The following is the third part of breaking down the Manifesto Untuk 99% by Gabungan Kiri. The manifesto is separated into 4 parts, hence each will command its own article, with my very biased views analysing them and grading them at the end. After the 4 articles are done, a fifth one summarising everything including the importance of the left in the political scene will round off this series of articles.
The reader is also advised that the subparts covered are a selection rather than the whole, hence should refer to the manifesto proper, here, when reading this and the other articles in the series. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here respectively.
Part 3 is entitled Equitable Wealth Distribution. It is a little surprising that it contains only 2 subparts, both of which are quite short, seeing as how this is the whole ethos of the left in the first place, but it is quite comprehensive and elements relating to this goal have been covered in other parts as well. In any case, let’s move on to the first subpart.
Equitable Wealth Redistribution
This eponymous subpart contains points which are traditionally socialist and quite restrictive. The first of this is imposing higher marginal tax rates on high income earners, an incremental Capital Gains Tax on property and other progressive taxes on wealth and luxury goods. I have long been a proponent of progressive taxation, where those who earn more, pay more due to the fact that they can afford to. The usual argument against this is the idea that progressive taxation disincentivises hard work and, thus, reduces worker efficiency and will eventually cause the economy of a country to grind to a halt. While this seems logical, it is a mindset that needs to be changed as people do work for many reasons, not just to earn money. Hence, this doesn’t mean people will stop working just because the better they do, the more they have to pay in taxes.
Looking at it moralistically, the logic of progressive taxation is clear. When we are taught that personal effort is necessary to succeed in life, the societal structures in place to aid in that success are often overlooked. Effort is necessary, yes, but without opportunities or any kind of help brought on not through personal effort alone, nothing will be achieved. In fact, being born into, growing up and maturing in conditions conducive for success did not come about by choice, but by chance. Why do we deserve success in the first place when so little has to do with what we do to achieve it? Many would point to a Darwinistic argument of ‘survival of the fittest’ where worthiness means nothing and those who survive, survive, but is it not better to think about what we can be as ideals rather than accepting suffering through inequality? Does Darwin even make sense in a culture where even health can be said to be artificial due to the advent of medicine?
Philosophically speaking, if we believe in the ideals of equality, there is no reason not to support progressive taxation, as the journey to equality imparts a certain responsibility to those who are capable. There is no equality of opportunity in the world where certain children have to drop out of school to aid their family in staving off starvation. There is no equality when there are still people who need to choose between buying food and paying bills. Can we really look at a person stricken with poverty, doing two jobs to make ends meet and still struggling to survive and scoff at them to do better? What do we, who have only seen relatively comfortable lives around us, know about those who are ripped away from an opportunity to succeed through no fault of their own? I believe in equality and, thusly, I believe in progressive taxation.
However, progressivity in tax structure should not be taken to such an extreme as to undermine businesses and legitimate entrepreneurship. For example, small business owners whose profits go directly back into their businesses as investments should not be made to suffer due to a tax structure that works against them. Rather, instead of broadly defining tax terms, a little more nuance is needed to fit everyone’s need as well as possible. Having said this, the process of complying with the tax system should also be refined to make it less confusing and heavily complex such that the cost and time devoted to compliance can be reduced as well. This also, in turn, would reduce the possibility of corruption as compliance is easier anyway.
Moving on, two points that are quite problematic are the review of capital allowances and tax holidays for foreign firms and the regulation and imposition of a tax on all international financial transactions and hedge funds. Again, as a socialist, I understand where the group is coming from, especially to stimulate local business growth rather than becoming a consumer nation for a variety of MNCs, but when it comes to foreign investment into the country and proper competition between companies that stimulates growth and innovation, these ideas seem quite regressive. They are interesting ideas to play around with, definitely, and should be considered to an extent but in the interest of investments and ease of business, I don’t think they would work.
The final point is not as bad though, which is the abolition of regressive taxes such as GST. While, again, I am for progressive taxes, GST cannot be removed without a proper alternative in place. Compared to other forms of indirect taxes, GST is not as regressive as it seems due to the broad nature of it making those who consume more, pay more. Rather, progressivity should be seen as a whole when it comes to the tax system. So, though slightly regressive, when paired with other progressive taxes, making sure that the funds available are properly redirected to the poorer section of society in such a manner as to minimise losses and actually help them in a structured manner, the system becomes progressive without losing the large slush pool of tax monies received from GST.
Defend Workers’ Rights & Interests
The second subpart covers the other main area of interest for the left, worker’s rights. They do this quite well, starting with reviewing labour laws so that they are compatible with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention. Worker’s unions are advocated to be strengthened by putting them in as part of economic influence and the decision-making of enterprises, especially control of their pension funds. This type of reinvigoration of the unions, leading to a more decentralised and participatory system is a positive one to strengthen the voice of workers in a time when workers are being more and more oppressed with proportionally low wages and having to deal with employers who expect more than ever before.
We can also see solid forward thinking in this subpart when the coalition asks for review and update of the Employment Act of 1955 in line with the changes the 21st-century has introduced. One such policy has been outlined here with a progressive, guaranteed minimum wage, which is a step in the right direction but imposing too high a minimum wage might drive businesses to take up automation sooner than the workforce is ready for it, leading to a gap of people who are unfit for employment before the structures to protect them exist. Moreover, giving asylum seekers and refugees could exacerbate the issue of unemployment amongst Malaysian citizens as the former could be preferable over the latter due to an acceptance of lower wages. This is not to say we shouldn’t give these people work permits as the refugee situation in Malaysia is a dire one where many families live in abject poverty, depending wholly on charity or working illegally where they are exploited even more.
So, the suggestion is to be lauded, albeit warily, and with more details of implementation needed such that all parties are protected thoroughly. A similar point is to accord full rights to migrant workers and protect them thoroughly, making sure access to alternative work is easily available should their employer sack them due to a labour dispute. It is a well-documented fact that the way migrant workers are treated in Malaysia is reprehensible. From the wages of Nepalese security guards being withheld to Indonesian maids being subject to cruel living quarters, the need for protection is clear as day. The first step, as highlighted by the coalition itself, is to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. There are a couple more points regarding the protection of self-employed workers and freelancers, which is sorely needed in a society that often takes advantage of them, and the promotion of self-governing workers’ cooperatives, which would imbue more personal investment from workers in their business.
All in all, part 3 was a mixed bag. With great highs coming in the form of considering alternative ideas that directly tackle social issues at hand, it is a refreshing to see especially the tax reforms suggested. Also commendable is the protection of workers and the call back to unionization, which is exactly what gave workers gravitas before and should definitely be brought back. Migrant workers’ and refugee rights to work are points seldom covered yet need to be thrust into the limelight. With these, however, come quite crushing lows that seem to possibly undermine business, trade and investment. More consultation with relevant parties such as the British Malaysian Chamber of Commerce or even the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs could lead to better, more well-structured policies. It is also hoped that in trying to protect workers, we do not deprive them of the very jobs that they need to survive, especially by incentivising employers to find alternatives. Basically, for manifesto quality, a lot more detail is needed. Evidence of implementation as well would be preferred, especially for some radical ideas. Even proof of concepts would suffice. Conclusively, this part receives a 5 out of 10.