M’sia has to lead the charge against global debt tsunami

Opinion  |  Phar Kim Beng
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Debt is not necessarily bad. If deployed in the right way, debt can indeed enhance the human capital; not unlike how a responsible government invests in a good education system to produce more talents.

Not surprisingly, some of the most advanced countries, such as Singapore and Japan, do take on quite a bit of debt often exceeding the size of their gross domestic product (GDP).

To be sure, while not every Singapore dollar or Japanese yen is invested by both of them in their schooling systems, suggesting potential waste too, their spending habits have generally been accountable which in turn makes for lesser abuse. In politics, almost no institution is perfect.

Rather it is perfectly imperfect. A lot depends on checks and balances without which nothing of importance can be produced.

This is why former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak was wrong to argue, invariably by analogy, that since other advanced countries were highly leveraged on national debt, there was nothing wrong if and when Malaysia did the same.

Najib's argument did not take massive fraud into consideration, which makes his defence flawed almost from the beginning.

But beyond the issue of fraud, the huge national debt incurred is a liability that has a generational effect if Malaysia does not turn the economy around or create a business model to stay ahead of the global game.

In this sense, it is not enough that Malaysia tries to overcome its national debt. Rather, Malaysia has to urge all countries that are exposed to humongous debts to look at the sustainability and structure of their own debts too.

The basic premise of globalisation is that the affairs of other countries can - and do - cascade to affect all.

Research by McKinsey Global Institute has shown that the global debts have increased from US$142 trillion in 2007 to US$199 trillion in 2014.

In less than a decade (2007-2014), the thirst to borrow has almost increased by US$57 trillion alone. Do they know how to build the right business/economic models to sustain these debts? No one knows for a fact.

What McKinsey Global Institute found out was this: government debt has grown faster than the global economic growth, which means it is global debt that is driving economic growth rather than productivity gains. This is how the world spins into a global recession time and again when good money is thrown after bad....

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