Thursday, March 10, 2011

Confusing Confucius

When Noel Pearson told his audience at the 2011 Sir Robert Menzies Lecture that a Confucian approach of development has provided a path out of poverty, he presents a false picture that there are no destitute in Singapore. Obviously he didn't read about Pelangi Village in LKY's "fascinating memoirs".

Given that Confucius (Chinese: 孔子; pinyin: Kǒng zǐ) places the family unit on a high pedestal, there should be no serious argument against making fathers pay to support their children, or against grown up children having to support their aged parents. Welfare policies fail only when they do not to address the core problem of the benefit system: perverse agendas of administrating bureaucrats.

Pearson lists 5 "Lessons of Paternalism", but not without conceding outright that Singapore styled paternalism is not feasible in a liberal country like Australia.

First he quotes Lee Kuan Yew saying that all men and women first work for themselves and their families, and "then will they share a portion of it with the less fortunate". That immediately brings to mind Francis Seow's new book "Confucius Confounded: The Analects of Lee Kuan Yew", a compilation of speeches, quotations and numerous exhortations attributed to Lee which disprove his claim to subscribe to Confucian ways, mores and beliefs. Confucius' guiding principle was always, "Consideration for others is the basic of a good life, a good society." Me first was supposed to be a Western disease. Don't confuse Confucianism with cronyism.

Second, in Pearson terminology, is a "set of railings" to represent the "support system" of apartment ownership, retirement funds and healthcare co-payment insurance funds. Nothing wrong with that - "He who does not economize will have to agonize" -, except when so much of one's life savings is vested into a dwelling, one has nothing to retire on. Asset rich, cash poor, is not a tenable position - it's no fun starving to death in an empty house. The CPF, our nest egg for old age, has no place in a Ponzi scheme.

Third, Pearson makes mention of the aim to put everyone on the development path and not want an underclass to develop. If the Gini coefficient is anything to go by, the aiming has to be way off target. According to the sage, “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

Fourth, Pearson says money is redistributed to promote wealth and asset development, not consumption. Subsidising consumption is supposed to neutralise the incentive to strive and work. Is that why NKF-styled "subsidies" are set for housing, healthcare, education and transport, while food, water and basic essentials are taxed to the max? "To be wealthy and honored in an unjust society is a disgrace."

Finally, Pearson claims that Lee's paternalism is sourced in Confucius rather than Mao. Mao a source of paternalistic philosophy? That can't be right, Mao had kids accusing their parents of revisionism, rightism and shipped off to re-education camps. According to theory, paternalistic leadership is composed of autocratic leadership, benevolent leadership and moral leadership. Confucius makes this clear: "An oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger."

Perhaps Mr Pearson needs to revise his choice of reading material; those memoirs may stand to be corrected.


  1. "According to theory, paternalistic leadership is composed of autocratic leadership, benevolent leadership and moral leadership. Confucius makes this clear: "An oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger".

    It is not oppressive here, it's just that the leaders always know best and are bestest in talents. They're also benevolent and moral, they're transparent with their ridiculous remunerations, they explained why they need that much. They always made those responsible for negligence, complacencies and oversights responsible, except those right at the top and those drug lords and vice operation bosses. They also have gods(natural disasters- floods, diseases, tree fallings(due to old age or strong wind) etc) to answer on their behalves. See, they never run away from accountabilities.

    They enlighten us that with aliens, we are kaput which is true. Imagine a resource-less tiny low lying rock that prospered as a trading centre losing all the advantages of the past, how else to survive except to rely on consumerism.

    We are damn lucky to have a leadership that incorruptible, responsible and best of all, unfaltering and unfailing.


  2. My apology to Readers

    'They enlighten us that with aliens....' should read 'They enlighten us that withOUT aliens....


  3. “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

    In a country where justice is important wealth is not concentrated in a group of people who only want more money for themselves. In a country where justice is important, old people dont collect rubbish on the road.

