Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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A better life for our children – or a cursed future? – Free Malaysia Today

Wow, we’ve just survived an intense few weeks of politics, with lots of gratuitous suspense, shouting and finger-pointing. It makes one feel old doesn’t it? I pity our children who are being dragged into these dramas at an even younger age.
With lifespans ever increasing, they will be cursed with years and years of this.
Or perhaps not.
In many countries now, most of the young people will have shorter lifespans than their parents.
Bummer. One of the joys of being in a developing country like Malaysia is we expect things to get better over time – health, jobs, lifestyle – and that our children will have a longer and happier life than us.
An American expat boss of mine once told me that he was not living as well as his parents did. I was shocked. He seemed blessed – great job, posted to a nice sunny country … and had me working for him!
But he said that even though his parents didn’t earn as much as he did, they still managed to pay for their house, their kids’ education, the two cars in the garage, the regular vacations and had savings too.
These days, most Americans find all this has become harder to achieve. Many constantly worry about runaway inflation, an unsettled world and an unpredictable nature threatening to take away our good life.
Rich nations begin to falter
The so-called Greatest Generation — the Americans who lived through and immediately after the Second World War — had it best. The US survived the war with no damage to its homeland and industry, while their economic rivals, the UK, Germany, Japan, France, Italy. were devastated.
But over time competition from these rivals grew and started to hurt, and life got tougher. How are things for the rest of the world though? Sure, some countries are thriving – China could, within a decade or two, supplant the US as the world’s biggest economy.
But they are likely to find it a Pyrrhic victory, hollow and sad, bar the shouting. Their own internal issues of ageing and shrinking population and harsh quality of life caused by pollution and natural resources depletion etc, will start to bite.
They’re projecting an anaemic growth rate in GDP, which increasingly looks too optimistic anyway. With the ongoing Ukraine war, the yet-unconquered Covid-19 virus and an impending recession, the future looks grim.
Where does that leave us Malaysians?
Asian Tigers revisited
Decades ago, we were among the so-called Asian Tiger economies, mentioned in the same breath as Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. Unfortunately, we never quite made it to the next level even as the other Tigers zoomed past us.
Our other regional rivals, many with bigger populations and internal markets and seemingly more progressive administrations, have also overtaken us in many areas, and aren’t likely to lose those advantages over us.
Personally, I’ve enjoyed a better life than my parents. Their life, like those of their peers, while not exactly nasty, brutish and short, was hard. They constantly prayed for their children to have a better life than them.
By and large their prayers were answered. We no longer have to struggle daily just to put food on the table. We complain about inflation whereas they often had to stare at empty larders.
The impact of Covid-19
Covid-19 brought huge uncertainties about our well-being. The early euphoria about vaccines is now subdued by the virus mutating more rapidly than current vaccines can cope with. And then there is monkeypox, lamya, even polio waiting to wreak havoc.
I’m not too bothered by this. Viruses, especially ones that had such a free run infecting billions, are bound to mutate into many variants, and some will be nastier than their predecessors. It’s just how things work, and you just learn to live with it.
Covid-19 has reduced the life expectancies of people in countries such as the US, Brazil, Russia and the UK. It did the same for Malaysia too, where in 2021 it was the number one cause of death. Will the life expectancies pick up again? With the many nasty health and climate surprises on the horizon, it may never do.
Which brings back the question: will our children – who’ll reach middle and old age in the second half of this century – lead a better life than us?
Thirty years ago, I’d have easily replied yes. Our economic baseline then was lower, opportunities more plentiful, climate disasters weren’t a big factor yet, wars and conflicts seemed distant memories and pestilences seemed to have become history.
Life is tougher, more competitive
But now, I’m less sure. Malaysia is not fulfilling its earlier Asian Tiger promise, and even faces questions of whether she’s a failed state. Life is tougher and more competitive, and the younger generation would have to run faster just to stand still.
Sure, they could earn more money than us, but it won’t get them as far as it did us because of inflation, a damaged environment and the higher costs of just keeping our head above water on housing, retirement savings, health, education etc.
Our leaders appear oblivious to the challenges facing us – the massive debts, economic stagnation, dropping economic competitiveness and social tensions. They’re either happily frightening us with manufactured issues, looting the country blind or in trance far removed from reality.
Many Malaysians have migrated, and many are those who are able to find good jobs and opportunities elsewhere. Their children however would grow up in an environment of stagnation and decline in developed countries past their prime.
Theirs wouldn’t be the lives of children of earlier poor migrants who were able to achieve their parents’ dreams but instead would face the conundrum my American boss had – of feeling they aren’t living as well as their parents did.
On that happy note, I wish you a happy week ahead.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
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