Saturday, 3 November 2007

Taking Notes on Justin Lin - Marshall Lecture 2007 (Part Two)

The second lecture was on transition; personally less insightful than the first. There is this part:

… [T]he East Asian economies were lucky in the sense that their governments needed to be pragmatic in their policies… . China’s Confucian culture—which has a strong impact in East Asia—is pragmatic in nature.

The core of Confucianism is ‘zhongyong’, the golden mean, which advises people to maintain balance, avoid extremes and achieve harmony with the outside, changing world.

The political philosophy and policy principles promoted by the communist leadership of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, Hu Jingtao are, respectively:

shishiqiushi’ (finding truth from the facts),

jiefangsixiang’ (freeing one’s mind from dogmatism),

yushijujin’ (adapting to the changing environment); and

hexie’ (harmony); all reflecting the traditional Chinese culture of zhongyong.

Hmmm, never knew I am a Confucianist all along… :P

In sum, the most important insight I got from both lectures are the criticality of a pragmatic dominant social idea. Crucially, I believe it provided greater clarity and linkages to some of the hitherto disparate ideas in my worldview[1]. This theme implies that the fate of a nation depends ultimately the collective consciousness of the masses. The government, the most important institution in dictating the development of a nation, merely derives its power from the dominant social idea.

This put an important responsibility and burden on all of us in ensuring the future of our nation. It is clear that Malaysia’s current social dominant idea is destructive in nature, driven by racism, corruption and general apathy and distrust. Passivity on our part in will only seal the fate of this decline of our once promising nation.

Fortunately, the dominant social idea of our nation is solely ours and is a function of our solidarity. A positive change requires a combination of our collective determination to be involved, and our willingness to seek for the knowledge of what truly constitute progress and prosperity.

The future of our nation is in our hands; the opportunity to be proud of the place we call home lies in all of us. Make it happen.


[1] For example, note this paragraph from my previous post which clearly illustrates my previously underdeveloped appreciation of the social dominant idea concept:

My greatest fear is that this problem is faceless and everywhere - there is no single source. The problem is in all of us, all our organisations, all interlinked together, feeding on each other and giving strength to the decline of our nation. Institutional crisis in Malaysia - the extremely racist mindset, the prevalence of corruption, the need to separate performance-reward structure and replace it with ethnicity/connection-reward structure, the lack of social cohesion, the decline in educational quality - are all linked together, feeding on each other and are not promoted by a single source. No, it is not due to the ruling political party or the oppositions but by our history, our society and every single one of us.


zcer said...

Hi Elanor, good to have you back!

So it seems it all comes down to culture huh? But looking at the Confucian principles it all sounds to me very vague. How do they actually translate into specific governmental policies?

And you believe dominant social idea idea perhaps somewhat consolidates your disparate views. But how does it help at all? It is useless IMHO to slap a label on it and call all these things "dominant social idea" or "culture" or whatever. It does not give us further insight into why different nations develop differently.

In any case, I don't think ideals do much influence at all. Everybody is pragmatic, they are just delusional. Different ideas on what constitutes progress? We all seem to roughly agree on GDP. Every nation in the first place wants economic prosperity, they then mess up their policies based on how much they can deceive themselves into thinking it wont do much harm to the economy.

Chewxy said...

Fine, zcer.. you delete my blog from your feed, but not hers. Heh.

zcer said...

it's strictly meritocratic my chewxy, no favoritism here

Elanor said...


Thank you for the comments. You are right, and I am just too lazy (and busy) to fully articulate my thoughts into words.

The idea should represent more of a process rather than an outcome.

Just to offer a lame attempt to clarify things -> should a nation and most of its ppl believes that racially-based economic policies actually work, then sad case ensues.

Should most ppl believe they don't, any govt would have a difficult time instituting policies that most of ppl that it serves disagree with (not to mention that the govt won't have the incentive to too).

Solution seems to be knowledge, like the old adage goes: scientia potentia est. The masses needs to be knowledgeable enough. I mean, if 70% of the population thinks that importing foreign goods are bad, local cars are cheaper, racist quotas actually solves poverty issues, normal citizens have no power in changing the way things work, then...

Problem then, is on what is good to believe in. We could begin by discarding what doesn't work... and that includes apathy.


Chewxy said...

Oh, I love being right all the time. She did go back to Cam afterall.


Free Speech said...

People should read the original lecture. Very easy to find -- just do a search.
The dominate social idea is NOT "Zhongyong" (pragmatism). It is technology upgrading, which everybody recognizes, and how to achieve it, which was greatly misunderstood. The misguided ideas led governments to pursue technology directly, which in turn led to nonviable firms and stagnation. The right idea has been around since Adam Smith. Pursue comparative advantage, maximize return on capital (therefore capital accumulation) in an open and competitive market. Eventually technology will follow after factor endowments improve, through accumulation of human and physical capital. Therefore industrialization and advanced technology are the consequence, not the cause, of development. Classic economics was re-elucidated brilliantly in explaining past failures of command economies.
Pragmatism comes in only while pursuing transition (reform). Old institutions are there for a reason -- often optimally adapted to serving the old constraints. Sudden change could lead to worse outcome. Etc.

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