I imagine people can interpret this in any number of ways, but its interesting research nonetheless (excerpt; emphasis added):
Alberto Alesina, Stelios Michalopoulos, Elias Papaioannou
A large body of research has shown ethnic diversity to have a negative impact on development. This column suggests that it is the unequal concentration of wealth across ethnic lines that is detrimental for development rather than diversity per se. It shows that ethnic inequality, measured using ethno-linguistic maps and satellite images of light density at night, is associated with lower GDP per capita, worse living conditions, and lower levels of education…
…In recent work (Alesina et al 2012) we put forward and test an alternative conjecture that stresses the intersection of economic inequality and ethnic diversity, namely ethnic inequality.
Our thesis is that inequality is especially deleterious when wealth is unevenly distributed across ethnic or religious lines.
- First, inequality in income along ethnic lines is likely to exacerbate the salience of group identity, limit social cohesion by increasing between-group animosity, impede institutional development, lead to state capture, and spur conflict.
- Second, income differences across ethnic groups are often both the cause and the consequence of discriminatory policies including the unequal provision of public goods across groups.
- Third, as Chua (2003) discusses, in several parts of the world a small (usually market-dominant) ethnic minority controls a sizeable portion of the economy and exerts disproportionate political influence...
The presence of an economically dominant ethnic minority may lower support for free-market institutions (such as trade liberalisation, privatisation, and financial openness), as the majority of the population usually feels that the benefits of capitalism go to just a handful of ethnic groups…
…The first contribution of our paper is to provide measures of within-country differences in wellbeing across ethnic groups, coined as 'ethnic inequality'. Information on income levels of ethnic groups for all countries is not available. Hence, to construct country-level indicators of ethnic inequality (Gini coefficients) for the largest possible sample, we combine ethno-linguistic maps on the location of ethnic groups with satellite images of light density at night, which are available at a fine grid and recent works show that are good proxies of development (see Henderson et al. 2012 and Michalopoulos and Papaioannou 2012, 2013).To isolate the cross-ethnic component of inequality from the overall degree of inequality across regions we also construct proxies of spatial inequality.
The methodology is pretty clever – instead of household surveys, which probably don’t exist for many countries, the authors combined language maps and light densities. The column is longer than the norm for VoxEU, but its accessibly light on the technical details and a good read (a link to the full working paper is provided at the end of this post). The focus is on Africa, but since the data coverage is global, its worth a look.
The inference for Malaysia is obvious, so I won’t spell it out. I will say however, that I once made a presentation to a delegation from Tanzania. If you think we’ve got problems, try a country many times poorer than ours, with 40 (forty!) major tribal groups competing for resources and influence, and over 120 distinct ethnic groups. Now that’s a real development problem.
Alesina, Alberto F., and Stelios Michalopoulos & Elias Papaioannou, "Ethnic Inequality", NBER Working Paper No. 18512, November 2012