SEPTEMBER 11 — The bootstrapping myth is both pervasive and insidious.

Sadly, it’s one that too many of our politicians believe. In this magical fairy tale scenario any person can achieve financial success by working hard.

I often have to restrain myself from setting fire to the pages of high-society magazines whenever I’m at the hair salon.

It’s off-putting to read glossy pictorials and glowing profiles written about some successful scion from a rich family who was already, at the age of 30, CEO of a successful firm.

What’s also airbrushed out of the stories is that said firm just happens to be family-owned.

Like the US, in Malaysia being poor is considered to be a character flaw. As if not having money means that you didn’t work hard enough for it.

Look at the accolades we heap on people who are already rich and powerful, where sometimes titles are given not for merit but connections.

Yet day after day, we see stories of the struggling urban poor who work multiple jobs and yet come no closer to even lower middle-class comfort.

Systemic, not cultural failures

For too long, economic success has been ascribed to race. Malays are lazy, Chinese are grasping, Indians cannot be trusted — we use these stereotypes to either explain what they do for a living and whether they succeed at it.

Malaysia is in many cases, affirmative action gone wrong. Instead of helping all those deserving of a leg up, we use race and religion as extra qualifying criteria.

How can you expect this not to create a wedge between communities?

What’s also upsetting is that when criticised for rather misleading poverty measurements we get dismissive, defensive responses.

I suppose that’s why it’s been so hard to effect real change in our education and economy.

Now as before, our government really isn’t very good at receiving feedback.

We now have NGOs pushing for the government to subject our healthcare to the free market. Take IDEAS, for instance. How a libertarian think-tank can emerge in Malaysia seems ridiculous but not when you see the political stances on the economy and welfare that some of our leaders publicly espouse.

It’s shocking, really, when libertarian principles in a nutshell are — let the free market reign, cut regulation and taxes, and remove as much welfare as possible leaving the poor to the mercies of charity.

I personally wouldn’t want to one day wake up to only the rich being able to afford insulin; which is already happening in the US.

Everyone, not just the rich

It bothers me how instead of looking out for homebuyers, the government is wringing its hands over the “suffering” of developers.

Oh, poor them. Building so many expensive properties but the banks won’t release funds so those who can’t actually afford those houses can be slaves to debt.

We’re still running into problems where procurement transparency is concerned. Too many instances of conflict of interest when honestly, any company with familial ties to people in power should be automatically disqualified.

No, this is Malaysia. Even the rich should be given the chance to make money off the government.

It’s not about fixing a race — it’s not the people who are broken, it’s the system. Until we get the government to be brave enough to actually buck said system, Malaysia will continue to crawl behind our neighbours.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.