"to rescue truth from beauty and meaning from belief"

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SMRT CEO Neo: Stating A Fact To Hide A Truth

I do commend Neo Kian Hong’s decision to ditch his car and not buy a new one “because it is more useful for me to take the MRT to understand the issues and take our company’s assets like our taxis and buses”. Early in my corporate life, my MD introduced me to the concept of “management by walking/wandering around” (MBWA). And, along the way, I also learned “the map is not the territory”, which I used to remind myself that the data or information landing on my desk gave but a model of what was actually happening on the ground – which may or may not be the same thing.
Aside from the obvious criticisms of the PAP government (via Temasek Holdings helmed by Mrs Lee Hsien Loong) using GLCs to reward, to reinforce loyalty of their own elites (mostly, ex-generals or PAP apparatchiki, ex-ministers) with an iron rice bowl in businesses that some are only remotely qualified, at SMRT, there was little doubt that ex-CEO Desmond Kuek was mostly managing behind his desk with statistics, charts, reports and boardroom meetings. Not a bad stint Kuek had with more than an estimated S$10 mil for his near-six year tenure, considering that the first (?) SMRT deaths of two employees under his watch. Peasant lives are cheap in Singapore.
Regardless, new honcho Neo should be applauded for getting his butt off his CEO chair – and personal car – to try his hand at MBWA and travelling from point A to point B using SMRT’s assets (buses, taxis and trains).
I personally wish him good luck in his role.
But, by the way, Mr Neo, we all know that CEOs of a company the size of SMRT are entitled to and given a luxury car at his disposal and personal use – driver included.
So, unless you come forward to say that you are declining the use of the company car, you are merely stating a fact about your personal car ownership but hoping to hide the truththat you see an opportunity to save on the horrendous cost of car ownership in Singapore while trying to impress or mislead your audience.
Fake news?
Or just another bird of the same feather doing the PAP leaders’ and elites’ penchant for speaking facts while hiding truths? Remember, the factually-correct but truthfully-distracting “there are no dead poor in Singapore” assertion?
Anyway, “Good luck, Mr Neo! Thank you so much for your paid-‘volunteering’ for the SMRT job.” Khaw Boon Wan will have your back, you can count on it!

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We Will Be What They Read…

Ahead of National Reading Day, 28 July, eight 4G ministers were interviewed on their current reading. No prizes for guessing how our image-conscious ministers would use the opportunity to burnish their credentials to show how they are atop their game to be your leaders – even with the books they are now reading. If only the first prize number for Saturday’s 4D draw was that predictable.

Vivian Balakrishnan, Foreign Affairs,
– Skin In The Game: Hidden Asymmetries In Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a non-fiction book about risk and reward.

Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth,
– Thank You For Being Late by Thomas L. Friedman, about major trends affecting the world today and how we can thrive in this age of accelerations.
– World Order by Henry Kissinger. “I had many ‘aha!’ moments when reading World Order, especially in understanding the psyche of nations through his interpretation of history.”
– Quest For Chinese Culture by Yu Qiuyu. Yu compares and contrasts different philosophers, such as Confucius, Mencius and Laozi, using simple and easy-to-read language.
– The Okinawa Program: How The World’s Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health – And How You Can Too by Bradley J. Willcox, D. Craig Willcox and Makoto Suzuki.

Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources
– The Way Of The Strangers: Encounters With The Islamic State by Graeme Wood.

Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education
– Homo Deus: A Brief History Of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari, which is a sequel to Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind.

Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Trade and Industry
– The China Questions: Critical Insights Into A Rising Power, edited by Jennifer Rudolph and Michael Szonyi, a collection of essays by 36 experts on China.

S. Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information
– Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth And Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, a look at how people make decisions;
– Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy Of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari, about the 1947 partition of India;
– The Reason I Jump: One Boy’s Voice From The Silence Of Autism by Naoki Higashida, written by a 13-year-old Japanese boy with severe autism spectrum disorder and translated into English in 2013 by Keiko Yoshida and her husband, author David Mitchell.

