Monday, February 11, 2008

Walking Westward

Today, Kompas published an op-ed from the poet Sapardi Djoko Damono commemorating 100 years anniversary of Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana. Takdir was one of the Indonesian intellectuals who in 1949 wrote an essay on his idea of being Indonesia. Inspired, apparently, by the European Renaissance, modernism, and industrial revolution, he defined progress as to follow the western path.

But in his time, when post-war nationalism was at its heydays, when as a young nation the problem of identity was very much troubling, his idea of progress as by looking up western standard was anything but hard to accept by many who argued for something called particular Indonesian values and way of living. For them, defining our own identity was seen as more critical than any attempt for inclusiveness toward universal values (even if by that myths needs to be invented --and then taught to school children in my generation as Indonesian history.)

This is the paradox, however. The idea of Indonesia as a nation was born from people who were inspired by the very European ideals, that is, the young intellectuals in the early 20th century. Pramoedya Ananta Toer's This Earth of Mankind describes beautifully the tension, amazement, and restlessness that arose from the meeting between old values and the new (European) values as seen from narrative of its protagonist Minke.

Fast forward to 2008, the tension remains. But this time thing is more complicated because the idea of "western" is now becoming more and more difficult to comprehend. In philosophy, various writings under the rubric of postmodernism deconstruct the notion of western modernism. In practice, these days, the virtue of western civilization can not be easily observed by watching MTV or seeking explanation why democracy can appoint George W Bush lead to Iraq war.

We live in the situation of neither horizon nor ready answers of all queries. By that, one may look inward, mutter "I told you so" while arguing the supremacy of being Indonesia --whatever it may mean. But I think Soedjatmoko, another Indonesian great thinker made a point as early as 1967
"The jump from the a-historical Weltanschauung of traditional agrarian society, with its chiliastic yearnings for the perfect society, to the closed and self-contained system of thought and the vision of the perfect state of Marxism is apparently a smaller one than the jump to the concept of an open future and the acceptance of the Imperfect State as part of the human condition. It is much more difficult to feel attracted to the insecurity of freedom than to the historical inevitability of a perfect world order from which comfort and strength can be drawn" (Australian Outlook, December 1967:288-89)"
--Hanna Papanek and Goenawan Mohamad, Obituary: Soedjatmoko (1922-1989). Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 49, No. 2. (May, 1990), pp. 449-451
Ladies and gentlemen, as you may be familiar with the old saying "there is no such thing as a free lunch", please welcome the price tag of freedom: the insecurity. Rock on.


  1. What Soejatmoko was saying is that Indonesia would prefer a nanny state than small government. Now that Indonesia is cutting ties with IMF maybe Sri Mulyani would make Soejatmoko smile in satisfaction. IMF is filled with Chicago Scholl economist that would championed free market, so one may say Sri Mulyani want to turn Indonesia to the socialist, big government, taking care of people from cradle to the grave type of economy.

    USA also is in this eternal debate and GWB seems to betray the Old Right position by making the government much bigger and being NOT fiscally responsible.

    Having said that, Indonesia is certainly walking westward but in the exact direction of Indonesiaism that Soejadmoko said a perfect state. This position in the 80's would be characterized by the East, yes, Soviet Union.

    Paradox of ideology is created by dirty politicians that can be wolf in sheep dress.

  2. Interesting indeed that in the modern Germany of the thirties Hitler has been chosen to be Chancellor. Or, indeed, mutatis mutandis, the second term ofGWB in our days. Strange. But then, maybe Enlightenment is not about rationality only.

    @ herbi rihiratu:
    Insecurity is in all realms of life. And of all times and of all ideologies.

    But security is what most of us want. A nanny state - calling each other names is part of the game- is not a bad idea at all. Generally speaking diminishing insecurity improves welfare: life expectancy by better health care, sustainability by better garbage management, social peace and stability by improved equality etc. And all this can have a perfect match with freedom. American under Franklin D. Roosevelt did not experience less freedom than Americans under the Bush administration. On the contrary.
    And there is no fundamental,logical reason, why Freedman can do the job and Keynes can not. Intervention of governments might even be indispensable.

    Predictability is a different phenomenon. It is a call for order (a new or an old one). Deviant behavior is unwanted.
    Dictatorships often claim stability and order, but are by definition at odds with freedom. Even if the proclaim a free market economy, like Pinochet did.

  3. The New Deal created a lot of problems which corrected later on. After FDR era, most of alphabet agencies were closed down. George W is looking more and more like FDR in his policy: Department of HomeLand Security, the size of the department of education, the recent stimulus giving tax rebate of $1200. You can't spend your way into prosperity. The rebate then must increase consumer spending?? The failing social security is another example.

    GWB is looking more like a Democrat. GOP is looking more like democrats. Juan McWar is not a conservative, this is the wolf in sheep dress example.

    The political debate is mightier than the economic debate because in the end, politicians are the one who make the hard decision. This is sad but true. A spoon can be a deadly weapon in the hands of a Green Beret, but only eating tools for an ordinary person.

    Now we have Hillary and Juan McWar. But the most interesting guy is Ron Paul who unite left and right to one single ideological front: the US Constitution. He is interesting to watch in this GOP crisis of identity despite his low numbers. His economic policy is mostly influenced by Ludwig Von Mises. I mostly agree with him: Getting rid of Fed Income Tax, Gold as competing currency (also the Fed Reserve).

