GE2015: Final thoughts (1 of 4)

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We are at a curious point in history. Whenever I share my electoral preferences, my PAP friends call me an opposition supporter; and my opposition friends call me a PAP supporter.

Why? I’ll come back to that at the end of these four pieces, but first I want to discuss three issues I think are important.

This is not some comprehensive analysis of this election. Just three issues that I think haven’t been given enough consideration; and that have affected my choice.

They are: the diversity of ideas in Singapore; the nexus of power in Singapore; and Singapore’s population policies.

Diversity of ideas

First, as Singapore prepares for its next phase of development, we simply do not have a sufficient diversity of ideas in the public realm. Our level of public debate and discourse is terrible. Our country is not having the conversations it so desperately needs.

Though our political complacency is partly to blame, I believe it is mostly the PAP’s fault. It does not genuinely want the opposition and observers like myself to contribute to any debate.

There is very little transparency of data and information, as I have shown here. One of the more amusing things to emerge from campaigning the last two weeks is this false dichotomy presented by the PAP: Singapore or Greece. Apparently any increase in social spending is fiscally reckless.

But how does anybody know? We have no access to information about Singapore’s reserves. As Yeoh Lam Keong, GIC’s former chief economist, has emphasised here, these proposed social spending packages may not be as onerous to Singapore as the PAP makes out.

In Singapore, the conventional theory is that the PAP, the civil service and the government-controlled media have so many brainy people engaging on all the important issues of the day. And so Singapore has no need for alternative views.

That is utter nonsense.

The government only permits public discussion of issues that are in its own interest. To prove my point, here is one glaring recent omission.

What is the most significant economic idea of the past two years? It’s from Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, where he shows, among other things, that in the long run, returns to capital will exceed economic growth, leading to concentrations of wealth. In order to mitigate the inequality, he suggests wealth taxes.

Since the book was published, every developed country in the world has been having a lively debate about wealth.

In Singapore, barely a whimper. In the last few years we have finally been allowed to talk about income inequality, but not about wealth inequality.

A trust fund kid sitting in daddy’s home on Nassim Road can have no income but be very, very wealthy. As Piketty makes clear, society needs to address both inequalities.

I wrote an article on the IPS Commons site eighteen months ago on this, to try and instigate discussion, but nothing. There are still no serious opinion pieces in any newspaper—aside from one, fawning speech by a professor that essentially deflects the core issue of wealth inequality.

Singapore, of course, is the best place in the world for wealthy people. Zero wealth taxes. Zero inheritance tax. That’s why billionaires have been flocking here. They’re not coming to eat chap chye, to drink Michael Jackson, or to watch Phua Chu Kang. They’re here because of wealth preservation.

Guess who else belongs to this elite 0.1% class? Our politicians. Is Singapore the only developed democracy in the world where every single senior politician and senior civil servant belongs to the global 0.1%? Probably.

One of the great contradictions, I’ve always found, about the PAP’s incessant moralising about corruption is this: on the one hand, it preaches about clean government, honesty, transparency. On the other, it allows into this country not only capital of questionable origin but also characters of disrepute, such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Both have a direct effect on our cost of living.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that Indonesians who are on the run from their own government take refuge in Singapore.

It is because, among other things, we have a tame media that won’t intrude and a ruling party that finds kinship in the global 0.1%.

In fact, Singapore does not even measure wealth inequality. We don’t measure wealth, and we don’t measure poverty.

We pretend that these “problems” don’t exist. Some estimates suggest that Singapore is the most unequal country on the planet in terms of wealth.

Now, I have friends and family who are Randian capitalists. They don’t necessarily share my humanistic impulses for distributing wealth more equally.

But even for them, my argument is: every revolution in history—every single one—has its roots in wealth inequality. We spend so much time in Singapore worrying about external threats that we have ignored the one brewing in our own backyard.

If you care about Singapore’s stability, you must concern yourself with mitigating wealth inequality.

For sure, this does not mean communism or even excessive wealth taxes.

But at the very least we need to talk about it. Singaporeans need to be having a more open, honest, consultative debate about what kind of a society we want. And we will simply not get that from the PAP when its leaders belong to that same global plutocracy.

One more point.

Singapore is the only developed democracy in the world where politicians do not have to make asset declarations. The electorate will never know how much wealth they created for themselves while in office.

Why is this important? Here is an example.

Recall when politicians and civil servants were spending all our taxpayer money on Marina Bay—including casinos, F1, and, of course, the famous rebranding exercise, where $400,000 of our money was paid to a branding agency to rename Marina Bay as….Marina Bay.

