Some time ago I’ve read an article of American economy nowadays as compared to the 20s, I think. The article concluded, that American‘s economy today, is actually worse than it was 80 years back, before the Great Depression.
Therefore, in light of the upcoming Budget 2007 and after 49 years of independence, I’m wondering; how exactly are we doing economically? Are we really that strong and prosperous, or are all that just an illusion, much like how my family maintain a well being image, while struggling with the middle income dilemma?
I’m a practical person, a realist. So I’m not going to view things as compared to other nations, or by comparing stock prices. That’s way out of my field, I’m not an economist. I’m comparing the one thing that really shows how prosperous a certain community is, the spending (puchasing) power.
It’s actualy simple to calculate our spending power, if you’re wondering. Take your nett salary (minus the tax, EPF, SOCSO, or anything else such as unpaid leaves), minus all the necessary overheads like bills, loans, transportations, and food. Leave out anything that’s not necessary for you to make a living per month. Now how much is left? That, is your spending power. The more you have left, the more powerful you are.
I believe, that 50 years before, our spending power was higher than it is now. The biggest and therefore easiest of the signs are: Not many families now can survive with a lone breadwinner. In the 50s, the middle class working women are mostly either not married, or not working out of necessities. Those who do work out of necessity, are from a lower income family or a large middle income family, which are common those days. Ask your parents (or if you yourself live in those days) if they would be suprised to hear a family of a mother, a father, and 16 kids at that time.
Nowadays, a middle class family of three children mostly needs two breadwinners. A father who works and a mother who take care of the household seems like romantic dream. The upper middle class, may survive with a single breadwinner, but majority of us Malaysians, are within the middle income class.
This is, I believe, the result of the change of our lifestyle. You ever hear old people complaining about prices of necessities today as compared to “those good ol’ days”? At face value, those complains are invalid. You cannot compare oil prices (for instance) now and then, much like we cannot say RM1.92/litre is cheaper than RM7 per liter in UK. We have to keep in mind the actual income over there and not simply convert the currency.
In the 50s, automobiles were starting to be a necessity, not unlike how a second transport (car or motocycle, to be matched with a bigger primary one, like a SUV) is becoming a necessity. Phones were starting to become a necessity, not unlike how handphones (mobile phones or cellphones) are starting to (or has it already) become one. Television were becoming a necessity, not unlike how computer and/or internet connections are becoming one. Electrical fans were becoming a necessity not unlike how air conditioning is becoming one. Tap water, were becoming a necessity, not unlike how water filters are becoming one.
Can you see the trend here? Somehow, we have instilled new necessities in our lives. Although the economic growth is there, but the growth of new necessities and their prices surpassed that. In the end, we have less spending power, due to the increase of necessities to be paid for.
Middle income families now need both parents to work, so that the family could function normally. Any less, then there’ll be a stressful realtionship, especially between the children and the working parent (either the mother, or the father). Single parents have less mouth to feed, but double the burden. The parent have to take care their own children, and work at the same time.
This calls for nurseries, and kindergarten. Not forgetting babysitters. The increase in such field of work, directly translates to the increase of double breadwinners. It is, however, not a very suitable indicator, as high income families tend to have double breadwinners as well, although they are already well off. This, is thanks again, to the thing called ‘lifestyle’.
We are no more in our own comfort zone. Living costs are rising, yet we still have our puny salary with not much increase. Despite that, we’re mad (your’s truly included) when we read in the papers politicians asking us to change our lifestyle. While it is inproper for us to advice people all around without doing so ourselves, it’s more inappropriate do dismiss a good advice just because of that.
I know, some of us will be pointing out the wasteful and inappopriate spending that we have to pay in the end, but I leave that to you during the elections, where you’re supposed to eliminate those who we think should not be representing us, and chose those who’ll stand up for our rights.
I’ve seen some people living a better lifestyle than me. Better, not in sense of richer or higher class, but happier. Most of them, used to be poor, yet still maintain a similar lifestyle when they became rich. One of them, would be loitering around a barber shop (talk about racial harmony), chit-chatting, wearing a singlet and shorts, looking like an ordinary Ah Pek. But you know he is somebody, when he calls his driver on his Nokia Communicator 9500 to fetch his Mercedes S 350 L. Most probably if you live in Temerloh, Pahang, you’d know him.
Yes, some of us need to maintain a lifestyle to be successful in life. A contractor going for a 3.5 mil tender shouldn’t go around on a Kancil, but an SUV, or a 4×4. An artist shouldn’t go by wearing pasar malam clothing during shows, or wearing selipar jepun (unless you’re Butterfingers or Alanis Morristte, then go barefeet). There’s no one lifestyle that fits all. You have to tailor-made it to your own preference. Either make your income work for your lifestyle, or your lifestyle work for your income.
Therefore, I’d suggest to all of us (yes, you too, Lizzam), to start re-evaluate our lifestyle, and see if it really fit our own capability. Are we forever in debt because of our own lifestyle, with our houses, cars, credit cards and even education (the last one is an important necessity since God created the universe. No compromy on education!)? Are there anything that we can live without but we’re living with? Is it really necessary to do something, or are there any alternative for it?
I leave the question for you to ponder on youselves. I’ll be pondering on mine…
*thanks Nina, and my Dad (he doesn’t do or read blogs though) for the info.