State-Led Modernization and the New Middle Class in Malaysia

By Abdul Rahman Embong | Go to book overview
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Concluding Remarks: The New Malay Middle Class and Social Transformation

In the preceding chapters, we have argued that although the beginnings of the modern classes the capitalist, the middle and the working classes in Malaysia could be traced to socio-economic developments since the turn of the twentieth century, their rapid expansion and development are recent phenomena, closely tied up with the policies of state-led modernization and industrialization together with capitalist expansion in post-independence Malaysia. Through the New Economic Policy (NEP) (1971–1990), the UMNO-controlled Malaysian state has sought to create a Bumiputera commercial and industrial community (BCIC), a euphemism for the Bumiputera capitalist and new middle classes, and, in the process, has also developed a Bumiputera working class. Unlike the earlier Malay middle class, which was made up mostly of administrators and schoolteachers, the new Malay middle class, comprised largely of professionals and managers working in both the state and the private sectors, has emerged and expanded in the last 30 years, becoming a conspicuous presence in Malaysian cities and towns. The NEP's affirmative action programmes, however, have not precluded the growth of the non-Malay capitalist and middle classes. Nevertheless, the state's role in the formation of the non-Malay capitalist and new middle classes has been indirect. Since the state has generally been market-friendly, even when implementing the NEP's action programmes, its policies have enhanced the growth of capitalism, which provided the economically stronger Chinese community with rich opportunities to produce their own new middle class. Unlike the pre-1970 period, when the new middle class in Malaysia tended to be dominated by those of Chinese origin, the new Malaysian middle class today is multi-ethnic in composition, with the new Malay middle class constituting a major component. The changes that have taken place, which led to the emergence and expansion of a


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