Saturday, 31 March 2007

Beauty Central

It's not bad that they call themselves 中国 ["central country"] as long as they keep calling us 美国 ["beautiful country"]...


From Brad deLong’s blog entry. Interesting comments too.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Tuesday Bog Roll Readings

Donald J. Boudreaux’s latest Economics in Many Lessons on Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, on how DIY economics could lead to bad policies. Our policy-makers should take note.

Consistent Common Sense
By Donald J. Boudreaux
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Every semester I emphasize to my freshman economics students that "economics is little more than common sense, consistently applied." Although I say this to them in the hope of easing any anxiety they might bring to a subject boasting such an imposing name, I'm also sincere.

Economics is common sense, consistently applied. Unfortunately, people do not commonly apply their common sense consistently. It is this inconsistent application of common sense -- rather than lack of common sense -- that makes economics so startling to people when they first encounter it.

Also, John Kay’s latest Financial Times column on (the inevitability of) making decisions that requires balancing the value of human lives and the costs of doing business. Good read.

Lastly, Slate’s latest slide show Smokey Bear Nation – an interesting historical take on the usage of animal characters in teaching children. Check out that video in the middle.


Monday, 26 March 2007

A Short Trip to McDonald’s

After a long and tiring day at work, I vowed not to think about economics at all for the rest of the night. The plan was to have a quick dinner followed by a therapeutic shower and a brief casual reading on bed before dreaming of sunbeams, sea breeze and autumn leaves.

I dropped by a McDonald’s for the quick dinner.

Fine Parking

The restaurant is relatively big for a MacDonald’s with its own personal space for free parking. It is also a 24-hour drive-thru. The first thing I noticed while entering the parking area was the ubiquity of large sign boards, telling everyone that the parking spaces were strictly for restaurant patrons, and cars parked for more than two hours would be clamped and fined a hefty sum. The motivation for doing this was obvious – if the spaces were taken up by non-customers, there would be less potential customers for McDonald’s. How they intended to enforce this however, was not too obvious. There were no tickets issued or any other mechanism in place to track how long a car had been parking. That didn’t mean that it couldn’t be done – someone could possibly be walking around and jotting down car number plates and clamping cars that had been parking at the same spot two hours ago– but just that it didn’t seem that McDonald’s was being all too earnest in enforcing the clamping rule. Chances were, McDonald’s does not clamp cars most of the time.

But chances were also, I thought, not too many non-customers actually park there too. This was much akin to ‘beware of dog’ or ‘trespassers will be shot’ signs. Quite probably, the dog behind the gate was just a cute beagle or the people behind the fence actually do not carry a shotgun everywhere they go, but there was also a possibility that it’s a deadly Rottweiler or a trigger-happy guard. In these situations, the risk – the potential costs – of an action outweigh the benefits. Getting a free parking might be tempting, but the prospects of the cost and hassle of having a clamped car would probably deter most drivers.

Knowing very well that my dinner would take not more than 20 minutes, I chose a nice spot in front of the entrance and parked my car.

Bubur Ayam

As I lined up to order my dinner, I glanced at the menu. Amidst all the American-styled food, the bubur ayam appeared most out of place – it was like a perfect specimen for the Sesame Street song, “All of these things belong together, one of these things, is not the same…” poking you to pick it from the rest. At first, it might seem weird that an iconic western fast food restaurant was selling such a plain and simple Malaysian food, and only this one.

And then I thought of the spectrum of potential customers that McDonald’s has. McDonald’s serves mostly families, and the typical families range from young families that might actually enjoy Big Mac and Oreo McFlurry to hardcore traditional families that include grandma and grandpa who would never eat such manufactured western food. Then there are those in the middle – families that include young members who like sundae, Happy Meal and the play area and grandparents who love to see their grandchildren having fun but wouldn’t really enjoy the food. Bubur ayam, being plain but easily recognizable, perhaps, was added to woo these families at the margin. With it, both the children could have fun and the grandparents not starve. And for McDonald’s, its group of potential customers expanded to include those that used to be at the margin which should translate to more business.

Early Breakfast

Then I sat down to eat my spicy beef foldover and I noticed the paper placemat, informing me the restaurant was now opening from 4am to 11am to serve its breakfast menu. At first, this might appear to be silly – who would actually wake up at 3.30am in the morning so that they could go eat McDonald’s for breakfast at 4am? But an establishment like McDonald’s would not usually make silly business decisions.

