Friday, February 20, 2015

SingFirst... er, no thanks

Maybe you think it is outright treason and I am a traitor to my people. Maybe I am a screwed up citizen, or my definition of a citizen is wrong. But I care enough that I am spending time to write down my thoughts.

I think this SingFirst socialist welfare state is crap. That is my opinion. You can have your own opinion and write it on your very own blog, thank you.

I think my position on capitalism is very firm. I'm all for welfare to help those that cannot help themselves because of the luck of the draw, but I don't think that moving towards socialism is the correct direction we should be heading to.

Ever since I've seen some videos Milton Friedman giving lectures and answering questions, I have a deep respect for this man. Let Milton Friedman school yo ass:

 "Of course none of us are greedy. It's only the other fella that is greedy!"

"In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from grinding poverty are where they had capitalism and largely free trade"
"So the record of history is absolutely crystal-clear: There is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by free enterprise markets"
Virtue does sound nice to have in our economic system, but as rightly pointed out, the world does not run based on virtue and good thoughts. Perhaps our design of social systems have not yet advanced enough to be able to harvest virtue as well as capitalism, which harvests and re-directs self-interest to improve the aggregate.

I am actually mid-way reading "Why Not Capitalism", which is the rebuttal of the famous pro-socialist book "Why Not Socialism". I am only 37% through the book (based on my Kindle), but I can already see Cohen's very flawed argument regarding equality and justice. Spoiler: Capitalism wins.

I do not think inequality is a problem at all. I think raising the absolute household income of the bottom deciles is much more important. I am more concerned about having a HUGE ASS PIE that even if the poor only gets a small and unequal portion of it, this unequal portion is still bigger than the equal portions of a tiny pie.

Whether increased government spending will reduce inequality is a big debate by itself. No doubt less inequality would make for a more stable society with less friction, but hey, who should dictate who has more and who has less? The government? Or people themselves through the free markets? Remove regulations, have good and fair laws to prevent abuse (is profiteering abuse?) and let the skilled and hardworking clearly mark their distinction over less talented or lazy peers. Is that unfair? Or is taking from the hardworking and giving to the lazy unfair?

I think too many people has read Thomas Picketty's (Le Grand Hypocrite) book.

There is always going to be a degree of inequality. Deal with it. Or else, that's blatant double standards. "It's inequality if I don't have enough. It's okay if I have more."

Perhaps the only good part I see is that they are not so crazy as to spend all the surplus and leave a portion as a safety buffer.

Is having free education to university really necessary? If you want people to save money on education, then perhaps parents should stop sending their kids overseas for higher education. It costs a bomb to send people overseas to study, but yet Singaporeans still leave in troves. Let's not even talk about extra tuition classes that every student seems to be forking over hundreds of dollars a month to their tuition teacher. I don't want to make this point look too stupid on their part.

I think some perspective is needed here. Paying $6.50 - $19.50 a month is not a fucking big deal, especially if you have a handphone costing $1000. But yeah, priorities, amirite? I think heavily heavily subsidized education is good enough. Even letting people pay just 1% forces them to be stakeholders and not to abuse the system. How about having textbooks owned by the government and managed by the school that get passed down from the outgoing class to the incoming class instead? That sounds a hell lot more effective to me.

Child allowances? Well, there already is the parenthood tax relief, but I guess this is a bit more of a direct approach to it. Every month the government gives each child a basic stipend of $300 a month. I don't think this is too bad. Tell me that it is given to the parents for the first 6 years, then transferred to the kid's name in the form of a bank account and I'm game. Not only does it prevent abuse from parents who don't care about their kids, it also cultivates saving and personal finance from a young age.

Child care subsidies with a single broad stroke isn't fair. Actually, it's unfair. I think that the current framework now is quite comprehensive and with the different subsidies given depending on working and non-working parents and the level of care required. Child care centres can be private and for-profit, and this single sweeping subsidy creates an big open space for unfair pricing. 

