Archive for July, 2012

Orchard Road anti-flood measures to meet future needs

July 29, 2012

Dear Dr Balakrishnan,

I refer to the 23 Jul 2012 Straits Times report of your comments on Orchard Road flood prevention measures. You said those were long-term measures, planned decades ahead and that we always have a long-term view of things.

If we planned decades ahead and viewed things in the long-term, how come we were caught flat footed in 2010 and 2011? In between plans that supposedly last a few decades, do we operate on auto-pilot mode?

It was also reported that the expert panel found that our rainfall has increased by about 30% over the past four decades.

The following annual rainfall data was obtained from the government website [1].

1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969
1563 1812 2287 1819 2826 1853 2480 2910 2077 2289
1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
2277 1608 1807 2956 2066 1925 2167 1775 2766 2168
1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
2326 1463 1582 1994 2687 1484 2536 2103 2599 2463
1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
1524 1877 2261 2169 1942 2333 2418 1119 2623 2134
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
2371 2783 1749 2391 2136 1931 2753 2886 2325 1921
2010 2011
2075 2524

It shows that we have five decades of rainfall data but the expert panel only used four. Plotting the data on a graph below:

We see that rainfall has been fluctuating up and down over the last 52 years. If our period of consideration started on a trough year and ended on a peak year, we would more likely conclude that rainfall has increased. But if our period of consideration started on a peak year and ended on a trough year, we would more likely conclude that rainfall has decreased instead. Since our conclusion depends very much on which years we choose to compare, comparing actual rainfall between years is not a satisfactory way of deciding how much rainfall has increased or decreased over time.

Referring to the graph above, we should instead consider the trendline over the entire period which shows a 3.4 mm increase each year or an 11% increase over 52 years, far less than the reported 30% increase over four decades. This 3.4 mm increase per year is gradual and doesn’t explain why Orchard Road was suddenly innundated by floods in 2010 and not during the previous peak in 2007. More importantly, the p-value of this 3.4 mm yearly increase is 0.4. In other words, there is 40% chance that this 3.4 mm increase per year is just a random result. In other words, the result is too highly uncertain for us to be reasonably confident to conclude that rainfall has increased over the last four decades, let alone increased by 30%.

Please correct the expert panel and also inform all Singaporeans of their mistaken conclusion that continues to be propagated till this day.

[1] http://data.gov.sg/

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Counter-counter-rebutt to foreign commodity trader

July 26, 2012

Dear CommTrader,

I refer to your 25 Jul 2012 reply to my rebuttal.

Please do not dismiss people as not having read your article in detail simply because their comments are not to your liking.

You condemned me for using outdated statistics. Yet in your point no. 2, you also used outdated statistics when referring to Singapore’s per capita GDP in 2004 and 2008. Why shout so loud about using outdated statistics only to use it yourself in the end? Furthermore, your reference [2] which supposedly shows the latest GDP figures have the words “est” attached to them. “est” means estimates. What is the point of using the latest figures when they are only estimates? It is therefore not wrong to use 2010 figures if 2011 figures are only estimates.

You claimed I have used outdated statistics throughout my rebuttal. That is not true:
• 2010 is the latest year in the World Governance Indicator data, nothing outdated
• World Bank’s 2010 GDP per employed person and PWT’s 2009 GDP per person counted in total employment are also the latest available
• World Bank’s 2010 per capita GDP is one year before the latest available from World Bank. To compare GDP per employed person with per capita GDP, the same year has to be used, hence 2010 is used. In any case, it doesn’t make much of a difference to Singapore’s ranking – 12th instead of 13th.
• World Bank’s latest unemployment figures for 2010 are not complete for the countries compared. To be fair to all countries, figures up to 2009 are used which are complete.

Thus, it is not that time stopped at 2010 for me but much of the data from World Bank is up to 2010.

The law of average is one of the laws of nature, nothing wrong with following nature. Averaging helps smoothens out year to year fluctuations and gives a better reflection of the truth. Take unemployment for example. If the latest year was the SARS year of 2003, the latest unemployment figure would take a beating, if the latest year were the boom year of 2010, the latest unemployment figure would be better than usual. It is therefore better to average out unemployment over several years to avoid a particularly good or bad year skewing the picture away from the norm. This is infinitely better than simply choosing the better years to highlight while ignoring the not so good years as you have done in your point no. 2 when you chose to only highlight the better years of 2004 and 2008.

Your article quite obviously propagated Singapore as No. 1 or utopia. If that weren’t the case, why did you choose to compare per capita GDP based on purchasing power parity that makes Singapore look good? Why not compare per capita GDP unadjusted for purchasing power parity or GDP per employed person instead? Why did you select only three other nations to compare unemployment? Why not consider all First World nations to see where Singapore stands? Choosing only nations that support your case while ignoring other nations makes your comparative study inadequate, meaningless and lacking in scruple.

