Economics Society

[2930] The biggest losers in this recession: the young

All recessions have its losers and to claim so is to state the obvious. It is more interesting to know who the losers are. Data from the Department of Statistics shows that the biggest losers in this recession are the young.

From the chart below, it is quite clear the job market for 35 years old and younger is doing badly relative to the market for older cohorts:

The chart is drawn by comparing total employment by age for each quarter relative to a pre-pandemic benchmark. In this case the benchmark is the final quarter of 2019, the last quarter before the pandemic. To illustrate:

  • there were 31,800 fewer employed persons among 15-24 years olds in the first quarter of 2020, relative to the last quarter of 2019
  • there were 202,600 fewer employed persons among 15-24 years olds in the second quarter of 2020, relative to the last quarter of 2019

So, if the number goes down, then it is bad because it shows fewer people are employed relative to the benchmark. If the number goes up, then it is good because it shows more people employed.

The data is from the Quarterly Report of Labour Force Survey. The 2020 fourth quarter report, which is the latest report, was released on February 8 2020.

Increased underemployment among younger cohorts

The change in total employment does not indicate change in employment quality. Here, I am referring to underemployment. Once again, the young are the most badly affected:Unlike in the first chart, an increase here suggests more people working less than 30 hours per week, which could be considered as a definition of underemployment (there are other underemployment definitions). They work less than 30 hours because they are likely unable to work fulltime. Therefore, an increase in this chart points to a worsening situation.

This is relevant because a person is considered employed in official statistics if he or she works for at least an hour per week. As you can see, it is a loose definition. During normal times, it is alright to use it because it works. But the situation we are in are quite abnormal and it challenges our traditional definitions.


[2057] Of a generation of activist idealists

A trauma can make or break a person. It can make or break a generation too.

In an inconspicuous house in Bangsar, a group of individuals belonging to the generation that I identify myself with has been meeting consistently for the past few weeks. There is only one agenda in their list and it revolves around a very global issue of climate change. They endeavor to spread awareness of it among Malaysian youth. More ambitiously, they seek to influence national policy on climate change.

The idea for doing so began modestly and very much fueled by conviction to a cause. Friends and strangers met and discovered that they share a passion. With that passion, they banded together to act. They started making calls and sending emails looking for support among larger circles of friends to garner resources required to get the ball rolling.

Climate change was an issue close to my heart. A number of factors prodded me into the realm of economics and climate change, out of several, was one of them. It was back in the late 1990s when I was still a teenager that I found myself attracted to a concept where a person could trade carbon as currency. With no training in economics whatsoever at that time, it was easy for me to be amazed at it.

The concept — pricing carbon to combat negative externality — and many more ideas surrounding the issue are not alien to me any longer. Just as understanding of physical sciences inevitably render what conceived as magic and supernatural events by the unenlightened into dull phenomena, so too does command of economics wash away my awe.

Ironic as it may seem, economics has made me less enthusiastic with the subject. The tools of economics have made me realize how hard it is to solve the issue. Meanwhile, the politics of climate change simply makes it impossible. Just weeks earlier, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd admitted that the odds of success at the much-anticipated climate change meet-up in Copenhagen, Denmark are bleak and rightly so.

Yet, there they are in Bangsar, speaking so passionately about the issue, trying to affect and effect it. A row of ants standing in the path of an elephant, as I first saw it.

I am tempted to be skeptical about they can achieve, especially given the reality of climate change politics.

Each time I want to express my skepticism however, my mind races back in time to the day of my graduation. Amid melancholic mood, uncertain of what the world holds for me, the President of my alma mater, Mrs. Coleman, inspired me. She said, ””¦stand up for what you believe in, and what is right. You just might change course of events for the better.”

This is a hallmark of an idealist.

A friend of mine jokingly called the group in Bangsar as the Planeteers; remember the cartoon?

Jokes asides, these Planeteers are but an example of idealists that make-up this generation of below 30s.

Another group of friends is working hard to share educational opportunities that exist in the United States with students in Malaysia. They are out that to smash the myth that gaining admission into the best schools is either impossible or expensive or both. They are already in those schools and they are inspiring others to be ambitious, just as they had. Together, they hold an ideal that Malaysians should have access to not just basic education but fulfilling education that many in my circles strongly believe that the Malaysian system is simply unable to provide, for various reasons.

Yet another set of brilliant cohorts with sterling education joined politics in drove as interns and assistants to politicians whose ideals they share. And they too, signed up of conviction, not out of power. There is a dangerous of generalization here for surely, in every generation, they are dishonest individuals out mere to acquire power. That seem irrelevant to my circles of friends. In their eyes, I see a cause.

This surprises me greatly. For a generation condemned by others as highly disinterested in politics and societal issues at large, and only out and about listening to unbearable noise on their iPod and out large at night in roaming the city, the manner at which they have come in to shape politics is one big finger to such condescending generalization.

A common criticism directed against idealists is that they are still young and naïve. The real world, sooner or later, will break them. This generation of mine, or at least my circles, in a trend so overwhelming like a 50-meter tall wave to a sampan, is different. They are a different kind of idealists where that criticism is a knife to a hard stone.

These idealists recognize harsh reality. Contrary to typical characterization of an idealist, these idealists found their ideals out of disappointment and out of that disappointment, a call to activism.
They have been all over the world. They witnessed it, made judgment about it, made comparison out of it. And they are disillusioned with Malaysia.