Transport subsidies for seniors seem all right, but for everyone across the board? Oh come on, our public transportation system is great for the price we pay. In London, the cheapest ride is only travelling within Zone 2 costs £1.80, or SGD $3.77. Realistically, people that live in Zone 2 or further (cheaper housing) that travel to Zone 1 to get in and out of work pay MINIMUM £2.90 (or SGD $6.08) PER TRIP. "Oh, but people in London make so much more money". Singapore's median monthly income is $3,770 per month, while London is £2329 or SGD $4,881, which is 29% higher than us. Does it look like their public transport cost is 29% higher than ours? Of course, this is by no means a fair or scientific way for me to make my point that our public transportation fees are not balls breakingly expensive. An NUS report also shows that transportation costs is going up due to PRIVATE transport, not PUBLIC transport. I have never met a foreigner that has complained about Singapore's public transport or the cost of it.

What's with all these unsocialist socialist policies? Shouldn't a stipend to seniors be means-tested instead of freely distributed to all? Like because all old people are poor? Of course not. It's to be fair (to all old people), but not really THAT fair (to the younger tax-paying population)? I can understand why children should have an allowance, to ease the cost of bringing them up. But free money just for being old? What's that all about? Means-test, and I won't say anything. By golly, make it even bloody simple to past the test, but don't just piss away OUR money like that.

I don't see what's the problem with our healthcare system. We have one of the cheapest healthcare systems in the world, especially relative to quality. Yes, we have the 2nd most efficient healthcare system in the world. I think that forcing a personal stake and contribution (via CPF and Medishield) is a very good way to ensure that there isn't abuse of the system. Perhaps a better approach is to have healthcare subsidies based on the level of healthcare insurance they choose. Medishield members can get a proportionately bigger support, while those who choose to opt for the highest tier private shield plans can get the least. I am skeptical of just how much of the "private" healthcare spending is really from being burdened with "expensive" health insurance premiums, but I'll let it go.

Phase out GST? What? GST is a CONSUMPTION tax. Should the guy spending thousands of dollars buying caviar, premium dog food for his 6 purebreeds, magical oasis bottled water and quintuple ply toilet paper pay for extra taxes that we all benefit from? YES. This one, really cannot give chance. Yes, lower income households save 7% of their consumption. But higher income households now contribute much less total tax income for their excessive consumption! This is the exact opposite of their later plan of higher taxes for the wealthy. This. Is. Stupid.

Unemployment insurance should not be mandatory. It should be highly encouraged, but it should not be mandatory. Unemployment insurance for some people has costs that outweigh the benefits. Screw it man. How about free universal critical illness, early critical illness, cancer and personal accident for ALL!!!! HOORAY!!!!! Wait, how about home insurance, travel insurance, car insurance? (no seriously, it's a very stupid idea)

Taxes on the wealthy and corporates. Hell no. This argument again? I feel like rolling on the floor now. I'm not sure if they are really serious or if this whole thing is a joke. Sure, tax the ultra rich based on income, but not net worth. Unless you want all those millionaires to just move over to Hong Kong and blow their cash all over HK Island instead of here. Same goes to corporate tax. Corporations already dislike the expensive costs of operations in Singapore and the poor work attitude of the locals. Give them another reason to drive them to our friendly and welcoming competitor cities! So drive away wealthy individuals and corporations that are in Singapore to spend money and employ people? Check! (FYI, in case my sarcasm loses you, our tax rate should be as high as possible, but lower than the next best realistic option. Which is exactly why HK has their tax rate at 16.5% to undercut our 17%.)

Estate duty will just give rise to the explosions of trusts and life insurance. Unfortunately, the rich are the people who can afford to escape estate duty, while the poor do not. Just like the removal of GST, this policy ends up taxing the wrong people that they want to help. I suppose they can try. I doubt it would work.

I don't understand about the Good Class Bungalows and the Payroll Tax, so I shan't comment.

When it comes to the Investment part, I don't see anything wrong with spending more for Social Investments. However, I don't think that a hard and fast number should just be given like that. Investing involves generating returns. Getting bang for your buck. Spending money is not investing, and spending money is easy. Anyone can do that. If there are real and proper proposals about how to spend the money and what sort of benefits can be expected from them, I am sure it can be done. I'm not in the camp of, "Build it, and they will come". Investments can made when we can expect good returns for what we put in. It is, our money, after all.

All in all, I don't questions the intentions of SingFirst. I'm sure they are a bunch of nice folks that want the best for Singaporeans. But I don't agree with them that this is the way that it should be done. Their vision of a fair society doesn't seem to include the other people in our society. That doesn't seem very fair to me.