1. You only showed those categories in the World Justice Project where Singapore did well. What about the numerous other categories where Singapore fared poorly? Out of 23 high income nations in the World Justice Project, Singapore is ranked:

• 23rd for ‘official information is available to the public’
• 23rd for ‘the right to privacy is effectively guaranteed’
• 23rd for ‘people can access and afford legal advice and representation’
• 22nd for ‘freedom of assembly and association is effectively guaranteed’
• 22nd for ‘fundamental rights’
• 22nd for ‘freedom of opinion and expression is effectively guaranteed’
• 22nd for ‘government powers are effectively limited by non-government checks’
• 22nd for ‘the right of petition and public participation is effectively guaranteed’
• 21st for ‘people can access and afford civil courts’
• 21st for ‘civil justice is free of improper government influence’
• 20th for ‘the Government does not expropriate property without adequate compensation’
• 20th for ‘the criminal justice system is free of improper government influence’
• 20th for ‘transfers power in accordance with the law’
• 19th for ‘government powers are effectively limited by legislature’
• 17th for ‘government powers are effectively limited by judiciary’
• 17th for ‘open government’

Providing security isn’t the same as rule of law. Top ten can mean No. 10 which is quite far from the top and so quite far from perfection, ideal and utopia. 4th ranking in corruption and 5th ranking in criminal justice system are also some distance away from perfection, ideal and utopia. Best in the region means nothing since the region comprises mostly Third World countries. Criminal justice is just one component of rule of law. Therefore ranking 5th in criminal justice doesn’t mean ranking 5th in rule of law. To get the overall rule of law performance from the World Justice Project, you have to aggregate all the indicators, good and bad. If we do that, Singapore ranks 13th out of 23 high income nations, not too far from the 16th given by World Bank’s World Governance indicators:

Country World Justice Project overall rule of law score
Sweden 7
Norway 6.92
New Zealand 6.86
Netherlands 6.58
Germany 6.43
Japan 6.43
Austria 6.42
Australia 6.36
United Kingdom 6.29
Hong Kong 6.27
Estonia 6.26
Canada 6.25
Singapore 6.01
Belgium 5.98
France 5.88
United States 5.84
United Arab Emirates 5.68
Spain 5.66
South Korea 5.66
Poland 5.57
Czech Republic 5.48
Italy 5.09
Croatia 4.6

2. The per capita GDP in your reference [2] is based on purchasing power parity. As explained in my previous write up, Singapore’s per capita GDP gets bumped because of purchasing power parity. But purchasing power parity itself is dubious considering how it goes against what we know of lower prices in the US compared to Singapore. No discredit to World Bank because World Bank shows the same good standing for Singapore’s per capita GDP based on purchasing power parity. It is only because of purchasing power parity that Singapore is top five. Without purchasing power parity Singapore’s position becomes much less impressive.

3. It is not I who am applying the law of averages; all statistics agencies like World Bank and IMF apply the law of averages when they calculate purchasing power parity. Purchasing power parity compares the average cost of goods between countries. Note: it is between countries, not between cities. Neither World Bank nor IMF has a list of purchasing power parity for New York or New Jersey. They only have a single purchasing power parity figure for USA. Even your reference [2] refers to per capita GDP based on a single purchasing power parity figure for the entire nation. Since purchasing power parity is for the whole nation, it is therefore not wrong and not biased to compare Singapore real estate with that of the whole of America. In fact, it is the only right thing to do.

Since you’re into Mercer indices, you should consider Mercer’s Cost of Living 2012 ranking. Singapore is ranked the 8th costliest city in the world. No American city, not even New York is costlier than Singapore. Yet, purchasing power parity regards Singapore as cheaper than the US. Or you can consider EIU cost of living survey 2011 which puts Singapore as the 10th most expensive city in the world, more expensive than New York and all other US cities.

Even if we were to consider New York, prices aren’t high compared to Singapore. Your reference [3] shows average New York condominium as $789,000 for one-to-three family dwellings. A simple two-bed room condominium in our suburbs easily cost $800,000. Even HDB executive condominiums cost that much now. So the prices are comparable despite our salaries being so much lower than New York’s. If you insist on comparing city to city, we can refer to the UBS Price and Earnings report which puts Singapore in an even worse light. New York rentals are generally not higher than our condominium rentals.

4. The family of four has two out of four persons or 50% of the people working. The house of six has four out of six or 67% of the people working. By importing more workers, the percentage of working to total population increases. This naturally increases per capita GDP without increasing per capita GDP of citizens.

