Mahathir bin Mohamad: In the East we are still doing real business, while in the West you are not doing real business, in the sense of producing goods and providing services. You are dealing mostly in the financial market, which is not doing anything productive. It's just a kind of gambling.
Justin Rowlatt: So, do you think there's something that the West can
learn from the way Asia has developed its economies?
Mahathir bin Mohamad: Yeah. Asia was a poor part of the world in the
past and we used to live as poor people, and slowly we are building up
our wealth and now of course we are much better off. But what I perceive
is that Europe now, because of these bubble bursts, you have actually
lost a lot of money and therefore you must be poor now relative to the
past. And in Asia we live within our means. So when we are poor, we live
as poor people. I think that is a lesson that Europe can learn from
Justin Rowlatt: Okay. So what do you recommend? What should Europe
Mahathir bin Mohamad: I think you should go back to doing what I call
real business - producing goods, providing services, trading - not just
moving figures in bank books, which is what you are doing.
Justin Rowlatt: Well, I think people who work in the financial sector
would argue that they are providing valuable services for business.
Mahathir bin Mohamad: I don't think so. They are just making use and,
at times, abusing the system in order to make money for themselves. And
as you know, they spin off no jobs, no businesses. For example, trading
in currency amounts to about $4 trillion a day, which is the total
production of Germany in one year, but whereas in Germany they create
jobs and businesses and trading, etc. This currency trading worth $4
trillion does not create any jobs or spin off any business. So it is not
a very productive kind of activity.
Justin Rowlatt: Now obviously currency trading has been a big issue
for you, hasn't it? I mean you famously pegged the Malaysian currency,
didn't you, to stop currency speculators who you thought were damaging
the Malaysian economy?
Mahathir bin Mohamad: Well, currency is not a commodity. You sell
coffee, coffee can be eaten or can be ground and made into a cup of
coffee. But currency, you cannot grind it and make it into anything. It
is just figures in the books of the banks and you can trade with figures
in the books of banks only. There must be something solid to trade;
then you can legitimately make money.
Justin Rowlatt: So what do you think we should do? Do you think we
should stop having floating exchange rates?
Mahathir bin Mohamad: Well, floating exchange rate is fine, but it's
not just floating by itself. Some people are manipulating it simply by
short selling for example. If you keep on selling currencies, as you
know, that will depress the price of the currency. And if you keep on
buying, it will escalate. So you can take your profit at any time,
whether going up or down. That is manipulation. It's not speculation.
It's not playing the market at all. You are just managing the market to
make money for yourself.
Justin Rowlatt: So what would you recommend that we do? How do we
stop this currency trading that you think is so damaging?
Mahathir bin Mohamad: The government should reclaim its position to
regulate these things. This idea that the market would regulate itself
is quite wrong because the market is about making money, making profits
for themselves. They don't care what happens to other people.
Impoverished countries like Malaysia, for example, and lots of people
suffer. But governments should care and see that these abuses of the
system should be solved or regulated.
Justin Rowlatt: You think there should be regulation of currency
Mahathir bin Mohamad: Yes, I believe really that currency trading has
no role at all. We would not suffer if we don't have currency trading,
but you have to change currency in order to trade. Now that should be
allowed. But speculation, pushing up prices, short selling, all these
things should stop.
Justin Rowlatt: Okay. So coming back to Europe and Europe's
predicaments, how difficult a situation do you think that Europe is in
Mahathir bin Mohamad: I think in the first place you are in a state
of denial. You refuse to acknowledge that you have lost money and
therefore you are poor. And you can't remedy that by printing money.
Money is not something that you just print. It must be backed by
something, either good economy or gold. And I think gold is sold in
every country. It has a value at any one time. So pegging it to gold
will result in currency value being much more steady and easier to do
business in fact.
Justin Rowlatt: How long do you think it will take Europe to get out
of the problems that it's in at the moment?
Mahathir bin Mohamad: Well, it will take a long time, because to
recover your wealth you have to work over many years to rebuild your
capacities, to produce goods and services to sell to the world, to
compete with the eastern countries.
Justin Rowlatt: So your key message to Europe now is start working
hard to rebuild your economies?
Mahathir bin Mohamad: Yes. I think you have paid your workers far too
much money for much less work. So, you cannot expect to live at this
level of wealth when you are not producing anything that is marketable.
Justin Rowlatt: This is a tough message.
Mahathir bin Mohamad: Yes, it is. We used to get tough messages from
you before, remember? And now what is the result. Sometimes you
undermined our currency and we became very poor. Well, we learn from
each other. We were euro-centric before. I think it should be a little
bit Asia-centric now
If any Asian leader can lay claim to some of the foundations his
country's economic expansion it is Malaysia's Mahathir bin Mohamad.
During his two decades in power he helped transform Malaysia from a
sleepy former colony into an economic tiger. Doctor M - as he is known -
is a controversial figure though, renowned for his barbed comments
aimed at the West.