Monday, 23 December 2013

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

False Equivalencies

“What are ‘pets’?”
“Um… they’re animals you don’t eat.”
“I thought those were called, ‘children’?”

That is my favourite dialogue from the animated film, “The Croods”.

I thought of it recently when the incident of a woman putting her pet puppy to sleep (for being overly aggressive) resulted in an explosion of comments on Facebook. Many commenters asked something along the lines of “what if her children were ‘overly aggressive’? Would she put them down too?”

Which is an example of “False Equivalencies”.

A puppy is not the same as a child.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Meritocracy is the Enemy of Democracy. Discuss.

Meritocracy is the process of selecting a person based on their merit/ability.

Democracy (Representative Democracy, anyway) is the process of electing a representative based on the voter's choice.

Ergo, unless voters choose based on merit, Democracy subverts or at best ignores merit, and if the most meritorious candidate does win, it is usually a coincidence.

[Longer post to follow.]

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Why Singaporeans are dissatisfied

This article was written with an American audience in mind, but it does apply to somewhat to Singapore too.


7 Reasons the World Looks Worse Than It Really Is

By David Wong August 19, 2013

A billion people have been lifted out of poverty in just the last 20 years. Did you know that? Do you know how it happened? Do you sit around thinking about how wonderful that is?

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Should you buy a car?

A Checklist.

A) Do you NEED a car?
What do you need the car for? Commuting? Expanding your social horizons? Work (your job requires you to run all over Singapore, and time is of the essence)? Family (you have 4 kids under the age of 12 and your parents are in wheelchairs)?

B) If you don't have a car now, how do you cope with whatever you need the car for in (A)? How do you get to work currently? How do you expand your social horizons? How do you do your work without a car? How do you move your family around?

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Weaning S'pore off the Great Man leadership style

Sep 21, 2013

By Rachel Chang

Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew is a great leader.

Yet, after witnessing a week of salutary tributes on the occasion of his 90th birthday, I wonder if Singapore might have a Great Leader problem.

Not so much a dearth of them - although that is a future possibility that may have to be reckoned with one day.

But that Singaporean society has become so wedded to the idea and style of Great Man leadership that we do disservice to our past, and are ill-prepared for a complex and unpredictable future.

Perhaps this is because Mr Lee remained dominant for so many decades after his founding Cabinet - Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr S. Rajaratnam, Dr Toh Chin Chye, to name a few - retired from politics and faded from the public view.

The Decline of Mother Tongue - Should we be worried?

Assumptions. Unspoken Assumptions. Damn Assumptions.

There is a Malay Language Month. Apparently, the Malay community had long realised that there is a danger that the Malay language (Bahasa) will fall out of use, and fall in standards. So why this sudden concern with the Decline of the Mother Tongue.

First, let's cut through the euphemism and political correctness and speak bluntly. The only reason why this has gone mainstream is because the standards of Mandarin has fallen, and fewer people are speaking Mandarin, and MOE has changed the way Mandarin will be taught, and this has worried the Sinophones/Sinophiles Singaporeans.

So it is not ALL Mother Tongues. Just Mandarin. Right?

Which is strange because years back when Mandarin was promoted and dialects were "ideologically persecuted" (my perspective), the argument was that dialects were the True Mother Tongue of the various Chinese Clans. And Mandarin was just a synthetic synthesis of the dialects at best, and so does not qualify as a natural Mother Tongue (as in no community had a tradition of speaking Mandarin).

But that was then, and this is Singapore 2B (Singapore To Be), not the Singapore That Was, or "How we used to argue, bicker, and complaint without effect".

The point is, there are probably some (or many) common issues for why Mother Tongues are declining, but some (like whether Mandarin is even a "True" Mother Tongue) are specific to each community.

This post will concern itself only with issues specific to the issue of Mandarin as it is declining in Singapore.

Monday, 9 September 2013

A slower pace of life

Singaporeans are under stress.

