Sunday, January 30, 2005

Title: A Letter to the Minister of Finance; to unpeg the ringgit or not.

Let’s stop arguing whether it was the right call to peg the ringgit in the first place. Stop comparing the performances of he economies of countries similarly affected by the Asian Meltdown 97; South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong.
Keep in mind that in the long run prices and income adjust to equilibrium. Everyone wants to avoid unnecessary short term painful adjustment. The macroeconomic fundamentals are and have been robust, and continue at the same rate for the foreseeable future, barring any mishap. Current account surplus at record levels 6 years in arrow.
In a free floating exchange rate, current account will be balanced on average, any surplus or deficit in current account will result in depreciation or appreciation of exchange rate, ceteris paribus. Prices and income remains the same; in local currency.
By fixing the exchange rate to an arbitrary value, in this case the USD, at a rate that is either above or below equilibrium, we run the risk of undergoing short term adjustment. Finding an equilibrium level of exchange rate is like shooting at a moving target, however bright is the light and your perfect 20/20 eyesight, you still miss them sometimes.
Remember Hong Kong 97? Prices fall, businesses incurring losses, unemployment rises (because of sticky prices and wages) and total income falls. That’s adjustment for fixing exchange rate above equilibrium. Prices and income moves back to equilibrium levels. Never mind what is the exchange rate to the USD, because USA has its own macroeconomic fundamentals too.
By fixing below equilibrium, you will get asset price inflation, bottleneck in production and runaway demand. Look at China now. In both instances, the weakest and most vulnerable members of society bear the brunt and suffer, and they are the ones who can’t speak out and do much about their lot. Losing jobs in the economic slowdown and cannot keep up with rising prices in a runaway inflation.
It is without doubt that current growth rates and current account surpluses afford the government the increase wealth and income, lower interest rates (fiscal and monetary expansion).
Lets be honest, there ha been a lot of benefits that we enjoyed from good economic times – new housing are more affordable and available, more needed infrastructure projects are coming on stream; water, electricity (yeah some glitches) and road.
One thing the current team has been successful to hide so far – support of the inefficient firms (pointless for me to elaborate here, you know the firms better than I do) and farming of government jobs and contracts as a reward for support and patronage at highly margins.
Meaning cronyism; support your friends in thick and thin, enrich them – enrich yourself. Let the masses suffer, a couple rounds of vote buying will return your team to Putrajaya.
If you must keep the peg, please remember the poor, it is time to take care of the poor, the sick and those who are unable to provide for themselves food, clothing and shelter. A universal welfare system and fairer more equitable wealth distribution in the society – the Islam Hadhari as you call it (please not just slogan, but the spirit and the practice as well) – will return your team into Putrajaya in the next election.

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