Ng Chee Meng, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office and Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress
– The Storyteller’s Secret by Carmine Gallo,
– Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari,
– National Day Rally Speeches by National Archives of Singapore.

Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance
– Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics Of Artificial Intelligence by Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans and Avi Goldfarb.

Take note: they are almost all focused mostly if not only on reading social sciences books. NARY A SINGLE FICTION BOOK, or any of a pure humanity subject.

It is a self-evident truth that our choice of books informs and forms our view of the world.

So, while both “Humanities and social sciences deal with human aspects like politics, law, linguistics, economics, and psychology, one major difference between the two is that humanities involve a more critical and analytical approach whereas social sciences deal with more of a scientific approach.

And, for all the PAP’s yak-yak about inequality and the need to “level up” ad nauseam, zero out of eight 4G ministers are reading up on research work or ideas to actually help walk their talk.

So, my dear younger fellow Singaporeans, you can pretty much expect that we will live in a Singapore governed with little soul or spirit but more of science and schema. Lots lots of head, little or no heart for our people.

Brace yourselves and…

“Watch the days, make your plans
Change in ways, your lives demand….” Read widely. Vote wisely.

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A Singapore’s “Alliance of Hope”: No, Not With Goh Chok Tong

Based on Facebook posts, there appear to be Singaporeans who are wishful of Goh Chok Tong doing a “Dr Mahathir” for Singaporeans to stand against the current Lee Hsien Loong’s PAP in the next GE due by 15 Jan 2021.

Let me state upfront: No! Not with Goh in the Dr M role.

It’s an insult to Dr M’s political charisma and recent tumultuous GE accomplishment to compare wooden (LKY’s adjective) Goh with him.

What do Dr M and Goh share in common that some think the latter can bring about a “new dawn” for Singapore? Two main ones, namely;

One, both share membership links with the dominant ruling political parties in their respective countries.

Two, both Dr M and Goh rose to be PMs.

Beyond the above, they diverge dramatically. And in the following key divergences lie the foundational differences that disqualify Goh for a similar Dr M role in Singapore politics:-

– Dr M was always a maverick, one with a cause – and the courage. As a young politician, he penned “The Malay Dilemma”, laying bare publicly his honest, uncomplimentary thoughts about “the behaviour of his own people…” Whilst Goh, from his words and actions, was, has been since resigning from cabinet, is always a PAP man. So, Dr M, a maverick. Goh, a PAP apparatchik, one of a very, very small handful enjoying his ex-ministerial multimillion $ pension.

– Dr M speaks his mind clearly, openly. Goh tries too darn hard to be sagely, with his philosophistry, his touches of ambiguous Facebook musings and posts on matters political. You know where Dr M is coming from and, as important, where he is heading. Goh, with his self-serving ambiguities, appears to hedge his bets in order to lean where the winds of change may blow – and then will he his bet place, maybe. If Dr M has been compared to a snake. Then he’s a straight-shooting one. And the Malays, Indians and Chinese came out to curl around him because they all knew his yes is yes, his no, no.

– Dr M was branded a dictator and called all kinds of defamatory names. But he “never sued anybody“. Says he, “the way of democracy…and in politics, of course, people will call you nasty names. That is normal.” But Goh sued Tang Liang Hong, Chee Soon Juan, the New York Times etc… for libel. And when it came time for his PAP’s colleague Loong, he lent total support to Loong’s abuse of Parliament to try to clear the libellous “dishonourable” honorific that the latter’s sister bestowed on him, instead of going to court.

The above three differences are not exhaustive. But they tell us that Goh has not Dr M’s political DNA in the seminal role required to bring about “a new dawn” for Singapore politics.

Now, let me remind Singaporeans how Goh Chok Tong gave or laid the foundations for many of what are presently wrong in Singapore;

– It was Goh who started the “asset enhancement” policy, forcing citizens to use an inordinate amount of their hard-earned savings into HDB (and also 99-year condos); depleting our retirement nest egg while filling up the state’s coffers (some of which the PAP use to pay Temasek and GIC cronies million$ in salaries/bonuses with our direct/indirect CPF monies – with zero transparency or accountability).