The cost of living is rising. Wages of the lowest income have not risen as fast. Home prices are rocketing into unattainable heights, COE premiums are rising out of reach of all but the very wealthy. And the statistics show greater income inequality, with the rich getting richer and the poor, well, not getting richer.  

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

US Country Reports on Terrorism - SG Govt response.

TODAY reported this:

Singapore ‘surprised and disappointed’ by US comments on counter-terrorism cooperation

17 July 2013

SINGAPORE — The Government today (July 17) said it is “surprised and disappointed” by the comments made about Singapore in the United States Department of State’s 2012 Country Reports on Terrorism.

“This is particularly so given the close relationship and cooperation between our countries and agencies in the area of counter-terrorism,” said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a joint statement.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

News Headlines you suspect are being covered up

"Hundreds dead of Haze inhalation. More deaths expected."

"Crime on the rise! Perpetrators hard to identify as all were wearing N95 masks. Incorrectly!"

"Violence breaks out across island as shoppers fight for dwindling stocks of N95 masks."

"N95 masks shipment hijacked! Robbers demand $50m! SG Govt refused to negotiate. (WP said if they were in power, they would.)"

"Workers doing anti-dengue fogging in neighbourhood assaulted by residents. No suspects arrested as they were all wearing N95 masks"

"NEA reports more cases of smoking in non-smoking area. Smokers tell NEA to "Clear the haze before we put out our cigarettes"

"LTA reports more motorists installing illegal fog lights on their vehicles."

"SG Govt working on process to create "NEWAir". No success yet."

"More motorists committing traffic offences (like speeding, and running red lights) as cameras unable to take clear pictures of their licence plates in Haze."

Friday, 21 June 2013

Childish Singaporeans

While I don't agree with the idiotic Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Ensuring Bribes get to the Right People (or whatever his official title is), I can understand why he is irked by Singapore clamouring for effective action by Indonesia on the Haze. His constituents have long given up expecting their political leaders to do anything, so it is a vicious reality check for him to realise that in other countries you say what you'll do and then you do what you said you'll do.

So when he called Singaporeans "childish", he is saying in effect, "you expect me to do something just because I'm coordinating minister or some such political leader? You are naive! No other country works like your obsessive-compulsive, mentally-disordered little red dot! Grow up!"

And you see this when Singaporeans go overseas. "Why is it taking so long?" "Why can't they be more efficient?" "What? They close on Sundays? How to do business like that?"

So in a sense the Coordinating Minister for Bribes is correct: Singaporeans are "childish" if by childish, he means we are spoilt and naive. We are spoilt because we have come to expect instant gratification and response. We are naive because we think other places would be as efficient and effective.

And because we are so used to technological solutions (no water? NEWater!) we can't understand when technology is limited. "Seed the clouds and make it rain!" "Whaddaya mean there's no clouds!" "How can you tell if there's clouds when everything is grey and hazy?"

The size of Singapore is also limitation to Singaporean's perspective. Some comments include, "lets load up one of our C130 with water-bombs and put out the fire!"

When you see comments like that, you cringe and secretly think, yes, Singaporeans can be rather childish.

And who's fault is it? Why PAP of course! (That was a trick question. The answer is always, "PAP, of course". :-) )

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

With great power...

[Edited/Amended, May 2018]

Spiderman's uncle told him: "With Great Power, comes Great Responsibility". A car, a van, a lorry, any motor vehicle - even e-scooters and other Personal Mobility Devices - is a very powerful machine. When you have control of these machines, you should also have great responsibilities.

However in Singapore, the Road Safety Council tells you: with great personal risk and vulnerability, comes great personal responsibility. So it is risky to ride a bike in Singapore - be responsible.  It is risky to ride a motor-cycle - be responsible. For your own safety.

It is a very very sad indictment of our selfish nature, our self-centred society.

Friday, 22 March 2013

How to contain HDB flat prices.

Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan in his budget 2013 speech promised cheaper housing, housing for lower-income singles ($5000 and below). However he also wanted to review the basic premise of public housing.

He raised four key questions:
  • Should Housing Board flats continue to be an appreciating asset or return to being treated simply as a social need?
  • Should the HDB build to meet sophisticated tastes or go back to basics?
  • How to keep flats affordable while continuing to encourage couples to be prudent?
  • How should public housing respond to the needs of an ageing population?
Those are relevant questions for HDB to answer and decide what is its mission for the near and far future.

However the answer to the 3rd and 4th question is simple: restrict the use of CPF for the purchase of HDB flats.

The History of the CPF... and the official watery history on the CPF website (Update: links no longer working. Looking for alternative websites with similar info).

CPF was allowed to be used to buy HDB flats from 1968. This was a good idea then, but it evolved into a juggernaut. The problem is as the CPF contributions rose, and as income (and so CPF) rose, there was all these money in everybody's CPF accounts that they COULD NOT touch, except to buy HDB and property.

People liked to use their CPF because it was not "real" money to them. Money is money because $10 can be used to buy a meal, buy socks, buy a t-shirt, buy a movie ticket, or whatever you want. The value of money is that it is freely exchangeable (fungible?). The limitation of money is that spending it has opportunity costs.

CPF money is not freely exchangeable and there is almost NO opportunity costs - there is actually: retirement, but that is so far in the future, everyone discounts it. You can use it to buy HDB flats (and a few other things, but mainly HDB flats) and private property.  The simple fact is that HDB prices are propelled by CPF savings. The problem is that when you can buy HDB flats with your CPF... No, the problem is that you can ONLY buy property with your CPF savings.

If you track the prices of private property, when you could not use CPF to buy private property, private property prices rose slowly. Previous to 1981, CPF could not be used to buy resale flats. When this was allowed, and there SEEM (to CPF members) to be NO opportunity costs for using CPF money to buy property (the opportunity costs - savings for retirement - is "future discounted"), private property prices booms, property agents income boom, everyone was happy, and the economy grew.

But it was "future" growth brought forward at best.

You want to stop HDB flat prices from rising? Stop allowing CPF to be used for resale HDB flats. OR allow CPF to be used for resale but only up to the costs of NEW flats from HDB.

Resale HDB prices will fall.

COV can still be boosted by irrational exuberance. Or just irrationality. But when no one or few people can meet those ridiculous COV demands, it will eventually fall as well.

But this is a dangerous option if implemented too quickly or too heavy-handedly.

I thought that the government understood this problem when they implemented a limit on the CPF withdrawal to pay for resale flats (AWDL?). The problem was the limit was pegged to the valuation of the resale flat, so as valuation went up, the limit also went up and there was no "brake".

If the allowable limit were set to the HDB BTO flats price, then CPF can only be used to pay up to the BTO price (i.e. HDB concessionary price) for resale flats. This will be an immediate "brake" on prices.

 However, as mentioned earlier, this would be too painful for home owners. So the limit should be set at BTO prices + a premium that would be equal or preferably slightly below what is the current resale market.

[27 Mar 2013 edit: The other policy changes were in 2002 and 2005. In 2002, the deposit for private property was reduced from 20% to 10%. This was further reduced to 5% in 2005, allowing more people to get into the private property market. So if you had saved up $20,000 in 2001, you could have put a down-payment for a private property for $100,000. In other words, you won't have been able to afford it. However, by 2003, your $20,000 would have allowed you to buy a $200,000 private property. And in 2006, a $400,000 property.]

Rein in the resale prices, and BTO prices which are pegged to it will be reined in as well.

The whole problem with the HDB New and Resale market is that they are chasing each other's tail. (In MS Excel, there would be an error message pointing out that there is a circular reference.)

