Why “Amyothar Naing Ngan Yay” (nationalist politics) can be misleading

These days, there is a popular term among  Myanmar’s military generals/ex-generals and their supporters. That is “Amyothar Naing Ngan Yay” in Burmese. Or if to be translated into English, its closet meaning will be equivalent of nationalist politics or patriotic politics.

Arguments for this popular term centers around the very belief that everything “I” or “we” do with good intention in the interests of our country is always good and nobler than what you might typically call as partisan politics in a healthy democracy. However, when looking back into history,  the verdict in real-world events tells a different story of subtle reality that indicates good intentions alone for a country are not necessarily meant to have good outcomes for its people.

Real-world examples range from political and economic events from other countries to Myanmar’s its own history. For example, in one extreme example of nationalist politics, Nazi under Hitler in Germany did horrible crimes and brought self-destruction of their own country in the name of doing everything good for their fatherland and their people. Or we can look at the history of our neighbor China. The chairman Mao Zedong, while having a great credit for unifying their country, terribly brought counter-productive results of famine and economic mess when his policy of “Great Leap Forward” were carried out with good intentions in the interest of China.Also in Myanmar, after coming into power General Ne Win started confiscating businesses of Chinese and Indians SMEs and private industries, vowing to rebuild the nation away from capitalists based on “Burmese Ways of Socialism”. After three decades of such terrible policies under General Ne Win, Myanmar, once one of the most prosperous nations in the region, went down to bottom list of poorest countries in Southeast Asia.

On the other hand, Hong Kong had thrived significantly under the “imperialist” Britain. Or China under Deng Xiaoping who also had good intentions for his country but more importantly with good economic policies, was brought back to to economic prosperity, lifting millions of people out of poverty. Similar stories can be found in many nations around the globe. Even capitalism where individuals acts on their “selfish” interests achieved far greater results in improving people lives than any other systems such as socialism or communism which claims to work interest of all community members.

So the verdict is basically saying that at the end of the day it is not enough with how good your intentions may be but how good or bad your policy is in consequential results, under the constraints and laws of the underlying nature of how things work in real-world. Therefore, the same is true with “partisan politics”. While “partisan politics” may have associations with negative connotations, it indeed can bring the good results if a party has good policies and abilities to carry out with open hand for collaboration with others. On the other hand, being nationalist politics does not necessarily mean good results for the country and thus not necessarily being nobler than “partisan politics”.  It does not matter what you wish for. What matters is what and how you do it. Real-world does not care your wishes or intentions alone especially in running a country or a complex system. What breaks it breaks! What works it works!

Thus, in the end, one of my favorite quotes from the famous economist Milton Friedman resoundingly reminds us:

“One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”

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