Firstly, from the cost perspective, this restaurant was already operating 24-hours for its drive-thru business. Thus, the extra fixed and labour cost from serving breakfast at 4am was marginal. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, McDonald’s naturally has a lot of competition for its business, but competition is not a fixed thing. At different times of the day, due to the different opening times for different restaurants, the degree of competition would be different. At 4am in the morning, this McDonald’s was basically a monopoly, and a monopoly perhaps for a good 2-3 hours before nearby kopitiams open. The number of customers that early in the morning might be small, but given the small extra cost and the fact that most people who actually needed breakfast at that time would not have many alternatives to go to, serving breakfast at 4am might just be a brilliant strategy to gain more marginal customers.

And at around this time, it was clear to me that trying not to think about economics for me was an exercise in futility.

Oh well.



Rat in a Cage: A Convenient Journal

The reason why I started blogging was rather simple – I found it to be an ideal creative outlet and a convenient journal to track the flow of my ideas and the interesting things I found. I often find myself with many pent up ideas; ideas which are not as formal and lengthy as they are worthy of proper investigations and penned down as research reports (which would take weeks), but not as trivial as those that normally get chatted away on IM sessions - ideas that I personally feel to be tad wasteful to be forgotten.

What I didn’t expect, however, is that blogging (although I have only started blogging for a very short while) allowed much introspection on some of my beliefs and ideas. I mentioned about my Weltanschauung or worldview in my first post and how important it is for me. Looking through some of the seemingly disparate posts, coupled with some very helpful feedbacks, has somehow helped me to gain some clarity and coherence on the development of my worldview and that some of my separate interests and convictions are in fact part of a larger theme.

The World is a Vampire: Making Decisions

Personally, I am getting more and more convinced that three principles are absolutely crucial when it comes to decision-making, especially on matters pertaining to economic and public policies (although definitely not limited to these – I often find myself thinking along these principles when pondering on issues relating to management, people and relationship… and more). These principles are both interrelated and mutually reinforcing. With the reverse principles in parentheses, they are:

  1. Humility (Hubris)

The first thing that is needed when considering issues such as public policy is to be humble of our knowledge. We need to appreciate firstly, that our existing knowledge, as vast as it is, is limited and many gaps exist. Secondly, we must never underestimate the complexity of the real world/situation, both in the breadth of interdependency and the dynamism of its evolving nature. Formal and established understanding, in the form of theories and existing literatures, should always be in the forefront, but local knowledge and more nuanced and specific understanding to the situation should never be ignored.

  1. Flexibility (Dogmatism)

With humility, it is easier to have greater flexibility in assessing a situation and making decision. It also makes you less susceptible to dogmatism; advocating a certain school of thought, belief or conviction doggedly regardless of circumstances. When it comes to making decision on practical and specific issues, being an informed centrist is important – flexibility often dictates the success in assessing a situation, formulating a policy and implementing the decision. This is made more crucial in economics, development and public policy due to the nature of the current state of our understanding of how the real world works. Instead of a handful of simple and clear-cut laws that tell us what to do and what to expect, most of the time, we have a hundred competing tendencies and possibilities, of uncertain strength and, quite often, direction, with little guidance as to how to add them up. We can explain every fact many times over, with the result that there is very little left that we can both believe strongly and act upon (Banerjee, 2007). Thus, while it is important to identify higher-order principles involved at a sufficient level of generality, the challenge is to have the flexibility to fashion specific blueprints that are suited for the local context – that is to have decisions inspired by formal knowledge but grounded firmly on realities (Rodrik, 2006A).

  1. Objectivity (Bias)

Alongside humility and flexibility, being objective is paramount in making decisions. Humans are naturally biased in their perception and particularly, most people with power are prone to overconfidence in what they believe in. Coupled with hubris and dogmatism, this often leads to the dangerous slide to self-delusion. Often, erroneous and misinformed policies are made and perpetuated by the inability to accept and appreciate their failings.

