Archive for December, 2010

There’s more to adding up economic benefits of F1 event

December 28, 2010

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 25 Dec 2010 letter by Singapore Tourism Board’s Mr Justin Chew.

According to Mr Chew, deducting costs from tourism receipts will not accurately reflect an event’s impact. But will trumpeting tourism receipts without accounting for costs be more accurate?

According to Mr Chew too, comparing visitor numbers against those of the entire year’s will also not be accurate. But without doing so, how would we know if the visitor numbers are not due to favourable conditions exhibited throughout this year rather than to one event alone?

It would be good if Mr Chew can quantify the economic benefits for events management, transportation, logistics and food and beverage companies. In the context of Singapore’s overall development, how significant are these compared to the billion dollar sizes of these industries? For job creation, F1 being a once-a-year event will mostly generate temporary jobs only.

The great majority of Singaporeans only got to watch the F1 on TV so the supposedly unique downtown experience is nothing more than watching another F1 race on TV which hardly makes for a more attractive city to live, work and play.

The Singapore Tourism Board can conduct a survey to find out how many people know of Hockenheim. The city is part of the F1 circuit yet not many people know it despite 195 million international viewers watching its races. We should therefore take care not to overstate the publicity value of F1’s global coverage.

In the context of Singapore’s overall development, F1’s impact is limited and should not be overstated.

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A happy nation of grumblers

December 20, 2010

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 16 Dec 2010 article by Mr Jeremy Au Yong.

Mr Au Yong points out that the claim by Mr Buettner of Singapore being one of the happiest in the world is based on comprehensive polls and studies over seven decades by Gallup, the World Values Survey and the World Database on Happiness. That unfortunately, is not true. The Gallup Global Survey, the World Database on Happiness and the World Values Survey began in 2005, 2000 and 1990 respectively, not over seven decades.

Furthemore, the conclusions from the three surveys are not unanimous, with Singapore’s ranking varying from as low as 94th out of 154 countries in one Gallup survey to 7th out of 103 countries in the World Values Survey. It’s hard to imagine how Mr Buettner could have come to the conclusion that Singapore is one of the happiest when three of the four rankings he has chosen to use indicated otherwise.

It wasn’t just the World Database of Happiness that put the United Arab Emirates (UAE) above Singapore in terms of happiness. The Gallup study also put the UAE above Singapore. You must really scratch your head and wonder how did Mr Buettner decide Singapore to be first when most of the studies placed the UAE above Singapore.

As far as the World Database of Happiness is concerned, the first place is without question, the UAE. The question is whether Singapore came in second. That depends on whether you classify Israel and Cyprus as Asian or European which is in itself quite debatable.

Things like tolerance, good housing, healthcare and social mobility are commonly available in most first world cities. Furthermore, good but unaffordable housing like in Singapore makes people frown not smile. I wouldn’t consider trust in government as being important for happiness. If we can be happy simply by trusting our government, then we might as well all be North Koreans.

How can a fair and unbiased picture of how the nation as a whole thinks or feels be captured in a poll of just you alone? How do you prove that you are not biased? If you are unable to, then wouldn’t all the theory you have sprouted on the basis of your own opinion amount to nothing more than crap? Shouldn’t that be the stuff of tabloid newspapers? Since when has the Straits Times gone tabloid?

Seven ways to happiness

December 20, 2010

Dear Mr Dan Buettner,

I refer to the 7 Dec 2010 Straits Times report of your seven tips to happiness.

Tip No.1: Sleep between 7.5 to 8.5 hours every night

According to the 7 Mar 2005 ACNielsen report “Sleepless in Asia: 40% of Asia Pacific Consumers; One in Two Singaporeans Awake Past Midnight”, 59% of Singaporeans get only 6 to 7 hours of sleep every night. If the ACNielsen report is to be believed, most Singaporeans fail to achieve your first tip to happiness.