– It was Goh who started the “mild India fever”, the base policy LHL replicated resulting in the Indian-Chinese-Filipino-Westerner deluge of Foreign so-called Talents. Many senior, middle-aged, middle-income Singaporeans are now either unemployed or under-employed, being collateral damage of the sold-as-mild- but-secretly-executed-as-high fever policy.

– Goh called Tan Cheng Bock a “close friend from school”. But Bock, after the last Presidential Election, he was and will be on his own.” BTW, Goh voiced nary a word against
neither the rushed-through for-Malay only PE legislation nor Halimah’s Indian paternal ancestry. Goh is a PAP apparatchik like no other. He probably would prefer his “close friend” Bock banished than his PAP lose overwhelming control of Parliament.

– Finally, Goh gave himself and his ministers the once highest staggering S$1.59 mil
salary (junior ministers) which also laid the foundation for the purportedly once highest gross 2008 windfall that included a eye-popping 20.4 months of bonus (over and above annual salary). If PAP hadn’t lost a GRC, a first, in GE2011, would PAP have reduced their salaries?

It is not that Goh didn’t do some good for Singapore. But that he is not the chosen one to go against the PAP. Just as he reasoned “as for Tang Liang Hong, he is not his brother“, we can safely see, for all his political sophistry, that he will not hurt the PAP because PAP’s dominance must supersede even the longer-term interests of Singapore. This, regardless  the self-evident truth that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Dr M knows, understands and lives as a mamak. A maverick mamak – with a cause suited for the times – and the DNA to match. Goh sees himself as belonging to the natural aristocracy…who secretly believes that we peasant-citizens should be happy eating cakes.

Oh, did I forget to mention that Goh started the GST on 1 Apr 1994 as PM? Or that he was
the one who started bringing untested SAF generals into cabinet? Readers, please list more of Goh’s “contributions” to most of what’s wrong with Singapore today.

…But one should never say never in politics.

Law Kim Hwee

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Op Coldstore: Fake News For Honourable Purpose?

In a more reflective interview nearing 87 years old, LKY said in 2010:

In any case, it is not these reporters or the obituaries they may write that will offer the final verdict on his actions, he said, but future scholars who will study them in the context of their day.

‘I’m not saying that everything I did was right,’ he said, ‘but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial.‘”

It’d be a dim person not to respect him, if for little else, than his unsentimental openness to subject himself to “future scholars who will study them in the context of their day” to ‘offer the final verdict of his actions’. Equally, it’s a disrespect for a minister to beat down anyone who’s verdict may not be to his liking, no?

In suggesting as he did, why did LKY volunteer a tacit admission that not everything he did was right but that everything he did was for an honourable purpose? And, interestingly, admitting that locking fellows up without trial is a ‘nasty’ thing, to destroy some lives without due democratic process. By the way, it is still legal to do so, today, in First World Singapore.

However, Lee’s openness to be subject to scholarly scrutiny came with the proviso, ‘in the context of their day’ and his own assertion that ‘everything was for an honourable purpose’. ‘Context’ is fair enough. But ‘honourable’? If Lee stuck untrue labels on some Operation Coldstore detainees and did not respect an individual right to due process, even if legal, how was he ‘honourable’? And how do we square a less-than honourable person with ‘honourable purpose’?

Now with regard to Operation Coldstore (2 Feb 1963), these were the relevant, openly known facts about and around Feb 1963 (context of their day).

It was a tumultuous time in Singapore. The broader world was simmering in the Cold War leading up to the Oct 1962 Cuban missile crisis. In our own backyard, the process to form the Federation of Malaysia sparked the Brunei Revolt (Dec 1962) and Indonesia’s announcing their policy of Konfrontasi (Jan 1963), commencing military raids into Malaysia’s territories.

Through all these events, the economy was shaky, to say the least. Into that mix, the 2 dominant political parties PAP and Barisan Socialis were slugging it out for and against (respectively) Singapore’s merger with Malaya. PAP, though in government with originally 43 out of 51 seats from GE 1959 was, by July 1962, reduced to only 26 seats i.e. only 1-seat majority as a result of by-election defeats, defections and expulsions.

