If Economy Is Doing Well Why Don T Malaysians Feel It


 


Recently, Ipsos Malaysia, a research marketing firm released the results of a survey they conducted stating that 68 percent of Malaysians feel that the country is in a recession.
This is despite the fact that data shows Malaysia is actually experiencing economic growth. The economy grew to 3.7 percent in 2023 and is expected to grow steadily by four to five percent this year.
There is much more data that shows this. Bank Negara Malaysia announced last month that the economy expanded by 4.2 percent in the first quarter of 2024, from 2.9 percent in 2023.
Gross domestic product (GDP) also grew by 5.6 percent. I haven’t written this many economic terms in a single essay since I took micro and macroeconomics in university back in 1996!
The survey continues to show that in comparison, other Southeast Asian countries have a better perception of their country’s economic situation.
For example, in Indonesia, 50 percent of the population believes that their country is in a recession, 66 percent in Thailand and 32 percent in Singapore. These three countries all show a downward trend in their citizens’ views.
Does this mean that Malaysians are actually out of touch with reality? Or does it mean that reality bites more real in real life?
Okay, I know that sentence is nonsense but I’m just happy to put in a 1990s movie reference in my article! For those who are too young, “Reality Bites” is one of the best coming-of-age movies, produced in 1994, directed by Ben Stiller and starred Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke.
Please allow me to now divert from data-driven research results to something a bit more anecdotal. I mean, we are talking about perception here and, like it or not, perception is definitely driven more by anecdotal evidence and optics.
We are all human anyway. I can give you all kinds of anecdotal examples of how people are actually feeling the pinch when it comes to the cost of living and daily expenses of taking care of a family.
Personally, my wife and I are feeling pinched a lot. Our monthly grocery expenditure has increased by around 25 percent.
We initially didn’t realise it until we stuck all of our receipts for that month together and made a comparison.
The allowance that we give our two school-going kids had to be increased because the amount of food they can buy at the school canteen has been reduced. Now, our second daughter has even decided to just pack food from home.
Other expenditures have increased too. The electricity bill in our house has gone up more than usual in the last two months by a significant amount even though the usage has remained largely the same.
Eating out and watching movies with the family also costs more now than it did a couple of years ago. Thank god my family isn’t really into mall-hopping because that can really get pricey if it happens every weekend.
Business downturn
My wife and I run a small, little boutique media company and we are experiencing a drop in revenue. It would seem that many clients are now a bit more prudent in spending.
So, their requirements for our services have also significantly reduced. All of this has resulted in my wife and I making a lot of adjustments just so that we can continue to provide for our family the best as we can without depriving them of necessities.
Within my circle of friends, I hear these stories too. Several of my friends who used to work in the oil and gas industry faced retrenchments.
Although they have been able to find other jobs (some are still in the same industry), the salaries they receive now are much lower than what they were retrenched from.
Others who are entrepreneurs and run small businesses face similar challenges as me, they are seeing a drop in their income and struggling to sustain themselves.
We are also seeing government subsidies being removed. Most recently, diesel subsidies were removed and its price has increased by more than 50 percent just overnight.
A while back, we saw our electricity tariffs increasing as well. House assessment rates have also increased in certain states.
I understand that these are steps done so that we can improve the economy as a whole but does this not also mean that we are in a situation that needs to be improved?
So, what I’m trying to say is that, excuse us Malaysians for having the perception that the country is in a recession.
I’m not saying that the data isn’t correct. I’m sure that it is true the country is experiencing growth. However, that growth isn’t trickling down to the common folk just yet.
Ipsos’ survey also states that 24 percent of Malaysians say that they are struggling financially, 53 percent say they are just getting by and only 21 percent claim to be financially comfortable.
Maybe it is true that Malaysians need to be better educated or informed about the actual economic situation of the country. However, it is still going to be hard to convince us that everything is hunky-dory.
It might provide us with a glimmer of hope that eventually everything will be better and we can feel comfortable again but it doesn’t change the fact that many of us are still struggling.
However, a glimmer is still better than nothing at all and if all the data is pointing in that direction, then let’s just persevere and work hard.
Let’s hope that the actions being taken by the government (such as the subsidy rationalisations) will improve things. Ipsos’ survey also states that 45 percent of Malaysians feel that things will normalise between 2024 and 2025. Let’s really hope so. - Mkini
ZAN AZLEE is a writer, documentary filmmaker, journalist and academic. Visit fatbidin.com to view his work.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.


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