Tip No. 2: Work 37 hours a week and have at least 6 weeks of holiday each year

According to a Jan 2010 International Labour Organisation report, Singaporeans worked 45.9 hours a week in 2008 and 46.3 hours a week in 2007 and is said to have worked the longest amongst the thirteen economies surveyed. Singaporeans typically get between 3.5 weeks to 4.5 weeks of holiday each year. On both accounts, Singaporeans fail to achieve your second tip to happiness.

Tip No. 3: Take a plant-based breakfast

There is no survey conducted specifically for breakfast but a 2005 ACNielsen survey finds Singaporeans health conscious when it comes to food. Nevertheless, the survey also found 60%, 57% and 52% of Singaporeans preferring steamed, fried and boiled food respectively. Singaporeans have a taste for both healthy and unhealthy food.

Tip No. 4: Exercise for half an hour at least every day

According to the same 2005 ACNielsen survey, 33% of Singaporeans rarely or never exercise, 58% exercise at least once a week, 22% exercise 2-3 times a week, 18% exercise more than three times a week. Only 20% of those aged between 15-24 and between 50-65 exercise daily. Most Singaporeans fail to achieve your fourth tip to happiness.

Tip No. 5: Volunteer more

According to the World Giving Index 2010, only 10% of Singaporeans volunteered time. Of the 153 countries surveyed, only 23 have volunteered less. Singaporeans score badly for your fifth tip to happiness.

Tip No. 6: Socialise at least six hours a day

Given the amount of time Singaporeans spend at work, it would be difficult for us to socialise six hours a day unless you consider working to be a form of socialising.

Tip No. 7: Strive for an annual income of US$75,000 (S$98,000) for a family of four

An annual income of S$98,000 for four is equivalent to:
– an annual income of $24,500 for one or
– a monthly income of $2,042 for one

According to the Feb 2010 Singapore Department of Statistics report “Key Household Income Trends, 2009”, the 51st to 60th decile of employed households earn an average $1,739 per household member per month. In other words, 60% of employed households made less than your recommended income. This is not including the 9.6% of households without any sort of income. Thus, most Singaporeans fail to achieve your seventh tip to happiness.

Singaporeans failed to achieve most of your seven tips to happiness. Yet Singapore has emerged the happiest place in Asia. Isn’t that ironic? Surely something must be wrong unless Asia happens to be a continent full of unhappy souls.

Singapore is ‘happiest place in Asia’

December 17, 2010

Dear Mr Dan Buettner,

I refer to the 5 Dec 2010 Straits Times report of your latest book which features Singapore as the happiest place in Asia.

You said Gallup, the World Values Survey and the World Database on Happiness are the three most authoritative and authentic happiness indices and that all three pointed to Singapore as the happiest place in Asia. Your latter statement unfortunately, is not true. Referring to data from all three happiness surveys shown in part in the table below:

Singapore is ranked:
– 21th out of 44 Asian countries in the Gallup ‘Daily Experience’ index
– joint 16th out of 44 Asian countries in the Gallup ‘Percentage Thriving’ index
– 4th out of 41 Asian countries in the World Database on Happiness index
– 1st out of 25 Asian countries in the World Values index

Thus, Singapore is first in Asia for only one of four indices in your chosen surveys. The fact that Singapore’s ranking can vary from as low as 21st out of 44 countries in one index to as high as 1st in another goes to show that there is no consistent evidence supporting the claim that Singapore is Asia’s happiest.

Furthermore, since the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is ranked higher than Singapore in three of the four indices, the title of the happiest place in Asia should belong to UAE, not Singapore. Incidentally, the only index which Singapore topped is the one which omitted the UAE. That index, the World Values Index also happens to feature the least number of countries, only 25 compared to 41 and 44 countries respectively in the other two surveys. The much smaller coverage of countries by the World Values Index limits its validity as a comparator across Asia.

