Forthcoming publication by Sultan Nazrin Shah: Globalization: Perak’s Rise, Relative Decline, and Regeneration

Natural resources have driven Perak’s wealth for most of the last three centuries or so—notably tin, later rubber and still later oil palm. Indeed arguably, tin has given both the state, and its main river, the name Perak, which means silver in the Malay language and is the colour of the formerly abundant tin deposits in many of the state’s rivers and streams. But without doubt, access to the tin was the cause of at least three wars in Perak in the 1860s and 1870s.

This book analyses the rise, decline, and the steps for regeneration of the state’s economy and its population of 2.5 million. After a brief historical introduction, including the British colonial authorities’ restoration of political order after the three tin wars and the seminal Pangkor Engagement of 1874, which consolidated British imperial power, it reviews the economic impacts of tin—and later, rubber and oil palm—on Perak’s economy. Tin was in high demand in industrializing countries from the mid-19th century. By 1900, Perak accounted for 49 per cent of Malaya's tin output (a share that would increase over the next 60 years) and 25 per cent of the world’s output, which brought people and prosperity, such that the state became the Malay peninsula's commercial capital. Likewise, in the global rubber boom that began in the early 20th century with the advent of mass production of cars, up to the late 1920s, Perak was the largest rubber-producing state in the Malay peninsula.

Attracted by Perak's continued prosperity, especially its tin and rubber industries, the number of migrant workers of all communities surged from the late 19th century to the first three decades of the 20th century. Migrant workers were crucial in driving the growth sought by the British authorities. The state’s mineral and plantation-based export-led economy was highly dependent on inflows of migrant labour—especially of Chinese, and Indians to a lesser degree—owing largely to its very small local population. In boom times, many thousands were recruited, while in times of economic depression thousands were repatriated. Yet most chose to settle permanently which later gave rise to ethnic tensions and policy challenges.

A few years after independence in 1957, as a component of the Federation of Malaya, Perak saw a long period of economic decline relative to other Malaysian states, with tin production as a share of global output peaking in 1971. A transition to palm oil after independence was too little to compensate for the continuing huge fall in tin output and fiscal revenues as its deposits were depleted, and to a lesser extent in those for rubber. (Natural rubber had largely been replace globally by synthetic rubber from World War II.) Once-thriving but now blighted towns that had grown around a single industry, alongside a loss of people through migration, especially skilled workers, were startling features, as Perak struggled to find ways to modernize its economy.

This book includes short international case studies of Cornwall and Sheffield in the United Kingdom, and Pittsburgh and Scranton in the United States. These are regions or towns that, too, became extremely wealthy industrial hotspots on the back of natural resource–based industries and then suffered precipitous declines. Some parts of them subsequently regenerated their economies, to greater or lesser degrees. One aim of this book is to discern lessons on how and why Perak’s fortunes changed and to propose a tentative scenario for the state’s regeneration.

Still, no economic entity—town, state, or country—operates in economic or social isolation or is immune to the laws of economy or geography. Beyond the major theme of globalization, sub-themes of geography, colonialism, federalism, and agglomeration, as well as migration, are therefore threaded throughout the book as an organizing framework.

Based on Perak's characteristics, and on lessons learned from international experiences of regions and towns left behind by globalization, the book concludes with some ideas of how Perak could regenerate itself in the post-pandemic era.


c/o Asia-Europe Institute
University of Malaya,
50603 Kuala Lumpur

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