When public money was being used to enhance Marina Bay, were our politicians investing in any Marina Bay properties?

Maybe not. And even if they were, there is nothing illegal. Just a potential conflict of interest that might be worth noting.

Similarly, when the PAP government refrained from cooling our red-hot housing market in 2004-11, how many landed properties did our ministers and senior civil servants hold? While the lower-income brackets were being priced out of their own country’s housing market, by how much did our ministers’ net worth increase?

Again, there is no suggestion of illegality here. Simply that we the voters, by allowing the PAP to act as its own check-and-balance, have grown ignorant about the many conflicts of interest that plague Singapore society today. Which brings me to my next point.

This is part 1 of 4. To read part 2, click here.

***

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36 responses

  1. Pingback: GE 2015: Final Thoughts - www.hardwarezone.com.sg

  2. How can wealth be better distributed to attain a Heavenly world on earth for humankind?

    Communism has failed because we know those in the Kremlin and in the Great Hall of the People eat, wear, sleep, dine and travel at a higher level than that enjoyed by the hoi polloi. There is inequality of wealth in Communism.

    Capitalism, as is, will not last forever too.

    Sharing what I wrote on art of governing without taxes, and where wealth [including talents, resources] will be employed and voluntarily offered by humans unselflshly to serve the Common Core, the highest of the highest for the sake of mankind.

    A Heavenly world must materialise on earth by rising above the ruins of Communism and Capitalism.

    The link:

    https://tankoktim.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/art-of-governing-taxes-inflation-cost-of-living-wage-inequality/

    Is red dot a socialist nation today or is it that PAP has forgotten the Original Mission Statement upon which it was founded?

    What socialist policies are missing in governing red dot?

    Is socialism the replacement of Communism and Capitalism? Not at all as it has inherent flaws too.

    Sharing what I wrote on Socialist Policies at this link:

    https://tankoktim.wordpress.com/category/socialistic-policies/

  3. Pingback: Final thoughts before polling day | Easy Addiction

  4. What is worse, this government has no qualms about taxing the common citizen who may have taken a life time to save. The compulsory CPF minimum sum held back at 55 that is treated alike an annuity to be doled out in monthly payments when one reaches 65. But, if a commoner were to die at 64, his bequest will not included the accrued interest of the nine years. For example, if you had $100,000 in CPF Life at 55 years of age, and you are paid an interest of 4% per annum. You will earn an interest of $4,000 per year. So for 9 years, you would have earned some $36,000. Your family or your beneficiaries will receive only $100,000 or a little more but the $36,000 will be absorbed by the CPF Life Insurance Pool. Read pages: 27 to 30 on the CPF PDF file this link.
    The rationale is to compensate some annuitants who may live till 90. Leong Sze Hian has given a clearer example. The link is attached at the end. This CPF Life Annuity Fund is more complicated than the AHPTEC saga in terms of accrued interest on the principle and how the bequest is calculated. If I had saved that $100,000 in my bank with a flat rate of 3% per annum, I would receive $3,000 a year as interest. And for 9 years that accrued interest would be $27,000. My bequest to my beneficiaries will be $100,000 + $27,000=$127,000.
    But according to the example given by CPF in the above link–Mr Tan would have an accumulated fund of $156,446 after 10 years at 65. But if he dies at 65. His bequest or his beneficiaries will only receive $111,922. So, even with a 6% interest on the first $60,000, this bequest is way below the $127,000 that my family will receive if I had put the money in the bank with a 3% interest per annum.
    http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/…/latest-questions-about-c…/
    https://mycpf.cpf.gov.sg/…/documen…/booklets/lifebooklet.pdf
    http://www.ifa.sg/cpf-life-standard-is-the-worst/
    https://www.silverpages.sg/money_matter_article.aspx…

  5. I am a professional earning about $20 thousand a month for many years and I am now in my fifties. All I could do is to upgrade from a HDB flat to a shoe box 4 room condominium. It cost more than $2 million. I am still in debt. I could have bought a nice landed house if I was earning my income in the 80s and 90s but not now. The houses I aspired for are now for those who have more than $10 million which only the wealthy businessmen and foreigners have.

  6. I’d like to commend you on this very well-written, concise and fair article. It’s interesting to note that many Singaporeans share the same sentiment in this election – myself included. Hopefully this will reflect in the results soon.