Also, Kuwait and Thailand have done better than Singapore in two of the four indices and countries like Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia have rankings that are comparable to Singapore’s. To single out Singapore when it is just one of many similarly ranked countries in Asia would be to paint a false picture where only one Garden of Eden exists when in reality, many comparable gardens co-exist. Furthermore, being top in Asia is meaningless when Asia as a whole lags behind other regions like the Western nations.

Our high home ownership is merely superficial in nature. About 50% of home owners are still in debt and have therefore not fully owned their homes. Even if they fully own their homes, their supposed homes are 99 year leasehold apartments that must be returned to the government at the end of the lease. So technically, home owners are merely holding on to their apartments for 99 years, they do not really own them. Moreover, sky high property prices means that the cost of home ownership is exorbitant and damages our financial security instead.

If all that matters are basic happiness prerequisites like decent food, basic shelter, adequate health care and mobility, then we might as well all be pet dogs. Tolerance, equality, security, trust, recreation, financial security, green spaces despite high population density and safe streets for women are commonly available in many first world cities and countries including Hong Kong and Japan.

Making two four-week trips to Singapore merely qualifies you to a tourist’s view of Singapore. Have you ever experienced property prices climbing rapidly out of your reach within a short span of just two, three years? You pay comfortable housing prices in Minneapolis, what can you possibly know of the sufferings we Singaporeans bear?

Most of the people you interviewed are rich and successful people. How can you have a balanced view if you don’t interview more of our poor and unhappy? Focusing on finding happy people merely accentuates your bias towards Singapore being happy.

The supposed policies that made Singapore happy are policies proposed by Dr Albert Winsemius, the Dutch economist sent by the United Nations in the 1950s to help Singapore industrialise. Thus, if there ever was a happiness architect for us, it would have been Dr Winsemius, not MM Lee. While MM Lee was a major player, the most important contributions came from everyone else but him.

You are impressed by a man who is good at impressing people. But impressions can be deceiving. Would a man of integrity lock people up for no good reason for thirty years? Be careful who you worship for you might end up worshipping Stalin or Kim Jong II instead. No one else has done a better job at manufacturing the myth of government led happiness. The manufactured happiness you refer to is the kind that the North Koreans are good at churning out. It requires dedicated propaganda through media manipulation aimed at convincing the people that they are living in utopia. There is a lot you need to read apart from state sponsored texts to get a truer sense of how Singapore prospered. If happiness is simply a matter of government policy, wouldn’t it be easy for governments all over the world to simply copy policies that are so well documented? Clearly, happiness is not just about government policies. Happiness, at its most fundamental, is the achievement of goals and dreams by citizens given the freedom to do so.

Perhaps the simplest indicator of how happy a place is, is its rate of emigration. If so many Singaporeans are opting out from this place, how happy can we be?

Tourism receipts a better indicator than visitor arrivals

December 12, 2010

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 9 Dec 2010 Straits Times letter by the Singapore Tourism Board’s Mr Leong Yue Kheong.

While visitor arrival growth is driven by many factors, we must take care to differentiate those factors which are important from those which are not so that we do not end up trumpeting factors that do not have any real material effect on tourist numbers.

According to the STB, the 2008 F1 attracted 40,000 foreign visitors while the 2009 F1 attracted 27,000 foreign visitors. These represent 0.4% and 0.27% of the visitor numbers in 2008 and 2009 respectively. There is thus no evidence that the F1 has significantly boosted tourist numbers. Why do the authorities insist on trumpeting events like the F1 or the Youth Olympics as having fuelled rise in visitor numbers when there is no evidence to support such a claim?

The combined tourism receipt of $265 million coming from the 2008 and 2009 editions of the F1 should be compared with the cost of staging the event. According to the 19 Oct 2010 Business Times report “F1 engines will roar here at least till 2014”, the annual cost of staging the F1 is $150 million. We thus paid $300 million staging the 2008 and 2009 editions of the F1 which exceeds the tourism receipt of $265 million and therefore lost money staging the F1. We must not forget to count the costs while using tourism receipt as an indicator.