Objectivity is crucial for two broad reasons. Firstly, I am convinced that there is no single grand narrative that is able to provide an elegant and complete explanation to any particular issue, event or phenomenon, especially complex ones. Almost all the time, it is the collection of small tales that explains the whole story. Thus, any attempt to view any complex issue through the lenses of any single convention based on dogmatic conviction will prevent us from appreciating its subtleties and ultimately reduce our ability to comprehend the issue in its entirety as well as. The danger arises when this narrow comprehension is used as a basis to come up with remedies or policies. Secondly, objectivity allows us to effectively and dispassionately assess the efficacy and success of our implemented decisions without bias. Especially given the uncertainties and the limitation of our knowledge, it is absolutely crucial that a policy that does not work is recognised, accepted, discarded and replaced quickly (Rodrik, 2006A). Perpetuating an ineffective policy is not just redundant; it is also wasteful and could potentially exacerbate the very issue it is trying to address. Cliché as it may sound, learning from our mistakes is one of the best way to improve ourselves.

No doubt, my thoughts on this will definitely evolve further as I learn more and gain further experience in the future. That said, I am fairly convinced on the broad principles outlined above as desiderata in any decision-making process, especially pertaining to broad-ranging issues such as economics and public policy.



Banerjee, A. V. (2007), Inside the Machine – Towards a New Development Economics, Boston Review.

Rodrik, D. (2006B), Goodbye Washington Consensus, Hello Washington Confusion?, Harvard University.

Rodrik, D. (2006A), What’s So Special About China’s Exports?, Harvard University.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Believing in the Majority

Overcoming Bias has a very interesting entry today, on ‘Philosophical Majoritarianism’. Firstly, it is very obvious that the author do not believe entirely in what he wrote, especially given the frivolity of the exposition. Secondly, I believe he meant for it to be more of a thought experiment (Scott Adam’s God’s Debris comes to mind). But I could be wrong.

The premise of the argument in the post is set up as below:

  1. We are hopelessly biased in forming opinions and exceptionally susceptible to the overconfidence bias.
  1. Given some assumptions, the opinion of the majority is normally closer to the truth than ours (Friederich Hayek’s The Use of Knowledge in Society and, less formally, James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds come to mind).

  1. Thus, to avoid bias, we should not be forming our opinions independently first, but rather take the majority opinion as the default opinion, and then only adopt a different view for exceptionally good and convincing reasons.

Then, Hal Finney, the author (earlier discussion on his religious quandary is also quite fun to read), practically asked for the analysis and argument to be torn apart.

Although the analysis might be flawed, I do believe there is some wisdom in the basic principle of his argument.


PS: Oh, I commented.

Vision 2020

Personal maturity lies in aligning expectations with aspirations, capabilities and goals… The problem lay not with strategy, but with execution. But effective strategy is not separable from execution and is not based on visions and dreams, but on a match between capabilities and activities.”

- John Kay, Dreams are no basis for a sound corporate strategy, 20 March 2007

Monday, 19 March 2007

Political Infeasibility

Lifted from Greg Mankiw’s blog – a quotation from the late Milton Friedman in his new biography (emphasis added):

“The role of the economist in discussions of public policy seems to me to be to prescribe what should be done in light of what can be done, politics aside, and not to predict what is ‘politically feasible’ and then to recommend it.”

I am convinced that public policy debates in Malaysia would be much more fruitful and encompassing for the development of the nation if they are done so. And perhaps, through the resulting public awareness, it will also extend the realm of our political feasibilities.


Friday, 16 March 2007

Building a Better World

The Development Data Group at the World Bank launched this very interesting and interactive online Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Atlas.

In case you are new to MDG, here’s a little info on it from its website:

At the Millennium Summit in September 2000 the largest gathering of world leaders in history adopted the UN Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015, that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the world's time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions-income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion-while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. They are also basic human rights-the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security.

Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty

Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education

Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality

Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases

Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

And the Millennium Project, set out to achieve the MDGs:

The Millennium Project was commissioned by the United Nations Secretary-General in 2002 to recommend a concrete action plan for the world to reverse the grinding poverty, hunger and disease affecting billions of people. Headed by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the Millennium Project was an independent advisory body and presented its final report, Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, to the Secretary-General in January 2005…

Investing in Development proposes straightforward solutions for meeting the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadline. The world already has the technology and know-how to solve most of the problems faced in the poor countries. As of 2006, however, these solutions still had not been implemented at the needed scale. Investing in Development presents recommendations for doing so, through partnership between countries both rich and poor.

Back to the Atlas.

Each map on the site is interactive and supported by data tables, informative text, and charts in three languages: English, French, and Spanish. There is also an option to have a map resized according to relative size of countries in relation to the various MDGs, which provides a very interesting, instant and insightful perspective of the world beyond geography.

