APRIL 15 — A trend that is true on an individual level does not necessarily translate into a similar trend on a societal scale.
The most famous of all aggregation debates is probably the Keynesian paradox of thrift. Keynesians argue that too much saving by individuals could be unproductive. Too much saving eventually makes everybody poorer because there would be less demand for goods and services in the economy.
With less demand, there will be fewer economic transactions and thus, less wealth creation. In turn, the financial conservative act may later lower saving itself, contradicting the savers’ intentions.
This is not at all a defence of Keynesianism. Rather, it is to highlight the fallacy of composition regardless the tenability of the Keynesian position.
The fallacy of composition or simply the problem of aggregation has great importance in public discourse even outside of the discipline of economics. National policy can easily be so wrong simply because of innocent but difficult and costly aggregation process, with the subsequent interpretation suffering from composition fallacy.
The fallacy also has relevance in voting decision. This is particularly important as the next national and state elections loom closer.
There at least two groups of voters right now that are relevant to the topic at hand.
One group believes in the importance of power change at the federal level in bringing good. Power change enhances democracy. Power change forcefully uproots perverse interests from embedding itself further in the state.
To the group, change is also institutionally desirable because it creates a precedent in a country where the same side has been in power from the very beginning. They believe power corrupts and to grant power to the same side for too long is folly. They think from the top and they intend to vote in terms of blocks.
Think of expressed party partisanship in terms of Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. Think of the Anything But BN movement. Think of Haris Ibrahim. To them, power change is like tilling the land. The weeds will grow later but regular frequent tilling will prevent the weeds from growing too long.
The other group believes that change is overrated. Whichever the side power falls on, both sides are essentially the same as a whole. This is partly due to human nature: all of us respond to incentive for better or for worse. There are ways to bring in change and the best to way to do that is by thinking from the bottom up.
That means, ignore the political affiliation. Focus on the individual candidates instead. Evaluate the candidate on his or her own terms and then compare the candidate to his competitor. The ultimate question is who is the better candidate?
I personally appreciate the bottom-up approach but I fear the risk of composition fallacy. There is no guarantee that the bottom-up approach will lead to an outcome better than the power change approach.
The reason is that power resides not only with the elected ones, but also with the unelected persons and power brokers who sit in the shadows behind the curtains. While official faces may change with the bottom-up approach, it forgets entirely the crucial roles of unelected persons and their influence on elected officials and more importantly, their influence on the state.
These unelected persons are those whom the former Australian Prime Minister and more recently, the former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd would call the “faceless men” as he struggles to hold on to power, and appealed directly to Australian voters instead of to party officials of the Australian Labor Party. These faceless men are unelected, unaccountable and they have no direct responsibility to voters.
In this sense, the bottom-up approach tills the land but not deep enough. The bottom-up approach does not present enough threats to the faceless Malaysian men and women.
In contrast, the wholesale power change approach tills the land deeper still to threaten these faceless men. Remember that the only reason the established powers were shaken to the core in the aftermath of the last Malaysian general election was the threat of wholesale power change.
Notice how poor candidates were elected; while these poor candidates posed problems, they themselves were not the reason the incumbents were shaken to the core. They themselves were not the reason for new policies that the Najib administration has introduced so far.
Of course, just like weeds, the faceless men will come in other forms and each side has its own faceless men. Yet, the point is that at least, these will be different faceless men. The point is that these faceless men will not able to spread their tentacles deep and wide enough with frequent and regular power change.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.