5. Why go through all the trouble to get readers to refer to your supposedly latest World Bank 2012 statistics in GDP per employed person (your reference [5]) when it is in fact the exact same one as the one I used? The latest GDP per employed person from World Bank is for the year 2010 whether downloaded by you or by me. World Bank 2012, using the year 2010, indeed ranks Singapore as 20th in GDP per employed person, not 5th as you have falsely claimed. Also, since we are talking about GDP per employed person in 2010, it is not the average over a few years which you have falsely claimed again.

6. 43% of our 2010 GDP is attributed to foreigners and foreign companies (Singapore Statistics Yearbook 2011). If 43% is not a large chunk, then what is a large chunk? All foreigners contribute taxes doesn’t change the fact that 43% is a large chunk.

7. Although home ownership always includes mortgaged properties, mortgage periods are different for different countries because property prices are different for different countries. So in the case of USA where property prices are much lower, it will be easier for mortgages to be paid up in full and hence 100% home ownership is easier for them than us.

For some Singaporeans, because retirement funds are used to fund property purchase, the day they pay up their house can also be the day they sell their house for retirement funds so in the end, these people never really owned their homes.

8. While Indonesians can modernize with Chinese help and threaten our port, until that happens, our port continues to be our vital natural resource. Also, since you’re talking about Singapore’s success today, you have to ask yourself could Singapore have become what it is today if it weren’t situated at the choke point between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Hasn’t our location been a critical ingredient to our progress and prosperity?

9. Just because the Singapore government doesn’t go as far as China or North Korea in curtailing freedom it is therefore not a dictatorship? That is like saying Zimbabwe is not as poor as Congo therefore Zimbabwe is not poor. 136 in press freedom is a long way to go to the top. It is far from perfect, ideal and utopian.

10. If you count the age of a country from the time it started governing itself, then Hong Kong will forever remain 0 years old because Hong Kong will never govern itself unless it achieves independence. But Hong Kong’s birth as a trading port city is clearly in 1842. When China was conquered by the Mongols or the Manchus, they ceased to govern themselves for those few hundred years. Do we deduct those years from China’s age? But the Chinese have come to accept those years under Mongol and Manchu rule as part of their history, part of their existence as China. Britain too was conquered and ruled by the Angles and Saxons from the fifth century AD and was later conquered again by the Normans. So technically, from the perspective of the original British people, they have ceased to govern themselves since the fifth century AD. So Britain hasn’t aged since the fifth century AD? The British today regard the Anglo Saxon and Norman conquests as part of their heritage, part of their history, part of their nationhood. Similarly, our years under British rule are also part of our history, part of our heritage, part of our existence as Singapore.

You didn’t apply my logic correctly, that’s why you ended up with a ridiculous conclusion. If homo sapiens reached Southeast Asia and still called themselves homo sapiens rather than created a unique set of identity for themselves, there would not be a Southeast Asia that is distinct from the rest of the world. If human populations all over the world had continued to identify themselves first and foremost as homo sapiens without establishing any unique identity, we would be a planet of homo sapiens with no separate countries, populations, civilisations and cultures. It is because our pioneers who came from far and wide started cultivating a unique set of identity since 1819 that we have become what we are today, a unique place called Singapore. The people that we call Singaporeans didn’t suddenly acquire that set of special characteristics in 1959. Singaporeans in 1958 were hardly any different from Singaporeans in 1959. The identity that is Singaporean isn’t forged in 1959. It was forged, as in all cultures and civilizations, over time but beginning at that juncture where people started to come together to build a community. That year when it all began was 1819, not 1965.

11. 9.3% is not insignificant. The 6.5% vote swing in the 2011 General Elections was enough to make PAP sweat. Also, you are only confining to above 65. 60 to 65 not considered older generation? If we add the 55-64 age group, the percentage comes up to 21.7% [1]. Also, 9.3% is based on Singapore residents which include PRs whereas only citizens get to vote. The inclusion of mostly younger PRs increases the number of Singapore residents more than it increases the number old. The result would be a dilution of the percentage of old in our resident population.

If one senior citizen who only reads SPH newspapers mingles with another senior citizen who also only reads SPH newspapers in the coffee shop, what can they discuss other than what was reported in SPH newspapers? I’m not convinced that families discuss politics a lot or are often critical unless you have statistics to back you up.

12. Good that even you, an ardent supporter of LHL agrees that it would have been much more difficult for LHL to become PM without LKY. We don’t even know if LHL can become PM without LKY. Yet these two persons won’t hear if it and will say that you are insinuating nepotism and will charge you in court. LHL and LKY being consulted is testament to the great accomplishment of Singapore, not the great accomplishment of LHL or LKY.