BTO prices are pegged to resale prices in the area. Then new resale transactions will take into account the nearby BTO prices with a premium. Then the next BTO takes reference from the more resent resale transaction. Circular reference.

All the other suggestions are eye-wash. Between freehold and 99 year lease, the difference (according to some reports) is about 20%. That is for an infinity of difference. You think a 60 year lease will be significantly cheaper than a 99 year lease? Take a 30 year old HDB flat. Is the price cheaper?

Basic and premium fittings? How much savings will there be?

The inflation of HDB prices is a "monetary" inflation - too much CPF money chasing after too few HDB resale flats.

Curb that and the problem should be solved.

Brief history of the CPF from this post. (Update: links no longer working. Looking for alternative websites with similar info)

1 Jul 1955 : CPF implemented.
1 Jun 1957 : Members are required to nominate beneficiaries for their CPF savings.
1 Sep 1968 : Public Housing Scheme introduced.
1 Mar 1972 : Pensionable government officers join the CPF scheme.
1 Jul 1977 : Special Account created.
1 Jun 1981 : Residential Properties Scheme, which allows members to use their CPF savings to buy private homes, was introduced.
1 Jan 1982 : Home Protection Insurance Scheme (HPIS) introduced.
1 Apr 1984 : Medisave Scheme/Account introduced.
1 Jul 1984 : CPF contribution rate reached its peak at 50 percent (25 percent from employer and 25 percent from employee).
1 Mar 1986 : CPF began paying market-based interest rates.
1 May 1986 : Approved Investment Scheme (AIS) introduced. Members are allowed to use up to 40 percent of their CPF savings to buy gold, shares, unit trusts and stocks.
1 Jan 1987 : Minimum Sum scheme introduced at S$30,000.
14 May 1989 : Dependants’ Protection Insurance Scheme (DIPS), which is a term-life insurance covering members in the event of death or permanent disability, was introduced.
1 Jun 1989 : CPF Education Scheme introduced. Members are allowed to draw on their CPFsavings to finance tertiary education in Singapore for themselves or their children.
1 Jul 1990 : MediShield Scheme introduced.
1 Jul 1992 : Medisave Scheme extended to the self-employed.
1 Mar 1993 : The Share Ownership Top-Up Scheme (SOTUS) was set up to help CPF members buy shares in government-owned companies.
1 Oct 1993 : The Basic Investment Scheme (BIS) and the Enhanced Investment Scheme (EIS) were introduced to replace the Approved Investment Scheme. Members are allowed to set aside a higher portion of their CPF savings (80 percent) for approved investments.
1 Jan 1997 : The Basic Investment Scheme (BIS) and the Enhanced Investment Scheme (EIS) were merged to form the CPF Investment Scheme (CPFIS).
1 Jan 1999 : Members are allowed to use Special Account savings to help meet their housing instalment shortfalls.
1 Jan 2004 CPF members who turn 55 and are able to meet the CPF Minimum Sum are required to set aside a Required Amount in their Medisave Account when they make a CPFwithdrawal.
1 Jul 2006 : Contributions to the Medisave Account which are in excess of the Medisave Contribution Ceiling are automatically transferred to members’ Ordinary Accounts.
1 Jan 2007 : The cap on the CPF withdrawal limit for the purchase of private residential properties and HDB flats financed with bank loans was reduced.
1 Jan 2008 : The CPF Board began paying an extra interest rate of 1 percent per annum on the first S$60,000 in the combined accounts of each CPF member.
1 Sep 2009 : CPF Life introduced.
1 Jul 2010 : First $40,000 of members’ Special Account balances are not allowed to be used for investments.
1 Jul 2011 : CPF minimum sum reaches S$131,000.

[Note: The Minimum Sum progression over there years can be found here (Up to 2007).
(Update: links no longer working. Looking for alternative websites with similar info)

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Tweaking the COE scheme.

13 Mar 2013

Most people agree that there is something wrong with the COE scheme. If you ask them for specifics and dig deep, they are universally agreed on the problem of the COE scheme: they can't get one cheap.

