Comments on new book “The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race To Reinvent The State”

August 18, 2014

Dear Mr Micklethwait and Mr Wooldridge,

I refer to the 16 Aug 2014 Straits Times review of your new book “The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race To Reinvent The State”.

Productive governance on leanest budget

According to Dr Goh Keng Swee, Singaporeans’ undisputed No. 1 most respected post independence leader, Singapore owes its productive governance on the leanest of budgets to our British colonial government. He wrote:

There are four reasons which enabled Singapore throughout her history as a British colony, and today as an independent republic, to survive and even prosper in the face of apparently insurmountable difficulties … The second reason must be ascribed … to Sir Stamford Raffles’ great vision of the island growing into a great emporium founded on the Victorian belief in the virtues of free trade. Successive colonial governors zealously nurtured the port, maintained lean and efficient administrators, and allowed merchants and bankers full scope for the exercise of their talents. In the modern idiom, the Victorians who governed Singapore established and maintained an infrastructure at minimum cost with maximum efficiency. The third reason derives from the second condition, the nurturing of the free enterprise system. In the absence of monopolies and privileged business interests, keen and free competition ensured efficient business … For well over a hundred years Singapore learnt to adapt her economy to changing circumstances. This ability to adapt which was won in the hard school of experience remains an asset which the government of independent Singapore decided to retain. It might have been politically expedient to rid ourselves of institutions and practices that bore the taint of colonial associations. Had we done so, we would have thrown away a priceless advantage.
[Goh Keng Swee, The Practice of Economic Growth, Chapter 1: Why Singapore succeeds, pages 6-7]

The so-called Singapore Fourth Revolution is merely the Victorian era Second Revolution that we inherited from the British.

Creating founding father

Singapore’s creating founding father was Sir Stamford Raffles, not Lee Kuan Yew. It was Sir Stamford Raffles who created this beautiful and prosperous port city when he founded Singapore in 1819. Lee Kuan Yew merely inherited Singapore and inheritance cannot be considered founding.

Greatest economic miracle

There are four East Asian economic miracles, not just one. There is no reason to overly praise Singapore for what is essentially a common East Asian success story that includes South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and many parts of China.

Between 1945 and 1959, Singapore recovered from the devastation of the war under the guiding hand of our British colonial government. To include those years as part of our supposed 70 years of greatest economic miracle would compel us to also thank and praise the British for their involvement in 20% of those 70 years.

But as far as data is available, the earliest comparison we can make is 1960 since that is the earliest year Singapore GDP figures are available in the Penn World tables. The table below constructed using data from the Penn World tables shows that besides Botswana and Equatorial Guinea which struck diamond and oil respectively, South Korea outgrew every other country from 1960 to 2011 and should be the undisputed No. 1 greatest economic miracle followed by arguably Taiwan which takes 2nd and 3rd place respectively for output and expenditure per capita GDP growth. Singapore takes 3rd place, a very good position but not good enough to be considered the greatest economic miracle.

Country 2011 over 1960 per capita real GDP (output) Country 2011 over 1960 per capita real GDP (expenditure)
Korea, Republic of 27.1 Equatorial Guinea 32.2
Botswana 22.1 Botswana 30.9
Equatorial Guinea 21.6 Korea, Republic of 25.6
Taiwan 14.7 Singapore 21.4
Malta 11.1 Taiwan 15.1
Romania 10.3 Hong Kong 11.6
Japan 9.8 Romania 10.6
Singapore 9.4 Cyprus 9.4
China 8.8 China 8.7
Cyprus 8.7 Egypt 8.6
Thailand 8.5 Thailand 8.6
Zimbabwe 7.7 Japan 7.8
Egypt 6.9 Malta 6.6
Ireland 6.9 Ireland 6.5
Hong Kong 6 Portugal 6.1

CPF

The CPF is fast becoming a farce as more and more Singaporeans realize their CPF won’t be able to see them through retirement. Instead of the “all-you-can-eat” buffet, we have the “eat-yourself” cannibalism.

China learnt from Singapore

China’s capitalism isn’t merely copied from Singapore but from South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan too. During Deng Xiaoping’s famous Southern tour in 1992, he called for China to learn from South Korea, to catch up with the four dragons, to build several Hong Kongs along the coast. In other words, China didn’t just copy from Singapore but from the rest of prospering East Asia as well. If China capitalism is predominantly a Singapore copy, how could they have such promising home grown technology firms as Lenovo, Xiaomi, Huawei or Baidu while we don’t (excluding the has been Creative)? The great many Taiwanese and Hong Kong firms that have invested in China probably left a larger footprint on China’s economy than Singapore did.

The copying of Singapore style social governance by communist countries like China or Russia is not something Singaporeans are particularly proud of. China president Xi Jinping recently espoused the wisdom that blind pursuit of GDP doesn’t equate to a nation’s success, a clear deviation from copying Singapore but learning from Singapore’s mistakes instead.

The First Revolution

We hardly have Hobbes’ First Revolution. Too many of our rights have been unfairly restrained. We can’t even walk in a group of five in the streets without risking being hauled to jail for illegal assembly. We don’t have a single independent newspaper. Too many of our politicians have been locked away without trial, one of them Chia Thye Poh for longer than Nelson Mandela had been. Too many of our politicians have been bankrupted or forced to leave Singapore for reasons any First World nation would deem ridiculous.

Yet on the other hand, we don’t get much protection for the sacrifices we make. Most of the old folks retiring today cannot depend on their CPF for retirement. An old folk honored by our prime minister during a recent National Day rally committed suicide because she didn’t want to burden her family with stupendous medical expenses. Many old folks are reduced to picking up old cardboard pieces to sell for a living. So correction please, Singapore, not created by Lee Kuan Yew but ruthlessly ran by him, has next to zero parts Hobbes.

Nordic big government

The following books show that both the Danish and Swedish crises were the result of financial market deregulation, not due to big welfare systems.