13. Unemployment data is not outdated, at least not for World Bank whose unemployment figures are only up to 2010 but the 2010 figures aren’t complete, therefore 2009 figures are used. Also, unemployment fluctuates from year to year. If you catch Singapore on a good year, Singapore is therefore good? If you catch Singapore on a bad year, Singapore is therefore bad? Averaging over a period of time gives a more accurate picture. In any case, while World Bank lists unemployment for many countries so that we can rank them and see where we stand, you however have only provided unemployment figures for three other nations. It is a simple matter to pick and choose three countries to support your argument. Pick another three countries, and your argument falls apart.

You claim that Singapore ranks sixth for expatriates as a percentage of population (your reference [10]). That is wrong. That figure of 15.6 migrants per 1,000 population is net migration rate for 2011. Net migration rate for 2011 doesn’t tell us the cumulative number of foreigners we now have as a percentage of our population.

14. You employ faulty logic again. First you contrast America with Europe and Japan. But when citing Forbes Global 2000, you quote figures for America, Japan and UK. Since when have UK companies come to represent the fortunes of the whole of Europe? You have conveniently ignored German, French, Dutch, Swiss, Swedish multinationals and so on. Secondly, you forgot that American population is more than twice Japan’s so on a per capita basis, the number of Japanese Forbes Global 2000 companies is comparable to that of America’s.

15. McDonald’s employs many students and old folks. The student could be earning more pocket money; the old folk could be trying hard to support herself (not saying these are easy), but the manager may have a household to feed and a housing loan to service so he could be under more pressure to put bacon on the table.

16. Don’t misquote me; I didn’t say that only senior citizens in America are forced to work. I merely said there are no Walmarts in Europe for Europeans to work for so they retire. 1.4 million is just 2.2% of the UK population of 62,262,000. In any case, there is no corresponding statistic for Singaporeans forced to work past retirement age. What we have instead is labour force participation rate of 49.1% for males 65-69, 20.5% for males 70 and above, 23.9% for females 65-69 and 6.6% for females above 70 [2]. All these are significantly higher than the corresponding UK figures of 11.6% for males above 65 and 6.2% for females above 65 [3].

17. If quoting three individual cases helps you decide which country is more corrupt, we wouldn’t need the Transparency International to spend so much resource to conduct surveys to come up with a figure for various countries. We can easily think of corrupt cases in Singapore in recent times to counteract your cases such as sex for commercial favours, doctor selling drugs in bulk, lawyer struck off for dubious conduct, church fund mismanagement and so on.

18. Your reference [13] shows that the Taipei MRT is service oriented and do not find excuses, something which SMRT can learn from. When Singaporeans complained they couldn’t get on the train, ex SMRT CEO said just wait for the next train. Either that or they blame commuters for not moving to the centre of the carriage. But according to your reference [13], Taipei is different. They don’t need commuters to complain to do something about it. If they know there is overcrowding, they set about doing the right thing and they inform commuters about it. Also, 560,000 passengers using five lines that pass through Taipei main station isn’t so bad compared to two million MRT trips in Singapore every day. Both the North South and East West lines which carry the bulk of our passenger trips pass through City Hall and Raffles Place stations.

19. Singapore ranking 25th best city and 12th best country in the Mercers Quality of Living Index is perfect, ideal and utopian? No. 25 is perfect, ideal and utopian?

We can also consider the International Living’s Quality of Life Index 2011 [4] which shows Singapore ranked 92 with a final score of 57 compared to top scorer USA’s 86.

Singapore having the lowest tax rate doesn’t mean cost of living is therefore low as other costs like housing are jacked up to compensate for low taxes.

I did not contort your statements; neither do I have any agenda. Your exact sentence was “You really have to be incredibly stupid, incompetent, have a bad attitude or just plain lazy to be unemployed for 3 months or more.” That is undoubtedly generalization. Your other exact sentence “A section of TR Emeritus’s readers however are Nationalist Socialist” is also generalization. In this case, you are generalizing a section of TR Emeritus readers to be National Socialist when you have no good reason to do so.

Finally, some pointers for you to take note of:
• refrain from making false accusations like “using outdated statistics throughout my rebuttal” when there is no truth to it
• refrain from complaining about using outdated data only to use it yourself
• refrain from using sarcasm like “perhaps time stopped in 2010 for me”
• refrain from dismissing good laws like the law of averages which is a law of nature
• refrain from denying your own motive such as propagating Singapore as No. 1 when it is so plain obvious
• refrain from selective comparison of indicators and countries which is no comparison at all
• refrain from claiming to give supposedly latest data that is no different from the one I gave
• refrain from misquoting me
• refrain from making baseless accusations like “I have an agenda”

[1] Singapore Statistics, Population Trends 2011

[2] Report on Labour Force in Singapore, 2011

[3] UK Office for National Statistics, Older people in employment 1996 to 2011, UK

[4] http://www1.internationalliving.com/qofl2011

A Foreign Trash’s review of TR Emeritus

July 23, 2012

Dear TR Emeritus,

I refer to the letter “a Foreign Trash’s review of TR Emeritus” dated 22 Jul 2012 contributed by someone with the Internet screen name of ‘CommTrader’.

