Friday, July 10

The times they are a-changin’


IN the year 1962, Bob Dylan composed a song with the above title that was to become his signature tune, and together with ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘Blowing in the Wind’, it became a rock classic and was even named the best pop song ever written in the annals of rock history.

One of the verses, which is pertinent to my subject today goes like this:

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land

And don’t criticise what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command

Your old road is rapidly agin’

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin’


All change is usually painful — some traditional ideas about life, work, and money that once made a lot of sense are now being overturned and suddenly have become either obsolete or are in danger of becoming so.

I’d like to categorise them into four groups:

1) Job security, pension, and retirement

2) Higher education and student debt

3) Home ownership and self- fulfilment

4) Materialism, false idols, and faking it


Let’s start with job security — the traditional ideas about work, jobs, and careers are fast disappearing and they’re not coming back. Along with that is the long held fantasy of job security. In Japan, they had the cradle to grave career path whereby you join a big corporation like Toyota or Nikon, and you’d eat, sleep, work, and retire in that job. It’s no longer the case with many corporations. In Malaysia, the only employer who offers that is the civil service and somehow it still applies in most cases.

In the USA, it has been estimated that 40 per cent of Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist in 10 years’ time. Thirty years ago, the concept of staying with one company was the norm, today the golden era of big corporations is coming to an end.

Retirement and the pension scheme was a flawed model, which today many governments and corporations realise they cannot afford. People are getting healthier and living longer. In any case, why would you want to retire at 55 and spend your next 20 to 25 years not doing any work at all? After all, there’s only so much free time you can deal with golf, music, hobby, travel, what have you. It’s a sure recipe for obesity, stroke, or a heart attack.

The lucky ones would find meaningful work, some continue to consult, some go into their favourite charities or do church or religious work; yet others who can afford it travel, many to stay with children now settled down overseas and so on and so forth. Real retirement is boring. (Just imagine the present MCO home-stay multiplied by years, not weeks!)

Next comes higher education and student debt.

Things are changing as many forward thinking companies today like Google and Facebook are already saying that they don’t need degree holders for their jobs — for them it’s the aptitude, attitude, experience, and most of all the ability to take on new things and learn new stuff quickly. What’s wrong then with the traditional higher education?

There was too much theory, not enough practical. Teaching methods and teachers themselves were becoming more interested in rote learning, memorisation, and passing exams. Paper qualifications have become overrated and the expense towards obtaining them fast becoming out of reach for many.

Latest statistics available up to 2014 on student debt in Malaysia showed an average debt of RM23,735 (public universities) and RM53,750 (private universities) per student. In a Ministry of Education survey in 2018, 21 public and 38 private universities produced 51,000 students in 2018, of which 60 per cent were still unemployed one year after graduation!

Once upon a time, you could justify the high cost of further education by getting a cushy job which paid well after graduating. That era is firmly over.

The only solution it seems to me is to demonstrate your capability and skills firstly by gaining first hand work experience, start at the bottom and work your way up; if you’re hard-working and capable, you will eventually make it. But it will take time.

Thirdly comes home ownership and self-fulfilment.

It has always been the traditional ideal path to go to school, then university, get a job, buy a car, find a girlfriend, get married, buy a home, and have children, and live happily ever after. Most of that is easy still, except the part that says buy a home. Home ownership has become almost out of reach of the middle income, and if not for easy home loans and amiable rich parents, many of today’s young families wouldn’t be able to afford even a basic entry level home.

An average terraced house in Malaysia in 2018 costs RM378,474 according to statistics. Say you’re earning RM3,000 per month, and can afford to pay RM1,000 per month repayment, it would take you 31 years and six months to repay your house loan!

No wonder then that such a high percentage of young families are still living with their parents or other elders in the family.

Self-fulfilment I won’t be able to cover in this short column, suffice it to say that every one of us has his or her own idea and ideals on what makes us happy and content — for some it takes very little, for others satisfaction comes hard if ever at all.

Finally, about materialism, false idols, and faking it. It’s a very sad fact of life that today most youngsters look up and idolise those who have made it, are seen in public showing off their flashy cars and belongings; going home to plush mansions and apartments and live high-flying lives jet-setting in and out, and partying at all the best places. The god of excess has won over most of the young adoring citizenry of our land. They value the show of wealth over everything else.

We live in times of abundance and everyone can easily attain a certain level of comfort so long as you have the means to finance it; but buying more stuff does not really make you happier. Materialism will take over our lives if we allow it.

As for most of us, probably it’s time for us to figure out what values we treasure most in life — what makes sense and what is enough for us to live a good, decent, and godly life. All else is but fluff and can disappear in a whiff — or even in a minuscule virus called Covid-19.

Take care, stay home, and may God be with us all in this time of trial.