Foreigners are not why we don’t do well

Dear editor,

I refer to the letter by Mr Eric Brooks dated 8 Jul 2010. He claims that many Singaporeans think of themselves as Chinese, Indian or Malay first, Singaporean second. He claims that Singaporeans feel more comfortable speaking to someone of their own race. These are largely unsubstantiated, sweeping statements. Local Indians have expressed unhappiness at foreign Indians of higher caste bossing them around. On the other hand, Singaporeans of all races have celebrated the successes of Fandi Ahmad and Ang Peng Siong because they feel for Singapore rather than for individual races.

Mr Brooks claims that America welcomes people from different countries with tolerance. But he fails to mention that racism is still rife there and probably much worse than it is here. He used his own personal experiences of cleaning toilets and working at supermarkets during his teenage years to support his claim that foreigners bring the advantage of seeing humble work as dignity rather than humiliation. However, his experiences are probably unique only to America or the Western nations and are not representative of those from mainland China, India or Malaysia where the bulk of our foreign workers come from. Where the bulk of our foreign workers come from, the shunning of humble jobs is probably more or less the same. The only difference is that the same humble jobs pay a lot more here than it does back in the foreign workers’ home countries.

Mr Brooks claims that there is no competition between Singaporeans who wouldn’t get their hands dirty versus foreigners who would. But the American teenagers who would wash toilets aren’t the Americans coming here to find work. The Americans here are not here to wash toilets or to get their hands ‘dirty’. Those who come to wash toilets are probably from poorer countries and are certainly not teenagers. They compete directly with older, less educated Singaporeans even for jobs that require getting their hands dirty.

Mr Brooks claims that foreigners must be disciplined in order to pay household bills as though Singaporeans need not. It is common knowledge that America is a nation that lives on credit and that the people collectively owe more debt than any other country in the world. Singapore on the other hand is a country rooted in Confucian ethics and thrift is a virtue that remains important. As such, while there is no denying that there will be some young Singaporeans who splurge on Louis Vuitton bags, on the whole, there is no evidence that Singaporeans splurge any more than their American counterparts do. In fact, consumption as a percentage of GDP is so much higher for the US than it is for Singapore.

As far as personal responsibility is concerned, Singapore being a notoriously non-welfare state is streets ahead of Mr Brooks’ America. Therefore, while championing personal responsibility, it would be good if Mr Brooks looks at his own country first.

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