Call me a smelly sinkie pappy dog or whatever, but I believe that Singapore as a country should be more outward looking than inward looking. We have no natural capital, all we have is people. Don't be mistaken to think that all we have are Singaporeans. We have many other people who are also here, contributing their human capital and would also love to see Singapore progress and succeed. Is it so hard to see that their win is also our win and we all win together, even though they might just be in Singapore temporarily (or longer if they convert to citizens)?

In this highly globalized world, a few clicks of a mouse, a phone call to a cab to bring you to the airport and a few hours later you can be standing in a totally different country. To succeed as a country, we need to win. Win who? We need to win other countries (and specifically, cities eg. Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur). How do we win? Unfortunately, I believe we win by attracting the smartest and brightest of the world and entice, seduce, trick, steal and kidnap them here and milk them (in a mutually beneficially way) to contribute to OUR collective society. We need to stop being so black & white and stop seeing the people that live here as either Singaporeans or Others. I think we should create a warm, friendly and welcoming environment that appeals to all intellectuals from the world, and with them they will bring vast amounts of human and financial capital, from which we all (both Singaporeans and foreign residents) can benefit together.

Driving out foreigners and making a Singapore for Singaporeans is just the new modern day equivalent of the backward Malaysia for Malays, bumiputra policy. 

In the past, does having people of a different race come into a country mean that you can treat them as inferior residents? No? How about today then. Today, does having people of a different nationality come into a country mean that you can treat them as inferior residents? They live here, they work here, they have a stake here, they contribute to our society whether we like it or not. Why can't we instead harvest their efforts and goodwill to improve our society and view them as a teamate, rather than incite xenophobia and chase them away after they do their deed, like a one-night stand you just use and toss away.

We need to create a society and environment where the best of the world WANT to come to Singapore, not immediately cross it out of their minds even as a remote possibility.

To end, let me just throw up an old photo:

Anyway, this whole post is all just my opinion on this touchy subject, of course.

Before you comment, read the house rules. I know my rants on economics and politics can attract interesting people. My blog is not a forum or your personal arena to vent your frustration about your life, but I'm happy to hear thoughts and opinions on this as long as everything is civil.



    Comments regarding your old photo:

    1. You can however reduce the gap. Reducing the inequality gap / relative wealth will have the impact of reducing discontent.

    2. Agreed to a large extent. Granted that they take risks, but what about the property-owning class, which only collects rent?

    3. Agreed with this Pareto Optimality argument. That is why I disagree with recent online chatter on how the Singapore government can increase social spending or even re-allocate holidays in a manner which everyone can be happy.

    4. Agreed. But what is the purpose of multiplying wealth ad infinitum?

    5. This works the same for the 99-1% argument, where the "99%" of Americans are paying for the mistakes made by the "1%" during the financial crisis.

    1. HI SG Stock Picker,

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your reasoning! I also agree that reducing the inequality gap will lead to a happier and less frictional society. The property owning class pay taxes on those rental income and also risk capital losses of their property. Unfortunately, the SG property market has only seem to trend in one direction, which made any owner of these assets very rich. It does seem unfair to us now looking at property owners, but this battle was fought generations ago between our forefathers. Those with property now had forefathers that worked hard, saved, accumulated and spent a small fortune taking a risk on an investment all those years ago, instead of consumption items for their own benefit. Just like how today we make some sacrifices because we want to accumulate wealth to pass on to our heirs so that they will lead a more comfortable life. Essentially, we are just transferring our lack of current enjoyment in the form of consumption to future enjoyment in the form of wealth and assets that we pass over to them.

      That is a very good point. What is the purpose of multiplying wealth ad infinitum? Personally, I believe that money is a means to an end, it is not the end game. That is how I look at it from the individual's perspective. However, for a country it would probably be different.

      From a country's perspective, I would like to see the country operating in a sustainable and flexible system that sees RELATIVE real wealth not declining for the country as a whole, and also a system to elevate and push up the bottom few through smart, targeted and effective programs. In my mind, these programmes are more about education, opportunities, guidance and even vouchers instead of outright cash gifts. If they require government assistance, we should want to make sure the assistance that we are giving is targeted and goes directly to fulfill their basic needs and give them dignity as people, and make sure it doesn't end up anywhere else that it was not intended for.