Asked for a solution, and you will be amazed by their creative suggestions as to how the COE scheme should be tweaked in order to give them the best chance (or a sure chance) of getting a COE, and if they are particularly inventive, cheaply too.

Friday, 8 March 2013

COE, ERP and the Sunk Cost effect

Tweaking the COE scheme to take into account what we know about behavioural economics.

Quote from this article:
As one driver told me, the high cost of his car makes him feel that he should use it every chance he gets, so he drives to the office every day rather than taking the bus that stops almost at his doorstep.
One unintended and unexpected effect from the COE scheme which was intended to reduce car ownership costs, and shift policy towards controlling car usage, was the "sunk cost" effect (or fallacy). The sunk cost effect is reflected in the quote above.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Political Blues

WP has released their "Blue Paper" as a counter to the Government's White paper.

Devadas does a critical review of their Blue paper here.

I shall not rehash his critique.

But I thought the line: "Kitsch slogans hung on a line of wishful thinking" was an apt description.

As well as the observation that:
the WP population paper... is actually a cupboard empty of original ideas. All its policy recommendations are borrowed ideas from existing or proposed policies of the PAP. Boosting the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), raising the Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) of women and keeping the elderly employed and active are policies that have been in place for several years.
In other words,  it is exactly the same as the PAP's proposal... but DIFFERENT!

Monday, 18 February 2013

The WP are pulling figures out of their ARSE.

Why I say the WP are pulling figures out of their ARSE.

Almost as a reflex (almost, because I suspect they checked what the people's reaction were first before) they said a populist-advised "NO!" to 6.9m, and then they went on to counter propose a 5.9m projection. Based on what?

Based on giving Singaporeans what they want!

And what do Singaporeans want?


And the WP said, "No Problem! No further increase in Foreign Labour. We don't need them. If we FREEZE foreign workers, we can use local labour to make up the difference. We just need to INCREASE the labour force participation rate!

"The Labour Force Survey 2012 found that there are 418,000 economically inactive residents of working age, of which 90,000 are willing to work. This is a valuable pool of labour that can be tapped." 
(From WP website).

Really? Just like that and they can keep the population down to 5.9m?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

What check? What Voters want, and what they actually get...

WP wants to check the PAP. They want voters to vote for them, to send WP MPs to parliament to check the PAP.

The Voters want their lives to be better (as defined by voters, not PAP). They want government policies to better reflect their concerns, and their needs. They vote WP, hoping that it will mean changes for the better.

Low Thia Khiang realised that there is disjoint between what the WP can do, and what the voters expect them to do.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Extract from Gerald Giam's parliament speech - WP alternative population projection

[Taken from WP website.]

6 Feb 2013
"We will target to increase our local labour force growth by up to 1% per year from now until 2030. We should strive to keep our foreign labour force constant between now and 2020, depending on our success in growing the local labour force. It does not mean that we shut the doors to foreign workers. Instead, new work passes will be issued only to replace expiring work passes or to supplement shortfalls in the local labour force. Companies will have to find ways to hire more Singaporeans.

["Companies will have to find ways to hire more Singaporeans." Wow. Good thing WP tell those companies to hire more Singaporeans. The PAP tell them, they won't listen one!]

Saturday, 2 February 2013

What WP must do next

The win by WP's Lee Li Lian in Punggol East by-election was the second best results the WP could have hoped for.

The Best result for the WP would have been a credible loss - taking over 40% of the votes, but losing marginally to PAP.

This win was bitter-sweet.

While it is always good to win, there are consequences for the win. It is another Town Council to run, and the WP may be resource-challenged to run yet another Town Council.

At least that's the theory my colleague has.

On a wider issue, WP is concerned that perhaps the voters are expecting too much and had to dampen or manage their expectations. WP chief is worried that voters may expect the WP to turn things around now that they have 8 MPs in Parliament. And if WP don't deliver, those voters will turn around and "bite" them.

