Guinea.

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