The relation between tolerance & prosperity

Excerpt from a post by Fred Wilson titled Tolerance and Prosperity (highlights are mine):

William Penn was a Quaker and when King Charles II gave him a large piece of his land holdings in America, Penn created the colony of Pennsylvania and grounded it in the notions of tolerance and religious freedom. Instead of limiting Pennsylvania to Quakers, they welcomed all comers. And the result was that Philadelphia became the fastest growing city in America with a vibrant economy and lifestyle.

The neighboring colonies, which were initially centered around a single religion, reacted to Pennsylvania’s and Philadelphia’s economic success by opening up their cultural norms and becoming more tolerant as well.

Paul told us this story as a lesson in why cultural norms, even more than laws, are a determinant of prosperity and economic development. And tolerance is one of the more important cultural norms in this regard.

When I read this, I immediately drew a parallel to the situation that Malaysia and Malaysians face in general. Malaysians as a whole lack freedom of expression (try talking about religion, the royal family, etc.), freedom of religion (Muslim-at-birth-Muslim-for-life), and tolerance to diverse communities (no deviant cultures like LGBT and that has great effects on computing & opensource for example). I can look for more flaws but that isn’t the idea of this post.

People go where they feel welcome. People go where they are tolerated. People shy away from places that say “you can’t cook curry next door because it makes my apartment smell” (ok, that’s Singapore, not Malaysia). Of course you outweigh the pros and cons of a location.

But for Malaysia to become prosperous we need to become tolerant. We always claim we’re truly Asia with our “different cultures”, but that relationship is built on thin ice. We need to be united as Malaysians before we start welcoming outsiders/Malaysians-living-overseas and together become prosperous.