Archive for the 'economy and finance' Category

Tesla: new technologies need new ways of thinking

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My mind wanders a lot. There have been idle moments when, presented with a slice of birthday cake on a plastic or paper plate, I have wondered about the environmental-friendliness of the plate. Reading about Joe Nguyen’s travails in getting his Tesla model S licensed in Singapore, I started to wonder about cake on disposable plate again.  Continue reading ‘Tesla: new technologies need new ways of thinking’

Singapore joins deflation club

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Perhaps in other places there might have been headlines screaming ‘deflation’, but here in Singapore, it was just a passing mention in a story about mean incomes, and made to sound like an unequivocally good thing.

Median income, including employer Central Provident Fund contributions, for Singaporeans working full-time grew 6.5 per cent from June 2014 to June last year to reach $3,798. The growth was 7 per cent after adjusting for negative inflation of 0.5 per cent.

— Straits Times, 29 January 2016, Job growth hits 17-year low, but real wages up 7%

See how it slipped in there? ‘Negative inflation’. In other words, deflation. Continue reading ‘Singapore joins deflation club’

Bad news: wages up, unemployment low

There were two noteworthy nuggets of information in Straits Times’ front page story about employment numbers in 2015 (Friday, 29 January 2016). This essay will discuss the nugget from this statement:  “Just 100 more citizens and permanent residents were in jobs at the end of last year compared with the year before, although unemployment remained low, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.” My main aim in this essay is to examine the unquestioned assumptions that too often skew our appreciation of the facts.

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Continue reading ‘Bad news: wages up, unemployment low’

Asean single market and the free movement of skilled labour

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In a recent blogpost, Kenneth Jeyaretnam highlighted the imminent implementation of the Asean Agreement on the Movement of Natural Persons (MNP). He wrote:

While permanent rights to work in other member countries are excluded the fact that free movement is extended to Contractual Service Suppliers and Intra-Corporate Transferees means that the bar to stop businesses bringing in cheaper PMETs from other ASEAN countries is set very low.

The main text of this Agreement is not hard to find from the Asean website (but a key annex is missing). In its preamble, it gives a nod to “the mandate of the Asean Economic Community Blueprint” dating from 20 November 2007 wherein the “free flow of skilled labour is one of the core elements of an Asean single market and production base.” Continue reading ‘Asean single market and the free movement of skilled labour’

Flats are not houses, think hospital beds instead

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Where we go wrong is in our use of words. I have always cringed when Singaporeans use the word “house” to mean their flat. I may be old-fashioned in this respect, but I would only use the word “house” when I refer to a dwelling that sits directly on a plot of land; I would not use it for a pigeon coop in the sky. If one looks at international usage, that’s probably the norm.

The wrong choice of words affects how we think of something. Words come with associations and values. I’d argue that our careless choice of words warp how we think of Housing and Development Board flats — public housing in which 85% of Singaporeans live. Continue reading ‘Flats are not houses, think hospital beds instead’

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’