• IMF, World Economic Outlook – Crisis and recovery, April 2009, Chapter 3 “From recession to recovery: how soon and how strong?”, page 135

Financial crises

• Lessons from the Nordic Financial Crisis, Lars Jonung, Lund University Department of Economics, 29 Dec 2010

The Nordic crises have their roots in the process of financial liberalization … In the 1980s, the financial systems of Finland, Norway and Sweden underwent major deregulation. Financial liberalization set off a sustained lending boom, capital inflows, rising asset prices … The boom turned into a bust around 1990, with capital outflows, widespread bankruptcies … systemic banking crises … Eventually, the central banks of Finland, Norway and Sweden were forced o move to flexible rates in the fall of 1992 in order to avert the depression.

Conclusion

• Our so-called 4th revolution lean government is actually our 2nd revolution inheritance from the British.

• Lee Kuan Yew isn’t our creating founding father, Sir Stamford Raffles was. Lee Kuan Yew went to a school named after Raffles.

• Singapore isn’t the greatest economic miracle in the last 70 years. According to Penn World Tables, the greatest economic miracle since 1960 should be South Korea.

• China didn’t just learn from Singapore but from the rest of East Asia as well.

• Singaporeans sacrificed too much and got too little in return to be considered to be enjoying Hobbe’s First Revolution.

• The Nordic economic crises, as with most modern day crises, is financial sector triggered, not triggered by big government.

Assuming Straits Times’ review of your book is accurate, the chapter on Singapore contains critical falsehoods and misrepresentations that diminish the credibility of your book.

More to being grateful for what we have

August 11, 2014

I refer to the 3 Mar 2014 Straits Times letter “Let’s be grateful for what we have here” by Mr Elgar Lee.

If Singapore is the proverbial oasis in the middle of the desert, why is Mr Mahbubani asking Singaporeans to visit neighboring Southeast Asian ‘deserts’ (Straits Times, “$5 meals, $500 holidays and $50k homes for SG50”, 12 Jul 2014)? Why is our oasis importing water from the surrounding desert?

We do not always have drinkable water from our taps 24/7. Just three months ago, 50 Punggol blocks had brown water flowing from their taps (Today, Brown water flows out of taps in 50 Punggol blocks, 13 Jun 2014). If the authorities say that brown water is drinkable, they should drink brown water for one year. Why offer rebates if there was nothing wrong with the brown water?

Mr Lee should understand that Malaysia water rationing earlier this year was the result of record dry weather in this region which last happened 145 years ago.

• BONE-DRY February has entered the record books as the country’s driest month in nearly 150 years, and the windiest in three decades, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA). A paltry 0.2mm of rain was recorded last month at Changi climate station. This is the least that has fallen since 1869, and is well below the previous record of 6.3mm recorded in February 2010 and the mean February rainfall of 161mm.
[Straits Times, February sets record as driest month since 1869, 5 Mar 2014]

Singapore should be thankful the February drought didn’t last longer for if it did and Johor’s rivers dried up, Malaysia wouldn’t have been able to supply us with water, our NEWater and desalination plants wouldn’t have been able to cope with the 380 million gallons of water Singapore needs each day [1], we would have been forced to ration water as well.

Mr Lee is grateful we do not have political stalemate because he belongs to the group with the political upper hand. If the tables are turned and Mr Lee ends up in the group that is politically disadvantaged and bullied all day long, would he continue to sing the same tune? Would he prefer to be disadvantaged, gagged, suffering and suffocating under oppression or would he prefer to have the freedom to fight for what he believes in?

Mr Lee was looking at only one side of the coin when he compared Singapore to cities with no mass transit systems. Would Mr Lee flip the coin around and compare Singapore with so many First World cities with better transit systems?

Being thankful may result in us being taken for granted rather than us having more. If we do not concentrate on what we do not have, we may end up with the status quo of not having more.

Singapore is just one of many bright stars in this universe. There is no more reason to be thankful for what one lucky star has compared to another lucky star.

[1]

• At the height of the dry spell over the past two months, the PUB had stepped up desalination to the full capacity of 100 million gallons a day. NEWater production was also raised to more than 100 million gallons a day for industrial use and to top up the country’s reservoirs by 35 million gallons a day.
[TodayOnline, P.U.B reducing production at NEWater, desalination plants, 21 Mar 2014]

• Today, water demand is about 380 million gallons a day (mgd) or 1,730,000 cubic metres a day (m3/day).
[http://www.pub.gov.sg/LongTermWaterPlans/gwtf.html]

Sharing more about Singapore with Chance Wilson

August 10, 2014

Dear Chance,

I refer to the 20 Jul 2014 Straits Times report of your noble initiative.

Poverty

A picture tells a thousand words. The following are pictures of poor people in Singapore picking up bits and pieces of rubbish to sell for a living:

http://therealsingapore.com/sites/default/files/field/image/elderly_singaporeans_scrounging_1.jpg

http://therealsingapore.com/sites/default/files/field/image/elderlypoor-balaveniseflickr_0.jpg

http://guanyinmiao.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/singapore-elderly.jpg

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Kfdiy9ELUl0/TmKYZH1dDcI/AAAAAAAAAHI/zM2MWzDdG_Y/s1600/singapore-poor-woman.jpg

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-YY-sG-SpMVA/UZeLTn2AA7I/AAAAAAAAAFE/TW1sChouVfw/s1600/informal-recycling-collection-by-elderly.jpg

http://www.transitioning.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/poor.jpg

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-gMMMkopbI5w/URzYh16DvFI/AAAAAAAACfg/FxMPTAg65yI/s1600/poor4rs.jpg

The following are some news about Singapore’s hidden poverty problem:

• Straits Times, More poor people in Singapore than figures show, 25 Sept 2013

http://www.fas.nus.edu.sg/srn/more-poor-people-in-spore-than-figures-show

• Straits Times, The invisible poor?, 26 Oct 2013

http://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/straitstimes.com-The_invisible_poor.pdf

