Racial Preferences in Malaysia: Deformative Action
State help for ethnic Malays may seem to have worked. But its benefits are debatable and its costs calamitous.
What government would not like to reduce racial disparities and promote ethnic harmony?
The tricky part is knowing how.
One country that claims to have found a way is Malaysia.
Since 1971 it has given preferential treatment in everything from education to investing to bumiputeras—people of indigenous descent, who are two-thirds of the population but poorer than their ethnic-Chinese and -Indian compatriots.
On the face of things, this system of affirmative action has been a success.
The gap in income between Malays (the biggest bumiputera group) and Chinese- and Indian-Malaysians has narrowed dramatically.
Just as important, there has been no repeat of the bloody race riots of 1969, when Malay mobs burned Chinese shops in Kuala Lumpur, prompting the adoption of the policy.
And the economy—typically an instant victim of heavy-handed government attempts at redistribution—has grown healthily.
Small wonder that some see Malaysia as a model.
South African politicians cited it when adopting their plan for “Black Economic Empowerment” in the early 2000s.
More recently Indonesian activists have been talking about instituting something similar there.
Malaysia, meanwhile, keeps renewing the policy, which was originally supposed to end in 1991.
Just last month Najib Razak, the prime minister, launched the latest iteration: the catchily named Bumiputera Economic Transformation Roadmap (BETR) 2.0, which, among other things, will steer a greater share of government contracts to bumiputera businesses.
Yet the results of Malaysia's affirmative-action schemes are not quite what they seem.
Malays in neighbouring Singapore, which abjures racial preferences, have seen their incomes grow just as fast as those of Malays in Malaysia.
That is largely because the Singaporean economy has grown faster than Malaysia's, which may in turn be a product of its more efficient and less meddling bureaucracy.
1.talking about 谈论
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