For example, this is a map of the world based on CO2 emission…

...and this is the world, resized based on CO2 emission and with added bar charts.

Explore the site – it is fun and informative (albeit in a geeky sort of way).


PS: For those who are interested, Dani Rodrik wrote a paper titled “Goodbye Washington Consensus, Hello Washington Confusion” which includes a short critique of Jeffery Sachs’ MDG plans (both are from Harvard), and of IMF and World Bank in general. Although a bit informal, this paper is very insightful and articulates how I think about economic policies too.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Anwar Ibrahim on Financial Times prompted me to read this just now:

Malaysia’s Anwar seeks return to power

By Tom Burgis in London
Published: March 15 2007 11:52 | Last updated: March 15 2007 11:52

Anwar Ibrahim, the former golden boy of Malaysian politics, said on Thursday he hopes to stand for prime minister in elections that could be held by the end of this year.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Anwar said he would stand in May for the presidency of the opposition Keadilan party, a post currently held by his wife. He said he would seek the premiership in elections late this year or early next, provided he wins the backing of his party’s allies.

Mr Anwar, 59, ruled out a return to the ruling Umno party, describing it as “corrupt to the core”. Currently an adviser to the World Bank, he hopes to bolster Keadilan’s flagging fortunes with a platform of economic growth, institutional reform and tackling graft.

I am very keen to learn more about Anwar’s economic policy proposal – does anyone know if a proper document exists and available for deeper study? I have been following his economics posts and vlogs on Anwar Ibrahim 3.5, but thus far they have been rather patchy, with more rhetorics rather than a complete coherent plan or platform.

A platform of economic growth, institutional reform and tackling graft
sounds very promising; it will be great if I could read more on it (and perhaps comment objectively on it too).


(Emphasis added)

Listening to Kahneman

Regular readers of the shared articles on my coffee table (that would be one of you, including myself) would notice that I often find myself fascinated by articles on cognitive biases, particularly from this collaborative site, Overcoming Bias. I did not read behavioural economics back in university, preferring instead to focus on game theory and econometrics (perhaps I should have taken an extra paper… in fact, I have a strong feeling that I should have…), so I am relatively new to the subject.

cognitive bias is a broad term for all distortions in the human mind that are hard to avoid and that lead to a perception, judgement, or reliability that deviates systematically, involuntarily, and rather distinct from the “reality”. Decisions made influenced by cognitive biases are not easily reconcilable with rationality, and thus could potentially lead to sub-optimal outcomes. Some familiar examples include overconfidence, gambler’s fallacy and self-deception.

In this post, I will try to introduce, informally, three relevant biases.

1. Paternalism

Not sure if it has been formally articulated, but paternalism is a form of bias. It relates to policy that is intended to benefit some people by limiting their choices, that is, the interference of a state or an individual with another person, against their will, and justified by a claim that the person interfered with will be better off or protected from harm, like a parent who stops a kid from playing in the street.

Basically, a paternalistic individual believes that he/she has superior rationality and reasoning, and that others are helpless in doing for what is good for them, and thus decisions are best left not to these helpless people.

For example, when one decides that a movie should be banned without really watching the show at all, because he knows better. Or when one decides that the populace is too stupid to understand matter pertaining to planning of transportation infrastructure.

2. Hyperbolic Discounting

The second interesting bias refers to the empirical finding that people generally prefer smaller, sooner payoffs to larger, later payoffs when the smaller payoffs would be imminent; when the same payoffs are distant in time, people tend to prefer the larger, even though the time lag from the smaller to the larger would be the same as before.

For example, when given a choice of getting RM 100 on say, September 1st, 2009 or RM200 3 years later (September 1st, 2012), you choose the latter option - that is, equivalent interest rate of about 26% per year (!). But when given a choice of RM 100 right now, and RM 200 three years from now - essentially the same scenario but with different time-frame - you choose to get RM 100 now.

Or similarly, when you decide to formulate a long term policy which is intended to ultimately enrich a portion of the population and lead to more equality amongst all in the long run, and that the potential long term gain from this policy should outweigh all the competing short term gains. But when the policy goes from formulation to implementation, most affected rather choose quick gains rather than potentially larger long term benefits.