• BBC News Singapore, How do Singapore’s poor families get by?, 27 Feb 2014

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-26349689

• BBC News Singapore, Are Singapore’s poor better off? 17 Feb 2012

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-16920951

• Methodist Welfare Services, The face of poverty in Singapore,

http://www.mws.org.sg/Dispatcher?action=SocialIssueTopic&id=Sc12ce388725076

• Diary of a Singaporean Cabby, The poor of Singapore, 4 Sept 2011

http://cabby65.blogspot.sg/2011/09/poors-of-singapore.html

• Singapore poverty in the spot light, 9 Nov 2013

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/11/singapore-poverty-spotlight-20131178362669442.html

• The Lien Centre for Social Innovation and SMU School of Social Sciences, Measuring poverty in Singapore

https://centres.smu.edu.sg/lien/files/2013/11/SocialSpace2013-2014_SanushkaMudaliar.pdf

Most expensive city in the world

A number of global indexes place Singapore amongst the most expensive in the world:

• Economist Intelligence Unit Worldwide Cost of Living 2014 puts Singapore in No. 1 position as world’s most expensive city

• Mercer Cost of Living 2014 puts Singapore as 4th most expensive in the world. Singapore was 5th most expensive in 2013

The expensiveness of this country means that you don’t have to be African poor to be poor in Singapore.

Inequality

The chart below shows that from 1980 onwards, Singapore’s GINI inequality index has always been amongst the highest of First World nations (United Nations University data http://www.wider.unu.edu/research/WIID-3a/en_GB/wiid/)

GINI

Our high income inequality exacerbates our poverty problems.

No press freedom, no democracy

There are other not so flattering facets about Singapore you might want to know:

• Singapore is ranked 150th in the world for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders in 2014

• Singapore was ranked 81st by Economist Intelligence Unit for Democracy Index in 2012

Thus, Singapore may not be as amazing as have been reported by our world No. 150th press.

Education

Singapore’s strong education performance mirrors those of other East Asian cities / nations like Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Shanghai and reflects the East Asian society’s emphasis on education. Although East Asian competitiveness in education extends to our work places, when it comes to innovation and the creation of revolutionary new products, services, concepts or brands, America is still the country to beat.

Correcting Diamond Industries’ Mr Frank Chew’s ST advertisement

August 10, 2014

I refer to the 9 Aug 2014 Straits Times advertisement (Money section, page C7) by Mr Frank Chew Chong Khay of Diamond Industries Pte Ltd.

bullshit

Mr Chew wrote:

• “Today, I am extremely grateful … especially to the father and architect of modern Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Through his far-sighted visions for the country, he has brought about a stable and thriving environment for us to live and work in, one in which I am able to care for my parents in the way that I hope to. At the same time, I am able to give my children what my parents had to strive so hard for in the past.”

Mr Chew is mistaken. Lee Kuan Yew was neither father nor architect of modern Singapore. The father of modern Singapore was Sir Stamford Raffles while the architect and far sighted visionary of our export industrialization was Dr Albert Winsemius. Others like Dr Goh Keng Swee also played a vital role but ultimately, it was Singaporeans from all walks of life who contributed to the nation’s success.

Lee Kuan Yew himself had credited Dr Winsemius for our success:

• Most of all, he was wise and canny. I learnt much about Western business and businessmen from him. He gave me practical lessons on how … Singapore could plug into the global economic system of trade and investments by using their desire for profits … It was Singapore’s good fortune that he took a deep and personal interest in Singapore’s development. Singapore and I personally, are indebted to him for the time, energy and devotion he gave to Singapore.
[Straits Times, Singapore is indebted to Winsemius: SM, 10 Dec 1996]

Straits Times, PAP stalwart Lim Kim San, eminent civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow and various authors all attribute Singapore’s post independence prosperity to Dr Winsemius:

• He was Singapore’s trusted guide through economically uncharted waters for 25 years from 1960. Through him, Singapore borrowed ideas and strategies that worked for Netherlands and other developed nations. Singapore’s economy is flying high today, thanks in large measure to his sound advice and patient counsel. He is the Father of Jurong, the Dutchman behind Singapore Incorporated. Dr Winsemius was a special person for he had changed Singapore to what it is today. For Singaporeans today, a huge debt of gratitude is owed to the Dutch economist.
[Straits Times, Dr Albert Winsemius Singapore’s trusted guide, 7 Dec 1996]

• He was behind the 10-year development plan that saw the island state transform into today’s high technology, high value added industrial hub.
[Straits Times, He Believed in Singapore’s Future, 7 Dec 1996]

• Singapore’s economic miracle owes something to Dutch economist Dr Albert Winsemius. Dr Albert Winsemius was not merely a consultant, he was someone who revolutionalised and set Singapore’s economy in the right direction.
[Tactical Globalization: Learning from the Singapore Experiment, Aaron Kon, page 170]

• Dr Winsemius of the Netherlands and Mr I.F. Tang of China were two foreign friends of Singapore who made extraordinary contributions to the economic development of Singapore as leader and secretary of the first UN Industrialisation Survey Team in 1961.
[A Mandarin and the Making of Public Policy: Reflections, Ngiam Tong Dow, page 66]

• Goh Keng Swee and Dr Albert Winsemius are generally regarded as the brains behind the coherent export/foreign investment oriented policies that Singapore has followed.
[Multinationals and the Growth of the Singapore Economy, Hafiz Mirza, page 77]

• The Winsemius Report, as it is commonly known, eventually formed the blueprint for Singapore’s development efforts.
[No Miracle: What Asia Can Teach All Countries about Growth, Mitchell Wigdor, Chapter 6]

• In line with the recommendation of the Winsemius Mission, Singapore implemented policies contrary to the spirit of the 1960s by allowing foreign companies full ownership of their investments and control of operations. This gave Singapore an immediate advantage over other countries that had adopted a more nationalistic or socialist philosophy that prevented complete foreign ownership and control of large manufacturing investments.
[Singapore, the Energy Economy: From the first refinery to the end of cheap oil, Ng Weng Hoong, page 12]