CommTrader regards Singapore as a utopia, a place of ideal perfection especially in laws and government and one that has high GDP, highest home ownership rate, least corrupted, technologically advanced and very low taxes.

The following are the top scoring lists in “Rule of Law” and “Government Effectiveness categories of the World Bank’s World Governance Indicators from 1996 to 2010:

Country Average “Rule of Law” score from 1996 to 2010 Country Average “Government Effectiveness” score from 1996 to 2010
FINLAND 1.95 DENMARK 2.15
NORWAY 1.92 FINLAND 2.13
DENMARK 1.91 SINGAPORE 2.12
SWITZERLAND 1.87 SWITZERLAND 2
AUSTRIA 1.86 SWEDEN 1.99
SWEDEN 1.86 NORWAY 1.92
NEW ZEALAND 1.85 NETHERLANDS 1.92
ICELAND 1.82 CANADA 1.9
LUXEMBOURG 1.81 ICELAND 1.88
AUSTRALIA 1.76 AUSTRIA 1.86
NETHERLANDS 1.75 LUXEMBOURG 1.84
CANADA 1.74 NEW ZEALAND 1.78
UNITED KINGDOM 1.68 AUSTRALIA 1.78
GERMANY 1.64 UNITED KINGDOM 1.75
IRELAND 1.62 BELGIUM 1.74
SINGAPORE 1.57 LIECHTENSTEIN 1.69
UNITED STATES 1.54 GERMANY 1.67
UNITED STATES 1.63

Clearly, Singapore is far from a place of perfection in rule of laws, scoring only 1.57 compared to the top score of 1.95 by Finland. In terms of government effectiveness, it is also not the best let alone the ideal, perfect one.

When denominated in US dollars, our per capita GDP is actually not very high compared to other First World nations:

World Bank 2010 per capita GDP (current US$) purchasing power parity
Luxembourg 104,512 1.25
Norway 85,443 1.49
Switzerland 67,644 1.43
Denmark 56,278 1.45
Australia 50,746 1.25
Sweden 49,257 1.26
United States 46,702 1.00
Netherlands 46,597 1.17
Austria 44,885 1.18
Finland 44,091 1.28
Japan 43,063 1.21
Belgium 42,833 1.19
Singapore 41,987 0.69
Germany 39,852 1.13
France 39,170 1.21
United Kingdom 36,186 1.06
Italy 33,788 1.12
New Zealand 32,620 1.01
Hong Kong SAR, China 31,758 0.69
Korea, Rep. 20,540 0.68

It is only because of purchasing power parity that our per capita GDP gets adjusted up significantly. According to purchasing power parity, a product that costs USD $1 in USA costs only USD $0.69 in Singapore. It’s like the iPad that costs USD $499 in USA costs only USD $344 or SGD $433 in Singapore when it actually costs SGD $658. Big ticket items like houses and cars cost only a fraction in USA than they do here. But purchasing power parity will have you think it is the other way round.

Another reason why our GDP figures look better than they really are is our high proportion of foreign workers. To illustrate this, we take the example of a family with father and mother each earning $5,000 and two children. The per capita income of the family is $10,000 / 4 = $2,500. Let’s say two foreign workers stay with the family and each earns $5,000 also. The per capita income in the house is now $20,000 / 6 = $3,333. The per capita income in the house has gone up simply by having more working adults even though the per capita income of the family remains unchanged.

It is therefore important to look at GDP per employed person instead of GDP per capita. In terms of GDP per employed person, Singapore ranks much lower than many other First World nations despite purchasing power parity:

Country World Bank 2010 GDP per employed person (1990 PPP $) Country PWT 2009 GDP per person counted in total employment (current PPP $)
United States 68,126 Luxembourg 118,973
Hong Kong 61,382 United States 90,269
Ireland 57,473 Norway 89,811
France 55,033 Belgium 81,262
Belgium 54,882 Australia 80,856
Luxembourg 54,449 Ireland 78,882
Trinidad and Tobago 51,962 Netherlands 78,629
United Kingdom 51,604 France 77,773
Norway 50,582 United Kingdom 76,412
Finland 50,278 Austria 75,362
Australia 50,153 Singapore 74,027
Sweden 49,778 Hong Kong 73,570
Canada 48,916 Canada 71,950
Austria 47,474 Sweden 71,455
Netherlands 46,949 Iceland 70,898
Denmark 46,598 Finland 69,273
Italy 44,855 Italy 67,795
Japan 44,804 Spain 66,676
Estonia 44,568 Germany 66,116
Singapore 44,524 Switzerland 65,712

Finally, a large chunk of Singapore’s GDP goes to foreigners and foreign owned companies by virtue of their large presence here. Our 2010 indigenous per capita GDP of SGD $46,092 is much lower than our corresponding 2010 per capita GDP of SGD $59,813 (Singapore Statistics Yearbook 2011). All in all, our GDP is not as high as our statistics make it out to be.

High home ownership is a myth. You don’t own your home until you fully pay up your mortgage loan. About 50% of supposed home owners have not fully paid up their mortgages and cannot be considered to own their homes. Because housing cost is so high, many people take thirty years to pay their housing loans. There are even 50-year loans now so one literally has to work until one is 75 years old before one can finally own one’s home.

According to the Transparency International 2011 ranking, Singapore is not the least corrupted. That title belongs to New Zealand followed by Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

Singapore is still not technologically advanced enough and continues to depend heavily on foreign investments to make products for the world.

Low tax doesn’t mean cost of living is therefore low. Other costs like housing, cars, petrol, business rent which affects cost of goods have been jacked up so that overall cost of living is not low.

Having no timber is no big deal; no country has become exceedingly rich by merely exporting timber. What Singapore lacks in natural resources, it more than makes up for with its excellent strategic location that is the basis of our prosperity. This is a point that our eminent former deputy prime minister Dr Goh Keng Swee acknowledges [1]. It is true that nearby places like Batam and Johor share the same strategic location. But places beyond the Straits of Malacca and the Riau Archipelago do not share the same strategic location. You would have to go to the next choke point along the international sea faring route to find the next strategic location. When Raffles set up Singapore as a port, the Dutch indeed competed with us vigorously using Indonesian ports. According to Dr Goh, Singapore won in the end because of the Victorian traditions of free trade and free enterprise which meant lean administration, minimal taxes and free competition [1]. According to Dr Goh, Singapore succeeded because of our geographical location and our colonial institutions and practices which he regarded as priceless [1]. Thus, even the pioneer of our government says that we are unique not because of our government but because of what we have inherited from the British.

1. The Singapore government oppresses and undermines a free press

This is not just true to some extent; it is true to a very large extent. The fact that we have to be compared to North Korea just shows how pathetic we have become. Watching CNN and BBC will not enlighten us one bit about our government’s false arguments. Even the CNN and BBC are clueless to our government’s false arguments since the only information they have are the ones released by the government.

It’s true that our government doesn’t control the Internet like China does. Again, it is pathetic we have to be compared with China to show that we are better. It is like consoling ourselves we are not bad since we scored 10 marks out of 100 compared to the guy next door who scored only 5. Shouldn’t we measure ourselves against the best in the world since we say we are perfect, ideal and utopian? Also, the Straits Times stresses every now and then that newspapers and television continue to be the people’s choice for news and that internet readership continues to trail far behind those of traditional media.

How would comparing us against countries like Philippines or Sri Lanka show that we are perfect, ideal and utopian? CommTrader claims that Russia’s HDI of 0.719 isn’t far behind Singapore’s 0.846. Perhaps that is why Russia’s Press Freedom Index ranking of 142 is also not far behind Singapore’s ranking of 135.

CommTrader is mistaken about Singapore being young. Singapore was founded in 1819 and has been around for 193 years already. He is also mistaken about people having both options of reading upbeat news in Straits Times and less upbeat news online. Many of our older generation do not know how to use the computer let alone go online. For these people, the only option they have is SPH newspapers.

2. The PAP promotes nepotism

LKY may not have installed his son as prime minister. But can anyone prove that being the son of LKY was absolutely no use, no help no good to his career? Quite some time back, there was a Straits Times feature about this person who did better than LKY in RI. But because he came from a poor family, he didn’t go to university and ended up with a mundane career and led a mundane life (not saying it is a bad life). This story tells us that backgrounds do matter.

As for LHL being respected the world over, let’s see if he gets the same respect if he was the prime minister of East Timor. Giving advice to the US president doesn’t mean the advice was wise, sought after or reflected upon. I remember the French president Mitterrand once asked who LKY was and remarked that LKY was governing the equivalent of a small French city whereas he was governing the whole of France.

India may be democratic but it is a democratic Third World country. Again, CommTrader seems to conveniently forget that he regards Singapore as perfect, ideal and utopian and chooses to compare utopian Singapore with one Third World nation after another. He likes to compare something with shit and then claim that since it is better than shit, it must be diamond.

