Substance, not style, directs S’pore policy

Dear Mr Teo,

I refer to the 6 Apr 2010 Straits Times report of your speech at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum.

You said that Singapore politics, as observed by Bryan Caplan, is in a nutshell, about implementing programmes based on merits, not on polls. Until recently, HDB upgrading has always been tied to voting so this is one obvious programme that was tied to polls, not merits. Quite often, flats will be painted and government goodies given out just before elections which are again evidences of programmes being based on polls rather than merits.

Many policies that are supposedly detrimental to polls are in fact not so detrimental after all. Take high flat prices for example. High flat price is unpopular only to buyers whose numbers are dwarfed by the number of flat owners who don’t mind prices going up. So based on numbers, the policy of maintaining high flat prices favours the polls more than it hurts it. So we can’t say that this is a policy that was implemented with no due consideration to polls.

So unless you can show us that by and large policies were continued despite severe detrmental impacts on poll results, you have no basis to say that policies were implemented with no due consideration on polls.

Even when it comes to congestion pricing, only about 20% of Singapore voters drive compared to about 90% in the US. Thus, the political impact of congestion pricing is much smaller for our politicians than for politicians in the US. Thus, it is not necessarily true that we are operating on different modes of ‘pragmatism’ because the same pragmatism would dictate that congestion pricing is much more tolerable here and much less tolerable in the US. Thus, there is no evidence that our government’s “brand of pragmatism” is any different from that of the US.

You urge Singaporeans to accept MM Lee because “he’s like that”. Similarly, you should also urge Singaporeans to accept Chee Soon Juan because “he’s like that”.

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