  2. We need to create a society and environment where the best of the world WANT to come to Singapore >> yes, but why are we only getting the few selective group of people instead of getting people ALL over the world, allowing them to form their community here? where is the diversity they are b*tching about in the corporate policies?

    Corporations already dislike the expensive costs of operations in Singapore and the poor work attitude of the locals >> you know what they can F move out to make space for others, they want to hire the best employees and we also can find the best investors, if they can't pay the $$ show them the door.

    I have not seen a govt in this world that criticize its own citizens, calling it's own people daft. it is a time where we are facing oppression and competition from the outside world with the stereotypical labeling.
    "__________ are lazy, useless."
    If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.
    the lazy and hopeless bunch are just minority in sg making perhaps making 10-20% of the overall population.
    what about the rest of us who are working hard, do we not deserve the SGfirst policy, after all these years of proper education and serving the nation(for males)?

    do we have to churn out 100% effort all the time, even when we are old and age takes its toll on the body?

    is NYC or London today a more peaceful place than it was before, after the floodgates opened for them?
    think again!

    economics laws tells you nothing (SHIT) about the truth in our society, only when you are in the society you will experience and understand.

    1. Hi Anon,

      How does creating a gaps between citizens and residents help promote Singapore as a place for talents to gather? Many other cities are established in their niches and we are slowly carving out our own. I know in the medical research industry here, half the professionals working there are foreigners. And to be direct, they are NOT from the same select few countries that you are thinking of. It depends very largely on which industry and profession you are in, to see where the foreigners come from.

      Corporations already have been relocating. KL if they want a much lower cost, HK if they want higher efficiency. I have been to HK and I know that their graduates work longer hours and are paid less compared to the exact same jobs in Singapore. The companies that are not in Singapore now will not be willing to pay MORE to come here, if not they would already be here. If any company leaves, the replacing company will only be willing to pay less, not more.

      I do not believe that any particular race in Singapore is less hardworking than the rest. Our citizens have always been made of migrants, and hopefully these demographics will include migrates in the future, adapting and including those willing to come here as a resident, but contribute so much to deserve to be a citizen. Where do you see Singapore in 50 years time? 70% Chinese, 20% Malay and 10% Indian still? I hope not, because that would have meant we have failed to become a global city-state. Good enough to work at, not good enough to live in, at least in the eyes of every foreigner.

      All the hard work of our previous generations and us has brought us to where we are today, which is the wealthiest city in SEA. We didn't get to where we are because of luck. The rest of the countries are catching up, so we need to continue running to maintain our lead, not sit down to rest and gloat. Our previous culture as a flexible dynamic pragmatic nation is giving way to complacency and need for luxury.

      If we are not churning 100% of the time, but taking 100% all the time, then who makes the shortfall? You should churn as long as you have to, not as long as you WANT to. If you saved and were prudent in your life, you can stop churning early. If you spent all your money, you keep churning away. Is there any other society that isn't like this? Even with all the policies that SGfirst recommends, that is not going to make it so old people can just retire at 65 and no hard work is required. Is the government supposed to look after you, or are you supposed to look after yourself?

      NYC and the entire US is an anomaly for crime and violence. Opening ourselves to foreigners definitely introduces the risk of crime, but it is not like our home team is incapable to do anything about it. They are professional and have been doing a great job so far. Friction between citizens and residents will be a big issue to tackle. That is why I think that we should stop seeing them as intruders and exploiters, but as partners and teammates in a country that welcomes them and are willing to include them.

      What do we want? Quiet, docile foreigners that work for peanuts in jobs that we don't want (since they all love doing those jobs?), spend all their free time away from the rest of society in their dorms, and go back to their home country after that? Or an international community that is vibrant and accepting to people of all races, religion and nationality, and can progress together since everyone is a stakeholder?

      I know I am young, but older people do not automatically have more experience and wisdom. In fact, some might even say that their old ways of thinking is too conservative and less relevant. Neither do younger people automatically have less experience and no wisdom. At the end of the day, it does not matter whose opinion is more correct, yours or mine. All that matters is how many people see it the same way as you do, or as I do. Having a majority doesn't validate any particular set of facts as correct. It simply could also just mean that more people were plain wrong.