Household net wealth at all-time high

December 5, 2010

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to your report on Singaporeans’ all time high net household wealth of $1.16 trillion in the third quarter of this year due largely to the 21% increase in property value from $537 billion last year to $651 billion this year.

The increase in property value also means an increase in property price for future buyers so that the gain by one generation becomes a liability for the next generation. As property price shoots up, future generations will have to pay more for their houses which reduces their disposable income and living standard.

The sharp increase in asset values can only be maintained if we continue to mass import foreigners to sustain demand over supply. However, our small, finite space does not allow us to continue to do this indefinitely. At some point in time, we must control the numbers being imported so that supply can catch up with demand. When that happens, property prices may come down along with our property wealth. In other words, we don’t know how much of our property value is real and how much is froth. Only time can tell.

S’poreans to gain from strong Govt revenue

December 5, 2010

Dear PM Lee,

I refer to the 29 Nov 2010 Straits Times report of your speech at the NUS University Cultural Centre.

You pledged a lot to improve the lives of the people. But your pledge seems to come only once every five years. Why should we vote for you rather than for someone who will work to improve our lives at all times?

You said it was far better to face ‘problems of success’ than problems of unemployment and lack of confidence in the economy to justify your grow-at-all-costs strategy. However, if we had grown at an optimal pace rather than at all costs, we would still have enjoyed success but we wouldn’t have had the ‘problems of success’ that are actually problems of over-stretching ourselves.

While it is true that Singapore was hit by the global financial crisis two years ago, it doesn’t mean that growing-at-costs was the only way for us to climb out of the crisis. In fact, there is nothing we could have done that would have mattered had the US not turned the crisis around eventually.

You said there is no shortage of funds like housing grants to help the needy. Of course there is no shortage of funds. The price of HDB flats have increased by $100,000 across the board. Your ministry is making more money from the people than the $40,000 it is dishing out to the people. So of course there is no shortage of funds.

You have pledged to keep public housing affordable. But your concept of affordable is different from those of the people. Your concept of affordable is for the people to pay ever higher prices that are shooting through the roof. Our concept of affordable is stable prices that do not outstrip salary increases.

Govt to keep boosting social safety net: PM

December 5, 2010

Dear PM Lee,

I refer to the 3 Dec 2010 Straits Times report of your remarks on Singapore’s social safety net.

You said America is more self-reliant and therefore more dynamic and competitive whereas Europe has more welfare but less growth and has been living beyond its means. But according to the 2010 Global Competitiveness Index, the two most competitive economies in the world are the European countries of Switzerland and Sweden. Both are deemed to be more competitive than America. Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Denmark and the UK have competitiveness scores very close to that of America’s too. So many European countries have similar or better competitiveness scores compared to America, there is no reason to believe that America is significantly more competitive.

Also, the annualised growth rates of Europe and America over the last thirty years are similar too. There were times when Europe outgrew America, and times when America outgrew Europe. But there is no evidence that American growth has been significantly higher than those of Europe’s. There is no truth to the saying that welfare has slowed Europe or caused it to be less competitive than America.

The global financial crisis wasn’t just a judgement day for Europe, it was also a judgement day for the rest of the world as well which despite having witnessed the bursting of Japan’s property bubble twenty years ago as well as those of Thailand’s during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, never learnt their lesson and continued to allow property prices to shoot up without concern. Singapore too has been guilty of the same mistake.

You said we in Asia are different from Europe because we depend on talent, energies and drive of our people as though Europe doesn’t. SAP, Nokia, Ikea, Bayer, Volkswagen are all products of European talent, energies and drive.

Contrary to what you have said, home ownership does not necessarily help people to save for old age. The high price people have to pay for their houses means they can only save less for old age.

You said social security includes Medisave, Medishield and our flat. But these are paid for by ourselves. They belong to us, not to society. They therefore cannot be considered social security. Because if you consider that which belong to us as part of social security, then you might as well consider our bank savings as social security.