Monday, November 18, 2013

Looking Out For Themselves

Politicians should stop using food analogies to explain policy making. There was the mee-siam-mai-hum debacle, and there was the $10 chye tow kway gaffe. Even Lee Kuan Yew tripped over the extra egg that goes with his hawker meal portion because, well, he thinks he deserves it.

Using "kueh lapis" to dismiss an official poverty line with their "multi-layer help" approach is flawed at the start. Anybody who has seen a sample of the sweet dessert will recognise the many rainbow colored lines, the result of compositing thin layers of butter, eggs and sugar, each laid down alternately and then grilled separately. None are so blind as those who do not see.

Lee Hsien Loong says a poverty line like the World Bank's measure of $1.50 a day is irrelevant since there are no "dead poor" in Singapore, which he defines as those who are starving and unsheltered. By his Cambridge Senior Wrangler (students who gain first-class degrees in mathematics) logic, those living in public housing but can afford only one meal a day are not poor. That must be why Lily Neo had a hard time asking for more money for the poor from Vivian Balakrishnan, and was rebuffed with the wicked hawker center, food court or restaurant line.

Lee said that each group needs a different sort and scale of help. Hmm, those who own a Porsche may need some help in upgrading to a Lamborghini. Those living in the penthouse suite of a condo in Orchard Road could use a helping hand from the Government to move to Sentosa Cove. That could explain doing away with estate duty and removal of tariffs for trading in gold.

Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong could be thinking along similar lines when he told Joo Chiat residents that "Govt will look out for asset-rich, cash-poor". He was responding to a point made by a landed property owner who had  to pay a hefty property tax for his home which he bought when it cost "less than the cost of buying a car today". Since no line is drawn in the sand to qualify poverty, help may be coming to those who maxed out their credit lines to own two properties, one to rent out and one to stay in.

There could be a simpler reason for not wanting a poverty line. That would make a blatant liar out of Kishore Mahbuban, Dean and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, and the one who boasted to the whole wide world, "There are no homeless, destitute or starving people (in Singapore). Poverty has been eradicated."

23 comments:

  1. Sometimes I am not sure whether they are so out of touch with the real world, or they are just indulging in what the Hokkiens refer to as "kong lan chiau wey".

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    1. The absence of a poverty line simply does wonders to the elites' and miws' entitlements - more tax rebates, more scholarships for their children. Why change when the status quo is so much in their favour?

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  2. Singaporeans continue to wring their hands in despair whilst the powers that be make-believe that poverty has been eradicated.Many will wish that the next GE is tomorrow. The neuroscientists believe that mathematicians are hard-wired to have little or no empathy with others. The PM appears to prove them right. Taking the food analogy further, what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander in this little red dot.

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  3. Thanks Tattler, I enjoyed reading this. Keep it coming.

    Talking about food analogies, there's the howler about free pork soup from the tap. It's not a question of they do not see, it's more that they will not see, a case of self-delusion, blinded by their ideology, the reluctance towards spending on welfare or social assistance. They will not see that there are poor in Singapoor (forgive the double entendre), because it is more convenient for them to do so, to turn a blind eye.

    Reminds me of the story of the Emperor's new clothes. Even a child can see that this Emperor we have is naked, but he will not see it, because of his fixations, and this has pemeated throughout his organisation. "Acting Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong has cautioned against getting Singapore into debt, even as the government ramps up social assistance". WTF do you continually hoard for a rainy day when your people are starving now. Prudence? My foot, more like Paranoia.


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    1. People had begun questioning the rationale behind the increase in hoarding already in the late 1970s. Then LKY explained that it was for a rainy day. It made sense to ordinary folks. But at the macro level there has to be a limit. Otherwise it is counterproductive. It would look as though the old justification has been quietly abandoned and the continued increase gives cover for those responsible for the enormous losses of GIC and Temasek.

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  4. Trying to help everyone is tantamount to helping none at all. A story will illustrate this:
    5 best sentences in economics. When the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.Is this man truly a genius?Checked out and this is true...it DID happen! An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Obama's socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama's plan".. All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A.... (substituting grades for dollars - something closer to home and more readily understood by all).After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little. The second test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else. To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.Could not be any simpler than that. (Please pass this on) These are possibly the 5 best sentences you'll ever read and all applicable to this experiment:1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.Can you think of a reason for not sharing this? Neither could I. 

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    1. "You cannot legislate the poor into wealthy",

      BUT you can surely legislate the wealthy to become greedy, scheming to plunder state assets, corrupt and eventually to cause the downfall of the country. Adam Smith said so, and every single dynasty of China has its root cause in the elites looking after themselves at the expense of the greater good of the nation. No dynasty has ever failed because of maximising the potential of everyone of its citizens. Can you think of any dynasty that fell because of looking after its needy?

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    2. //When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them//
      The fallacy of this view is that people work only for monetary gains, which happens to the mindset of the politicians in power. That's why they demand multi million dollar salaries, otherwise - how do they put it? - they can't attract the talents. No wonder Mother Teresa didn't sign up with them.

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    3. "trying to help everyone is tantamount to helping none at all" . hey, u got it all wrong. The professor is supposed to segregate those who already got an 'A' or 'B' to those having 'D to F'. Give remedial lessons and extra coaching to these lesser scorers. Sometimes, even at the expense of NOT teaching those already having 'A'.
      These A achievers most likely have the parents or $$ to help to achieve very good grades. It's alright NOTto teach them. However, when these A scorers have no help from the professor, their parents will collectively complain to the Dean of the university. Or they'll try to bribe the professor with expensive gifts to get excellent guides to score triumphantly. (Those poor in $$ and scores, out of survival, have to try to prostitute themselves, in the current system of working).