    2. Neither does the current situation do any good. clustering is forming in the workplace and interestingly on church service as well, Indonesian church service and Philippinos church service held at different rooms in the same church. locals are being scorned for being xenophobic for pointing out faults that these FT do, who is assimilating into whose culture now?

      hard truth is many of the jobs that are taken away can be taken up by the locals. these good jobs are being filled up by these FT who are not appreciative and think we need them, clearly they have no f idea where they stand in this society. these people from 3rd grade university is no better than our secondary school dropouts.
      I have also noticed productivity level drops drastically when the whole team comprises of the same nationality, these people only pretend to work hard and are not really working hard, only when under watchful eyes they will work, else they are more than happy to cover each other assess and slack off.

      KL? the country which discriminates it's best talents? paying peanuts for monkeys.
      HK? 80% of the time they are yakking on Cantonese, even I find them irritating at times, not to mention they live in overpriced vagina-like houses, they are on the verge of collapse if not for their big brother China. HK are worse, they scorn their own country people, let alone foreign talent, I can't imagine how they will go on strike if the FT penetration rate is as high as Singapore.

      when I say 20% I am not referring to any particular race.
      btw, the ratio is now closer to 50% Chinese, 30% indian , 10% malays, 10% pinoy/others.

      the home team however efficient cannot reverse a situation whereby a bullet goes through your head. and when that happens it's the end.
      I think you are too gullible, these FT who are here have their own plans, when they have earn enough they are going back to their own country to retire and enjoy life.
      they were never a part of us, they have refuse to assimilate right from the start.
      all the money wasted in training and nurturing these so-called talents are just simply a waste.
      in fact capital outflow is happening, quietly on a much smaller scale.
      what is left of Singapore when disaster strike, would they stay and clean up the mess or will they leave? yeah you bet they will!

    3. Hi Anon,

      Many of those services are either for the transitory flock that are just here temporarily or for those who just touched down. It isn't easy being plunged into an entirely new culture and a new language. One of the things many people find important is religion. However, what is the use if it is not in a language that you can understand and help guide you? I think you are being too harsh! Even if they can grasp the English language, it is always more comforting and easier to hear things in your native mother tongue. When you travel overseas, do you speak the local language to your travel companions?

      FTs are stealing many jobs that Singaporeans can do, such as in construction, cleaning and domestic workers? Singapore has one of the lowest unemployment figures in the world. While this can mean a few things, it definitely means that there isn't too many foreign workers. I do concede that perhaps the mix of foreign talents could be better, meaning that Singaporeans should be allowed to excel and climb as high as they can, without foreign workers blocking them along the way or filling those positions, relegating Singaporeans unfairly to lower positions if pure meritocracy was used. However. this is a basic problem that comes with hiring anyone. Many locals already do this as well to help friends, neighbours or alumni. It just isn't as obvious as nationality, which is usually very clear cut. This is a human nature problem, not a foreigner problem. As long as we need foreign workers, we will have this problem. It cannot be eliminated, but perhaps there are ways to manage it and reduce it? That will fall in the hands of the HR department and management decisions, not the government.

      In NS, I see massive productivity drop across the board and all levels the minute all the KAH's are locked up in meeting or leave camp. Again, this is a human problem. If anyone could get away doing nothing and get paid, everyone would be doing it. This isn't a lazy nationality problem, this is a lazy human nature problem.

      KL and HK have their own fair share of problems, which is good for us. We should not strive to become "less bad" as them, but we should aim to be the clear cut winner if foreign companies or talents are deciding between these cities. With all their problems and inward thinking, they will be held back, giving us the best opportunity to break away and establish ourselves. When they finally break out, they will have nothing to gain, since we have already taken everything.

      In that case, nobody in Singapore should drive, since the risk of death by accident is possible, so it should be outlawed and banned. That is flawed logic! People manage risks by looking at both probability and severity, not just binary outcomes.

      Yes, they have their own plans, of course. EVERYONE operates in self-interest. However, we can align their self-interests to also be in our self-interest. It does not have to be a zero-sum game. If they want to go back to their home country after that, so be it. But so long as they are here, they should be milked for their worth to contribute to our society here.

