Luxury goods can wait

Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
MY VIEW - The Sun Daily
February 11, 2015

THERE is probably no newspaper worthy of its name that would not report about the looming unhappiness among consumers vis-a-vis the prices of consumer goods. More so when prices of certain commodities have gone down, and it is only logical to expect that prices in the retail sector will be reflected accordingly.

But this is still a long shot. The rule of thumb seems to be when the commodity prices shoot up, the prices of retail goods will follow suit almost immediately – at times even doubling what is expected. The reverse somehow does not seem to happen. The "gravity-defying" phenomenon is a cause for concern, what more when there are festive seasons to contend with.

Even banana-leaf outlets are not spared the upward price spiral complained one reader. This is what a world charged by greed and obsession for profiteering is all about. Supply-chain manipulators and "middleman" have long been the suspects, despite denials to the contrary. Add to this the elements of "economic espionage" – the whole nation is held to ransom. Meanwhile, the petty blame-game continues as dissatisfaction grows leading to suggestions of boycotts although everyone knows that it is not an effective strategy, not when the consumers are lethargic and apathetic.

So the anxieties ballooned especially in the recent flood-hit areas where essential goods are hard to come by unless with a hiked-up price tag. One thing is sure: the law of supply and demand works best when people are in a desperate situation.

The case of a seven-year-old boy who reportedly went through hell is illustrative. He had been abused, since his mother died from falling down the stairs about a year ago, and forced to beg for money from neighbours. His father is jobless and often took to beating the boy, a middle child among the siblings, when he came home empty-handed. The boy has since been hospitalised for treatment, allegedly "his face was swollen and he has bruises all over."

While this wrenched our hearts as to what is in store for street children, then comes the most ironic of all news: the sales of Maserati Malaysia hit a year-on-year record growth of 200% last year; compared to a global increase of 136%.

It boggles the mind to see this two extremes? What happened to "moderation"? What are we to make of this? To charitable Bill and Melinda Gates it is all framed as "big bet" as apparent in their just released annual letter, "Our Big Bet for the Future". It is more or less about "technological fixes" to mend a broken system – the cycle of poverty. Perhaps naively just like repairing a broken computer. Why it exists, who or what causes it or where it comes from are not part of the "big bet". The basics are clearly amiss as discussed in a recent posting at entitled: "4 things you probably know about poverty that Bill and Melinda doesn't."

The first basic is: Poverty is made by people. It is not just part of nature. But we seem to have difficulty in finding out who these people are.

Basic 2: History matters. This includes historical injustices that followed much of the colonial past of conquer and plunder. "The impoverishment of the global South began first with the plunder of Latin America." The rest is history – an unjust one, made worst by the neo-liberal policies of today!

Next: The "good news" story is promised on false accounting. Basically, "thanks to the spread of free market capitalism and western aid."

The last points to it all: Power matters. Ultimately it is a game of politics and power. Period.

Hence without challenging these two, the people will continue messing up the reality! They left in dire straits unable to make ends meet while the lethal combination of politics and power greases the cycle of poverty behaving more like extended appendages of historical injustices purveying their own so-called selective "good news" narratives! The nightmarish experiences of thousands of the likes of the seven-year-old boy mentioned above are out of the radar screen. This is what sustains the "gravity-defying" phenomenon since the gravity pull (read: political will) is rather weak, unethically so.

Therefore, in order to reverse the untenable position, enlightened consumers must first be successful in dealing with the interplay of power and politics. To bet on it, they must be firmly entrenched in the drivers' seat so as to ensure that we do not "mess-a-reality". The Maserati can wait.

With some four decades of experience in education locally and internationally, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: