At the Wild Rice forum

As quite a lot of people will know by now, I was at a panel discussion Saturday, 13 August 2011, organised by theatre company Wild Rice, following the matinee of Alfian Sa’at’s play Cooling Off Day. Moderated by Siew Kum Hong, other panelists were Tan Chuan-jin, Minister of State at Manpower and National Development, Nicole Seah from the National Solidarity Party and Vincent Wijeysingha from the Singapore Democratic Party.

As always, I leave the event feeling that I haven’t articulated accurately what I meant. Or there are things I should have added, and kick myself for not doing so. Well, there is always the internet. Thank goodness for the internet.

On success

The topic of the panel discussion was On Politics: A Brave New World. Siew asked each panelist whether we’d consider the 2011 general election a new normal. I said I shared the view of sociology professor Chua Beng Huat that it would be more accurate to say we’re returning to normal. The last few decades weren’t an old normal; they were grotesquely abnormal, plain and simple.

I added — and I reiterate here — that the new political buzz is a testimony to the success of the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) nation-building effort. It has created a society that feels a sense of ownership of this place. Wanting to have a say — as we’ve seen with rising political interest — is a natural outcome of that.

This paradox — of PAP’s success creating problems for itself — is repeated on many other fronts. For example, take the education front. It is a measure of the PAP’s success that we have a more educated population, but that in turn now means that large numbers of the younger generation are not prepared to tolerate the condescending tone that the PAP is known for.

The PAP has also succeeded only too well with their priorities. The party has long adopted a bias in favour of gross economic growth, particularly one led by a privileged economic elite. Here too, runaway success is the story, so much so that the flip side — income disparity — has become a huge issue. Likewise, the areas that the PAP’s ideology relegates as unimportant — class, social safety net, civil rights — have been so neglected that they have become attractive rallying cries for the opposition.

On justice

Not far into the discussion, I had to point out that Minister Tan was engaging in what I call “the rhetoric of crisis”. He had spent several minutes speaking about dark economic clouds on the horizon and the threats these present to Singapore. By my observation, this constant harping on economics and survival has become a huge turn-off for Singaporeans. As a better-educated better-informed population, people can see for themselves the approaching turbulence. They know that belts may need to be tightened. Nagging them about it, politicising it into a sales pitch for the PAP, on the other hand, is almost insulting to their intelligence.

But more importantly, to speak only or primarily about economics is to reveal a complete failure to grasp what motivates the new electorate. It reminds us that the PAP’s underlying assumption is that Singaporeans are selfish economic digits, responding only to the language of gain and pain. No wonder the party is so out of touch.

Like people in all other countries, especially when there is a larger sense of community — as successful nation-building would produce — there are other considerations equally important. I spoke about a sense of social justice (and this includes economic justice). There is a palpable sense that there is too much unfairness in this society. I mentioned how psychology experiments involving monkeys have shown that even at their level of evolution there is already a hardwired sense of fairness, and that monkeys would refuse food if they observed that the amount given to them was unfair. They would get upset and would rather go hungry than accept unfairness.

What more of humans, who possess (at least from our point of view) more intelligence and moral conscience than monkeys. This failure by the PAP to see that the electorate is now operating at a completely different plane from that conceived of by their paradigm is what underlies the disconnect between party and people, particularly the younger generation.

And it’s not just a sense of  justice. There are issues like self-actualisation, liberty, dignity, maybe even the environment, that are motivating people, and if the PAP continues to think that only the language of economics and self-interest matters, then they are just keeping themselves deaf.

On civil society

As unhappy as I am about the PAP and the government, I am equally disappointed with the state of civil society in Singapore.

Sometimes, we create the conditions which we complain of. One of them is how the government is too intrusive. It gets involved in everything, and by its nature, it then becomes too controlling. I wonder whether people stop to consider that so long as people don’t sort out problems for themselves, there will be an open invitation to the government to get involved.

Singaporeans readily complain, without stepping up to the plate and participating in civil society — whether it is about religious tolerance, developing through debate new ideas for governance, or raising awareness about social issues in our midst — and doing something about them. If we have a more active civil society, there is less reason for the government to be everywhere.

Wijeysingha pointed out that it isn’t entirely the fault of a passive citizenry. The government has long put shackles on civil society, from the Societies Act to the Internal Security Act. I concede that his is an important point. Recognising this, I argued that Singapore should accede to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, not forgetting of course, to domesticise these rights through changes to local laws.

On income gap

Someone from the audience asked what each panelist thought should be one thing we would want to change. I said it would be economic policy, particularly with respect to income redistribution. I forgot to specify that I also meant social safety nets, though I did later mention a need for universal medical coverage. I said that many issues that vex Singaporeans can be traced to the wide and growing income gap. There can be no solution to transport dissatisfaction or housing costs without narrowing it.  Transport solutions will necessitate much investment. Investment must be recovered, which means costs will rise, but so long as people cannot afford higher charges, there’s no way out of that problem, at least not a sustainable one. Ditto with housing costs. Yes, we can try to build more cheaply, but without addressing the question of purchasing power, we’ll be fighting the problem with one hand tied behind our backs.

We are facing a crisis of capitalism. The paradigm of letting the rich get richer in the hope that some pennies trickle down is being seen for what it is — a disaster. Capitalism without a moral conscience about social and economic  justice cannot sustain any society.

On 377A and equality for gay and lesbian people.

Siew was a little surprised that my top priority was not Section 377A. It might well have been, if I had not earlier spoken about social justice in such broad terms. I kind of primed myself to speak about redistribution instead. But, prompted by him, I made a pitch for equality for gay and lesbian people.

I should have expanded on it.

There are many problems that need fixing in Singapore. Some of them are hellishly difficult to solve, with no easy answer. Or they may need plenty of resources. Most people, sensible, mature and reasonable, will agree that we may need to be patient and a fair amount of compromise may in the end be necessary.

But repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code is not one of those difficult problems. In fact, it is the easiest problem to solve, as a friend put it a few months ago — and he’s not even gay. Repealing the law  and rectifying other administrative policies (e.g. discriminatory censorship) do not call for a budget allocation, do not require civil servants to monitor project implementation for a lengthy period of time, do not require any other section of the population to be compensated, because nobody else’s rights or property will be affected.

Moreover, it is very clearly the right thing to do, as the Law Society said in 2007. The rest of the world is moving far ahead already, and the government itself has admitted that the law cannot really be used anymore. Its continued defence also makes the government sound hypocritical whenever they speak about keeping religion out of politics. Far from being an asset, it is a liability.

Yet, as my friend said, if the government cannot even do the one thing that is so simple, so obvious and cost-free, it is only giving people cause to be cynical. How to give any credence to all this talk about doing better, making changes and slaughtering sacred cows?

Queen Victoria’s leathery bovine is still there.

32 Responses to “At the Wild Rice forum”


  1. 1 Zihan Loo 14 August 2011 at 10:17

    The panel discussion yesterday was excellent, and very revealing about each individual panelist, and the attitude of their parties as a whole. Returning from Chicago after two years of being away, it is very apparent to me that things have changed, I can’t imagine this happening two years ago at all. Thank you for providing the non-political party affiliated, civil society voice yesterday.

    On repealing 377A – listening to the rhetoric yesterday and reading this article again made me realize how myopic the gay community will be perceived as if we continue to push solely for our agenda. Yes, it is an important that the law is repealed, but haven’t we learnt from the ruling party that as long as what is written in the books does not concur with on-the-ground sentiments, everything we change will be cosmetic?

    Listening to each panelist comment to the question posed of what policy are they unsatisfied with and what would they change about it, it became clear that if we change and restructure the education system and focus on producing individuals with the capacity for critical thinking (Chuan Jin), repair the chasm between official print media and new media / freedom of journalism (Nicole) and reduce the income gap in society (Vincent and you) – the public would naturally call for a repeal of 377A, and it will happen in due time as testament to the success of other changes.

    • 2 S377A 14 August 2011 at 14:08

      Welcome back to Singapore, Zihan. Will identify myself via private email. Regarding the repealing of S377A and changing the ground sentiment regarding homosexuality, I think we need both efforts AT THE SAME TIME. There need to be efforts to transform the ground and also efforts to repeal S377A. The repeal of S377A should not wait till the ground sentiment is right. With S377A in place, there would be great obstacle to carry out activities (e.g. educational effort) to give the ground a more informed view of the issue. With S377A in place, schools could ban informed education regarding homosexuality, films to promote the correct information about the issue also get to be banned or greatly restricted, and it seems difficult to get licence to hold public talks on a positive perspective of homosexuality and so on. All these effort could be disallowed when licensing authorities say they are “promotions of homosexuality” and is therefore illegal. Of course repealing S377A without transforming the ground would be cosmetic, and hence we need both. But it seems that one should not wait for the other.

    • 3 S377A 14 August 2011 at 14:36

      To make my previous comment clearer: The direct effort needed to transform the ground would be greatly prevented by S377A. It is true that the indirect effort you (Zihan) mentioned do help a lot (train people to think critically, increase the freedom of press, reducing the income gay) to ripen the ground to repeal S377A, but this path of indirect effort seems likely to be too slow. And a person with the ability for critical thinking may argue strongly for S377A to be retained: Prof Thio Li-Ann can think very critically (as seen in her academic achievement in Constitutional Law), but she has fought very passionately to keep S377A in our law books. I have seen other academics with high critical thinking abilities who are against the repeal of S377A. It may mean that a society with high education level, high income level plus good critical thinking ability may not be a society that wants the repeal of S377A.

  2. 4 Richard Lee 14 August 2011 at 11:27

    Well said Mr. Au.

    Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” is the foundation of all modern economic theory though many who quote this in support of Laissez-faire have obviously not read it in entirety. Smith discusses areas which are best not controlled by profit alone .. including public transport.

    But Smith was a Moral Philosopher and considered his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” his most important work. Indeed, during his lifetime, he was better known for this than for “Wealth ..”

    In this, he suggest Morals stem from Sympathy. Someone who cannot sympathise with the disadvantaged and less fortunate has few morals and is incapable of developing them.

    Singapore’s success brilliantly exemplifies “The Wealth of Nations”. Perhaps the PAP, especially dignified Government Ministers, and indeed all Singaporeans need to carefully consider if they also illustrate “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”.

  3. 5 Terence 14 August 2011 at 11:54

    “And it’s not just a sense of justice. There are issues like self-actualisation, liberty, dignity, maybe even the environment, that are motivating people, and if the PAP continues to think that only the language of economics and self-interest matters, then they are just keeping themselves deaf.”

    Be realistic, Alex. The Singaporeans who care about these things are a minority – usually the educated, middle-class liberal intelligensia. For the majority of Singaporeans, bread and butter issues still dominate their concerns. They might not even have heard about things like the mandatory death penalty or 377A.

    It is natural for people like you who associates mainly with other educated middle-class liberals to assume that your social circle is representative of everyone in Singapore. But it is not.

    • 6 Anonymous 14 August 2011 at 13:50

      @Terence Who is being condescending now? Even Thai farmers want their rights enough to protest. Just because people are poor does not mean they are stupid.

      • 7 Terence 14 August 2011 at 21:17

        They protest because of bread and butter issues, not liberal pet issues like gay rights or censorship or the death penalty.

        Note that I never said poor people are stupid. You are the condescending one who equates “being concerned with bread and butter issues” with “being stupid”.

    • 8 Samuel 14 August 2011 at 23:17

      Hi Terence, just my two cents, but just because a minority are pushing for liberty and dignity issues does not mean that they should be ignored. It may be the case that the majority of Singaporeans are concerned with bread-and-butter issues but I see no reason why that means asking the PAP to give their attention to liberty and dignity issues is unrealistic.

      The two issues at hand seem to be dealing with different things. And there are also two different government institutions dealing with the changes should they be enacted. The death penalty and 377A are issues of law, while the rising costs of living are issues ranging from housing to cost of food and electricity. If dealing with issues of liberty and dignity take away resources from bread-and-butter issues, then I would agree with you that it is unrealistic AND selfish to request that the PAP sacrifice the needs of the majority for the minority. However, seeing as it is not the case, why would it be unrealistic for the PAP to cater to the needs of the minority?

  4. 9 Cher 14 August 2011 at 13:37

    I particularly liked your inputs yesterday at the forum because you were able to bring in balanced view point from an independent point of view. I too support that the country should acede to International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

    Thank you for your insightful thoughts yesterday🙂

  5. 10 K Das 14 August 2011 at 14:18

    Nobody can deny that the brilliant PAP leadership has always been ahead of time, bringing S’pore to where it is today and planning in terms of 10-20 years to secure the nation’s survivability, security and prosperity in a fast changing world.

    The problem is that they are so consumed with GDP growth and immediate and long term future that they failed to take note and address the suffering of large segments of common people burdened with high cost of living with insufficient or no income. How the PAP allowed the situation to reach this critical point is beyond my comprehension. People who find their life an immense struggle presently want the Government to help them now and they don’t care or want to know what you can deliver in 10-20 years time. The PM has taken note of the issues and the frustrations from the ground and we have to give him reasonable time to tackle them.

    Tan Chuan Jin is young and dynamic with in-depth knowledge of governance and critical issues facing Singapore. I first met him at Chai Chee neighbourhood as a new comer PAP candidate. He was friendly, cheerful and completely at ease talking to and interacting with the residents. I met him subsequently at a focus group meeting and he was sincere and impressive.

    It is the younger junior Ministers like him, under the tutelage of good, humble and able Ministers like Tharman and Kaw Boon Hwan, who will eventually take over the baton to govern Singapore.

    I do not for a moment buy the argument that the Ministers are in it for the millions that they can earn. Such taunting is demeaning to them. Each and every one of the Minsiters was already earning substantially even before he or she got into politics. When life is already blessed and comfortable for them, why should they sacrifice their family life, privacy and freedom and go through the added stress and strain that can even adversely impact their mental and physical health – all for a ministerial post and a million more? It is my unshakeable belief that it is not the additional million but an inner calling that makes them to come out to serve and contribute to the care, welfare and happiness of the common man and for the national good.

    I can tell you with hand on my heart that I have nothing to do with PAP and that I speak from the bottom of my heart when it is so fashionable now to criticize and crucify the PAP.

  6. 11 astro 14 August 2011 at 16:16

    @terrence. Thats YOUR opinion. by the way, the singapore middle class are definitely NOT the minority. Don’t you know that they represent a hefty percent of the population?

  7. 12 Chuan-Jin Tan 14 August 2011 at 16:44

    Hi Alex.

    Thanks for being part of the dialogue with Vincent, Nicole and Kum Hong.

    I agree with you that economics cannot be the end. It must surely be the means to the ends and that life here must be more than just numbers and digits.

    Some of the most important things in life cannot be quantified this way and I think we should not even try. I won’t try and repeat what you said under ‘Justice’ as you have articulated it very well and these things must matter.

    It cannot be just about economics and self interests. But we do have a responsibility to continue to provide the range of needs that our people require. And this includes jobs, stability etc.

    We plan to do more to strengthen social safety nets and to see how better to help those at the lower income segments. We have been doing so and do plan to improve in that area. I see it less from an income gap perspective; rather, the focus is how do we bring up those that find it difficult to break out of the low income segments. Income redistribution via transfers and other measures will play a big part in this. We will see what other direct intervention efforts we can do.

    Your quote about “Capitalism without a moral conscience about social and economic justice cannot sustain any society” is apt. And a useful reminder to us all.

    As for the rhetoric of crisis…I am not sure if that’s how I would describe it…the underlying concerns do worry us. Some may disagree that there are concerns and it is being overplayed, others will feel turned off because they understand and don’t need to be reminded.

    I don’t think it is the only narrative because there is more to who we are and what we want to be. But I do know we certainly try and grapple with things to keep things going.

    What it should not be is an excuse to conveniently neglect other areas that matter. It need not have to be a zero-sum game. Finding that balancing point would have to be not just something for Government to do, but for us all to figure out.

  8. 17 Anon 14 August 2011 at 17:48

    “Transport solutions will necessitate much investment. Investment must be recovered, which means costs will rise, but so long as people cannot afford higher charges, there’s no way out of that problem, at least not a sustainable one.”

    Is it not true that taxes are collected to help pay for some of these public services? Putting it simplistically, just as the National Library, for example, does not expect to “recover” it’s costs, I think that we should work on a similar-ish model for Public Transport and that “cost recovery” should not be the aim. I think that, perhaps, some of the collection from COEs or ERPs can go into the funding of Public Transport, which I believe should remain public. But that’s a dicussion for another day, in another forum.

    • 18 yawningbread 14 August 2011 at 18:34

      Taxes cannot accommodate more and more spending without themselves having to go up. So whether one recovers costs via higher fares or higher taxes, it’s much the same thing.

      • 19 yuen 14 August 2011 at 20:31

        not the same; tax rates generally rise with income, and high income people use public transport less; making them share the burden is philosophically fine, but socially may not be, since these people already pay high levies to own cars

      • 20 yawningbread 14 August 2011 at 22:41

        That’s true of income taxes, but not other taxes like GST, for example. However, the point is infrastructure investments needed to provide better public transport has to be paid for. It is possible to only tax the rich and expect them to be the ultimate payers for a public good that is mostly used by the less well-off, but somewhere in there then lies an injustice too. To be fair, the users (at least those who aren’t altogether without income) of public transport need to pay a share, either as fares or as taxes. So, to the extent that they have stagnant incomes, how to raise more money?

      • 21 Anon 15 August 2011 at 06:14

        I see COEs and ERPs as taxes – these are the taxes I’m referring to. In no way am I saying that we provide free public transport or that fares should never go up; but certainly the pain for those who have no choice can be eased. I think this is one way in which the “rich” can “help” the “poor”.

  9. 22 Anonymous 14 August 2011 at 18:01

    ” The paradigm of letting the rich get richer in the hope that some pennies trickle down is being seen for what it is — a disaster. Capitalism without a moral conscience about social and economic justice cannot sustain any society.”

    The above theory that LKY subscript to is actually a paraphrase for slavery. And in order to perpetuate capitalism upon income inequality, the citizens are forced to take up increasing leverage of debt.

    The whole system is going to implode whether LKY like it or not. It will happened within 10 years.

  10. 23 Tat Tong 15 August 2011 at 01:18

    Yesterday marked the first time I’ve gone to a forum of this nature, and I’ve been greatly enriched by it. Kudos to all participants! Here are some of my thoughts on a personal level, just in case they read this…

    Alex – there’s absolutely no need to feel inadequate about what you said yesterday – your analyses were spot on and delivered with a lot of humor and humanity. Well done!

    Chuan-Jin – I was pleasantly surprised by some of the things you said, and the way you said them. I know that it must be difficult to be cornered by so many people about policies and events that happened way before your recent tenure as Minister, and to be bound in what you can and cannot say as a representative of the ruling party. Nevertheless, after hearing from you, my cynical anti-establishment heart thinks there might be hope for the PAP yet! Please continue to work hard and always have the peoples’ interest in mind. Actions speak loudest!

    Vincent – I was deeply impressed by your intellect and the incisive analysis you brought to the issues. However, you may wish to work on your delivery a little – you came across as a little bit of a cold, dispassionate intellectual, which is ironic because you are obviously so passionate about building a more humane and just society. Hope to see a style that matches your substance so that more people can connect with your message in future!

    Nicole – Your empathy for the poor and disenfranchised shone through, as usual. Please continue to work on deepening and broadening your policy knowledge (as you mentioned yourself during the forum) and I’m sure you’ll be a formidable rhetorical force in time to come!

  11. 24 Vincent Wijeysingha 15 August 2011 at 01:21

    Alex,
    As ever it was a pleasure and an honour to share a platform with you; your comments are always insightful. And it was great to spar with an articulate and (for the most part) unemotional minister. Nicole was her usual down to earth and sensible self and Kum Hong moderated adroitly.