Under the momentum of having lost nearly half their seats mid-term, there was a fighting chance that PAP, under LKY, will lose the GE 1963 in Sep to an equally, if not seen as more charismatic Lim Chin Siong-led Barisan Socialis.

With the above as context, of the 107 detained under Operation Coldstore, ‘many of the detainees were politicians mostly from Barisan Socialis‘. Barisan’s core leadership of Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, James Puthucheary, Dominic Puthucheary, Poh Soo Kai, and Lim Hock Siew were detained without trial.

Is it not conceivable and a convenient cover for LKY, an outstanding lawyer, to decimate his key opponent by doing the ‘nasty thing (of) locking fellows up without trial’?…albeit with legal cover under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance, the predecessor of the Internal Security Act (ISA)?

Was it fake news for LKY to characterize the mass arrest as a pre-empt against a plot to subvert the elected government – but actually utilising that same act to also destroy one’s political opponents? Even if there is some truth to the subversive plot, would utilising it as a cover to arrest the Barisan Socialis leaders, who could not be successfully prosecuted in a court of law, not constitute misleading news – making LKY the protagonist a liar?

Regardless, his ‘honourable purpose’ did not take away the (possible) guilt of spreading fake or misleading news of Operation Coldstore’s overt governmental purpose to advance his covert political intent.

We will not know for certain LKY’s true motivation for Operation Coldstore. But if secret documents that the government possess in relation to the alleged threat posed by those detained by Operation Coldstore are revealed and cross-examined by academics and the public to set the record right for individuals accused of communism.

Now, if LKY opened himself, his actions up, with a tacit admission no less of possible ‘not everything was right’ and was prepared for different offerings of verdict by scholars, why did Shan present us with only a binary choice; “Either they have to be accepted, or shown to be untrue. Keeping quiet about them was not an option.“? Why, indeed, when to any reasonable person, Dr Thum’s verdict –  is but one, and only one of many other different ones – that LKY of the PAP ‘was the biggest creator of fake news in Singapore, a liar, and Operation Coldstore was based on falsehoods’?

Was it because Thum’s verdict undercut PAP’s propagandised veneer of being ‘men in white’, purveyors and practitioners of non-fake news but unadulterated, pure truth every time, all the time? This is especially inconvenient if that verdict takes root or creates doubts amongst Singaporeans, coming as it does so very soon after the recent Budget 2018 trial balloon snafu. An episode that saw the PAP scrambling to a quiet corner licking its wounds. All thanks to Shan who initiated that self-inflicted wound on PAP. Was Shan trying to make up for his royal screw-up by bashing Thum?

Regardless, the bigger issue for us is, in the context of our day, whether the PAP is covertly, under the guise (or fake news?) of the need to control ‘fake news’, intent on practising and repeating what their party founding father, LKY, did i.e. using their own ‘fake news’ presumably to further what they consider to be ‘honourable purposes‘.

My fellow Singaporeans, are you ok with that? Is that what you want for your children – that only one party is able to spread their fake news for what they, a select few, consider to be ‘honourable purposes’ such as, perhaps, perpetuating their party’s total dominance and control of Singapore?

Law Kim Hwee

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Leadership Planning ll: The Best-laid Plans of Mice and Men…

It bears repeating: One, the leadership of PAP should and must not be conflated with Singapore’s leadership and two, Singaporeans deserve the leaders and leadership we elect.

Consider this famous (mis)quote, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America”? (Charles E Wilson, President GM, 15-16 Jan 1958). Read how the quote came to be here. Misquote or not, therein lies a lesson for Singaporeans fed on a constant diet of PAP propaganda that, without the PAP, Singapore will sink.

The PAP prides itself in having a proven leadership succession process. Though the plan and process are public knowledge, the procedure is opaque to Singaporeans. Under Lee Hsien Loong, that plan is now in kilter, But the PAP will never admit their plan is out of whack. Check out this video to see how PAP’s sec-gen tries to worm his way out of his failing self-declared “urgent task…(that) we don’t have the time to lose” when asked.