      All the money wasted training and nurturing can be said of Singaporeans as well. In fact, Singaporeans probably hop a whole lot more within a given time span. Job hopping for a $100 is now culturally acceptable. Again, this is a human problem. Dangle more money in front of anyone, and they will bite. It's not an issue of nationality.

      As foreigners, should they stay if they have no stake when disaster strikes? When the local population is so hateful and spiteful of them? Of course not. I would leave if I was a foreigner. That is why we should offer them a place in our society where they feel like they belong and are willing to contribute, even if they are not citizens.

    4. things shouldn't done in way to make yourself feel good. they are here because they can communicate in English right, since all services are conducted in English, I see no reason to break them down into different groups.
      it makes no sense to communicate with your travel companion in local language since both of you are able to communicate between yourself in a common language. the only need arises when you try to speak to the local people.
      the following scenario would be more appropriate, what if they are 8 FT from similar nationality and 2 local lads and the meeting is conducted in their language that you wouldn't understand?
      this is real world situation happening in our little red dot.

      why the focus and spotlight on these lowly jobs? The FT penetration rate in the middle and upper class is at absurd level. let's not talk about the upper class from the top 5-10% since most of them are qualified.
      the mid level FT took cheap degrees from their country and took the jobs that pays 10-20 times more, is that fair to the local who paid 10 times more locally for their education only to play the second fiddle to these group? the HR practices are horrible and obviously the controls were lacking. MOM should review their current policies and look in depth on how the hiring quota has been blatantly abused.

      only in Singapore, sinkie will not hesitate to put another sinkie down.
      in a culture which you are probably too inexperienced to understand, it's never going to happen. there's no wrong, just pure brotherhood, cover-ups more cover-ups' and cover-ups.

      from the LDN as a case study example, it already shows how much the probability and risk they have taken. Are they a better country than before in economic sense? maybe. but in order to exchange for that, they are in a big pile of mess!

      I will end by saying...
      We are the reason the people are coming, and if we continue like what we do now, we will soon lose our charm and identity like the others are doing.
      we can be like LDN or we can be like JPN, but the right balance should see us in between these two.
      we are not a welfare state, having a job is the top top TOP priority to every deserving citizen and it should and must be prioritize, no matter what you say. it's basic!
      what is happening now is, we are using the country resource to strengthen other people around us.
      people who have no wish to stay, who have their plans to take over the country, who wants to have a stake with our women making us look silly.
      I say it's the 20th century modern warfare called "GLOBALIZATION".
      our core is weakening fast and i am just not in a charitable mood, if every person in Africa today is able to feed themselves, it is maybe your turn to go hungry.

      the last thing I will want to see is our own people fighting each other and the leeaders who are damn bloody well paid and suppose to lead us with confidence and pride to call us stupid and to shut up.

  3. Awesome rant.
    Unfortunately opinions will only get more polarised.
    only getting a true glimpse of the alternative will change mindsets of the subsequent generations over time.
    In 10 to 15 years time, that may be the start of it.

    1. Hi SMK,

      Thanks for dropping by. I think the political scene is going to start heating up for the months to come! At the end of it all, I can only selfishly hope that the Singapore of the future is a Singapore that I want to work, live and retire in.

  4. good post. i sense we are going the way of taiwan - which isn't very good. too many groups out there who are too opinated and think there road is the best road. the ruling party is the best we have, and i don't think we have enough talent for two ruling parties. in fact, with an alternative party currently, it just sounds like a lot of energies and time is wasted on politiking - which is a pity.

    1. Thanks gagmewithaspoon. I think people are looking at absolutes instead of relatives. On an absolute scale, it is easy to point out all the mistakes and shortcomings. However, on a relative scale, I feel our government has performed a lot better than most and with an impressive long term track record.

      Sometimes I feel that the current voters think too much of what the government should do for them, rather than what they should do for themselves. After a certain grey crossover point, privileges become entitlements, and I don't think that is a good thing for us in the long run.

  5. Friedman should have been a mathematician and stop messing with lives.
    But since the world is primarily made out of fools, with the educated being first class idiots, we all bought into the arguments of higher class educated idiots.


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