A Foreign Trash’s review of TR Emeritus

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

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One Response to “A Foreign Trash’s review of TR Emeritus”

  1. seahorse Says:

    A well written piece of informative and balanced perspective of what is happening now in Singapore. There are many foreigners trying to bullshit their reasons for working and staying in Singapore. They are here to take away our jobs and escape the misery in their own homeland. Pack up and go back to your own country.

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