Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book List Refreshed! 29/03/2011

I have removed:

Power Hungry by Robert Bryce
Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet by Michael T. Klare
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein

I have added:

Econned by Yves Smith
The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics by Richard C. Koo
Making Sense of Life by Evelyn Fox Keller
The Next Decade by George Friedman

When the PAP loses an election, it will be time to leave.

Elections are around the corner. I have not posted anything on the upcoming elections. This isn't because I am politically apathetic. On the contrary, I am politically more aware than most Singaporeans.

The reason why I have not posted anything on the upcoming elections is because I do not think the result is in any doubt. The PAP will be returned to power again. The only thing in question is how big of a majority will they command. Will it be merely overwhelming, or ludicrously so?

And we all know why the PAP is so successful during elections. It has stacked the deck in its favor, shifted goalposts where necessary, subverted supposedly non-partisan organizations, co-opted potential opponents, passed legislation favorable to itself, leashed the media in its service and cultivated an environment where dissent is stifled for fear of reprisal.

You would think that a political party that is so proud of its policy successes (and that never fails to remind us about it!) would be more confident that it would be returned to power at each election on its own merits. Yet, it wheedles for every advantage it can get.

Is this not a sign of weakness? Or is it because the PAP genuinely believes that Singaporeans are too stupid to make the "obvious choice"?

This is not a rhetorical question. How one answers it is an indication of one's view of Singapore and Singaporeans.

With all of its political safeguards in place, it would be a miracle if the PAP is NOT returned to power.

Which brings me back to the title of this post, "When the PAP loses an election, it will be time to leave."

Living conditions in Singapore would have to deteriorate to an extremely serious state for the PAP to lose elections even with all of their incumbent's advantages.

Singapore will never reach such a parlous state, people scoff. We're not Egypt, Libya or Yemen.

Actually, one thing I do agree with our esteemed Minister Mentor is that Singapore, being small and vulnerable, does stand at the edge of disaster all the time. I disagree, however with the remedy.

Our political elite decided long ago that the best solution to the problem of "The little island that could" was to have a powerful government, ruled by the PAP that is for all intents and purposes, THE government. And this government, presumably staffed with the most talented people, would run the country in the best way possible. And politically, this government would be unfettered by irksome little opposition parties that in more democratic inefficient countries, would have to be dealt with, or heaven forbid, accommodated.

That model might have worked in earlier days. Perhaps it might even have been necessary during those uncertain times. But that model is showing its age, just as the ideas, attitudes and perspectives of the ruling party are looking stagnant, unresponsive, disconnected, and worst of all, dogmatic. Any criticism of current PAP government policy is treated as heresy.

A monolithic government such as ours can coast along for a long while without major problems. But a true crisis, a black swan, one that the PAP cannot handle, will lead to catastrophic failure. And without a robust framework in place for orderly transition and change of political leadership, Singapore would fail and fail irrecoverably.

Our politics are as impoverished as our most disadvantaged citizens.

The PAP government has conflated its existence and success with the existence and success of Singapore itself. No less than Ngiam Tong Dow stated, "I think our leaders have to accept that Singapore is larger than the PAP."

By so systematically dismantling and disempowering political opposition, the PAP is planting the seeds of its own destruction. If and when the PAP slips from power, there will be no second chances for it. No renewal for the PAP can come from a desert wasteland if Singapore fails irrecoverably.

In the past few years since the last election, many Singaporeans have wondered if our country has lost its way. It doesn't feel like home anymore. The government appears disconnected from the aspirations and needs of citizens.

If this is what the PAP calls success, I am not sure I would want to stick around to see what failure is like.

If a change in direction is needed in our policies, then it is best that the change be made as soon as possible.

But just as police states everywhere have a nasty habit of tightening controls just as the population gets restive, I have no doubt that the PAP will stack the deck even more heavily in its favor if ever in the future it is at even the slightest risk of losing power.

The PAP is so sure that its policies are the correct course of action that it would persist even in the face of severe opprobrium. The only concession made would be the occasional window-dressing that we are seeing now.

And if anyone believes that current immigration and economic policy is going to be reversed after the election, they will be severely disabused of this notion in a matter of months.

This is a government that has a hard time taking responsibility and criticism even for a minor flash flood, what more a true crisis that might be a result of its own doing, such as the demographic time bomb that continues to tick.