    I believe the key issues that face the government today are three:

    (a) The continuing desire for government social control, as represented in its most odious form by the continuing presence on the statute book of the ISA and the management of the national demographic through a selective (and secretive) immigration policy;

    (b) An economic system that prioritises a low-wage industrial framework which therefore cannot address Chuan Jin’s points about helping the low-waged and those who are unable to participate in the economy; and

    (c) A rhetoric (but not reality) of meritocracy that immediately polarises the community into those who are able to take advantage of the economic framework and those who, for various reasons, are disadvantaged; again a platform that cannot reconcile with Chuan Jin’s stated intentions of helping the less fortunate.

    The problems thrown up by these essentially dissonant and contradictory policy foundations cannot be resolved within the PAP’s current policy framework. One cannot prioritise a low wage economy and an anti-helping approach to welfare and at the same time say we aim to help those less fortunate because the policy framework gives rise to disadvantage and poverty, no matter how much the government says it wants to give more thought to helping the disadvantaged.

    Additionally, the social control agenda, itself a mechanism to entrench this particular economic platform, is inimical to both a mature democracy or an economy that is rapidly losing its low wage comparative advantage.

    Chuan Jin’s rejection of the minimum wage is a case in point. The argument that the jury is still out on the efficacy of the minimum wage was one that has been made by other ministers and MPs but is manifestly false. And it can in no way be considered an inferior programme to Workfare for the reasons I cited at the forum such as that it constitutes another expenditure burden on the citizen and effectively a subsidy to business. Not to mention that Workfare is largely corralled in one’s CPF account and therefore does not resolve the immediate income needs of workers.

    I would strongly assert that if we want to help the less fortunate, let’s start with economic justice, ie. a salary that allows you to live a decent life. If the government rejects that out of hand, then its avowal of more help for the disadvantaged unfortunately, rings hollow.

    I think these were the points I was trying to raise. I hope, as part of the new listening government, they will be addressed, because we are already seeing the onset of the limitations of the current economic programme which then propel the government to earn more and more through taxation rather than through innovative and creative economic programmes. Notably through (a) the drive to further force down wages, (b) the increase in the citizen taxation burden through indirect taxes such as GST, ERP, COE, and (c) the rising costs of business rentals (including HDB shops and stalls and Comfort taxi rentals).

    • 25 yawningbread 15 August 2011 at 01:38

      Perhaps it may be worthwhile recording here a factoid that Tan Chuan-jin mentioned at the forum: The average monthly wage of cleaners in Singapore is $650. It supports your point, Vincent, that this is below dignity. How does on survive in Singapore, let alone feed dependents, with $650?

      However, I would be careful before using this figure to enquire whether this figure referred to the monthly wage of cleaners who are citizens and Permanent Residents, or whether it’s an average that includes work permit holders.

      • 26 Vincent Wijeysingha 15 August 2011 at 11:12

        Alex,
        My work with both migrant and citizen cleaners suggest that this is the average for the industry as a whole (ie citizens AND work permit holders). But that is precisely an important part of the issue, since labour supply is a key component of wage control.

    • 27 twasher 15 August 2011 at 03:32

      Can you elaborate more on how the social control agenda is related to the economic issues? I think there are still many people who believe that it is possible to have a mature economy where the average wage is high without having to transition to a liberal democracy on the social front.

      I myself would hypothesize the link as follows: Part of transitioning to a more mature economy is to go into the creative industries. These include research, the arts, design, etc. In order to grow these industries, one needs to attract (and keep) people with the requisite talents. But these people disproportionately prefer to live in liberal societies. An authoritarian society therefore presents a significant barrier to growing the high-wage, more value-added sectors of the economy.

      That’s my hypothesis, but I’m interested to know if there are any other ways in which social control is related to a mature economy.

      • 28 Vincent Wijeysingha 15 August 2011 at 11:17

        Twasher,
        You have answered the question yourself, quote:

        “Part of transitioning to a more mature economy is to go into the creative industries. These include research, the arts, design, etc. In order to grow these industries, one needs to attract (and keep) people with the requisite talents. But these people disproportionately prefer to live in liberal societies. An authoritarian society therefore presents a significant barrier to growing the high-wage, more value-added sectors of the economy.”

