I have been tempted to answer the above questions for many times in the past; however, I couldn’t find a clear and convincing answer to it, and therefore I just leave the question lingering in my mind and never bothered to address it full heartedly. Off course, the question is a bit narrow, in the sense that it should be about whether any specific race, be it Chinese, Jewish, or any other race that are superior compared to other races.
If we view the list of say Forbes richest men in the World, or Asia, then it will become evident that two races dominates: The Chinese origins and Jewish origins. So can we then conclude that these are the two best races when comes to business? The answer is: it is far from true. Judgments on intelligentsia of races cannot be made just by looking at a snapshot of history. If we look back in history, the Egyptian used to rule for thousands of years and was the wealthiest nation at the time; it even produced one of the wealthiest men by the name of Qarun, the name of which “Harta Karun” is derived from. Will that make the Egyptian better in business or commerce compared to say the Persians at the time?
At another time, the Romans represents the wealthiest people for centuries until finally their fame and glory waned down; and today we can see that their descendants (the Italians) are no better than any other races when comes to business and commerce. And if we go back into history, then again we will realize that the Malays were masters of commerce and trades, which the Chinese, Indians and Arabs were flocking to the Malay lands in search of business opportunities and learning from them (years from 500 A.D. till 1000 A.D.) . In fact the Kingdom of Sri Vijaya was so prosperous that the Malay Kings were adorned with gold and silver that it was the symbol of wealth and power of the time; to the level that in some historical notes, the Malay lands were labelled as “Land of Gold” (Svarnabhumi in Sanskrit). Can we then conclude that the Malays are better business people than the Chinese, Indians and Arabs? We can’t either.
My hypothesis is simple: That there are no superior races or group of people when comes to excellence in commerce, trade or business; it was just simply the fate of history that a group of people emerge as more successful within some period of history, while other groups may emerge superior at some other period of time in history.
Therefore, to make conclusions based on a sample of history, for a period of time is rather short sighted and wrong. It is quite amazing that God spread out human intelligence far and wide such that within each race or group, time and time again, there will appear above average humans to be born and produced –either as leaders, intellectuals, thinkers, business people, or others. There was no such monopoly by any race wahtesoever. There are smart Jews, dumb Jews, average Jews, and crazy Jews – as much as there are smart or dumb etc., Chinese, Malays, and others.
Then, one may ask why do we see today, in case of Malaysia for example, many more successful Chinese businessmen than the Malays (or Indians)? The answer again can be understood from the history. When the Chinese came to Malaysia – during the colonial times – they were by force has to engage in commerce and trade. In fact, on average, most of them are poorer than the Malays at the time, who were by tradition, the major land owners. Whereas, most Chinese were forced to labor in tin mining, and were constrained to live in ghettos, which what is called the cities by today’s definition. (Off course fate determined that it was for the Chinese favor. For example, Low Yat group will not be what is today if they were living in Pekan, Pahang, instead of living in the KL ghettos, which today became Bukit Bintang).
Many of the fortunate Chinese, which became big tycoons of today, were in fact lucky, in the sense that they were there at the right time and got the right break that makes them what they are. In fact, as any statisticians will understand, that what we observe as successful tycoon today, are results of survivorship bias – that is we observed only those who survived (and thrived) and those who have failed are not even known (and not even recorded in any historical annals). To conclude that those who succeed are smart and those who failed are dumb – is definitely wrong.
Take for example Robert Kuok, he is definitely deemed to be successful –but can we say that his brother, William failed? William in fact joined the Malaysian Communist Party and was killed by the British in Pahang in 1953. Even if we study carefully, Kuok made his fortune by being granted the monopoly of sugar trade in Malaysia and in fact dubbed as the Sugar King of Asia. Without that lucky brake for having that monopoly, would Robert Kuok be what he is today? I don’t know. But it was what God has determined, and it was his luck. For that matter, why wouldn’t a Malay take his position during that critical time, such that the Malay guy is the Sugar King instead? It was fate, since at that time no Malay was equipped and prepared to take the position that Robert Kuok did. For that matter, even his brother, if he was still alive, was not in position to take his. So the fate of history determined that it was him and him alone. So can we say that Robert Kouk is smarter and more brilliant than any other person (Chinese, Malay or Indian)?
