At a book event at BooksActually two weeks ago, I was making a point about Roy Ngerng—that what he insinuated about Singapore’s prime minister was clearly wrong, but I still sympathised with his predicament—when Jen Wei Ting, moderator, good friend and fellow scribbler, interjected and switched topics.
I later realised why. Roy was actually there, standing in the back. Some of my former colleagues at The Economist had just been interviewing him, and decided to drag him along to the event. (Click here to read the piece they wrote, which gets to the heart of “the Roy Ngerng case”.)
Wei Ting had perhaps wanted to cut me off before I said anything too critical about Roy. She needn’t have worried. Roy and I met after the event and he told me he had enjoyed the talk. I regret not taking a photo with Singapore’s latest enfant teribble; just for the heck of it, not that he needs any further attention.
What a meek, innocuous figure he cuts. With his disarming smile and diffident touch, he looks hardly capable of harming an ant, much less the great and mighty Lee Hsien Loong. Roy’s appearance and demeanour may seem irrelevant here, but in what is quickly turning into a PR disaster for the government, they will fuel the perception of an irascible prime minister bullying a harmless, hapless citizen.
My heart goes out to you, Oh Roy, not for your defiance, but for the deep-seated informational, data and communication asymmetries and imbalances that underpin this country’s drastically unequal social power structure.
Dear friends, I just wanted to share some thoughts from my second book launch this past Tuesday. If you want to find out more about the book’s content and cover, please see my earlier post here.
I really enjoyed the launch. As in, it was genuinely fun. Lots of banter up on stage between Donald Low, my co-author, David Skilling, the moderator, and myself before the event. Engaging conversation and audience questions throughout on a range of important and sometimes emotive subjects, from Goh Keng Swee’s doubts in 1972 about Singapore’s emerging economic model to the recent uproar over the mooted Philippines Independence Day Celebration in Singapore this June.
If you are keen to see what you missed, here is a 22min video of the session.
Dear friends, I am very happy to announce the release of my new book, Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus, co-authored with Donald Low, with contributions by Linda Lim and PJ Thum, and published by NUS Press.
Do you recognise the image on the cover? Scroll to the bottom of this post to find out more about it.
Availability in Singapore
Donald and I will be taking part in a discussion at NUS, moderated by David Skilling of the Landfall Strategy Group. Bookhaven will be selling copies there at S$20 per book (usual price S$24).
Date: April 22nd 2014
Time: 6:00pm to 7:30pm
Venue: Bookhaven, NUS U-Town. (see here)
Registration is free, but necessary as space is limited. Click here to do so.
For those who cannot make it on April 22nd but still want a personalised copy autographed by the two of us—at the launch price—please order through me directly by April 22nd morning, for collection at NUS Press.
Otherwise, the book should be available in all good bookstores, including NUS Press itself, by end April.
Digital versions (Amazon, Apple, Kobo and B&N) will be ready by end April. We are still working out the Google Play delivery. Worldwide hard copies should also be available on Amazon by July 31st—although they are notorious for delays with hard copies.
Do check back here for updates; or click the “Follow” button at the bottom of this page to receive my blogposts automatically.
What is the book about?
The book is a collection of essays on Singapore, each dealing with a different policy or social dimension—including history, meritocracy, social security, housing and identity.
More important than the specific topics, perhaps, is the spirit of the book. Each essay challenges one or more assumptions of the Singapore consensus—from vulnerability to elite governance—and suggests policy alternatives, some fairly radical, to the limited and narrow options that are often presented in public discourse here.
Will greater welfare necessarily harm Singapore’s competitiveness? Does Singapore need high immigration in order to keep growing and raise living standards? Are ethnic classifications—Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others—and quotas in HDB estates necessary in order to maintain ethnic harmony?
A traditional Singapore establishment viewpoint would respond with a resounding YES to all of the above. In the book we skewer these and many other sacred cows. Continue reading “Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus”
This year’s Singapore Budget has garnered accolades for its focus on lower-income groups and the so-called Pioneer generation. One glaring omission, however, is in efforts to redistribute wealth. That is a missed opportunity; Singapore needs to address its drastic wealth inequality in order to, among other things, reduce social tensions, improve social mobility and maintain its commitment to building a fair and just society.
The distinction between income and wealth inequalities is important. In Singapore, a person can have immense wealth—inherited property, for example—with very little traditional income. This creates the somewhat perverse situation where some very wealthy people also own HDB flats and qualify for huge healthcare subsidies while simultaneously investing in stocks and second properties, furthering their wealth advantage over the poor. In order to properly address social inequities, both inequalities—income and wealth—have to be reduced.
This is Part 2 of 2. To read Part 1, click here.
The Singapore model—why it struggles to produce knowledge workers
If we accept the argument that the average Singaporean worker will, compared to his/her paper credentials, underperform in a knowledge-based role, it is worth discussing some of the environmental and institutional reasons why.
This essay points to several factors: the nature of meritocracy in Singapore, the country’s pedagogical approach, the socio-political climate, and materialism.
One of China’s main challenges is “cultural habits that limit imagination and creativity, rewarding conformity….China will inevitably catch up to the US in GDP. But its creativity may never match America’s because its culture does not permit a free exchange and contest of ideas.”
– Lee Kuan Yew, Time, Feb 4th 2013
This essay argues that Singapore’s developmental model, while efficient at producing workers for most jobs in a manufacturing- and service-based economy, has failed to adequately prepare citizens for knowledge work. The average Singaporean worker will thus underperform in a knowledge role relative to his/her own paper credentials.
In particular, when compared to similarly-qualified workers from other developed countries, the average Singaporean is: less willing to challenge convention or question authority; more afraid to take risks/move out of comfort zone; and more likely to display a silo mentality with poor cross-collaboration skills.
This essay points to several factors that might explain these characteristics: the nature of meritocracy in Singapore, the country’s pedagogical approach, the socio-political climate, and the materialist culture.
Consequently, it is important for Singapore to enact specific reforms in order to better prepare Singaporeans for work in their own knowledge economy.
Among other things, this will boost Singapore’s overall productivity, lessen the dependence on highly-skilled foreigners and moderate resentment amongst Singaporeans against similarly-qualified foreigners who are currently being chosen over them for knowledge-based positions.
Dear friends, thanks for all the support and encouragement. It’s still a bit surreal holding my very first book in my hands. In some ways, it seems like just yesterday that Sumana Rajarethnam, my best friend, and I were telling people that we wanted to cycle around Malaysia on RM10/day, and most responded that we’re nuts. But the anguish and self-doubt we went through then … Continue reading My first ever book launch: The Ups and Downs
Dear friends, it gives me great pleasure to invite you to the launch of my first book, Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore. Please click here to read more about the book. Time: 8-930pm, September 26th Venue: Recital studio, Esplanade, Singapore Space is limited. If you want to come, do RSVP to Riya at firstname.lastname@example.org SR Nathan, Singapore’s former president, will … Continue reading Floating on a Malayan Breeze–Book Launch: Sep 26th, Esplanade