• With Singapore’s secession in 1965, the United Nations Proposed Industrialization Programme for the State of Singapore became the basis for Singapore’s industrialisation strategy.
[State enterprise in Singapore: legal importation and development, Philip Nalliah Pillai, page 30]

• A year after his first visit to Singapore, he presented a 10-year economic development plan. Winsemius also advised the government about large scale housing projects in Singapore and managed to get Philips, Shell and Exxon to Singapore.
[Managing Transaction Costs in the Era of Globalization, F. A. G. den Butter, page 38]

• Albert Winsemius presented a ten-year development plan to turn Singapore from a port dependent on entrepot trade to a manufacturing and industrial centre. Following the Winsemius Report, the Legislative Assembly passed an Act in 1961 to create a statutory board to promote industrialisation and economic development. The EDB came into being …
[Lim Kim San: A Builder of Singapore, Asad Latif, page 106]

• Singapore’s emergence as a pivotal manufacturing node in the emerging network of transnational capitalism was partly made possible by missionary zeal displayed in the adoption of the Winsemius Report, submitted on behalf of the United Nations Industrial Survey Mission of 1960.
[CyberAsia: The Internet And Society in Asia, Zaheer Baber, page 59]

• The 1960-61 United Nations mission led by Albert Winsemius helped develop a blueprint for Singapore’s industrialisation and development plan and recommended the establishment of EDB. The Winsemius report provided the basis for Singapore’s first development plan. It made two particularly notable observations. The first was that Singapore did not lack entrepreneurs but they were mainly in commerce and not in manufacturing. This suggested the need for the government to participate directly to operate certain basic industries if neither foreign nor local enterprises were prepared to do so. However, said the report, long-run government participation might harm the investment climate unless it was true to commercial and market principles. The second point recommended the establishment of a nonpolitical EDB with divisions for financing, industrial facilities, projects, technical consulting, services, and promotion. The report recognised that the EDB’s core function should be the promotion of investment and that it should eventually hand over its financing activities to an industrial development bank. The Winsemous report was accepted and its recommendations implemented almost immediately. In its early years, the EDB had technical advisers from the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Initially, it concentrated on the four industries identified in the Winsemius report, namely, shipbuilding and repair, metal engineering, chemicals, and electrical equipment and appliances.
[Lessons from East Asia, Danny M Leipziger, pages 240, 241]

• In 1960, a UN industrial survey mission headed by Albert Winsemius was sent to Singapore, at the PAP government’s request, to survey the possibility of industrialisation. The Winsemius Report recommended, among other things, that Singapore should make use of the skills and ability of the local labour force to develop certain selected industries including chemicals, building material, steel-rolling, ship-building, and electrical appliances and parts, by wooing well-known foreign firms to set up joint ventures with local firms. It also advised that the new local industries to be set up should aim at the overseas market, since the domestic market was tiny. In 1961, the government drew the State Development Plan based on the Winsemius Report, which later became a Five-Year Development Plan. That same year, in accordance with the advice given by Winsemius, it set up the Economic Development Board (EDB), which was then given the task of constructing industrial estates, providing loans to firms in the private sector, attracting FDI, setting up joint ventures with foreign MNCs, and putting into practice fiscal measures under the Pioneer Industries Ordinance.
[Japanese Firms in Contemporary Singapore, Hiroshi Shimizu, page 31]

• An area of 2,025 hectares was suggested at first for the new Jurong Industrial Estate. In June 1961, Dr Albert Winsemius, an economic expert from the United Nations Bureau of Technical Assistance, submitted his report on an Industrialization Programme for Singapore, and recommended 6,480 hectares. The Winsemius Report also proposed the setting up of an Economic Development Board (EDB) to develop the area and promote free-enterprise industry.
[http://tamanjurong.sg/about-us]

Mr Chew also wrote:

• “When I was young, I did not recognize the importance or significance of national service. It was merely a requirement that had to be fulfilled. If given a chance to live that part of my life again, I would do it wholeheartedly because I am now convinced of the need to defend my country and family.”

If Mr Chew now understands the importance of defending the country and the family, then he should also understand the gravity of not defending the country and the family. Lee Kuan Yew did not rise up to the occasion in Singapore’s hour of need to defend our country against the Japanese invaders. In the aftermath of our surrender, Lee Kuan Yew also worked for the Japanese military. How does Mr Chew’s supposed understanding of the importance of defending our country square with his admiration of someone who not only failed to defend our country but had also worked for the enemy as well?

Rebutting Tam Chen Hee and Edmund Lam

August 10, 2014

Heed call for political culture of moderation

I refer to the 6 Aug 2014 Straits Times letter “Heed call for political culture of moderation” by Tam Chen Hee (Dr).

Professor Chan Heng Chee’s analysis of post war Singapore sums up the false perceptions of that period. If the regurgitation of these false perceptions demonstrates the intellectual prowess of the foremost minds in Singapore history and politics, Singapore history and politics are hopeless.

The PAP wasn’t supposed to be an alliance of strange bed fellows for both Lee Kuan Yew and Lim Chin Siong were supposed to be socialists. But we know what Lee Kuan Yew turned out to be and how Lim Chin Siong had been maligned till this day.

Singapore’s history was such that Goliath hammered David to smithereens, not the other way round. The British and its Special Branch all but wiped out communism in Singapore. The Lim Yew Hock and the PAP government also effectively used the might of the ISD to crush the Leftists.

How to moderate between truth and falsehood? 50% truth, 50% falsehood? Dr Tan might want to refer to the 21 May 2014 Straits Times report “Asean Sec-Gen rebuts remarks on neutrality” for Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh’s remarks:

“Neutrality does not mean standing in the middle between right and wrong”.

Similarly, moderation cannot be standing between right and wrong, between truth and falsehood.

