Archive for the 'economy and finance' Category



Why people didn’t care to be the richest country in the world

It must have annoyed a lot of people to see on the front page of the Straits Times, Wednesday 15 August 2012, the boast that Singapore was the ‘richest country in the world’, validated by another hitherto unheard-of ranking study.

There might have been a time when people here would have taken pride in such an accolade. What better proof that all the sacrifices made in the decades post-independence had paid off, and that our city-state had arrived? But several people I spoke too pointed out that not only do we know it isn’t easy to be the richest country in the world, we look around us and we can clearly see so much that is wrong. “Richest country in the world” can’t possibly mean what it means in plain language.

It can only mean another empty boast. Continue reading ‘Why people didn’t care to be the richest country in the world’

Online|Offline: Video forum on xenophobia, part 3

In this third segment of the video forum, the ten guest discussants voice their thoughts. Their names are shown in the still picture after the break.

Links to the earlier parts are: Part 1 and Part 2

Continue reading ‘Online|Offline: Video forum on xenophobia, part 3′

Online|Offline: Video forum on xenophobia, part 2

Although it’s a longish segment, the discussion here largely centres around one theme: the trade-off between economic growth and population stability. All panelists agree that any discussion about population policy must involve the question of the economic model, though also that it’s not a simple trade-off. Naturally, each one has a different take on the question. Continue reading ‘Online|Offline: Video forum on xenophobia, part 2′

Top 20% pay 84% of taxes

According to Minister Shanmugam the top 20% income earners, companies, and non-Singaporeans pay 84% of the total taxes in Singapore to finance our $52 billion government budget expenditure. The rest pay only 16% of the total taxes.

– Gintai blog, 16 June 2012, My meeting with Minister K Shanmugam Sc, Link.

I think when Shanmugam flung those numbers out like so many rose petals at a wedding, he was expecting people to appreciate how the government cares for the “common man”. Perhaps the numbers might blunt some of the criticism that there is not enough redistribution? Continue reading ‘Top 20% pay 84% of taxes’

Can Singapore seize new manufacturing technologies?

The above picture represents a revolution. It is also a window to fresh ideas about the economic directions available to Singapore.

As most Singaporeans may recognise, the picture is of a board at a bus stop listing the route details of buses that call there. Almost all bus stops in Singapore have boards like that. But did you realise that no two of them are the same? Every bus stop has a different set of route listings, with details commencing from that particular bus stop. Thus each printed board is unique.

How is that revolutionary?  Continue reading ‘Can Singapore seize new manufacturing technologies?’

In a market economy, wages aren’t determined by wishful thinking

It hit me yesterday that we are at risk of brandishing the term “productivity” as if we truly understand what it is and, more importantly, how it is measured. It is a very technical thing, and from what I understand, there are serious difficulties in measuring it. I myself am in no position to explain it to you. But I am given to understand that while methods for determining Total Factor Productivity are reasonably advanced and established at the level of national accounts, they can get devilishly difficult at sectorial or industry levels. Even more so at the level of a company.

And yet, the prime minister’s rejoinder to economist Lim Chong Yah’s idea to raise the wages of low-income workers by 50 percent over three years, was to link the wages of lower-level workers to productivity gains.  Continue reading ‘In a market economy, wages aren’t determined by wishful thinking’

Softly, softly, will not narrow income gap

The debate that Lim Chong Yah kicked off is a welcome one. He has argued that if Singaporeis ever to make progress on narrowing the income gap, it is going to require strong affirmative action by the state. He has proposed double-digit increases for the bottom wage earners over a few years coupled with a moratorium on salary increases for top earners.

Predictably, the government has megaphoned its opposition. It will be economic suicide, it says, touting its own plan for improving productivity through financial incentives while gently tightening up on the import of foreign labour instead.

Look away from the specifics and you’ll see a fundamental issue being debated. Look harder and you will see another fundamental issue NOT debated.

Let me begin by dealing with the first.
Continue reading ‘Softly, softly, will not narrow income gap’

My eyebrows rose thrice, part 3: Hurtful

It was a strange choice of a word, and it jumped out at me. People’s Action Party member of parliament Vikram Nair (right) said he found it “hurtful” that Chen Show Mao (Workers’ Party) had implied that the PAP government had not done enough for vulnerable groups.

In my mind’s eye, I instantly saw a picture of a grown man running to a corner to cry. His feelings had been hurt.

What never-never-land does the ruling party live in? Do PAP members of parliament seriously expect opposition members to concede that the government had done ENOUGH for whatever section of the population they happen to be discussing at that moment? Is that the opposition’s role in politics?

Continue reading ‘My eyebrows rose thrice, part 3: Hurtful’

My eyebrows rose thrice, part 2: Low-income tax-payers hit jackpot

Within a space of slightly over two hours Friday night, two friends of mine mentioned Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s ‘pay one dollar, get four dollars’ sales pitch. “What do you think of that?” asked the latter of the two.

I knew Singapore had become one of the gambling capitals of Asia, but it was still depressing to see our politics adopt the same mindset: If you pay taxes, you win!

Clearly, that was not the point the finance minister was trying to make. I believe he was trying to show that the help lower- and middle-income Singaporeans were getting from the government exceeded what they paid in taxes, over a lifetime. But from the twinkle in my friends’ eyes as they repeated Tharman’s soundbite to me, I had the awful feeling it was received quite the wrong way. My eyebrows rose.

Continue reading ‘My eyebrows rose thrice, part 2: Low-income tax-payers hit jackpot’

Frustrating numbers: household income

As you can see from the graph above, the richest households saw the greatest improvement in their incomes in 2011. The data refer to “resident households”, i.e. households headed by Singapore citizens or permanent residents, and was provided by the Department of Statistics.

However, the Straits Times story of 15 February 2012 preferred to focus on the fact that everybody “earned more last year”.

Before going on, I need to give you the numerical data behind the above graph:

Continue reading ‘Frustrating numbers: household income’


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

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