Archive for the 'economy and finance' Category

Time to realise we’re suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome

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Vikram Khanna’s review of the book Hard Choices: Challenging The Singapore Consensus (Donald Low and Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, with contributions from Linda Lim and Thum Ping Tjin, NUS Press) has gotten me to write after — deep apologies — a long break. My thoughts have also gathered as dread mounts over the likely onslaught of propaganda next year marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Singapore state’s caesarian birth. I will explore here the ways in which we continue to be traumatised by those beginnings.

More common than the belief in God is the opinion in Singapore that the PAP government is more focussed on economic growth than anything and everything else. Some speak of this focus as understandable; others would describe it as a curse. Few outside of government see this obsession as an unalloyed good thing.

What I have found interesting is how infrequently people choose to explore where this focus (or pathology, if you wish) sprang from. Like mental illness, we have a tendency to take it as something whose origins are beyond our understanding. It just is. It may not be easy to live with, but who knows how such demons of the mind came to roost? Continue reading ‘Time to realise we’re suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome’

One quarter of Singapore households below poverty line

Source:  Key Household Income Trends 2012, by Dept of Statistics

Source: Key Household Income Trends 2012, by Dept of Statistics

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing ruled out having an official poverty line. He was speaking in reply to Non-constituency Member of Parliament Yee Jenn Jong (Workers’ Party). Chan said it would not fully reflect the severity and complexity of issues faced by the poor, and may also lead to needy persons who happen to be above the line missing out on assistance. The full text of the question and written parliamentary reply is as follows: Continue reading ‘One quarter of Singapore households below poverty line’

Yishun land sale may entrench Frasers local monopoly

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Property analysts were reportedly stunned by a bid of S$1.43 billion for a land parcel in Yishun town centre, submitted by companies from the Frasers Centrepoint group. It was 47.4 percent above the second-highest bid of S$969 million from a Far East Organisation-led consortium. There were three other bids, at S$930 million, S$875 million and S$705 million.

The most likely reason soon became clear. As owners of Northpoint, adjacent to the site, and the only significant shopping mall in Yishun town centre, Frasers Centrepoint would want to dominate the market for retail space in the locality. But such domination would mean, in effect, a local monopoly.

Competition rules should have kicked in. Frasers Centrepoint should not have been considered eligible for bidding. Continue reading ‘Yishun land sale may entrench Frasers local monopoly’

The importance of wanting trains to run on time

pic_201308_47The post described Singaporeans as a perennially grumpy lot, bitching even about trains arriving 30 seconds late. At first, I gave it little thought. The post was one of many linked from Facebook which I cursorily surfed through while munching my breakfast this morning. I didn’t even keep the link; now I can’t find it any more. It was penned by a Malaysian visiting from Penang who was expressing his amazement at how “advanced” Singapore was, and yet how unreasonable Singaporeans were in not appreciating what we have.

I do recognise however that the remark was really a metaphor for a general state of unhappiness; it was not meant to be taken literally.

But as the day wore on, my mind went back to this comment a few times, and I thought to myself: I don’t see why we should necessarily be ashamed of being demanding. Setting high standards is, after all, the first step to achieving them. I would much rather that we as a people are perpetually dissatisfied and striving for better than be too accommodative of slack. Continue reading ‘The importance of wanting trains to run on time’

Oh joy, our economy’s bubbling again, says our nation-building press

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Few things annoy me as much as when our nation-building press gets carried away. Today’s front page of the Straits Times has a headline “Singapore posts surprise Q1 growth”, leading a story that speaks — as breathlessly as a teenage groupie — of “good news”.

It quotes unnamed economists saying that “the numbers point to the resilience of the Singapore economy”.

Then it gives the Star Award to the financial services sector, reporting — wrongly — that it grew “about 51 per cent over the previous quarter”, before discussing other sectors such as construction and manufacturing. Of the latter, it reported that it “contracted 4.7 per cent over the year.” Wrong again. It actually contracted by 10.4 percent when measured at current prices, and contracted 6.8 percent when measured in constant 2005 dollars. These are Greek-style plunges. Continue reading ‘Oh joy, our economy’s bubbling again, says our nation-building press’

Population White Paper should be about children, not about GDP

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All projections into the future depend on assumptions. The same is true of the Population White Paper just released. It is one that has provoked a huge outcry with its estimate that Singapore will have as many as 6.9 million on this island by 2030, just 17 years away.

However, among the many assumptions used, one stood out to my eyes.  It is there in the executive summary, speaking of getting “3% to 5% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth on average” between now and 2020, and 2% to 3% thereafter. Strictly speaking, these were not assumptions. They were arbitrarily laid down targets, but once laid down, they effectively determined the result — which is that population has to rise to as many as 6.9 million. Continue reading ‘Population White Paper should be about children, not about GDP’

Consider capital gains tax

Throughout this year’s US presidential election campaign, the question of Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s tax returns haunted him. He steadfastly refused to release his tax returns for twelve previous years unlike other presidential nominees in the past. There was always the sense that he had something to hide. He did eventually release his 2010 and 2011 tax returns, but the figures hardly helped his case.

Although the top rate of federal income tax in the United States is 35 percent, Romney only paid 13.9 percent in 2010 and 14.1 percent in 2011. His income was certainly large enough to be attracting the top rate. In 2010, Romney and wife declared income of US$21.7 million, well within the income bracket of “US$373,651 and above” that attracts the top rate.  In 2011, the couple declared income of US$13.7 million, again within the income bracket of “US$379,151 and above” that attracts the top rate.

Continue reading ‘Consider capital gains tax’

On foreign labour and the income gap: Acting in moderation or muddling through?

In a blogpost on 30 September, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-jin laid out some numbers to show that the growth in the foreign workforce is moderating. At the same time, he discussed the difficult balance that has to be struck between business anxieties about labour shortage and popular frustration over too many foreigners in Singapore.

Popular frustration takes three forms: (a) job competition, (b) crowding and infrastructure overload, and (c) cultural destabilisation. Different people would give a different weightage to these concerns. For this discussion however, I am going to focus on job competition alone. Continue reading ‘On foreign labour and the income gap: Acting in moderation or muddling through?’

In the national conversation, some kinds of talk don’t come cheap

There are three huge hurdles to making anything worthwhile out of the national conversation that the government has launched.

The first is the attitude the government brings to it. Early indications are not encouraging; there is reason to suspect that they dearly want the outcome to more or less confirm what they want to hear, but there is possibly a second motive which I will write about soon. Consequently, the process is being tightly managed. A related issue is the lack of open data and access to information. How can the public meaningfully participate if the government insists on releasing only such information that suits its agenda? Continue reading ‘In the national conversation, some kinds of talk don’t come cheap’

The future according to sushi

Sakae Sushi’s $3,000 cleaner-and-dishwasher job has many of the characteristics of poor human resources design so prevalent in Singapore. Even if they manage to fill the ten positions that the company has, I suspect it is not a sustainable solution. Employees will not stay long or will call in sick with little notice, causing disruption to operations. Singapore bosses often pin blame on employees’ poor work attitude but few bosses interrogate their own attitudes towards their staff and their own limitations when it comes to designing jobs. Continue reading ‘The future according to sushi’


For an update of the case against me, please see AGC versus me, the 2013 round.

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