Shared prosperity for all

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s “shared prosperity” agenda for 2030 could not have been more timely.

May 18, 2019

ByAnil Netto
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s “shared prosperity” agenda for 2030 could not have been more timely.

In it there is finally top-level recognition that using GDP alone as a measure of economic performance is severely flawed.

GDP growth certainly does not mean much to ordinary people.

What many people on the ground feel is how much money they have in their pockets, what kind of social security cushion they have and whether they are paid a living wage.

Do they have to maintain a car or can they rely on public transport? Do they have to save like crazy to buy an unaffordable house? Do they need to save up for expensive education for their children and their own medical emergencies? These are real concerns.

Why are the public institutions – like general hospitals and public universities, even many of our government schools - failing the people? The government needs to seriously look into the gap between urban and rural areas.

Mega projects alone won’t cut it. Often, they mainly profit the companies lucky enough to land these contracts, while the government and the public end up footing the bill over the long term. These mega projects invariably take a heavy toll on the environment.

The Shared Prosperity agenda should also ensure that economic prosperity does not come at the expense of workers and the environment. At present, the minimum wage of RM1,100 is well below what a living wage should be (around RM2,000) in the city — and far below what it would be for families.

The concern about inequality and the lack of shared prosperity is not only felt in Malaysia but also around the world. Even a mainstream financial institution like the World Bank has placed “Inequality and Shared Prosperity” as a major concern.

“In all economies with available data, the bottom 40 (per cent) received less than 25 per cent of the overall income or consumption. In far too many places, the increasing share of income going to the top 1 per cent of earners is of great concern,” the World Bank said on its website.

Last week, we looked at how Jesus told the ordinary people in Galilee to ask the Father to provide their daily bread.

Notice that the Lord’s Prayer is a community prayer calling God “our Father” … give us this day “our” daily bread.

This is what the kingdom of God is all about. Jesus points to the Father who wants the abundance of the Earth to be equitably distributed so that no one should go away empty handed. No one should go away hungry or thirsty as the Earth has enough for everyone’s need but not for their greed.

It is the same principle that guided Aneurin Bevan who charted the National Health Service in the UK. He said, “No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.”

This concern for the poor and the meek is characteristic of the Father. Jesus expounded the Beatitudes, the guiding principles for his mission, during the Sermon of the Mount, though it is possible that he could have also preached the same message in the plains and other locations.

It is uncertain where this “Mount” is located. Perhaps it lies not far from the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee between the fishing towns of Capernaum and Gennasaret. The highest point is about 60 metres above sea level on the southern slopes of the Korazim Plateau.

This would be close to Tabgha, the site where the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish is believed to have taken place – ie the place where Jesus fed a multitude using limited resources at his disposal, offered up by a little boy, so that in the end no one left hungry.

Jesus showed us even if we have scant resources, if we had faith and believed in sharing the bounty of the earth, those same limited resources could be miraculously multiplied so that everyone would have more than enough to eat.

Given that site of the Sermon of the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer was probably not far from the fishing towns near Galilee – and given that there was hardly much of middle class in those days, we may presume that most of the crowd were ordinary folks, many of them peasants. Their concerns would have been pressing – debt, illness, hunger, harvest, taxes, living under Roman occupation.

The message of Jesus would have sounded extraordinary to them. God was not a distant being. Here was Jesus telling them that the Father cared for the least of them and the poor were indeed “blessed”. They were to ask the Father for their daily food on the table – and for forgiveness of their debt as they forgave their own debtors.

In other words, the concerns were pressing daily needs. As a community, they were to ask the Father, whose name was holy, to usher in his kingdom, so that his will for a fair and just world full of compassion could be realised on earth as it is in heaven.

That was the original vision for shared prosperity that we should all work for.

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