There was a Temasek Review article previously about Temasek Holdings recognizing the transfer of statutory boards like Singapore Telecoms to Temasek Holdings as profits when they are not. Such dubious accounts should be cleaned up first before we can fairly compare Temasek’s performance with other funds.

3. Foreigners stealing jobs

The government’s unemployment figures differ from those of the World Bank. But since CommTrader has chosen to compare with other countries, it is better to use the World Bank’s figures that span most countries. Also, it is better to use the average figure over several years to smoothen out extraordinary events that happen now and then.

Country Name World Bank average unemployment from 2000 to 2009
Netherlands 3.4
Norway 3.6
Switzerland 3.6
Korea, Rep. 3.6
Luxembourg 3.9
Austria 4.3
Denmark 4.6
Japan 4.7
New Zealand 4.7
Singapore 4.8
United Kingdom 5.3
Australia 5.5
Hong Kong 5.5
United States 5.5
Sweden 6.4

Thus, the average unemployment from 2000 to 2009 is:
• 4.8% for Singapore rather than 2.1%
• 5.3% for UK rather than 8.1%
• 5.5% for US rather than 7.9%

It is irrelevant to say that UK, US and Australia have more foreigners than us. What is pertinent instead is that because their populations are much bigger, their foreigner numbers are comparatively much smaller as a percentage of their populations and can be better stomached. Although Singapore has less foreigners in absolute numbers compared to UK, US and Australia, our numbers are large compared to our own population and is therefore much more difficult to digest.

It is not true that Singaporeans are only retrenched in favour of better or more professional workers. There have been numerous postings in Temasek Review of Singaporeans who were displaced by cheaper, foreign workers.

The US practice of terminating the bottom 5% is not shared by the Europeans or the Japanese. Again, CommTrader selects the country that supports his arguments while conveniently ignoring the fact that many other countries don’t support his arguments. Since American cost of living is low, the retrenched American VP can survive on flipping burgers. However, the Singapore cost of living is much higher. Flipping burgers is not an ideal job substitute in Singapore. More of CommTrader’s attempts at argument through selective choice of examples:

a) CommgTrader tries to dispute the notion that old folks shouldn’t have to work by pointing to Walmart greeters in the US. But what about old folks in Europe? No Walmart there, what do they do? They retire.

b) CommTrader tries to justify PAP million dollar salaries by pointing out that there is no corruption around. But we see cases of sex for commercial favours. We also see New Zealand, Denmark, Finland and Sweden doing better than Singapore in the Transparency International 2011 ranking despite not paying million dollar salaries to their ministers.

c) CommTrader tries to justify MRT overcrowding by pointing to overcrowded trains in New York. But has CommTrader ever ridden a train in Taipei? Again, CommTrader likes to choose countries that support his argument while conveniently forgetting so many other countries that goes against his arguments.

CommTrader claims that TR Emeritus readers don’t know how good our lives are compared to the rest of the world. But compared to which part of the world? Compared to North Korea, India or Russia? If CommTrader can only bring up Third World nation examples to show why lives are better for us, he only ends up showing we are better than Third World, not that we are First World. But we were already better than Third World at independence in 1965.

CommTrader claims that TR Emeritus readers loves to complain. But exposing the fallacies of people like CommTrader isn’t complaining. The so-called brilliant lifestyle boils down to working non-stop to pay ever growing bills to feed ever growing prices like housing. A large segment of the 60.1% majority comprises old folks who may never know how to use the computer or surf the web or read TR Emeritus. If Singapore had continued to maintain a free press at independence, we may never have reached 60.1% or we may have reached 60.1% the other way around.

CommTrader claims he has not made a single sweeping statement against Singaporeans. But he has when he said all those who are unemployed for three months or more are incredibly stupid, incompetent, has a bad attitude or just plain lazy.

Hitler didn’t get his strength from the National Socialist youth. He got his strength from the state apparatus from which he controlled the nation. Labeling TR Emeritus readers as National Socialist is another sweeping statement from CommTrader despite his claim otherwise. In fact, it should be the other way round. By speaking out against state propaganda and misrepresentations, TR Emeritus readers are the opponents of the National Socialists. They are the Sophie Scholls and the Von Stauffenbergs who dared speak up or go against the state apparatus because it is the right thing to do.

[1] Dr Goh Keng Swee, The Practice of Economic Growth, Chapter 1

S’pore chose the right road

July 22, 2012

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 21 Jul 2012 letter by Mr Bobby Jayaraman.

To show that the government had chosen the right path in actively pursuing growth, Mr Jayaraman contrasted the years 2001 to 2005 when the economy grew slowly, property prices fell and median household income fell from $4,363 to $4,270 to last year when the median household income was $6,307.