3. Confirmation Bias

Sometimes known as myside bias, confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions and to avoid "counter-attitudinal" new information. It refers to the tendency for people to extend critical scrutiny to information which contradicts their prior beliefs and uncritically accept information that is congruent with their prior beliefs. An important consequence of the bias is that many incorrect beliefs are slow to change and often become stronger even when evidence is presented which should weaken the belief. Generally, such irrational belief persistence results from according too much weight to evidence that accords with one's belief, and too little weight to evidence that does not.

For example, after making the decision of buying a Toyota Vios, one tends to be especially receptive towards advertisements, positive reviews and comments for Toyota Vios, and choose not to heed reliable information that the Honda City is actually a better car overall.

Or when one choose not to believe that a policy has done little to achieve its objectives after many years, and decides – against evidence and well-accepted scholarly and empirical understanding that it would not work, to extend the policy forever. Or the conviction that one has for the future of an automotive company he helped create, despite blatant signs that it is a failure.

It is crucial to acknowledge that cognitive biases exist and to appreciate that they could lead to sub-optimal decisions and outcomes in the daily happenings of our lives, from simple trivial matters to over-arching policy decisions that have repercussions lasting multiple decades and affecting welfare of the entire nation.

Have you noticed your cognitive bias today?


Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Cellar Door

‘‘Mighty is the charm

Of these abstractions to a mind beset

With images, and haunted by herself

And specially delightful unto me

Was that clear synthesis built up aloft

So gracefully.’’

- Wordsworth

And thus in utter randomness she descends…



Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Democracy and Economic Progress

The Wall Street Journal Online has a very interesting entry today in their Econoblog. invited economists Daron Acemoglu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ed Glaeser of Harvard University to discuss the delicate relationship between economic growth and broader political freedoms.

Highly recommended because, firstly, the discussion itself is very interesting and secondly, the discussion cites and provides links to many interesting papers and articles on the topic.

Basically, both have a broad consensus –
democracy doesn't strongly predict economic growth, at least not in the short run, and democracy is not perfect as a political system, but it is the best we have. However, Daron considers education as a chief ingredient supporting democracy, while Ed believes that social and economic divides are the main barriers for a sustainable democracy.

Here are bits of the discussion that I personally deem to be somewhat relevant to Malaysia (as usual, emphases added).

Is Democracy the Best Setting For Strong Economic Growth?

from Econoblog

Ed Glaeser:

While I yield to no one in my passion for liberty, the view that democracy is a critical ingredient for economic growth is untenable. There is no robust statistical relationship to back it up, and Robert Barro actually found democracy reduces growth, once he statistically controls for the rule of law (Elanor: that is, rule of law that comes with democracy is what counts, at least empirically).

…(M)any of the best growth experiences have been in less-than-democratic regimes that invest in physical and human capital such as Lee Kwan Yew's Singapore or post-Mao China… I think the relationship between democracy and wealth reflects the power of human capital -- education -- to make countries both rich and democratic. If you put enough smart people together, they'll figure out how to govern themselves and gravitate towards democracy.

Daron Acemoglu:

Many societies counted as "democratic" using standard measures are really "dysfunctional democracies" where traditional elites dominate politics through control of the party system, political influence, vote buying, intimidation… In others, democratic institutions survive, but there is significant in-fighting between ethnic groups, religious groups or social classes… Finally, many democracies suffer economically from populist and irresponsible macroeconomic policies, which are often adopted after transitions from repressive dictatorships and during periods when politics are turbulent and conflicts over wealth distribution are strong.

… (I)t's true that autocratic regimes can generate growth for certain periods of time by providing secure property rights and good business conditions to firms aligned with political powers. But modern capitalist growth requires not only secure property rights, but also creative destruction, that is, the entry of new firms with new ideas and technologies that replace the successful firms of the past. Creative destruction requires a level playing field, which democracies are better at providing because they have more equal distributions of political power than autocracies or monarchies.

Can’t agree more.


Tax the Poor

Steven E. Landsbury wrote this somewhat light-hearted piece on Slate last Friday, on income and leisure, suggesting that you shouldn’t only look at income levels when considering inequality. And how policies to redistribute from the rich to the poor is like subsidising the poor to have more leisure time.

A more nuanced and deeper read into this, and perhaps we could relate it to the Malaysian scenario. But that is for another post.