If contending voices lacked sensibility, are establishment views that have led to our current problems the sensible ones instead?

If our earlier political vision included all Singaporeans, how come Hougang and Potong Pasir were excluded from HDB upgrading for as long as anyone could remember?

Mark of a mature society: Being civil even when we disagree

I refer to the 6 Aug 2014 Straits Times letter “Mark of a mature society: Being civil even when we disagree” by Edmund Lam (Dr).

It is wrong to say that Singapore’s past had been single handedly molded by founding leaders. Our leaders in 1965 weren’t founding leaders for Singapore was never founded in 1965 but in 1819 instead. Receiving our independence in 1965 is not the same as founding. Moreover, much of post 1965 Singapore had been the mere continuation of our modus operandi since colonial days as our preeminent Dr Goh Keng Swee admitted. The only extra punch that drove Singapore even faster was the economic plan by Dr Albert Winsemius.

Our nation’s society isn’t so young any more having continuously evolved since 1819 for close to 200 years already. There is no need for a variety of visions for fairness, our GINI coefficient already clearly and unambiguously shows how unfair our society is.

Considering different views and not just that of the ruling party’s isn’t just the hope of the young but the right of all modern civilized societies.

For too long, the PAP elites have never had to listen. Dr Lam’s call for listening as a core tenet to conflict resolution should start with PAP elites.

The government’s internet brigade is the first and foremost who should heed Dr Lam’s call for civility and a stop to bullying and demonizing behavior.

Why should Singaporeans commit to working on diversity when it is not our prerogative but those of the PAP’s?

Dr Lam’s advice of avoiding fighting and of talking through differences should start with PM Lee and Roy Ngerng.

Valuing diversity doesn’t mean asking for more. Singapore is already quite diverse; there is no need to keep piling diversity upon diversity. Singaporeans value the old way of life, not the rapid and never ending push towards greater diversity.

Learning to talk through differences – a reply to Ms Chan Heng Chee

August 9, 2014

Dear Ms Chan Heng Chee,

I refer to your 2 Aug 2014 Straits Times column “Learning to talk through our differences”.

Never static doesn’t mean Singapore’s national identity should be rapidly and artificially changed.

PM David Cameron’s call for Britishness has little to do with Scottish independence and everything to do with immigration influx.

Nation building, in the context of Singapore, predates our independence. For nearly 150 years prior to our independence, the British government along with Singapore pioneers built this nation, carving a beautiful city out of virgin jungle. By the time of our independence, all the essential trappings and hallmarks of a prosperous nation – roads, buildings, schools, hospitals, civil service, law, police force, 5th most important port in the world, airport, industry, commerce, businesses, running water and even flats – were already existing. All that independent Singapore had to do was to continue and to improve on this solid foundation.

While PAP may be obsessed with identity creation, Singaporeans have, since colonial times, come to see one another as Singaporeans.

There is no birth of our nation in so far as 1965 is concerned for the receipt of our independence is not equal to our birth. Neither were our leaders then founding leaders for they did nothing that remotely qualified them as founding. They didn’t create but inherited Singapore. They didn’t fight but left the fighting for our independence to others.

The struggle between communist and non-communist had been a fairy tale written to make the bad look good and the good look bad.

The merger with Malaya was just the short sighted wish of one man and Singapore was lucky that it all came apart in the end.

The language policy was the extension of the political policy. Just before the merger, Malay became compulsory, once we were out, it became not compulsory.

Communism

The following texts show that our triumph over the communists was quite a piece of cake:

• The Malayan Communist Party … was not particularly effective. It hosted a meeting … most notable … for the comprehensive surveillance by the British Special Branch … Subsequent mass arrests decimated the MCP [page 134]
[Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the], [James R. Arnold]

• The MCP itself … seems to have been more a figment of the imagination of … the British Special Branch and the right-wing forces in Singapore. Its “ghost” may have lived a much longer and more active life than the real one ever did. While the party … attracted idealistic recruits from Singapore … we may question the extent of its organization and power in Singapore, particularly during … 1952-63. Repeated waves of arrests, banishments and defections between 1948 and 1963 severely limited its ability to launch an effective organization [page 101]
[Singapore: Wealth, Power and the Culture of Control], [Carl A. Trocki]

• In December 1949 the Special Branch obtained the full list of the STC through a planted informer, and conducted a raid on 1 May 1950. Singapore Town Committee Vice Secretary Ah Har and three other committee members were arrested … Later that month, 20 more MCP and ABL members were arrested. Seven months later, on 5 December, because of an alert Special Branch officer, STC Secretary Ah Chin and his assistant, Ho Seng, were caught …the mass arrests caused the near collapse of the MCP’s operations in Singapore [page 61]

• The first thing to realise is that although left-wing and anti-colonial radicalism flourished to unprecedented levels during the first half of the 1950s, the Communist Party itself was diminishing as a controlling force in Singapore over the same period [page 26]
[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-building Project], [Michael D. Barr, Zlatko Skrbiš]

The epicenter of the Cold War was in faraway Berlin, not a good bogeyman for stirring up fear for communism in Singapore. The above evidences show that Singapore had little to fear of China’s communism export. The MCP largely operated in Malaya; hardly in Singapore. The above evidences also show that the Special Branch had all but wiped out communism in Singapore.

‘Moderate’ is not a word you would use to describe someone capable of locking up political opponents for longer than Nelson Mandela had been.

There are two reasons why it is wrong to say that the PAP collaborated with the communists. Lim Chin Siong, the central figure that the PAP supposedly collaborated with was actually a PAP founder. It is oxymoron to refer to a PAP founder as collaborating with the PAP while he was still a PAP central committee cadre. Secondly, declassified British government documents have proven that Lim Chin Siong was never a communist. Even Tan Kah Kee and Tan Lark Sye who were both banished from Singapore for communism have had their names rehabilitated. It is understandable why the British, the Lim Yew Hock and then the PAP governments found it convenient to label the Leftists as communists because it gave them the perfect excuse to lock these trouble makers away for no reason. The Leftists had been so maligned it isn’t surprising that even the Tungku believed they were communists. The fact remains that all of them were detained without trial but if we were to apply the fundamental principle of law today, we ought not to continue labeling them as communists unless we show iron clad proof that they were.