    The question is not who can do a better job (Keynes or Milton), but if one's policy is implemented, will it have the intended result. I believe the result that everyone would like is prosperity. For that you gotta have liberty and freedom. GWB is now saying that you gotta sacrifice your liberty to get security. The fact is if you sacrifice liberty for security, you'll loose both.

  4. Do correct me if I'm wrong, but Indonesia is not cutting ties with IMF, it still is a member of the organization and is entitled the rights to loans. What we did was pay-off all our crisis-related debt plus a spoken promise that Indonesia will no longer do mulilateral lending, but go with the bilateral agreements approach to borrowing...

  5. Sri Mulyani can not do that (really saying'"Sorry but we gotta leave you now IMF, Bye Bye") because the influence of US in Indonesia is just too strong. But saying that Indonesia are not rejecting IMF's tough love in economic prescription is like saying Anna Nicole Smith married for LOVE.

    This kind of attitude toward IMF is just the follow up from Dorodjatun's era. This cabinet can afford to be bold because of a slight improvement in the economy. This early payment only save 200 million dollars in net interest, but the autonomy and freedom from IMF is what they want.

    "Discussions will no longer be needed, so that the government can 100 percent pursue its policies. It can be said that we no longer need a supervisor," Indonesian Central Bank Deputy Governor Hartadi Sarwono told parliament.

    Key factors that are advised by IMF are privatization of state owned enterprise and a flexible exchange rate and end of subsidies. These are what our government want to slow down and they can't do it with IMF around.

  6. Hey, Herbi.

    Assisstance from (multilateral) organization can be chosen by any Government as they want to as part of the benefit become the member.

    Also I thought in any Presidential system, the ministry is accountable to the President, and the President should get approval from legislative (i.e. APBN is Law that should go through DPR)

    And not like the US, the President of Indonesia has less veto power. The budget follow this process. And that's why I guess you said GWB, FDR, and so on.. policy for any US policy..

    And I wonder why you're not doing the same for the case Indonesia?

  7. Hi..

    The fact that Indonesia can take loan(s) from any organizations does not mean that we can say our government is now committed to take the necessary reform asap.

    The decision to take loans is neutral in that sense i.e. there is no left or right difference in freely securing the options, or freely proposing, or guaranteeing approval to a loan by Indonesian government to a particular creditor.

    In your 1st paragraph, "Assisstance from (multilateral) organization can be chosen by any Government as they want to as part of the benefit become the member."

    This is correct and sort of support my argument. Say Asterix can freely choose his companion. The fact that he freely doesn't choose Asurancetorix whose shrill voice detrimental to one's ear is because he freely exercise his rights not to hear Asurancetorix. In that sense, Indonesia's free decision to pick and choose from which creditor their loans to come or not to come from, directly, by logic, exposed which creditor they want to hang around with and which one they would not prefer.

    Of course no one would think there is a free lunch, so no one would think there is a IMF loan without supervision.

    I am not saying IMF is the best option and all that they represent is right. I am saying that at this moment their prescription to Indonesia will bring this economy to a free market economy, I am a pro free market kinda guy, so to speak.

    I am doing this about Indonesia's cause not about US's. US I think is also in trouble because they are now one step too deep in becoming a welfare state. This is dangerous. US economy is going bankrupt with their current account deficit, national debt, personal debt. They are living beyond their means to support a nanny state which is exactly what I don't want Indonesia to become, and exactly what our government seems to lack of understanding about, thus confused and timid in moving toward a conservative free market economy.

    Nota Bene:
    I agree with Noam Chomsky who said that in a way it was Soeharto's debt not the Indonesian people's debt to any creditor. So Sri Mulyani and the President must negotiate debt forgiveness not repay the debt by Suharto for Suharto.

  8. i haven't been here for a while, but i'll vote for herbi to start a wiki for dropping all those names on this one post. Sadly enough, he missed on Anne Coultier/Christopher Hitchens.

    what on earth are you guys talking about again?

  9. and uh, to surmise and compare that the New Deal created problems (both ideological/economic) in comparison to GWB, i think is like comparing carrots to apples.

  10. Hi Tree

    Actually Ann Coulter would rather vote for Hillary than John McCain. She should support a true conservatives earlier. Now she must pay for her mistake. So if I would start a wiki.. thanks but no thanks. The English bloke also. Maybe Bill O'Reilly too huh? No Thanks.

    I think you're wrong on this one. The personalities is different of course GWB is a drunk moron who said OB/GYN doctors should practice their LOVE to women all over the country, etc, etc. GWB make Dan Quayle looks smart for spelling "POTATOES",etc,etc.

    However, the new deal make significant shift in US economy to a welfare state inwhere government control over economy and don't forget money supply. After FDR stepped down many of the new deals agency were shut down. In that sense, FDR's approach is a Keynesian approach. Only in Reagan administration, the supply side economist gain more influence again. Then we have Bill Clinton the intermediary position, the social democrats who promise sufficient government benefits to enough voters to gain control over the government's guns so as to keep any other special-interest group from getting as much power as yours. GWB is extending Clinton's position in economy to be more Keynesian again with more entitlements, more agencies (Homeland security), department of energy, doubled department of education, medicare, universal insurance, stimulus package. In that sense, GWB's economic policy is similar to New Deal. Note well that economic policy such as that in the extreme incline to a a statist / totalitarian state. Both FDR and GWB have one common thing that they experience a tragic part US history: the 29 Crash and 9/11. Tragic events sadly make people to rely more and give more authority to their government. Now Habeas Corpus is dead, etc, etc, it seems that GWB is already a fascist. MSNBC's Olbermann commended that too.

    And, that's how the cookie crumble.