Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Blame Companies for Haze? No.

"A homeless woman dies in a McDonald's branch in HK and remained unnoticed for seven hours. Is this the human cost of HK's astronomical housing prices? Do the big property tycoons / cartels care?"

"Fracking companies are polluting groundwater with all the chemicals that they are pumping into the ground. They need to be more responsible. Don't they care about the community?"

"How can a car company lie and cheat on their emissions? Do they not care about the environmental impact, on top of the deceit to their loyal customers?"

No. 99% of companies don't give a flying f*** unless it affects their profits.

Blaming a company for maximizing profits is like blaming a dog for barking. That's what it's supposed to do.

That's why in Econs 101, one of the first few things they teach is externalities.

I have no hidden agenda to this post other to point out the fact that if you cut of 1 head, 2 more will appear. There is no point cutting off heads, you need to kill the entire creature. This is not a call to action to boycott or to stop boycotting certain companies, because I don't actually care. I just want to point out the flaw of thinking that targetting some companies will solve the problem. Boycotting and forcing a company out an industry only gives the companies that didn't get caught a bigger market share of the remaining pie.

In Singapore, we've been living in haze the past few weeks. Personally, I have been very inconvenienced as I have been cancelling my exercise plans and I also have been hiding away at home. Very bad for my long term health and social life. So, I am not a fan of the haze.

However, I have a problem with this whole haze issue. The entire Singapore Keyboard Warriors battalion, division and army has taken to social media to boycott companies found linked to haze activities.

I want the haze to stop probably even more than those psuedo-environmentalist who walk around with the wrong mask and claim their lives are so badly affected by the haze.

The thing about boycotting such companies is that it is a punishment for an action ALREADY done.

As all Singaporean men learnt during NS: "If you want to do, don't get caught. If get caught, blame someone else. If cannot blame someone else, feign innocence. If cannot feign innocence, pretend nothing is wrong. If cannot pretend nothing is wrong, ask for forgiveness. If cannot be forgiven, suck thumb."

Boycotting these companies are at the "cannot be forgiven, suck thumb" stage. So what will these companies do in the future? Try not to get caught!

The problem with the haze stems ultimately from the inadequacy and inefficiency of the Indonesian government. 

Firstly, if there are laws, nobody knows about them.
Secondly, even if the infiltrators know about them, the don't care that they are breaking the laws
Thirdly, even if the laws are broken, there is no system to catch (police) them
Forthly, even if they are caught, their punishment is so light that it doesn't deter them

As a problem solver, the solution seems easy to me. Indonesia needs to pass strict laws that are enforced which will inflict massive financial pain to companies that are caught breaking the law. They also need to have proper and effective policing to monitor and catch all infiltrators. And lastly, they should have faster and quick emergency response teams to douse out the fires for the few that manage to get past all these safety nets.

The fault is the government, not the company. In Singapore, there are very very long list of statutory requirements with regards to the environment and workplace health and safety. (Chp 94A, 95, 354A, etc etc etc....) We also have in place a system to catch and punish these offenders through inspections.

Companies are not sentient beings that have feelings or a morale sense of what is right or wrong. Some may have that due to their "brain" controlling them to act in certain ways, but the default setting for the majority is... indifference. They are little robots programmed to make money. How can you blame them for trying to make money?

Governments need to define and create a proper playing arena and set the rules of the game for the players. Then they need to have referees that understand the rules, catch players that break the rules and penalize them. The companies are the players just trying to maximize their own score.

Is it the companies' fault that they are breaking laws and being irresponsible to the environment? Why can't they act rationally like how a person would act? Is it not in their human nature?

Well, they aren't human, that's why.

As Singaporeans, we are champion complainers. However, with parts of Indonesia with PSI levels over 500 and causing a lot of internal anger within Indonesia itself, our PSI of ~200 is really small potatoes to them. In reality, what can we do? Pretty much nothing except type things on the internet which nobody will care about. The root cause of the problem is the Indonesian government and, in my opinion, there is little to no benefit that will come out of boycotting such companies, except that you will probably pay more for alternative products and still get haze.

In countries where there is weak laws and enforcement, the companies that follow the laws are the ones that suffer and become uncompetitive.


  1. You seem to forget that Singapore is an island state, while indonesia is a country with many states (each with their own laws), so federal laws may not go hand in hand with state laws.

    1. Hi Anon,

      I did not forget that. To me, having state and federal laws merely lengthens the overall process and have the potential to create confusion if poorly crafted, but I don't see how that should affect the quality of the laws that they pass.

      If the state and federation are too bureaucratic to function properly to deal with this rather simple problem, their problem is still weak governance. A lengthier process should be expected, but reduced quality should not.

      The federal laws should cover and set the base case scenario, in case certain states may be too inept or gridlocked to legislate. Subsequently, the state has something to work with and can introduce laws that are localized and fine-tuned to adjust to the local situation (increasing the list of potential violations specific to their states, increasing the fines, suspending permits to work in local areas, etc).


Observe the house rules.