Malaysian socialist MP on `free market fallacies'

Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj delivers his speech. Photo by PSM.

By Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj

May 18, 2009 -- The Nut Graph -- The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) organised a fundraising dinner at the Petaling Jaya Civic Centre on May 9, 2009, which was attended by some 600 members, friends and supporters. I was invited to give a short speech, and this is what I said:


Humankind is facing a serious crisis. On one hand we are witnessing the unfolding of a recession many experts think will be the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Recessions are commonplace in the free-market economy. They occur once every 10 or so years.

Conventional economic consensus is that each time such recessions occurs, governments should step in and use public moneys to boost aggregate demand and make it profitable again for the big businesspeople. This is what is being done now — RM72 billion in Malaysia and more than US$1 trillion in the United States of America.

But is this a viable solution? Because on the other hand, the world economy is already pressing the Earth's physical limits — petroleum, a non-renewable resource is fast becoming scarce given the way we are burning it up. "Peak Oil" has probably already been reached, and the scarcity of petroleum is going to push prices up again if the "pump priming" succeeds in resuscitating growth of the world gross domestic product (GDP).

Petrol pump

More importantly, the ozone layer is developing holes and the ice caps are already melting. We are at risk of causing serious environmental damage, which will lead to serious economic dislocations. And as always it will be the poorest of the world who will suffer the most.

How long can we keep growing the world economy without causing irreparable damage to our environment? Another 20 years? Another 50 years? It was a Native American chief who said, "We do not inherit the earth from our parents; rather we borrow it from our grandchildren." What will be the quality of the Earth that we return to our grandchildren?

We need to think out of the box. Can we restructure the economy from one that is premised upon maximising profits for a small group of owners, to an economy where production is for the needs of the majority?

This is where the PSM disagrees with the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) [Malaysia's opposition]. We fully support PR's efforts to replace the ruling Barisan Nasional at the federal level. But we have serious doubts that the very apt policy of merakyatkan ekonomi can be done within the framework of production for profit — within the framework of capitalism; private ownership of factories and banks; and corporate-led globalisation.

Yes, it is fashionable to say that socialism has failed, that socialism is against human nature. We in the PSM agree that there were serious mistakes made in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, in China and in countries like Cambodia. These cannot ever be denied and should be analysed in detail so that we can make sure these mistakes are not repeated.

But to say that socialism is unrealistic and against human nature is tantamount to saying we reject all religions as well. The truth is the core values of all religions — the solidarity of all peoples and compassion towards all, especially the old, the sick and the poor — happen to be the basic tenets of socialism, which is based on the love of humanity. So if you deny the possibility of socialism — of a society based on human solidarity — you are also rejecting the social teachings of all religions as well.

There is a lot of work to be done. We need to work out how we can bring about a system where there is not only economic justice, but occurs within the framework of a genuine democracy. This, we believe, is not an impossible quest, and I would like to invite all of you to join us in making it a reality.

Thank you once again for being with us tonight.

[Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj is a physician by training and a founding member of the PSM. He is currently member of parliament for Sungai Siput.]