        Other ways in which social control is a function of the economy (and by the way, my doctoral thesis studied precisely this relationship – am happy to send you a copy) are that control of the population is necessary for an unjust economic system: the trade union movement is tamed or coopted; the education system inculcates a stratified society; and housing, savings and healthcare policies lock people into wage bondage.

      • 29 Paul 15 August 2011 at 18:51

        I think there may be an even more direct link than the one you posit (though I don’t disagree with your suggestion).

        Assuming that people tend to be self-interested, those who have money will want to hold on to and increase their money, the efforts of which are facilitated by having money, possibly at the expense of those who lack money. I.e. the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. According to some political philosophies, then, a govt has the role of a disinterested party that acts to ensure that the interests of the have-nots are not entirely abrogated in the process. Those who subscribe to such a philosophy may then cry foul if they perceive the govt of the day as not fulfilling its duty, or if the govt appears to be paying lip service to the principle but in practice is more sympathetic to the haves. The problem with the social control agenda is the ability or even wont to stifle discourse which may highlight such economic issues or efforts to bring out economic policy change.

        Remember that liberalism is not some ‘new age hippie lifestyle choice’ that people should ‘tolerate’ because all those ‘kooky creative types’ will bring economic benefits – among other things it means a greater acceptance of dissenting voices, which may enrich the discourse in *any* area of public policy.

      • 30 twasher 15 August 2011 at 22:55

        Vincent:

        Yes, I would be interested in reading your thesis. You can send it to [my name] at gmail.com.

  12. 31 Tan Ah Kow 15 August 2011 at 04:18

    Personally, I am not that enamoured with the PAP’s prowess in its handling of Economic policies. To be brutal the PAP policy is fundamentally nothing more than an extension of economic policy since…. well… Stamford Raffles albeit adapted to suit contemporary circumstance. The idea that Singapore jumped from nothing to modernity is about as believable as the existing of a live Merlion. This leads me to the point you raise about the “the rhetoric of crisis”, which is not particular to Chuan-Jin Tan but the PAP obsession as a whole.

    My view is that PAP “crisis” obsession is probably a mask to its inability to see beyond the myth it has created. Chuan-Jin Tan in his reply talks about “strengthen social safety nets and to see how better to help those at the lower income segments”. If that is indeed PAP’s policy direction, so far I have yet to see how it plans to do so given the constrains it has engineered into its policy — i.e. focusing on GDP growth and accumulating reserve. Does strengthening “social safety net” going to mean, as Vincent noted, imply the introduction of minimal wage instead of cycling money back to CPF? Or something radical like taxing foreign worker to pay for unemployed Singaporean risking making it unattractive for overseas investors who can’t have the leverage to depress wages?

    Frankly, I can’t really see who in the PAP is prepared to initiate a drastic leap changing policy, certainly not Chuan-Jin Tan however affable he may be. From this point forward any significant policy change is going to mean a departure from the two basic PAP economic tenant — growth and high reserve.

    Ok as a political party the PAP needs to make a stance and it has chosen to adopt the policy they have come hell or high water, which is what one would expect a political party if they wish to consistent ought to do. However, you noted the disappointing state of civil society and this is a sentiment I share with you more than PAP’s perceived failing. In particular, the part of the civil society most conspicuous in their absent are the independent economic experts. Where are the Hayek and Keynes of Singapore?

  13. 32 The 16 August 2011 at 11:05

    /// However, the point is infrastructure investments needed to provide better public transport has to be paid for. It is possible to only tax the rich and expect them to be the ultimate payers for a public good that is mostly used by the less well-off, but somewhere in there then lies an injustice too. ///

    Just the transport related taxes collected far exceed the transport infrastructure development and operational costs each year. Just add up the collection from road tax, ARF, PARF, COE, petrol taxes, ERP and you have billions left over each year after paying for road buildings and amortization of MRTconstruction costs.


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