So, here we find ourselves, our elected political party making promises of a smooth transition but failing to deliver on time. Are their pride and sticking to party-focused procedures more important than what’s best for Singapore and Singaporeans? What’s good for PAP is good for Singapore?

Singaporeans are not the only ones expecting the well-executed transition promised. Foreign investors’ expectations, too, must be considered.

WHY should the ship of Singapore be hostage to a political party’s internal succession formula with its fixed, perhaps outdated, methodology?

Without saying too much about the international stature (if any, to speak of) of the 3 potential PMs-in-waiting (Heng SK, Chan CS, Ong YK), that there is no consensus amongst their peers is evidence that even within the party, confidence in any one of them to lead is lacking. Aside from the probable (unseen) squabbles within the PAP senior cabal over personal preferred choices, the three’s own 4G colleagues are also clueless even after sizing each out up since GE2006.

Perhaps, the conundrum is fully understandable when we consider each candidate’s pitiful  dearth of meaningful, quantifiable performance:

Heng SK helmed the ministry of education – can anyone name any change he made that resonate with meaningful impact on our children’s education? How about as minister of finance?

Chan CS – acting minister for community development, youth & sports (17 months), 2nd minster for defence (19 months), minister for social & family development (20 months), sec-gen NTUC (34 months to date); pray tell the defining achievements Ah Chan brought in his musical chair act.

Ong YK – who couldn’t win over voters on his first 2011 try under George Yeo’s coattail, then, instead of working the Aljunied ground, ran off to comfortably bide his time as director of strategy, Keppel Corp (2013-2015), and succeeded only in his second under-the-coattail GRC attempt in GE2015…a ‘leader’ who couldn’t even win his MP seat on his own or his first attempt and needed a safer GRC to sneak in as MP…a leader? a PM choice?

Enough said.

We have shown that PAP’s succession plan is either fake or has failed. Now, we assess the 3 PMs-in-waiting to be neither proven nor adequately, let alone well-prepared enough to inspire confidence with Singaporeans or foreigners.

So, wither Singapore?

No need to regret how we voted our way here. Let’s play the cards we are dealt.

First, let us make it clear to PAP that what worked before is no guarantee to work now.
The times have changed. It’s not 1990 or 2004. And the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Sticking to PAP’s fixed plan now is surely, demonstrably unwise.

It is time PAP leaders act on their own lecture to citizens on “change”, getting a “new mindset”.

Second, let’s demand for Tharman Shanmugaratnam to be our next PM. Here are just 3 reasons why Tharman is the man-of-the-hour for Singapore.

* Nobody, including Lee Hsien Loong, has the same proven record as him on the international stage. He stands as the only leader who is recognised and respected for his expertise enough to chair (or chaired) G20 Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance (2017- ), the Group of Thirty (2017- ) and the IMF Committee (2011-15).

A recognised and accepted ‘brandname’ to inspire continued confidence in Singapore. Look, even GCT got no invitation from the likes of Total, Daimler-Chrysler, JP Morgan (which had LKY on as advisor).

*  He has the breath, depth and proven track record of ministerial experience across diverse portfolios over a 16-year period. None of the potential PMs-in-waiting even come close.

* And, most important to my mind, he has explicitly stated that he is not interested to be PM. Who knows what lurk behind those 3 in the running to be PM? None of whom denies he’s interested in (if not secretly gunning for) the power and prestige the office brings.

So what if Tharman as PM is outside PAP’s playbook? Let’s remember, what’s good for PAP is not necessarily good for Singapore and Singaporeans.

How does it matter that “the ruling party is operating under the assumption that majority Chinese Singapore is not ready for a non-Chinese premier“? Remember PE2017, despite the clear signs that not just the Indians but majority Chinese and even a sizeable Malay voter block were not sold on a Malay President except on merits, LHL used his PM office – and the Parliament – to expend tremendous capital and ultra-ordinary urgency to push for a Malay (minority) Executive President.

Now, we should ask him, “Is the PM’s position more critical to Singapore’s wellbeing than that of President?” If so, what is stopping him from doing the same for a minority Indian Prime Minister. Isn’t that being racist?