Public housing, public education and public health had already existed before PAP took power. Singapore’s first high rise flats were built by our colonial government. Singapore’s first public school, Raffles Institution was also founded by the British. Singapore hospitals like KK Hospital and Tan Tock Seng have histories that stretch to the early colonial years. Whatever cut backs Reaganomics and Thatcherite ideas recommended still provided far more than Singapore ever did.

Blaming inequality on globalization, while fashionable, is ultimately wrong because globalization has been happening since the 1960s; MNCs have been investing overseas since the 1960s. How can something that has been happening since the 1960s explain our recent inequality? Globalization touched all nations, not just Singapore. How can globalization simultaneously cause inequality in Singapore and hardly cause inequality in the West, particularly Northern and Central Europe?

No matter how fiercely the United States and Britain debates, they are still doing a lot more than what we have been doing.

Malayan merger

If most people had wanted merger with Malaya, why would Lee Kuan Yew set up a false referendum that even included spoilt votes as votes for merger?

The special position of the Malays had already been codified in Article 153 of the Malayan constitution prior to Singapore joining Malaysia. For the purpose of the merger, Article 153 was expanded to include the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak. These, Lee Kuan Yew, a lawyer himself, could not have missed. Having married Singapore into Malaysia with his eyes wide open, to then cry foul of Malay special privilege is simply hypocritical. Mr Lee’s Malaysian Malaysia slogan was nothing than political mileage designed to further his political career in Malaysia. If he had been sincere in fighting for racial equality in Malaysia, he should have done it before the merger, not after the merger, not after agreeing to Article 153.

There was no reason why Singapore could not have existed harmoniously in Malaysia like the Chinese in Malaysia do today. What came sooner than later was Lee Kuan Yew’s challenge for power in Malaysia. The May 13 riots in 1969 were the culmination of the power struggle between Lee and the Tungku.

Language

Sri Lanka’s riots after the 1958 Sinhala Only Act mirrored clashes in Singapore arising out of Chinese language / Chinese education issues [1].

The supposed significance of Lee Kuan Yew’s achievement in making Malay our national language is merely skin deep only for which national language in this world is spoken only by ¼ of its population? The language issue in the 1950s couldn’t merely have been political; it was at its very core a struggle by the Chinese to defend its own language and culture. The decision then wasn’t just to retain English but to expand it as much as possible to crowd out Chinese.

The watershed in our bilingual policy wasn’t 1972 but 1953 when Mr Lee Kong Chian became the first person to propose the bilingual policy, close to 20 years before Lee Kuan Yew did. The conversion of Singapore society to English by 1972 was the result of the harsh culling of the Chinese language by the PAP. Colonial era Singaporeans who communicated by learning one another’s languages were no less united than post 1972 Singaporeans speaking the common English language.

Civility has never been lacking from the dissenting voice. Civility shouldn’t require humoring and fawning should it? Learning to negotiate through differences should not mean acquiescing to the government’s ivory tower view, should it?

Race equality and others are our independence values, not our founding values for Singapore was never founded in 1965 but in 1819. It is not up to the government to unilaterally reinterpret the spirit of our values without the approval of our people.

[1]
• The second issue was the conversion of Chinese middle school structure into an English-medium, multi-ethnic school system and the repeated denial of full government support for the newly established Chinese-medium Nanyang University. When the battle over educational reforms fused with the 1961 internal party split within the PAP …, the campuses of these four tertiary institutions were rocked with protests. Students from these institutions often banded together to launch manifestos, classroom boycotts, hunger strikes and street marches so as to protest against government raids, arrests, expulsions … The post-independence period from 1965 was similarly turbulent as the PAP was determined to follow through with its educational reforms by using the Wang Gungwu Report on Nanyang University … In October and November 1966, hundreds of students again had another serious clash with the police at the Ministry of Education
[The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Pasts, Lysa Hong and Jianli Huang, page 138]

• … in another major student protest, the examination strike of 1961, which was also sparked by the government’s initiative to change the Chinese school system. The examination strikes that took place in 1961 were prompted by changes made to the Chinese school system. Traditionally, the Chinese middle schools followed the so-called “3-3 system” … Lim Yew Hock’s … government announced that … Chinese middle school system would be changed to a four-year system in line with the English school system … this new system was opposed by Chinese educators. One major concern was that Chinese schools would disappear … There were also worries that students who failed the Middle Four examinations would lose two years of education … When the PAP took over … in 1959 … the new government planned to go ahead with the change from the “3-3 system” to the “4-2″ system.” … the new government also announced that, starting in 1962, all students in the Middle Four classes would have to take a general school-leaving examination set by the government before they would be allowed to go on to the next level (pre-university). The implementation of the new policy caused conflict between the PAP government and the Chinese educators and eventually led to the examination strikes by the Chinese students.
[Singapore Chinese Society in Transition: Business, Politics, & Socio-Economic Change, 1945-1965, Liu Hong, page 153]

Be proud S’poreans, you have the courage not to fly the flag

August 6, 2014

I refer to the 5 Aug 2014 Straits Times letter “Be proud S’poreans, fly the flag” by Mr David Tan Kok Kheng.

National pride and political affiliation ought to be separate issues but sadly in real life they are not. On National Day, there will be a PAP and an NTUC contingent on the parade square. Every title, every accolade that the nation wins, the PAP is too eager to claim as theirs. How to separate national pride from political affiliation when political elements permeate all things national?

There are grave national issues at stake at the moment and the people feel betrayed. Flying the national flag means endorsing the policies of this nation which the people are against. The people’s feelings and actions are understandable. No one should be forced to fly the flag when he or she feels betrayed. No one should be accused of not loving the country for making a statement about how he or she feels towards the national agenda. This is the collective show of force by the silent majority.