      The gist is to help those who have lower grades or likely to fail if no help are coming. (many are working part-time giving tuition, at retail and services) Let these group of students (liken to our citizens if extrapolated to country level) score well with lots of help from the professor. The END Result is everyone do well. Then, when the grades are moderated, the whole class got 'B' score, with some 'A' scorer from the rich families. And, some 'A' scorer from those who had received significant assistance from the professor, who'd the talent to rise despite being disadvantaged with poor finance or lesser educated parents.

      The job of the professor will no doubt be very busy and challenged. Liken to our government. But, if u don't create the equal society, the country will see the decline and rot in humanity.

      it is not everyone don't study bcoz the grades are based on the A scorers to divide and then an average score obtained. Rather, it's not helping the A scorer, they can complain or bribe, but must not be accepted. Then, to focus on the lower scorers who for reasons of lack of money or parental advantage, to give a lot of resources to them to help them score better. So, in the end, when scores are moderated across the board, the more disadvantaged, mind u, who have worked hard, not never fought it out, can achieved equally well. This is stability for society. Those who had a lot, must not be helped to score and dominate.

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  5. Just consider the poverty line as the GDP used as a KPI for the government. GDP grows 6% and Ministers get 12 months bonus all fine and good. GDP grows 6% and the percentage below poverty line increased by 10%, then the Ministers are screwed. Now tell me it is in their interest.

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    1. Had there been a official poverty line, you would be shocked to see the rise of poverty over last 10-15 years. The Gini index has demonstrated the poor are getting poorer over that period of time.

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  6. Collectivism was what made Singapore work and today's success was built on the older generation's sacrifice-they didn't really have a choice but to vote for political stability; now they're penalised for doing the right thing?

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  7. The pain and the emptiness within the hearts of many Singaporeans will finally turn the page of history in 2016. Until then, we fend for ourselves, the hunger pangs and many sleepless nights have to be endured and not allowed to rule. We are of no concern to the mighty because like the layers in the kueh lapis we are easily peeled away and quickly forgotten.

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  8. Eh? didn't Grace Fu whined about not being able to upkeep her basic lifestyle if she is not paid millions? That could mean she is probably right to say those earning less than her will be facing "survival" issues in Singapore and we can easily calculate millions of poverty by the example of her salary benchmark, or was poverty defined differently in a country with double-standard govt?

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    1. Yes, the poverty line is $2 million a year. Anything less, and the children education will suffer.

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  9. keechiu's kueh lapis schemes remind me of former soviet union's supermarkets or communist china's "friendship stores" I visited many decades ago. When I asked to buy some caviar at unbelievably cheap price, I was told nyet, no stock. Soon I found that everything nice on display was out of stock. For display only.

    But what you cannot buy, the dim-witted little local party boss was enjoying openly in the "public canteen". How things have changed, "free market" red dot has taken a chapter off communist ussr and china. here are the similarities:

    their propaganda is the red dot's spin,
    their pravda or xinhua is your ST,
    their zhongnanhai is your goodclassbungalow/sentosa cove, their caviar-eating elite is now your tooth-pick-savvy million-dollar jiak liao bee ministers.

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  10. Tattler, your last bit about a half -truthing Prof was damned good! Yes, somehow , I was never impressed with this ex diplomat of ours when he was at the UN .

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    1. From half truthing to telling fairy tales on behalf of LeeConYou....this prof has the verbal skills to match Chemical Ali, spin doctor for Sadam Hussein.
      Perhaps a similar ending will impress many citizens ?

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  11. Remember the following parliament exchange :-

    Dr Lily Neo : Sir, I want to check with the Minister again when he said on the strict criteria on the entitlement for PA recipients. May I ask him what is his definition of “subsistence living”? Am I correct to say that, out of $260 per month for PA recipients, $100 goes to rental, power supply and S&C and leaving them with only $5 a day to live on? Am I correct to say that any basic meal in any hawker centre is already $2.50 to $3.00 per meal? Therefore, is it too much to ask for just three meals a day as an entitlement for the PA recipients?

    Dr Vivian Balakrishnan : How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?

    In the past welfare was such a dirty word and yet now they are still trying to find some excuses not to have a poverty line. But in reality, they do have an imaginary "poverty" line of max S$12,000 monthly salary for those to qualify to buy Exec Condos including those buying EC penthouses costing more than $1M ?

    Are they not real hypocrites to begin with ?


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  12. Hypocrite is bad.
    And they are worse.
    These hypocrites are
    totally without conscience
    with boundless greeds.

    patriot

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  13. /// Singapore needs to narrow its huge current account surplus further and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) supports the government’s plans to raise public spending on infrastructure and social services, the IMF said on Thursday.

    “Singapore’s external position appears to be stronger than warranted by fundamentals, suggesting the importance of further efforts to narrow the current account surplus over the medium term,” the IMF said on Thursday in its annual review of economic developments and policies in the wealthy Southeast Asian city-state. ///

    Saving for a minus 30 deg C blizzard instead of a rainy day, while the poor are reduced to picking cardboards and selling tissue paper.

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  14. /// The island, which has a population of just 5.4 million people, enjoyed a current account surplus of US$51.4 billion last year, which was a massive 18.6% of gross domestic product. ///

    And they are still hawking kueh lapis that are not been consumed, and if consumed not enough to satisfy the hunger of the poor. Let them eat cake!!!

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