The Dwindling American Dream

As Malaysian students studying America, I’m sure many of us have always thought of America as being almost superhuman. We’re quick to lament how Malaysia’s facilities will never match up to America or how our economy would never be as cutting-edge or competitive. With our own currency slipping against the strengthening US dollar, such sentiments aren’t surprising. However, every country has its own share of economic woes and America is no different.

(Note: Do bear with me as there will be an onslaught of graphs and economic jargon, but I promise to make this as painless as possible.)

GDP_USAThe graph above depicts real per capita Growth Domestic Product (GDP) in the United States. GDP is often used as a staple measurement of an economy’s overall health; you can think of it as being a country’s income. Per capita refers to per person, so basically we’re calculating the total revenue of a country spread over its population of citizens.

Now, let’s talk about the graph. The red line depicts a steady trend from 1967 – 2007. It extends beyond 2007 and this is where the US economy production would be at had the Great Recession not happened. The green line shows that current GDP is much lower than it should be. That little gap you see between the red and green lines towards the start of 2007 shows that significant amount of production has been lost. Economists frequently squabble over the ‘whys’ of this situation, but one fact still remains: there is a trend in which the United States is losing productivity. This situation can also be reflected in statistics: from 2010-2014, America has a GDP growth rate of 2.2%. In comparison, Malaysia has had a GDP growth rate of 6% [1].

Unemployment

Another area of interest would be employment. In a similar fashion to the first graph, the red line here depicts increasing levels of employment in the United States from 1960-2000. Post-2000, we can see that employment has been stagnant – the curve is almost completely flat. How are we doing statistics wise? Well, in 2010-2014, employment in the U.S was at 7.4% while Malaysia recorded 3.2% of unemployment [2]. For those who aren’t fans of statistics, let’s take a look at numerical data: there are roughly 8 million unemployed Americans as of August 2015 [3], whereas Malaysia stands at 450,000 unemployed citizens [4].

In more political terms, the push for change has also been a major issue in the United States. From the Occupy Wall Street protests to Black Lives Matter, America is still clamoring for socioeconomic change. If such a progressive country is still in a state of discontent, what more a developing country such as Malaysia?

Malaysia has enormous potential for economic growth, and not just in terms of raw materials or energy exports. We have huge prospects for services like finance and banking. Malaysia is currently the leading sector for Islamic banking with $135 billion in Islamic bank assets [5]. Our country is also leading the game in infrastructure. Excluding Singapore, we have the most advanced telecommunication infrastructure in South-East Asia [6]. These promising sectors are all representatives of a strong catalyst for further development and growth.

This piece wasn’t meant to advocate complacency nor was it meant to be written in an inflammatory fashion. I’ve recently noticed a lack of balance between criticizing ineptitude and recognizing progress amongst Malaysians on social media platforms. Malaysia still has a long way to go in terms of transparency and efficiency, but fatalistic attitudes and pessimism simply will not resolve the issues at hand. It’s time to (re)establish a sense of camaraderie amongst fellow Malaysians. The time is now to push for and celebrate progressive change.


Graphs are from Professor Wendy (Gwen) Eudey who is currently teaching Intermediate Macroeconomic Theory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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