Why should we be the laughing stock when we display the moral consistency of rejecting the over-flux of foreigners and not flying our flags to show our displeasure? On the contrary, the laughing stock belongs to those who claim to be unhappy with the PAP yet fly the flag to show solidarity with the PAP. Is how other countries view us more important than how we feel about our country? Our country is already divided at the core. No amount of flag flying can change that.

If this continues on Singapore’s 50th Independence Day, Singaporeans can pat themselves on their backs because they would have shown that they have the backbone and the pride to demonstrate in their own small ways what they want for their country.

Singaporeans don’t have to fly our flags to be proud Singaporeans. We can be proud that collectively and silently, we can show the ruling party, the strength of our unity.

This unique episode shows that ultimately it is the people, not the state that can demonstrate national pride. Without the people, national pride is meaningless even if the state were to plant flags everywhere. What better time to demonstrate this than the National Day?

Rebutting TodayOnline letter by Melvyn Chong

August 5, 2014

I refer to the 29 Jul 2014 TodayOnline letter “Open discussion of politics, religion part of becoming developed country” by Mr Melvyn Chong.

Singapore’s initial phase of experience didn’t happen after our independence. It happened after our founding in 1819. After blossoming for more than a hundred years under the guiding hand of our British administrators, Singapore could hardly be called a start-up by the time of our independence.

A start-up neither operates through press control nor through social engineering. Did Google founders Larry Page or Sergey Brin try to control what each other read or tried to engineer each other during Google’s start-up? Did Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen or Apples’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak try to do the same to each other respectively? It is ridiculous to characterize start-ups as operating through press control and social engineering. Start-ups start with few cooks not because they are afraid too many would spoil the broth but because there isn’t much broth to cook at first when customers are few.

It is a perpetual lie that Singapore went from Third World to First in less than 50 years. The truth is that Singapore went from Middle Income status back in 1965 to First.

Social media hasn’t pulled discussion in a different direction. Social media merely provides the truth that has been absent all these years. Would people flock to social media if the newspaper and television had been speaking the truth and speaking for the people all this while?

Positive change cannot help but create disunity when there are those who stubbornly cling on to the negative past.

Who is to say who the trolls, bigots or haters are? Given some of the nonsense that Mr Chong uttered, is he not a troll, bigot or hater himself?

Accepting diversity doesn’t mean accepting the continuous increase in diversity.

Why should our falling birth rate be compensated for by the influx of foreigners? According to Minister Tan Chuan Jin, Singapore’s CPF is supposed to ensure everyone has enough to retire so we need not worry about the aging of our population, we need not compensate for our falling birthrate.

The goodness of diversity cannot be the excuse to continuously import people beyond the point of overcrowding, beyond diminishing returns to diversity. No matter how diverse our people becomes, we still rush for the same trains and bid for the same COEs.

Why should Singapore’s dependence on migrant workers become our debt to them? Do we not pay them wages that are many times better than what they would get back home that is the reason why they come in the first place? Do they not come willingly? Do we not house them in good condition dormitories? Do we not fight for their welfare? The examples of First World nations like Australia and Hong Kong show that if pay is right, if industry practices are right, if social norms are right, there is no reason why Singaporeans cannot take up construction jobs.

In order to look up to the American dream for inspiration, we must first eradiate press control because press control is the ultimate antithesis to the American dream.

The interesting creation of a Singapore identity going beyond race and religion has already been experienced during colonial times. But any supposed Singapore identity that goes beyond nationality should not blur the difference between owners and visitors in Singapore. If visitors are elevated to the same status as owners in Singapore, the Singapore nationality will become worthless and the land of Singapore will cease to be worth defending.

How did 54% become 82%

August 1, 2014

I refer to the 19 Jul 2014 Straits Times reports “Work-life integration: Most happy but ‘more can be done’” and “The love-work imbalance”.

It was reported that local workers are quite satisfied with their work-life integration and that 82% of employees feel they are in control of their work-life arrangement.

But the accompanying ST graphics shows only 54% (42% + 12%) of employees agreeing or strongly agreeing with having the flexibility to integrate work and family life. How does the 54% who can integrate work with life translate to 82% who can control their work-life arrangement?

work life

EA chairman Claire Chiang reportedly said that these findings give the lie to recent polls painting Singaporean workers as miserable and disengaged and instead, show that Singaporeans love to work. Who is giving the lie Madam Chiang when “54% can integrate work-life” ends up becoming “82% can control work-life”?

MP Lim Biow Chuan said the contradiction between 82% who say they are in control of work-life and 84% who feel their personal life could be better if their work-life management is better is a symptom of Singaporean addiction to work. No Mr Lim, it is a symptom of Singaporeans getting caught in the rat race, striving to outdo one another in a winner takes all society. Mr Lim would be pleased to know that the contradiction is actually less because it is not 82% who can control work-life but 54% who can integrate work-life.

Singapore far from being the best place to live in

July 30, 2014

Dear Mr Coclanis,

I refer to your 29 Jul 2014 Straits Times article “S’pore’s no utopia but still a good place to live in”.

The government’s recent expansion or extension of social welfare does not surprise Singaporeans. Singaporeans know that the government is trying its best to win back votes after having suffered the stinging pain of the loss of a GRC back in 2011. All the recent hullabaloos can be traced back to 2011.

Living standard

Singapore’s material, social well being and living standard are well below that suggested by our high per capita GDP because:

• Our wage share of GDP is lower than most Western nations
• If foreigners and foreign owned multinationals are excluded, our remaining indigenous per capita GDP (GDP of locals) is much lower
• For the same GDP, we are putting in far longer hours
• Most international indexes place Singapore amongst the highest cost of living. For the same per capita GDP, higher cost of living means lower standard of living

This is illustrated in the Economist article “http://www.economist.com/node/17079148” which shows our relatively low standard of living compared to Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Sweden despite our better or similar per capita GDP.

economist

First problem with Economist Where-to-be-born index

Anyone who thinks that the Economist Where-to-be-born index tells us the actual quality of life in a country will be sorely mistaken. It does not. Instead, the Index tells us what the quality of life for that country should be based on regression. The problem with any regression is that the actual data points hardly ever fall on the regression line, so for practically all countries, the actual quality of life will deviate from what the Economist deems it should be.