And come on, Tharman is 1000%, yes 1000%, more credible and up to the job than Halimah! Besides, there is absolutely no question of Tharman even remotely thought by voters to be attracted to an increase in his salary!

Singaporeans must do more than respond to a Yahoo survey.  Let’s assert our constitutional right to agitate for Tharman as Singapore PM #4.

As for Tharman’s personal disposition and disinterest to be PM…? Well, Mr Shanmugaratnam, Singapore NEEDS YOU NOW!

Destiny calls.


(Epilogue: Some will say Teo Chee Hean has qualifications similar to Tharman. Well, domestically yes. But internationally, not by a mile. And, let’s be blunt about it, if Teo is elevated over Tharman, wouldn’t that mean PAP really, really is racist?)
Law Kim Hwee


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Leadership Planning l: A Fake Or Failed PAP Loong-In-The-Tooth Promise

Let us keep in mind two truths; one, PAP leadership should and must not be conflated with Singapore leadership and two, Singaporeans deserve the leaders and leadership we elect.

It was the first generation PAP leaders (not just LKY himself alone) who realized the critical importance of early leadership renewal to Singapore. To a large extent – and to all their credit, including Mr Toh Chin Chai (who objected to the pace of leadership renewal) – they showed they were able to attract a diverse 2nd generation of potential leaders compared to the mostly SAF ones Singaporeans now live with.

Fast forward to the day, 13 Aug 2004, when Lee Hsien Loong was sworn in as PM. This was what he promised Singaporeans:

21 Hence, leadership succession will be one of my top priorities. We must continue to search for younger Singaporeans in their early 30s and 40s to rejuvenate the team, to inject new perspectives and to prepare for leadership succession at all levels – ministers, MPs, at the grassroots, in the trade unions

Make no mistake of the significance. That “leadership succession” commitment was the first he mentioned in his speech after all the introductory remarks.

Then, as if to convince Singaporeans further, he restated the his intention days later at his first National Rally, 22 Aug 2004.

Political self-renewal is critical to Singapore.  Chok Tong started talent-scouting before he became PM…And I’ve got to do the same.

But sadly, after the “top priority” was paid its lip service, he conveniently forgot about it for the next 13 years in all his major speeches…except when it suited his PAP immediate goals to gain votes during election time in order to continue PAP’s dominance of parliament.

Sadder still, no MPs, no grassroots leaders nor anyone in trade unions – and least of all, the Straits Times (ST) – say anything to hold Lee Hsien Loong to account for his “top priority” commitment. The latter reports only on the issue what they appear to be instructed to report to Singaporeans. Incredibly, ST editors and writers spin the issue in a way that is almost entirely positive:

Picking SG’s next PM: The 4G16 has shown its hand and it is good
4G ministers are a serious-minded and cohesive team

More than that, to try to cover up for the fake or failed loong-in-the-tooth promise, ST even offers as an “insight” (how else to characterize the propaganda since it is their ‘Insight Editor’ who wrote it?) for Singaporeans as a fall-back plan,

Should PM Lee Hsien Loong lead beyond 70?

Or are there some unknown, unknowable or unmentionable motivations for PM Lee to continue for longer? Our guess is as good as…well, ‘it’s already happened, let’s move on’.

So, how did the PAP end up with a break to their vaunted and oft-tooted boast and promise of ensuring PAP-type continuity for Singaporeans? Maybe, Goh Chok Tong is getting a taste of his own silly, ineffectual “ownself-check-ownself” prescription, evidenced by his need to nudge the issue.

Regardless all the charade that is played out, broadcast entirely by PAP-controlled media to paper over the failure, what are the possible explanations?

One, Lee Hsien Loong, for all his initial claims of leadership renewal as a “top priority”,  has been overwhelmed by other matters that crossed his path.

Two, he must understand how important and helpful it is to put in place a successor on a long runway as preparation to take over from him. He himself was given no less than 17 years full cabinet experience across various ministries. Why would he deny his potential successor that exposure and benefit? For fear that the latter will outshine his performance as PM?

Three, his leadership style and performance could not win over the many potential successors (with track records other than in the SAF or civil service) who we will never know.