WP (and most if not all opposition parties) simply take the position of "opposing" the PAP. But the WP can no longer do this. In the early stages, an opposition party can simply oppose for the sake of opposing, to simply ask the ruling party, "is there another way?"

Monday, 28 January 2013

PAP strategy for the next election

The PAP is not particularly innovative, experimental, or able to think out of the box.

When Catherine Lim wrote her critique of the PAP - the Great Affective Divide - instead of recognising the truth in her words, they chose to shoot the messenger.

When they lost Anson, Potong Pasir, and Hougang, their basic strategy was to just flail away at their opponents until one was disqualified, one moved on, and... oh they still haven't won back Hougang.

Ok, I'm exaggerating. They did win back Bt Gombak, and Nee Soon Central... though that might be because the opposition candidates self-destructed.

The point is, their "strategy" was not a strategy. It was at best a theme of their campaign, a tactic of implementation or messaging.

There was no strategic thinking in terms of long-term maneouvers. No broader strategic messaging.

I hope when the PM said that their candidate for Punggol East, Dr Koh had potential to be more than just an MP that that was not their "long term strategic messaging". If it was, it failed.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Different under God

Jan 14, 2013

THE religious landscape in Singapore is a dynamic one. Buddhists, the country's largest religious group, have become proportionately smaller when we compare data between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

Meanwhile, those who profess Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism and no religion experienced proportionate growth during the same period. This dynamism is evident not only between faith communities, but also within each faith community. The changes within the local Protestant Christian community are a case in point.

Two years ago, we embarked on a major survey of Protestant churchgoers in Singapore. Our sample consisted of approximately 2,800 Christians from some of the mainline churches, such as the Anglican, Methodist and Bible Presbyterian denominations, as well as non-denominational independent churches and megachurches.

The objectives of this study were to capture the socioeconomic profiles of Protestants and to understand their attitudes towards money and finance, politics, sex and sexuality, and perceptions of compatibility with other faith and ethnic communities.

While it is widely recognised that a large proportion of the Protestant Christian community in Singapore is middle-class, the study revealed that its middle- class character is neither unitary nor static.

Our study shows that although the level of education among those attending mainline churches and megachurches is comparable, they do have different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Broadly speaking, those who attend mainline churches have largely inherited their middle-class status, while those who attend megachurches tend to be part of the "new" or aspiring middle-class.

Our data shows that those who go to mainline churches are more likely to have lived in private property and have better-educated, English-proficient parents who are themselves Christians. In contrast, those who go to megachurches are more likely to have lived in public housing and have less-educated, non-English- speaking parents who are non-Christians.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The dirty truth about Singapore

Dec 30, 2012

Singaporeans' poor social graces a result of a weak sense of community

By Han Fook Kwang

I couldn't find any public dustbins in Taipei where I was visiting about a week ago.

The city was clean and as well kept as any I have seen elsewhere.

But nobody throws rubbish here? What happens if you've a piece of tissue paper you want to get rid of?

Leave it in the pocket?

That's what the Taiwanese do, said my guide. They dispose of it when they get home so they can separate what can be recycled from the rest.

That's really impressive, I thought, especially considering how difficult it is to get Singaporeans to recycle their waste, let alone carry it home with them.

I had to remind myself I was in Taipei, not Tokyo where you expect the Japanese to be ultra civic-minded.

It was one of several surprises about Taipei and its people, which overturned my previous preconceptions about the place.

Truth is I didn't know very much about Taiwan, not having visited for more than 20 years - I was last there on a brief news assignment.

Much of what I knew came from reading the papers and watching the news on television, and it was mostly negative - the unruly politics, fist fights in Parliament, and headline-grabbing melodramatic elections (remember the mysterious shooting of then President Chen Shui-bian a day before the 2004 presidential election?).