Counter-counter-rebutt to foreign commodity trader

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You condemned me for using outdated statistics. Yet in your point no. 2, you also used outdated statistics when referring to Singapore’s per capita GDP in 2004 and 2008. Why shout so loud about using outdated statistics only to use it yourself in the end?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You claimed I have used outdated statistics throughout my rebuttal.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• 2010 is the latest year in the World Governance Indicator data, nothing outdated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

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