Four, could it be possible that Lee Hsien Loong wants to cling on to his premier position for reasons best known to himself?

Or a combination of some or all the above possibilities to explain the failure. Objectively speaking, it is a FAILURE if and when you set out a goal but do not achieve it. If not, it is a FAKE commitment all along. In which case, it is a success since you manage to achieve your hidden agenda under the cover of the stated goal.

Thinking Singaporeans may wish to hold the PAP they have elected to account on this leadership renewal planning commitment, which was used to gain their votes and ask, “Is that a fake or failed loong-in-the-tooth promise?”

Law Kim Hwee
a.k.a. 2cents




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Brexit & Trump = Capitalism & Meritocracy at a Crossroad

At first glance, readers would likely think that I have missed something. Isn’t democracy (also) at a crossroad?

Definitely not.

The campaigning/electioneering and voting went like clockwork, only more exciting than usual. Protests against both outcomes further confirmed that democracy lives! Weren’t the protesters dumb? Really, were the outcomes different, would they accept if those who voted otherwise demanded a re-vote? Ahh, never mind. Bremain’ and ‘Not My President’ were just free people throwing a tantrum. They say what democracy is much about…let’s just hope non-violence prevails.

Friends who engaged me pre-Brexit knew that I supported Brexit. But with Trump, while I didn’t buy his message or method, I wished him to win. I expected neither to win but am glad to be proven wrong!

Here’s why.

Experts point to 14th century agrarian Britain as the origins of capitalism. It got a spurt from “16th century merchants and small urban workshops“(Marx). Then it went “international” with “the geographic exploration of the foreign lands by merchant traders, especially from England” in the 18th century. The Industrial Revolution then gave it further impetus with assembly lines and mass production. Today, modern capitalism birthed us a web of Free Trade Agreements and globalization that have touched almost every corner of the inhabited earth.

The history and evolving characteristics of capitalism are complex. At the risk of oversimplification, I discuss only 2 key features.

First, renowned Hungarian economist, Dr János Kornai makes the obvious but seldom highlighted observation that, vis-a-vis socialism, the distinctive “virtue of capitalism is its innovative and dynamic nature”. In a list of more than 100 “revolutionary innovations” (the criterion being its “relevance for large groups of users, well-known to the majority of people, and not only to small groups of experts”) only one product, surprise!, synthetic rubber, was a Russian innovation. The rest; from Band-aid in 1921 to ballpoint pen to black box (for airplane) to microprocessor to the Walkman to e-commerce and to Youtube in 2005 all originated from capitalist countries. (Dynamism, Rivalry & The Surplus Economy 2013 and Innovation & Dynamism)

Capitalism’s dynamism brings with it a surplus in goods and services. To illustrate; when the Berlin Wall fell in Nov 1989, Dr Kornai, even as a professor, had to wait 6 years for his Skoda. But not American Joe Everyman; he could casually walk into a showroom, flashed his cash and drove off his Ford (sorry, Singapore Ah Tan could only dream about it in whether in 1989 or 2016). Surplus along with credit availability under capitalism imply affordability if not low prices, benefiting all.

Second, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” sparked a “broad and energetic debate on…: the outlook for global inequality“. Piketty documents and analyses how wealth has waxed and waned from the 18th century, its concentration or distribution being disrupted by the 2 World Wars. With copious data, he demonstrates that wealth is reasserting itself – with globalization and tech innovation as the backdrop. Oxfam’s research makes a similar but startling observation: the wealth of 1% is more than the other 99% of us. Likewise, Forbes 400 richest owned only US$93 bil in 1982 but topped US$2.3 tril in 2014 (+2473%) even as median household income rose a meagre +180%.

Piketty warns the soaring wealth inequality will mean instability down the road. Apposing that with Kornai’s capitalistic surplus, the world saw the rise of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Why should we be surprised then by Brexit & Trump? Without diminishing the impact of other issues (immigration, security etc), Brexit and Trump built on the momentum of OWS’ cries of dissatisfaction and disaffection in a world gone not right. The rich are getting disproportionally richer while the middle and low incomers are given a raw deal with growing FTAs and globalization.