When you are in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. The imperial nature of our government is not a sustainable state of affairs for any country, if only because men are proud and fallible. It is even less sustainable in a country like ours.

I can feel the hole becoming deeper.

I am less sanguine than our ministers who flippantly state that if the PAP were to lose its relevance, it will lose the mandate of the people and presumably gracefully step aside for a new party. Everything about the PAP shows that it would sooner change the rules of the game before that happens.

The question is, what will the PAP leave behind for a new government when it eventually does lose power, against all odds? A smoking ruin, or a shattered country?

When the PAP loses an election, it will be too late to leave. The time to leave would have been before.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Quick Thoughts on Sunday Times, 13 March 2011

"Not just an 'ordinary' girl from HDB family" - Think p.37

This article profiled Rachel Eng, a managing partner from the top law firm WongPartnership. Interestingly, Ms. Eng said little, if anything, about social mobility in her interview, but the Sunday Times chose to put a spin on it that way, billing the article as "Rachel Eng: Top Lawyer is a study in social mobility" on the front page sidebar. The writer, Wong Kim Hoh, also started his article by citing her as a prime example of social mobility.

Ms. Eng used the word "lucky", "blessed", and "alignment of the stars" in her interview. Granted, none of the these were in relation to her transcending her humble background to becoming a high-powered lawyer, but more in relation to her current living and working situation. But clearly, this is a woman who knows and counts her blessings.

In contrast, in today's edition, the quote from Ng Eng Hen on social mobility can be found on the next page, Think p. 38, "You are the one who can determine your own success - yes, life might be hard for you, but if you try, you can succeed, and other have."

To relate to a previous post of mine which resonated with many readers, I've found that people who transcend their backgrounds tend to fall into one of two categories. One is exemplified by Ng Eng Hen, who takes the view that "If [insert underprivileged person here] can do it, anyone can." In recent parliamentary proceedings, he used himself as an example.

Ms. Eng fits more closely with the second category. Such a person tends to recognize that while their own talent played a major role in their lives, luck, chance, opportunity and just being in the right place at the right time are also very important. They are more likely to, on seeing someone less privileged, go "There, but for the grace of...".

Ms. Eng's example drew from her own pioneering experiences in the then growing WongPartnership, now one of the largest law firms in Singapore. That must have been a remarkable opportunity for her, and she probably realizes that.

Is there a "correct" view? I am not wise enough to answer that, but I am without question more sympathetic to the latter view, that luck and opportunity are just as great determinants of a person's success as talent. The former view has always struck me as being somewhat narcissistic and presumptuous. Perhaps not coincidentally, Ms. Eng is a woman, while Ng Eng Hen is a man. Make of that what you will.

Needless to say, whichever view a person hews to will have implications on their opinions on what kinds of public policies should be implemented. The fact that we have ministers such as Ng Eng Hen (and Mah Bow Tan) in government who come from very humble backgrounds is no guarantee that they will look out for the little people from their perches. Indeed, the opposite may be truer than not.

"Google Looking for a Bigger Town" - Home p.19

Google Singapore is expanding. But as I realized years ago when I first graduated as a freshly minted engineer, you have a better chance of working for Google in Singapore if you're an accountant or a top sales and business development person than if you are an IT professional.

The same goes for any number of technology and engineering MNCs in Singapore. There are engineering jobs available, but the really interesting engineering jobs are simply not here.

If your ambition is to work in manufacturing, quality assurance, batch testing or any number of technical, ok-paying (and perhaps not even that), but relatively dull jobs, you should have no problems.

But if you want really interesting work, the kind that happens in the Googleplex, you can stop hoping right now.

It's a vicious cycle. Because the interesting jobs aren't here, good students are increasingly not taking up engineering. In my time, engineering was a relatively sought after choice (but many engineering graduates did not end up in engineering). Today, as my interns and psychology experiment participants (recruited from local universities) tell me, engineering is a "dumping ground". It is not even a popular choice of study now, much less working in engineering. Popular majors now are economics, business, banking and finance and information systems.

And because good students aren't taking up engineering, there is little reason for companies to relocate high value work here. Not that talent alone is enough to ensure that; there are a multitude of other reasons why high value work does not come here to Singapore.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Well, it's bad if you're hellbent on being an engineer. But, than again, this is a situation that artists, musicians, writers and designers have long had to live with in Singapore. And they cope with it as best as they can, either venturing abroad or moderating their expectations here on this island.