He ended the piece with these two paragraphs:

The Theory of the Leisure Class
An economic mystery: Why do the poor seem to have more free time than the rich?
By Steven E. Landsburg

…there are, I think, two important morals here.

First, man does not live by bread alone. Our happiness depends partly on our incomes, but also on the time we spend with our friends, our hobbies, and our favorite TV shows. So, it's a good exercise in perspective to remember that by and large, the big winners in the income derby have been the small winners in the leisure derby, and vice versa.

Second, a certain class of pundits and politicians are quick to see any increase in income inequality as a problem that needs fixing—usually through some form of redistributive taxation. Applying the same philosophy to leisure, you could conclude that something must be done to reverse the trends of the past 40 years—say, by rounding up all those folks with extra time on their hands and putting them to (unpaid) work in the kitchens of their "less fortunate" neighbors. If you think it's OK to redistribute income but repellent to redistribute leisure, you might want to ask yourself what—if anything—is the fundamental difference.

Sure need some leisure subsidy at this moment :(


Saturday, 10 March 2007

Search Malaysia

Having had to do economic research on matters pertaining to Malaysia, I often get frustrated and disappointed by the lack of good academic papers on Malaysia. It makes understanding on any particular issue difficult and investigation tedious – to have a progressive and fruitful search for knowledge, we are suppose to stand on shoulders of giants. This is made worse by the fact there are very few avenues for papers to be published and disseminated (try to find a well-maintained, properly peer-reviewed Malaysia specific working paper series) and the fact that the paternalistic Government, despite all the grand master plans to have a knowledge economy, human capital development and yada yada, seems to be doing very little to encourage people to actually investigate on issues pertaining to economic and public policies. In fact, the opposite seems to be truer.

Try finding an article that systematically and objectively investigate the extent of market failure and the cost of inefficiency imposed by a grossly protective national automotive policy; or the success (or lack thereof) of the Bumiputera policies in achieving its dual objectives of poverty eradication and elimination of economic identification based on ethnicity; or the impact of the AP system; or the fiscal cost of having the automatic pricing mechanism in determining petrol prices; or the effects of toll roads on congestions, cost of driving and how they interface with existing roads and public transportation system; or the evolution of return to education through the decades of changes in the national education system; or the effect of mega-public sector investment projects on private sector investments; or … well, you get the point.

How is it possible to have good and honest debates on public policies when there are really no concrete studies to base your debates on? How do we know a policy works or not? How is a society going to progress if there are really no open, mature and sophisticated inquiries on issues that matter?

Anyway, I did a wholly unscientific, lazy and probably biased investigation into how we compare with others in terms of depth of academic maturity. This is what I did – I chose few countries and searched them on Google Scholar, and jotted down the number of hits (every hit should represent some form of academic work related to the search country) for each, using this variable as a proxy for academic maturity. This is what I found:

Regionally, I chose Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia as comparators. And surprise surprise, we have the lowest hits, at 379 thousand. Singapore has more than twice that. Thailand and Indonesia have 64% and 44% more hits.

Then, I chose the United States, United Kingdom and Europe, which should represent regions in which the frontier of knowledge is. Understandably, the results are vastly different. The States has more than 10.8 million hits, Europe 3.4 million and UK 1.6 million.

Then there are China and India, the hottest two countries in town for economists. Not adjusted to population, China has 4.5 million hits while India has 2.2 million. Commendable.

So why is this so? Why are we lacking in this area?

I offer two interrelated reasons, based on the core ingredients of a vibrant academic society, as a partial explanation:

1. Academicians

Malaysia is not lacking in intelligent citizens. What Malaysia lacks, however, is an incentive system that could turn talents into productive academicians. How are professors valued in our country in teaching and producing academic work? In universities, are academicians encouraged to have honest pursuits of knowledge, or are the existing incentives such that it is more advantageous to pursue other lesser objectives?

2. Universities

Universities are beacons of a knowledge-based society. How conducive are Malaysian universities in allowing freedom for academician in doing research? In turn, how independent are universities from politics pressure and propaganda? Are academicians restrained from actively pursuing research on wide-ranging, important but potentially sensitive issues? If they continue to do so, how severely are they punished? How are universities linked with the private sector in collaborations for research and development? How adequate are the infrastructures, from libraries (both virtual and physical) to reliable broad-band access, and funding? Are important statistics and information publicly (and easily) available?

Hmmm. Back to work.