That message could only have been heard with a true democracy in action.

So, despite leading humanity’s progress with innovations, the Brits and Americans are telling their ruling elites – and the world – STOP!

Why? Meritocracy, perhaps?

Meritocracy emerged with China’s system of government in 6th century BC. Whilst some form of meritocracy was practised in government appointments in US from 1883, modern 20th-century meritocracy was signposted by Michael Young who coined the term.

With meritocracy widely practised in government, business and academia particularly in the last 50 years, the meritocratic elites running the show are quick to claim credit for the good in today’s world while disclaiming any responsibility for the ills or malfunctions therefrom. They either tacitly or ostentatiously assert that “all those not on TV only have themselves to blame”. Should that surprise us?

Chris Hayes, in “Twilight of The Elites – America After Meritocracy”, observes how meritocracy over the decades in America is failing her people:-

  • Institutions designed to reward merit are being gamed by the privileged, who create a self-perpetuating elite. The most familiar example concerns admission to prestigious schools via admissions tests…a level playing field. (But) thanks to test prep, the rich get lots of time to practice on it, while even smart poor kids don’t.
  • More broadly, inequality begets more inequality. “Those who climb up the ladder will always find a way to pull it up after them, or to selectively lower it down to allow their friends, allies and kin to scramble up.” Thus the astonishingly outsized gains seen at the very top of American society.
  • The intense competition inherent in meritocracy creates powerful incentives to cheat, and encourages the attitude that whatever you do in pursuit of dominance is fine as long as you profit or win. (Hence) Enron traders who broke the law weren’t punished if they were making money. And in Major League Baseball, everyone pretended that steroids weren’t around.
  • When elites break the rules they aren’t punished like regular people. They’re bailed out of trouble, or spared criminal prosecution for their lawlessness.
  • There is too much social distance separating the people in charge with the folks subject to their decisions. Thus (meritocracy produced) Catholic bishops who sympathized more with molesting priests than their victims, Senators who send men from a class they rarely encounter to fight the wars they approve, and the disaster planners who couldn’t conceive of how the timing of Hurricane Katrina at the end of the month would affect the ability of poor residents to evacuate.(The above abridged summary is from The Atlantic. Sounds familiar to the Singapore story?)

Meritocracy, at its most basic, believes it can and seeks to rank “intelligent people in order from most to least smart, and that the right person for a job is always the one deemed smartest.” But Hayes argues that “while smartness is necessary for competent elites, it is far from sufficient: wisdom, judgment, empathy, and ethical rigor are all as important, even if those traits are far less valued.”

Hence, we see the elites’ solutions to the 2008 financial crisis producing outcomes mostly favouring the elites’ own and their cheque-writers – never mind that none of those responsible for the crisis were “bailed out or spared criminal prosecution for their lawlessness.

Puttng together Kornai’s, Piketty’s and Hayes’ key observations, we get the picture of a world created by the meritocratic elites who have “grabbed all they can, canned all they grabbed, sat on the can” and for those not on TV, well, in Singapore lingo, “you die your business”.

With capitalism globalized, other than fresh oxygen in shorter supply, almost everything else is in surplus capacity and supply. Yet, Mr Everyman v.2016 is struggling to meet mortgage payments, banks circle like vultures ever ready to pounce on repossession while the threat of losing his job hangs over him like a cold dark cloud that he can never rise above.

So, in effect, the less rich British and Americans gifted us Brexit and Trump.

I support Brexit and Trump’s election also because both countries probably have the best institutional checks and balances in place such that doomsday scenarios of detractors will be just that, scenarios. Both, too, have the people in place to force a more meaningful discussion to address and redress the excesses of meritocracy and capitalism.

But while I think that Brexit and Trump bring us to a crossroad, that merely gives us pause to join in the needed conversation. Changes will be small, slow, sashaying and slaloming.

Still, it’s an opportunity.

So, raise your countenance. Speak up – right here in Singapore! Vote wisely the next GE.

No, take a stand at the next Presidential Election 2017.

Law Kim Hwee