  4. Pearson is correct as his premise is better that those destitute be housed and concern for social mobility.

    The problem with intergeneration poverty is that it is a drain to both society and families involved.

    Say what you like, there is significant social mobility in Singapore whether this is sufficient to overcome income gap is a different take unlike Australia for its indigenous peoples or for certain minorities where intergenerational poverty is now to the 5th or even 5th generation.

    Further, considering that for most cases, it is a question of priority of wants rather than needs.

    So yes, more spending on preventive healthcare /education / extra classes/extra university places or even food stamps but no to dole or old age pension (other than food stanps and basic needs to eldery).

  5. Fellow Ex-Rafflesian3/10/2011 3:36 PM

    If your readers were not already aware, Noel Pearson is an Aboriginal community leader. His comments were targeted at a very specific problem - inter-generational poverty amongst isolated Aboriginal communities.

    As to how that turned into a blanket vilification of the welfare system, only God knows.

    It's good that Noel acknowledges that there are many things which Australia can learn from Singapore's experience.

    Unfortunately, based on the manner in which Noel's article has been plastered around the web, some Singaporeans do not seem to think that they could possibly have anything to learn from the Australians.

    Well, at least some of them received a certain amount of exposure to the polished literary standards of the Australian press.

    The crux of the Aboriginal problem in Australia is not the welfare system per-say; but rather the lack of political will to do anything to solve this problem, given the fact that these people have next to no impact on the political landscape.

    In four succinct words: Not enough people care.

  6. Hi Tattler,

    U need to reach out to a wider audience to speed up the political process. Your articles are good in helping us think critically on many of the flawed policies in Singapore. There is an urgent need for change. The press is heavily propagandised and many people are fed with the bluepill on a day to day basis. We don't want to suffer for another five years! Please do something to distribute the redpill. Thanks!

  7. Its amazing how folk can be absolutely closed to reasonable old age pensions and keep mum about sky high salaries paid to ministers and redudant cabinet posts which draw these salaries.

    There are ways to raise practical and financial help for those who are vulnerable and who dont have a voice in society. How about increasing taxes for the super rich, doing away with GST for basic food, reducing the defense budget and imposing higher taxes on those who win big at the 2 gambling dens. And dont forget the savings from removing all those redudant cabinet positions. And you know what?? the govt can keep their routine handouts to the electorate before elections and use it to help those with real needs.

    All the above measures will help to finance concrete help for the the vulnerable in our society. Helping the marginalized and the vulnerable is not just about dollars and cents but the dollars and cents really help, especialy in Spore where the cost of living is high.

    One of the favorite tactics of the elite is to totally distort what people with a social conscience really want in society. We are accused of everything from promoting laziness to all sorts of social ills. And to throw the spanner into works they dredge up deep seated problems like 5th generation poverty to weaken arguments for a more compassionate distribution of wealth. People with a social conscience are not stupid. We know that redistribuitive proposals will not solve all problems related to poverty or abuse but we can at least say that in Spore we dont coldly leave out the aged in our "great" financial calculations to make more and more money - whch incidentley benefits the super rich and elite.

    Yes, we can give a reasonable stipend to the aged in our society without undermining our economy.

  8. "We are damn lucky to have a leadership that incorruptible, responsible and best of all, unfaltering and unfailing."

    You must be living in your own ivory tower of PAP.
    NO ONE is infallible. No Party is unfaltering. The most important job of the voters/electorate is simply to hold politicians to account. It is OUR job to ensure that we hold them to the highest standards since they have demanded for the highest salaries in lieu of their highest talents, NOT morals. The point of democracy is to give people the kind of government we prefer, not the one that is "deemed best" by the rulers. God knows how many feudal lords and monarchies, dictators think so too. The people needs to be able to make mistakes if it is to have true freedom of self-determination. So one, two, three, four, we don't want your paternalistic laws!