  7. Pingback: [VIRUS] : Ensuring that this gets as wide a read as possible before September 11, Polling Day - www.hardwarezone.com.sg

  8. Pingback: (GLGT) This singaporean wrote this about GE2015. LHL read liao also **** his pants! - www.hardwarezone.com.sg

  9. 1. I would take any economic advice from a left wing economist whose country has a debt/gdp near 100%, 56% of gdp is public spending and close to 12% unemployment rate with a pinch of salt.

    2. Piketty is hardly a genius. In my uni days in France he was praised ONLY by left wing economy professors. The theory that capital will supersede labor is utter nonsense in a day and age where money is deposited in bank accounts and can be borrowed by people like you/me to buy stuff we need. Rich people don’t stash their money in their mattresses: it is used in the global economy.

    3. Using piketty as an example of “we should have an open debate about things such as wealth/income disparity” is pretty loaded as any economic theory is the base of a political ideology. Piketty being a a left winger he has difficulty with capital and open/market based economies and his ideas were debunked more than once.

    4. If your article had been neutral, you could have started off with a more universal theme? (but that’s just me)

    5. Yes, politicians in Singapore are in the top percentile of the population. You are lucky it is the case (and that the rule of law is enforced in singapore). If your politicians were in it for the money, you would have corruption cases left right and center with politicians trading favors to make money or stay in power. (reminds me of an opposition MP who gave me his card once, at the back he had the logos/names of the various businesses he was involved in. In short he was mixing politics and business)

    Singapore has a great system where the Government lives within its means and tries to generate a surplus via its investments. It has a good leadership. Perhaps the system needs some tweaks to cater more to the less fortunate (the “cardboard uncle” and the “cleaning auntie” should not exist for instance) but why vote opposition is beyond me: the only arguments the largest opposition party has is “we make the PAP work harder” (while we pocket our MP salary). PAP bashing as a programme hardly makes a good political choice.

    Anyways, elections are coming to a close and regardless of the outcome what matters here is that people care enough about the country that they talk and confront ideas. Next week, Singapore will still be a great country that attracts people from different walks of life (not just the wealthy) and Singaporeans will still be a welcoming/friendly bunch.

    Good luck to all

  10. Disagree. Respectfully. A lot of the politicians are leaders in the industry and SAF. They would have make a lot of wealth too without joining politics. I for one would not want that kind of big money and work so hard, only to be condemned by those they served. Would you? And fathers inspire sons so they end up doing the same thing, and this writer go around and sow seeds of doubt and lies without accusing. In a court of law, innocent until proven guilty. If I’m LHL, I will quit if not for the gratefulness of some Singaporens. Come on, he even has cancer before, why send his remaining life doing these kind of thankless work. Pleading with people to vote for him. Singapore has become a thankless lot. I suggest they go leave in some other countries for a while, like I did to appreciate what we have.

    • It is not about how much they earn or have. It is about the transparency. Without transparency, we don’t even know how much they own to start with. Of course being a good politician is hard work, and they deserve to be rewarded. But better in a clean and transparent way. You are confusing your own gratitude with sound governance.

  11. Very good point. I am not sure the traditional media will fill your expectation though as they are funded and managed by the same govt officials. Maybe self blogging by individuals is a way out thanks to internet.
    The disappointing issue here is that we do not have quality enough opposition. The problems you mentioned above are real and they are supposed to be debated and addressed during election time in a properly functioning democracy. However to my great disappointment i do not see any meaningful challenge from any opposition. The most credible opposition among all, the workers party, are themselves subject to questions in managing the town councils and their very leftish image makes me doubt they best represent the interest of middle class. I will skip the rest of the oppositions for any serious discussion.
    So that leaves us no choice, even if we in theory have a choice to vote. To have a west like public debate culture in singapore, we need better quality oppositions.

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    • Don’t forget to mention piketty is left wing when sharing 😉 he was an economic advisor to Socialist candidate to the French presidential elections in 2012. The guy is a liability coming from the land that hosted Marx, trostky and Lenine in the good old days…

      • Anybody to the left of Ayn Rand is “left wing” to some people. My American friends talk about how Ronald Reagan, lauded as a “great hero” to “conservatives” in his day and for years after, would be viewed as a “left winger” today. He acknowledged a few problems whose solution would have led to noticeable inconvenience for the 0.1% — so of course they’re not being solved.

        When one family and its hangers-on control the one party that has been allowed to have meaningful power for half a century, to the point that all media, the civil service, the judiciary, and other organs are incapable of distinguishing the interests of the Family, Party, and cronies from the interests of the nation, you have a problem. When “independent” sovereign-wealth funds controlled by those actors control the majority of the economy, you don’t have capitalism, by Piketty’s, Adam Smith’s, or any other reputable definition. You have “the fusion of State and corporate power”, which was how Benito Mussolini described his new political movement in the 1920s. Fascism is the antithesis of democracy.