The same can be said to many other Malaysian Chinese tycoons that has made their names to the lists of Fortunes or Forbes or any other magazine for that matter. Many got their own lucky breaks in the pasts, and from then on built their fortunes on it, and have since expanded to what we saw today. We can also conclude the same thing with the Malays and Indians – they got their lucky break by being there at the right moment and opportunity in time. Daim Zainuddin got his breaks due to his positions with UMNO and Mahathir; Ananda Krishnan got the right concessions in place of others for him to extend his wealth beyond gambling by getting the Astro license, Maxis license and off course the rights to build the Twin Towers with Petronas funding. And then we can also see Syed Mokhtar, with his canvassing skills charmed the politicians and got all the lucky breaks that he wants. The only reason why there are more Chinese than the Malays or Indians is just a simple fact that the Chinese were there earlier and were also in larger numbers compared to the others. The rest is pure luck, chance and probabilities of life.
The real test to see whether Chinese are better than Malays, vice versa, or the Indians; can be seen in today’s environment. Are there are any new tycoon in the making among any of the races? It seems unlikely so. Why that is the case? Because the environment has changed; there are no more easy concessions that you can lay your hands to, in order for a person to build his empire on. There will not be any new Sugar monopoly license, as Robert Kuok got; or new monopoly on satellite television as Ananda Krishnan got; or for that matter a new IPP license with the terms as lucrative as the one YTL got; and so on. All of these old “monopolistic position” in business has been taken by someone, and any new one will not be easily manufactured without public resentment. So probably we can safely say that any new tycoon, be him a Chinese, Malay or Indian will not be born in the current social and economic environment; at least not in the way the old tycoons got into their positions.
Now let us go one step further, beyond these tycoons, since discussions about them may be a bit superfluous and irrelevant to many of us, like you and me. We don’t even want to be a tycoon or for that matter it was never our aim or dream to be listed in any of those fanfare magazines. We just want to be successful in our own way and live a life that we want to live. Does any race, have an upper hand to be successful in business, compared to another race; such as Chinese over the Malays, or vice-versa; or the Indians for that matter? My hypothesis is as follows: nobody!
In fact, the years of economic growth and development has eliminated many of the advantages or disadvantages that were there, say thirty years ago. Off course in pockets of areas – the Chinese may have better advantages than the Malays; and the Indians over the others. But if we take in aggregate, the situation has pretty much leveled out. But then why there are so many people, Malays, Chinese and Indians are still unsatisfied in the sense that they are complaining as being discriminated against? For example, many Chinese abhors that mostly Malays get the Government contracts; while Malays complaint that most Chinese developers will only deal with Chinese contractors; and the Indians complaint that they are totally left out of all? My answer is: it is all about politics and racial prejudices that we allow to breed among us all. Off course, there are a lot of truths in the above statements, but at the core of it many Malays sub-contract their works to the Chinese, and many Malay developers also turns to Chinese contractors to do their works because they are more reliable than the Malays or Indians. Why? Because the Chinese started early on in these business and they have became better at it. But lets us take for example in the area of oil and gas: I can’t see that the Chinese are better than the Malays; in fact both are equally competitive. The same thing can be said about IT.
When comes to foodstuffs, the Malays are well ahead than the Chinese; since by nature the bigger markets belongs to the Malays. The same thing in the case of fast food: KFC has been dominated by the Malays for a long while. Similarly in shipping where most of the major companies are owned by the Malays. The same trend is also happening in property development – as the cities are already coming into “fully developed”, we can see that many more Malay developers (land owners) are coming into folds as many smaller cities are springing up. It is no longer a game that belongs to the Chinese. On the other hand, we can see that Indians has been traditionally dominant in the service sector such as the legal professions and others.
The only reason why some still feels that they are being discriminated or left out as a race is because they always looks the other way – that is looking at what they don’t have – rather than looking inwardly, that is of what they already have. This is the nature of human being – that is the grass is always greener on someone else pasture than yours. It is inherent that we always have greed and envy in our heart against another human being – to covet something we not yet have.
Does it mean that I am proposing that what’s going on is right and should continue as it is? No absolutely NOT. I am definitely against those tycoons that got these monopolistic positions at the expense of the society – of which many are held by the Chinese tycoons. I am also against those Malays that use political positions to enrich themselves at the expense of corrupting the society. And I am also against the Indians which became rich having some concessions that are hurting the public. I am against all of that. The only problem is that – these were all events of the past. It exists because of events and circumstances, as well as political determination dictates what it became. The only thing left is, should I lament about the past history, or should I care about what may happen in the future?