They were angry at everything that is true. All promises were broken and they are posed to inherit a broken country with disrepute institutions, diminished national pride and worsening race relations. While the older generations tend to dismiss this generation as unappreciative of past sacrifices, this new breed of idealist activists see that the older generations have failed them.

What else can so comprehensively explain why the nation’s youth, in an unambiguous manner, voted against the establishment in 2008?

The disillusionment is traumatic, but it has hardened, not broken, them.

Rather than consoling themselves, they decide to not tweak their ideals, but almost outrageously go out to tweak reality. They endeavor to close the gap between ideals and reality, to improve the lamentable state that we Malaysians are in.

Perhaps, these circles of mine sit in the outlier and overly privileged in their upbringing. After all, not too many attended the likes of Harvard, Dartmouth, Colby, Berkeley — and, ahem, Michigan — among others.
But experience tells me that outliers exude contagious confidence. The arithmetic mean is susceptible to outliers.

Such confidence is bound for greatness. It is individual confidence that no longer dependent on the State or the community. They are, by themselves, individually, a whole army.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

First published in The Malaysian Insider on August 11 2009.

History & heritage Society

[2002] Of move on

Members of the older generations generally adopt a paternalistic attitude towards the younger generations when discussing the history of this country. It is true that not all of them assume that attitude but come Aug 31 and without fail, there is no escape from hearing the same old lament, especially in the media. Not to deny the importance of history, but perhaps it is exactly that disconnect from history allegedly prevalent among the younger generations that may bring this country forward.

While there are those among the younger generations who are no doubt ignorant of history, I do not fully agree with the accusation that all members of these generations are guilty as accused. The whole generalization is grossly overdone. Furthermore, even when a member of the younger generation has better knowledge of history compared to his or her older counterparts, the same paternalistic attitude prevails on the latter’s part. Why is that so?

Purely speculative of course but I suspect that it is emotional detachment of the younger generations from the old eras that the older generations lament. The young simply do not relate to the older generations’ experience. The more I think of it, the more I feel that it is not about the young’s knowledge in history.

Without making judgment, that detachment is inevitable.

Many problems besetting our society are something we inherited from the past. These are legacy issues. As Billy Joel wrote about 20 years ago, we did not start the fire; it has always been burning since the world was turning. When I use the pronoun we, I mean my generation and our peers who grew up during the information revolution, young enough to not have emotional attachment to the bogeyman that haunts Malaysian society.

There is certainly no shortage of legacy issues even when those issues which supposedly settled. For proof, look no farther than an old ghost called communism that has seen a resurrection recently. Judging by bitter responses to a suggestion to allow former Malayan Communist Party leader Chin Peng to return home from exile, especially from veterans of the security forces, old hurtful feelings obviously linger still. Time fails in healing old wounds.

For the generations that lived through the Emergency and indeed, unlucky enough to remember the gap between the last day of the Japanese Occupation and the eve of the British Military Administration in Malaya, nobody can deny their emotional attachment to that era. The attachment is far stronger if they suffered from personal loss. While the younger generations can learn history from any medium, it is hard to imagine how the same generations can grasp the same emotional connection the older generations have.

Maybe, the older generations with their personal emotional attachment to that era earned a right to assume a paternalistic attitude.

Nevertheless, the young’s emotional detachment does not always bring about a negative connotation. I am here to argue that that emotional detachment might exactly be an advantage the younger generations have to judge previous successes and mistakes objectively and to produce new paths forward for the country.

Emotional attachment of the older generations may become a liability for us all in times when progress means breaking away from the past. Strong emotional attachment may give unnecessary extra weight to historical factors at the expense of new realities. And perhaps, their emotional attachment make them hopelessly partial about their past successes and mistakes.

Consider, for instance, what I consider as an overemphasis on communism. Despite the brouhaha, how many Malaysians actually believe that the communists will take up arms in Malaysia again? Do we really need to have the police to monitor so-called communist activities?

As a steadfast believer of the right to private property, I vehemently oppose communism but surely, this scare is something irrelevant today. I personally do befriend individuals who maintain communist tendency but I do not seriously expect them to call me a capitalist pig, much less pick up a bayonet to stick it into my gut.

With all due respect, anybody who believes otherwise in these days is far too detached from reality. Concern about the communists taking up arms in Malaysia — even if Chin Peng finds himself in Malaysia — should be an issue that goes all the way down in the public priority list compared to issues of public safety, for instance. Or that lemon socialism and other possible improprieties related to the Port Klang Free Zone fiasco.

As for me, I fear robbers and murderers more than I fear the communists. In fact, I fear the odds of the police abusing private citizens are much, much higher than the chance of a Malaysia getting killed by a communist.

I find this preoccupation with threat of communism all the more ridiculous when the same groups riling against communism are blind to the central planning policies that the Barisan Nasional-led government currently runs on. Look all around and it is not hard to notice policies of price control, supply control, imposition of quotas and five-year plans. Worse, our own government has no shame in curtailing the liberty of Malaysians. A communist government would do these things anyway.

And so, we won the war against the communists for what? To exile Chin Peng only to implement policies that the communists will implement, anyway?

It does not make sense, does it?

This is what one gets if one bases his or her opposition on emotions. This is why emotional attachment is a liability. This is why the young, with their emotional detachment to that bygone era, will be able to move on to focus on issues that matter and discuss the future of this country instead.

I say move on.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

First published in The Malaysian Insider on June 3 2009.