• The life satisfaction scores for 2006 (on scale of 1 to 10) for 130 countries (from the Gallup Poll) are related in a multivariate regression to various factors. As many as 11 indicators are statistically significant. Together these indicators explain some 85% of the inter-country variation in life satisfaction scores. The values of the life satisfaction scores that are predicted by our indicators represent a country’s quality of life index. The coefficients in the estimated equation weight automatically the importance of the various factors. We can utilise the estimated equation for 2006 to calculate index values for year in the past and future, allowing for comparison over time as well across countries.
[The Economist International, The lottery of life methodology - How we calculated life satisfaction, 21 Nov 2012, http://www.economist.com/news/21567049-how-we-calculated-life-satisfaction-lottery-life-methodology%5D

Below is an example of a regression between life satisfaction and per capita GDP (Income, Health, and Well-Being around the World: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll, Dr Angus Deaton, page 4). Clearly, most data points don’t fall on the regression line. Take Russia for example, the regression line predicts that for Russia’s per capita GDP, it should be experiencing a life satisfaction score close to 6 (dotted line), but in fact, Russia’s life satisfaction score is only about 5.

regression

Coming back to Singapore, the strength of our underlying indicators leads the Economist to predict that we should be experiencing a high life satisfaction score of 8.0 that should put us in world No. 6 position. But in reality, our life satisfaction score is far worse than 8.0. Anyone impressed with our No. 6 position is merely being impressed with the high hopes the Economist have for us, not the reality that we experience daily which the Economist isn’t telling.

The reality is that Singapore is ranked:

• 33rd by United Nations World Happiness
• 36th out of 129 countries in the Gallup World Poll (2007 – 2010) which asked people how satisfied they are with their lives as a whole
• 37th in the World Values Survey which asked similar questions on life satisfaction
• 109th out of 148 countries in the Gallup World Poll (2008 – 2011) which asked people how happy they were the day before
• 97th out of 156 countries in the Gallup World Poll (2005 – 2011) which asked about joy and laughter the day before
[Straits Times, Why Singaporeans are the happiest in the region, 17 May 2012]

The reality is that Singapore scored:

• 6.6 out of 10 and ranked 33 out of 156 countries for the question “How would you rate your life, on a scale of zero (worst possible life) to 10 (best possible)?” in the Gallup World Poll (2005 to 20011)

• 6.8 out of 10 and ranked 36 out of 129 countries for the question “On a scale of zero (least satisfied) to 10 (most satisfied), how satisfied are you with your life as a whole?” in the Gallup World Poll (2007 to 2010)

• 6 out of 10 and ranked 109 out of 148 countries for the question “On a zero to 10 scale, how happy were you yesterday?” in the Gallup World Poll (2008 to 2011)

[Straits Times, How Singapore Scored, 17 May 2012]

Second problem with Economist Where-to-be-born index

According to the Economist, the indicator with the biggest weightage – the GDP is not the prevailing GDP but the forecasted one in 2030. After all, it is a Where-to-be-born index not a Where-to-be-now index.

• Being rich helps more than anything else

• A forward-looking element comes into play, too. Although many of the drivers of the quality of life are slow-changing, for this ranking some variables, such as income per head, need to be forecast. We use the EIU’s economic forecasts to 2030, which is roughly when children born in 2013 will reach adulthood.
[The Economist International, The lottery of life - Where to be born in 2013, 21 Nov 2012, http://www.economist.com/news/21566430-where-be-born-2013-lottery-life%5D

Since the Where-to-be-born index essentially predicts the future, we need to ask ourselves how good the Economist has been in making such predictions. Turns out the Economist also had a Where-to-be-born list back in 1988 and by comparing the two lists (http://www.businessinsider.com/wond-economist-where-to-be-born-index-2013-1?IR=T&), it is not hard to see that the predictions have been quite far off the mark.

Alternatives to Economist Where-to-be-born index

For these reasons, the Where-to-be-born index cannot be the closest thing to a Rawlsian index when other quality of life or life satisfaction indexes exist that are based on actual, real data.

• World Happiness Report 2013, Singapore ranked 30th in happiness with score of 6.546
• Happy Planet Index 2012, Singapore ranked 90th with an index of 39.8
• Mercer Quality of Living Index 2012, Singapore ranked 25th
• EIU Best City 2012, Singapore ranked 22nd
• International Living Quality of Life Index 2011, Singapore ranked 93rd in Quality of Life final score
• Gallup Global Wellbeing study 2010, Singapore recorded a miserable 19% thriving compared to 31% to 82% for Western countries
• Satisfaction with Life Index 2006, Singapore ranked 53rd with a score of 230

When so many international indexes put Singapore in a mediocre position for quality of living, life satisfaction or happiness it is hard to see how Singapore has acquitted itself well when judged by Rawlsian criteria.

Others

The supposed hallmark of Singapore moving quickly to recalibrate public policy has been for the worse, not for the better when it comes to individual rights and personal liberties. It is now against the law to walk in a group of five, so five friends in Singapore cannot walk together in public without risking being hauled to jail. That’s how bad we have become. Singapore continues to languish near the bottom of press freedom and democracy index year in year out.

Don’t make a habit out of aping our government in blaming citizens for our brain drain problem. Singaporeans are not so unrealistic that they cannot embrace or enjoy the lives many have led since happily moving on to Western countries.

Judging by the rankings in the numerous alternatives to the Where-to-be-born index, there are plenty of places preferable to Singapore one can land at. While Singapore is a good place to live in, it is far from being the best.


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