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?’
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’
Published 15 April 2012
economy and finance
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’
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’
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’
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’
Like distant thunder rolling in, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech in Geneva marking Human Rights Day (full transcript) should make Singapore pay attention to the changing international weather. She chose as the main theme of her speech, the question of equality and human rights for gay, lesbian and transgendered people, announcing a new US government strategy to combat human rights abuses (including criminalisation) against LGBT persons.
Discrimination against gay people is becoming a leading issue in international affairs and Singapore is caught on the wrong side again.
Continue reading ‘A 19th-century state trying to make it in the 21st’
Some people wear too much make-up. Unlike Mr Clown at left, who must have done it for effect, others earnestly want the rest of the world to believe that the heavily made-up face is the real person.
Ditto with government publications. The recently-released Singaporeans in the Workforce, issued jointly by the Manpower Ministry and the Statistics Department, had the facsimile of an honest statistical appraisal, but with every fourth sentence sounding highly defensive, it ended up looking like a meretricious rag.
Continue reading ‘Jimmying Gini for political sell’
Published 23 September 2011
economy and finance
We’re on the verge of another recession. You will be forgiven if you didn’t know we had recovered from the last one; it sure didn’t feel like it. This next recession is likely to be even more global than the one that began in 2007 because this time, China’s economy is also slowing down. It has to. It has been overheated lately.
I think most people don’t quite understand how we got into this mess, now acquiring the moniker The Great Recession. Since news of bank loans, mortgages and defaults have dominated headlines for the least four years, many may think the fault lies with bankers.
I will propose here a deeper explanation: This economic mess was inevitable given the income distribution patterns that we have seen over the last few decades. Continue reading ‘No way out of Great Recession without new economic model’
The same day that Law Minister K Shanmugam told a seminar that “The president can speak on issues only as authorised by the Cabinet; and he must follow the advice of the Cabinet in the discharge of his duties,” (Straits Times, 6 August 2011, Law Minister debunks notions on what president can say, by Lydia Lim) Tan Jee Say told me that he intended to “project myself as the conscience of the nation” should he become President.
Tan is one of the six men who have submitted an application to the three-man Presidential Elections Committee for a Certificate of Eligibility.
I caught up with him Friday afternoon to get a sense of his thoughts.
Continue reading ‘As President, ‘I will be the conscience of the nation,’ says Jee Say’