Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Myths and might

Someone brought this article to my attention. If you have not already read it, I think investing some of your precious time on this will be enlightening and well worth it.

Economic Myths in the Great Population Debate, written by members of the Economic Society of Singapore and published in the Institute of Policy Studies website.

Monday, February 11, 2013


More on the White Paper on Population. The PM said, quite rightly, that the conversation will continue outside of Parliament on the issues raised. Whether the Paper is right or not, we will know possibly in 2020 or 2030. Many of us may not be around when that happens. But the PAP did insert a caveat as the debate over the numbers were debated. That 6.9 million suddenly became a guide and not a target and the Paper, amongst other things, was amended accordingly But more damaging to its credibility was the original claim, albeit in a footnote, that nurses belong to that class of workers considered "low skilled" (page 40, footnote 12). This also was amended, but not when the politicians and their officials pointed it out, but when the nursing profession raised the issue. The government may called this a (regrettable) mistake, but it is a disturbing mistake nonetheless. You just have to wonder about the authors of this paper, which took one whole year to develop and write, whether in their minds they view our Florence Nightingales as low skilled workers. There is such as thing known as a Freudian slip and this is perhaps a significant mental one. Maybe the reason is because, today, many of them - the nurses, are from mainland China and not a few are Filipinos, which unfortunately, have been associated in Singapore more with household maids. There has been a dwindling number of locals who are willing to take on the profession, which is not to say that the profession is any less noble and essential.

But that's how our officials see people - low skill, high skill, low class, high class, moneyed class, foreigner, moneyed foreigners, maid-master/madam-servants, temporary foreign workers (whose job is to provide for locals - build its houses. feed them, ensure that they continue to lead a comfortable life, etc.) And alas, national policies are an outgrowth of these prejudices and biases, are they not? It is no wonder that the government appears to have created a chasm between itself and the people. This stratification reminds one of the labourers who are beholden to the rich gentry, the landowners, and the capitalists for their livelihood in a bygone era - a point that Mr Iswaran, and probably Dr Balakhrishnan, seem to have been at pains to point out in Parliament last week. Nothing really ever changes, does it? The thesis, anti-thesis which must then give way to a new synthesis. Has the PAP become the unfeeling thesis of the day that is crying out for an anti-thesis? Hopefully, we are more enlightened by virtue of the fact that we have received so much education. But above all, we need to stay humble, As some wise people have said, it doesn't matter how good the policy is, how visionary, how well-meaning nor how enlightened it is.

The important thing is that it be communicated well such that people will want to fall over each other to get in line (ok so I exaggerate) to give it their self-serving support, but support nevertheless. In this the sitting government has failed miserably, and at great political costs.

Saturday, February 09, 2013


As expected, the much debated Whitepaper on Singapore's future population growth (Population White Paper: A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore) was passed in Parliament yesterday. What else can you expect when the PAP has more than a two-thirds majority of seats in Parliament. Of course, the Opposition Workers' Party (WP) voted against it. But more significantly, 3 of the 4 Nominated MPs voted against it too, and the other one didn't express support either way.

This issue has been the talk of the town in the past two weeks, in the office, along the corridors, on the streets in the bus stops, at the coffee shops and foodcourts, at home and at mom's place. I am no exception. And you know what? Of the 10 people I spoke to, 10 of them opposed increasing the population to 6.9 million. Goes to show how unrepresentative of Singaporeans Singapore's Parliament is. Well, of course PAP will tell you that mine is an unrepresentative sample of the population, so my 10/10 cannot be taken seriously. But seriously too, I wasn't taking a poll. It just was a fact the everyone I met opposed the idea of having 6.9 million people sharing the limited space on this island. Even those who were staunchly pro-PAP didn't want to venture an opinion. If this issue were put to a Referendum today, I am quite sure that the outcome will be different from what Parliament decided yesterday.

Of course, as the paper got talked about and there was a sense of overwhelming opposition to the numbers, PAP Ministers began to insist that 6.9 million is "not so much a target but more a projection", that the actual number is likely to be between 6.5 - 6.9 million. Some government Ministers went as far as to say that the preferred number is 6.5 million. This is incredible as I understood that the Whitepaper was 1 year in the making, and involved feedback from no less than 2,500 people. After all that time, money and resources (paid for by tax-payers, may I add), our government is not too sure if they have the numbers correct. If not, what are we then debating about? It is no wonder that these same government Ministers not only turned English language teachers but also demonstrated the meaning of "hyperbolic".

Mr S. Iswaran's hyperbole must take the prize hands-down:

“It will exacerbate uncertainty in the economic environment and accelerate business closures and the offshoring of activities...”

“Singaporeans will lose their jobs and instead of productivity-led growth, it would easily tip our economy into a downward spiral. This abrupt move will derail our efforts to boost productivity and restructure the economy...”

“We would be breaking faith with companies who are already invested here and are in the process of ramping up their operations...It will damage our reputation and severely impair our efforts to attract new and different businesses which can offer precisely the kind of diverse jobs that better educated Singaporeans seek...”

 “But what the Workers’ Party is proposing is to jam-brake and put our economy in a tailspin, and our businesses and workers risk a hard landing...”

In sum, what he was saying is that Singapore will face imminent collapse if the Whitepaper is rejected. And why? Because businesses will jump ship and go elsewhere, never mind that we have one of the most business-friendly tax regime in the world. Odd that this same "jump ship" argument is not applied equally to the proposed population proportion of 40% foreigners in the Whitepaper. Going by the same logic, if the economy goes south, wouldn't they jump ship too, and leave the 60%  who are Singaporeans to sink or swim, assuming that we would have developed a high dependency on their presence?

Fortunately, 13 people in Parliament were not taken in by such hyperbole. They demonstrated more balance, pragmatism and common sense - something that the PAP government USED TO be well-known for. But more importantly, going by my conversation with people on this matter, they were speaking for the majority of Singaporeans.

The PAP government may have won the votes in Parliament yesterday, but it may likely have lost the plot in the long run.