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Friday, January 29, 2016

‘Hand to mouth’ economics will eventually cripple us

Reducing EPF contributions will only encourage the people to live beyond their means as their savings for the future shrink.
'Hand-to-mouth'-economicsBy T K Chua
Keep the demand for domestic goods buoyant; keep the demand for loans growing and keep GDP growth boisterous. These are the mantras emanating from Putrajaya to bolster our economy. They have squeezed every drop of our current incomes and savings to keep the economy going. And now they want our “future savings” too, by reducing our contributions to the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF).
Never mind that inflation and poor returns have taken a toll on our EPF savings. Now we are asked to contribute even less. This is “hand to mouth” economics to me.
I think it is time the people wised up. Only nincompoops will continue to prop-up a fragile economy for the benefit of the elite and crony class.
Think about it, the government only wants us to spend beyond our means. They give us easy loans so that for the rest of our life, we are their slaves as we struggle to service interest charges and make repayments. Never mind that many of us are already up to our necks in debt, we must now continue our borrowings to keep the banks happy and the GDP growth buoyant.
What kind of economy is our government promoting when growth depends on keeping the majority of us heavily in debt? Have mainstream economists considered this? How is it that a more impressive GDP growth has come to mean we are deeper in debt and have a poorer quality of life?
The move to reduce our EPF contributions is to encourage the general populace to spend even more in a desperate bid to support an economy built to benefit monopolists, banks, big time cronies and capitalists. This is rubbish economics.
I have one simple question – why is our current income, after deducting taxes, EPF contributions and other financial obligations, still unable to sustain domestic demand and keep the economy growing?
Is it because our taxes are too high and spent in an unproductive manner? It could be.
Is it because our EPF contributions are too high i.e. we have set aside too much for retirement? The last time I checked, about 70 per cent of contributors would have depleted their EPF savings within the first five years of retirement. So where is the over-provision for retirement? The irony is that the government now wants us to contribute even less than the current rate.
Is it because our current debts are so high it demands the bulk of our current income to settle interest charges and repayments, leaving us ultimately with nothing much in the form of disposable income for spending?
My rudimentary knowledge in economics tells me that our spending will become someone else’s income. So technically, money should stay within our economy. If income distribution and benefits are fairly even, I am sure all the people will benefit. But do we?
So where does all the taxes, borrowings, and EPF contributions go? Is it because taxes were channelled for the benefit of a few? Is it because our “leakages” are way too high i.e. too many among the well-connected have taken their money out of the country? Is it because our compensation/wage policies are too lopsided to the detriment of the common folk?
These are fundamental issues we must address. Band aid economics is not going to help us.
T K Chua is an FMT reader.

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