Do I agree that the Malays were favored for government contracts and the Chinese works closely between them as protective guilds and the best lawyers in town are the Indians? I don’t. I want that one day, all these barriers are gone whereby the society is an open society, whereby who best will thrive regardless of race and origin.
What it needs is off course political determination on one part, which is only a necessary condition for change, but more importantly the people themselves should get themselves out of this categorization, to make it sufficient.
For you to believe in what I preach, let me just prophesize what I can see in the economic future of Malaysia.
1. Those who depended on government handouts and concessions can never grow big – because not much concessions and handouts are left. Furthermore, it has been proven that people who depended on governments can never compete in an open market, and hence will be left out in the Global and open competition. The Global economy and the country are heading towards that – it is a matter of time (probably not more than 15 years).
2. The market will dictate what it is going to be: Malaysian is a mix market; those who remain to be relevant within their race domain will not be able to grow. Furthermore, Malaysia is a small market compared to other; therefore, those who can perform and compete at the Global level will sustain, others will remain on the periphery.
3. The younger generations are less and les driven by race. It is a matter of time before people will think themselves as relevant in their economic function rather than racial functions. As it is proven in other developed nations, positioning as a person matters more than positioning as a race. Economic parameters determined more whether you want to deal with another person, than his racial background. A Chinese has to shed of his Chineseness, as well as the Malay has to shed off his Malayness, and the same thing applied for the Indians.
4. The tycoons and the monopolies are dying breeds. Political favors are things that gradually becoming history; Concessions and family based organizations never proven to sustain more than a couple of generations. Soon after the demise of the founder, many paper organizations and myriads of companies dissipated into oblivion. The same fate awaits many of the existing tycoon based organizations. It has already happened to some; and as time goes, many more will be gone. Their time has passed, and as history unfolds, new sets of people will come and take over the domain. Their business model was relevant for the last fifty years, but it will be less relevant as we move fifty years forward.
5. If we are to succeed, Malaysia has to open its market, enter the Global community faster than what we are doing now. We should transform many of our ways of doing business; we have to shed many of the old practice that is becoming less practical and relevant. If we don’t, then we will lose out in the longer haul; and in that case, we are forced to go out of Malaysia, regardless of whether we plan for it or not.
My reasons for saying the above are not developed out of thin air. In fact, I have spent a lot of time lately studying about fate of nations, historically as well as modern times; It becomes clearer to me that many nations entrapped themselves into doldrums and bickering to the point that eventually it squandered many opportunity to take trajectorial moves that in fact can take it away from path of destructions and doom. But in most cases, they don’t – because people at large and politicians are the worse arbiter of all. They tend to fulfill their own prophecies. That’s why many civilizations vanished; many nations that were powerful at one time became pauper and esteem less. In Malaysia today, we are at these crossroads for our future. I hope none from the so called Vision 2020, as they are truly meaningless rhetoric; and I rely none of the politicians and the debate that lingers among the races as we have seen floating around all over the net – because most of them missed the real objective.
Lastly, before I close this writing, let me touch a bit about NEP. My simple conclusion would be that NEP as it is being practiced are not serving the purpose that it should be, neither in the short term nor in the long term. I truly believe that if any NEP or any economic policy for that matter – should focus solely and mainly on one subject alone: that is about eradicating poverty, bridging the gap between the rich and the poor, through a socio economic program that encourages upward mobility of people, regardless of who they are. One good example is education scholarships – poor kids will have a better chance to improve their economic conditions if they are given a chance to learn as high as they want and capable of. It is almost a sure thing to improve his or her family’s economic predicament. We will not have Idris Jala of the Kelabit’s to be heading MAS is he was not given a chance to educate himself. We might not see any Senoi or Jakun to be a Minister one day, if they are deprived of good education. I myself, will not be what I am today, if I was denied to have the education that I have received.
In fact, good education should suffice all. With good education, it will be to that person’s own determination and destiny of what he want to be and can be. Why do we need a person to be educated, and then hand him over business on silver platter, and after that we have to bail him out for his failures, and then gave him concessions at the expense of the public – to name it as an NEP? It is definitely off the mark. He was educated, and then he succeed or fail in business – is truly his fate in life. We can’t do more than that. We are not God, but we are just His agent. Our job is to be fair to all, and then leave the rest to what fate determines.