Firstly, judging from the HDB resale price index, it is more accurate to say that property prices were relatively flat from 2001 to 2005 than to say that property prices fell. Secondly, the economy grew slowly in this period because of the double whammy of Sept 11 and SARs occurring almost one after the other.

Mr Jayaranman’s household income comparison is also inadequate for the following reasons:

  • If Mr Jayaraman had considered 2000 to 2005 instead of 2001 to 2005, the result would be an increase in median household income from $4,000 to $4,270 instead.
  • There are four years’ of growth between 2001 and 2005 compared to six years’ of growth between 2005 and last year.
  • There were two economic recessions in the period 2001 to 2005 compared to just one between 2005 and 2011.
  • Mr Jayaraman did not adjust his numbers for inflation. The median household income last year when adjusted for inflation is only $5,153, 18% lower than Mr Jayaraman’s figure.
  • Also, since the CPI doesn’t fully capture the steep spike in housing prices in recent years, for new households, it would be better to compare household income increase to housing price increase instead. HDB resale price index went from 106.7 in 2005 Q1 to 190.4 in 2011 Q4 or a 78.4% increase compared to a 47.7% increase in household income from $4,270 to $6,307. Therefore, for new households, increase in household income lagged behind increase in housing prices significantly.

    Singapore was already a busy trading centre since colonial times. Going from trade to finance is not too far a leap and not too unnatural a step for the people of Singapore to make with or without the government. The integrated resorts are part of the tourism industry which accounts for only about 3% of our GDP, a percentage too small to be to be the driving force of our economy. In any case, casino betting taxes of $0.9 billion in 2010 is small compared to the government operating revenue of $44.5 billion [1] that year.

    Mr Jayaraman asked whether empty buses and trains or secure, well-paying jobs are more important. Perhaps for Mr Jayaraman, an empty brain is most important. No one ever demanded for empty buses and trains, only comfortable buses and trains. Prior to the recent population explosion, were buses and trains ever empty? They weren’t empty, neither were they overcrowded, just the way they should be.

    Mr Jayaraman argues that secure, well-paying jobs are possible only if the economy grows at a ‘healthy’ pace. Referring to the table [2] below, many First World nations can provide job security to its people with much less growth than us.

    Average unemployment 2005 – 2010 Inflation adjusted per capita GDP growth 2005 to 2010
    Norway 3.3 3.2%
    Korea, Rep. 3.5 0.2%
    Netherlands 3.8 1.9%
    Switzerland 3.9 5.2%
    Japan 4.4 3.8%
    Austria 4.5 1.9%
    Hong Kong SAR, China 4.6 2.0%
    Luxembourg 4.6 2.9%
    New Zealand 4.7 0.6%
    Singapore 4.8 5.5%
    Australia 4.9 5.2%
    Denmark 4.9 1.4%
    United Kingdom 6.0 -3.3%
    United States 6.5 -0.7%
    Italy 7.2 0.1%
    Sweden 7.3 2.3%
    Finland 7.6 1.6%
    Belgium 7.9 1.3%
    France 8.6 1.4%
    Germany 8.7 1.8%

    Quality of life is not just correlated to any kind of growth but to quality growth rather than to growth in numbers. It is unfortunate that Singapore cannot achieve quality growth and have to resort to massive growth in numbers instead.

    The Arab Spring happened for reasons such as income inequality, lack of transparency and lack of democracy, the same ills plaguing our country. US unemployment isn’t representative of First World unemployment as over half of the First World economies in the table above have similar or better unemployment figures than us.

    Life in Russia isn’t necessarily happier after the collapse of communism. Net migration has increased from 906,615 in 1990 to 1,135,737 in 2010 [2]. Referring to the table [2] below, Russian per capita GDP has been increasing at snail’s pace over the last twenty years.

    Indicator Name 1989 2010 % annual increase
    GDP per person employed (constant 1990 PPP $) 15,703 18,259 0.7%
    GDP per capita (constant 2000 US$) 2,693 2,927 0.4%
    GDP per capita, PPP (constant 2005 international $) 13,066 14,199 0.4%

    Referring to the table [2] below, income share of the poorest has fallen and GINI index has nearly doubled.

    1988 2009
    Income share held by lowest 10% 4.22 2.75
    Income share held by lowest 20% 10.01 6.46
    GINI index 23.8 40.11

    There is even a video to show how miserable life in Russia is after the fall of communism [3].

    No one is blaming the government, just stating the fact that growing numbers has many problems and that it is better to grow in quality instead. We don’t just choose the pace we run, we also choose how we run.

    [1] Yearbook of Statistics Singapore 2011

    [2] Derived from World Bank data

    [3] http://www.documentarystream.com/death-of-a-nation-russia-after-the-collapse-of-the-soviet-union/