  13. Whatever you say, whatever you write, it will make no difference to the result. The majority of Singaporeans are quite happy with the gahmen. They bleat because they wanna bleat. They cannot bleat in the STAITS TIMES because the the newspaper is the mouthpiece of the gahmen.
    And the Editors have no balls.
    Niuffin will change for a generation.
    The Pappies have all by the “goalies”.

    And the lap dog ST..will continue to trumpet the Pappies voice and resist publishing anything against the gahmen or ST.
    This is part the fault of the Singaporeans who have allowed ST (SPH) to be the ugly and obscene monopoly it is.

    Fifty years ago the late LKY told ST..you do it my way or no way,.to keep yr licence. Since then every editor has had to now tow to the gahmen.
    And writers like Opinion Editor Chua MH is the unofficial voice of the pappies with no opinion of her own. Because she cannot have any.
    AT ST..if you voice an opinion that is contrast to ST.. you will be fired.
    majulah singapura.

  14. THIS IS THE BIG QUESTION:
    Will Chua MH of ST wet her knickers with excitement after the results of the Pappies victory today?
    And will Warren Fernandez, Editor OF ST …piddle on the floor with happiness too.

  15. Pingback: #GE2015 | Write my letter, Feel much better

  16. I agree with you.
    The current ruling party and the others all have great candidates. There is no shortage of talent. However, the great candidate may not be standing for election in the estate/GRC/SMC we are living in. Hence then, where do our votes go?
    Point to note for ALL political parties, the win or loss is not painting a very clear picture on what’s on the ground. Some people vote for the candidate and some vote for what they believe in the political party. They may not be the same thing.
    The current voting system is such that we cannot choose the person we like to be our voice in the estate we live in. So votes by estates is not always conclusive.
    To all political parties: Please be more visible to the residents in your estate. So that we know who you are and what you can do for us. Don’t be ‘visible’ only when the next GE is coming up and the residents ‘know’ of you from posters on the street lamps. House visits are not just restricted to the ruling party. You have 4-5 years to the next GE. Use this time well.

  17. Pingback: GE2015 postmortem: the beauty of democracy « Musings from Singapore

  18. The politician’s income argument is tired and bores out of misunderstanding of how much other world leaders really make.
    Many look to the USA as reference, but do you know how much they are really worth besides their ‘declared’ annual income of USD400k?. Moreover, US presidents use for free( and when i mean for free, its the taxpayer’s money) facilities that our leaders have to deduct from their income. One instance is Air Force One, it cost approx. USD206k of taxpayer money per hour in flight , and its the only means of flight transport the US president uses when flying overseas. Not to mention the various other exclusive means of transport that the president uses.

    In addition, we have to create incentive for our leaders to stay in parliament. Many of our leaders have good qualifications that can easily get them CEO/Director positions in the private sector , and I can honestly imagine many not staying if the incentive wasn’t there ( do good , get criticized , do bad , get criticized even more, always hated in the end. If you can handle that and earn less than what a director makes annually , then please go and run for next election , we need people like you. ) . Our PM makes SGD1.7mil , around the average salary of a CEO in Singapore ( US CEO average is USD 11.7mil btw ) , while our other ministers make around SGD500-600k , which is around the average salary of a company director – so I say its pegged rather equally to the private sector and fair.

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  22. Sorry, we will not become the next Malaysia! This is fear-mongering. And this is why opposition turn off supporters in this election.

    CSJ is not a good opposition. You are taken in by his flowery words! There were several attempt to mislead the public in all his rallies!

    During his cck rallied, he used EIU index to point that singapore has one of the highest standard of living. Why use an index that is used for expat?

    He criticized Vivian and TCJ over events that had been clearly amplified by alternative news.

    He brought up 2009 temasak lost, which is not reflective of the what temasak has done for our reserve over the years. Almost everybody suffered a lost and we came out one of the better loser! He mentioned how a totally unrelated person splurge on renovation. What was his intention again? I believed his afternoon rally turned off a lot of knowledge PMETs!

    I advised you to listen carefully to his rally and understand SDP manifesto on a deeper level.

    We are unique, we do not need a 60 to 40 ratio like other countries. Be proud of your country, there are no country for us to benchmark too, stand up and say we have he best system in the world. It is up to the rest to learn from us. 60 to 40 my foot!!!

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