PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 October, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 October, 1996, 12:00am

Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia concludes his diatribe against developed countries ('Rich in hypocrisy,' Sunday Morning Post, October 6), with the view that, 'the type of world and society we want to live in . . . should be based on truly universal values'.

But in the paragraphs preceding this conclusion, Dr Mahathir espouses values which I doubt most people would share. He appears to suggest that borrowers need not repay debts to lenders, that consumers need not have choices of foreign products, that environmental considerations need not factor in the development of resources, that labour standards need not apply in the workplace, and that intellectual property rights need not be observed in the rush to acquire technology. In stating such views, Dr Mahathir ignores two considerations.

First, he ignores the fact that sound legal principles of personal freedom and property rights have an integral role in economic development. For instance, the principles of intellectual property which Dr Mahathir scorns are also one of the main forces behind the 'astonishing developments in science and technology' which Dr Mahathir covets. Likewise, the expectation of debt repayment is what leads lenders to lend in the first place.

Second, Dr Mahathir ignores the fact that sound economic policies contribute more to economic development than either protectionism or resource exploitation. Policies which restrict the markets for foreign goods, or which use resources in an unsustainable manner, while possibly beneficial in the short run, are ultimately costly in the long term.

As recent history has shown, the success of economic development is largely due to a foundation of sound legal principles regarding personal property, personal freedom, and respect for the rights of others, as well as of sound economic policies regarding labour, capital, and trade. One need look no further than Japan or Hong Kong, each with fewer natural resources than Malaysia, to find evidence of this.

As to the type of world we should want to live in, I believe most people will continue to prefer a world founded on democratic and capitalist principles to Dr Mahathir's world of dubious 'universal' principles.