Is Lee Hsien Loong Sleeping on the Job or Just Bored?
Yesterday I wrote about PM Lee’s insensitive May Day message essentially blaming Singaporean workers for the productivity slowdown and saying that wages might have to fall if productivity growth did not pick up. (See here). Either he knows no economics or he is cynically shifting the blame from the PAP’s outmoded economic model with its dependence on cheap labour and inability to produce efficiency gains.
In this blog I would like to draw your attention to an appalling gaffe that the PM made in his May Day speech to the PAP-controlled NTUC. In the course of a speech crediting his father’s and his leadership with having put Singapore on the map, he said
“The PRC, 13,000 million people, they publish statistics and according to China’s statistics, Singapore is China’s largest foreign investor.”
Surely every Singaporean schoolboy knows that China’s population is about 1.3 billion, or 1,300 million, and not 13 billion, or 13,000 million. If China’s population was 13,000 million then it would be almost twice the size of the current world population which is slightly over 7 billion.
Some people have commented on Facebook that LHL Is correct and I am confused between the British and the American definitions of billion. The Americans define a billion as a thousand million while the British used to define a billion as a million million. A few years back the British gave up using their idiosyncratic and not very useful definition of a billion and adopted the American definition. Since Lee Hsien Loong read Maths at Cambridge in the 1970s and is known to be somewhat of an Anglophile, that might make sense if it were true. However it is not. 13,000 million on the archaic British definition of a billion would be 0.013 billion and not 1.3 billion.
It seems incredible that someone whom we are told got the top First at Cambridge in his year in Mathematics would make such a schoolboy howler and get China’s population by a factor of 10. LHL represents Singapore on the world stage and in meetings with the leaders of other countries. He is paid five times what the US President is paid despite only having to run the equivalent of a mid-sized American, European or Asian city. His workload cannot be too demanding given that Parliament meets rarely. His father crushed most of the Opposition and neutered what was left so he does not have to waste time (in his view) justifying and accounting for his policies and actions. As we have seen with Amos Yee and Roy Ngerng, LHL is perfectly capable of being as ruthless and vindictive as his father was. For those he cannot crush he just ensures that his State media monopoly, reinforced by his shutdown of even independent news sites, do not report their criticisms so their voices are not heard. In addition LHL can call on the expertise of the world’s best-paid civil servants and ministers, a team that he tells us are top-class technocrats.
Even the team that LHL assembled of trusted yes men to justify his and his ministers’ galactic-class salaries made a fundamental error when they claimed that pegging ministerial pay at a 40% discount to the median salary of the top 1,000 earners in Singapore would put their salary close to that of the 1,400th earner. As I said here, either the committee were incompetent or were being deliberately misleading.
The only conclusion is that civil servants and taxpayer-funded communications guru write his speeches and LHL is too lazy or bored to read them or take in what they are saying. One would expect it to be fact-checked but you would still expect someone of LHL’s education not to let such an elementary and fundamental gaffe pass him by particularly as China is the second-greatest world power and we are the biggest foreign investor in China according to Chinese statistics (though these may largely be made up).
The other conclusion is that we should be seriously concerned about the quality of the statistics produced by the PAP Government. They may be better than China’s (after all Singapore is just a city) but not much better. I have long suspected that GDP, real income and productivity growth rates are inflated. We have seen no explanation from the Statistics Department for the huge jump in productivity of over 10% that took place in 2010 on the back of the enormous GDP growth rate of 14% that year.
Without much Opposition and critical voices increasingly struggling to be heard, LHL’s job has clearly become too easy for him and he is bored and complacent. As the Cambridge economist J. R. Hicks said in 1935, “The best of all monopoly profits is a quiet life”. Obviously life has become much too quiet for our PM. It is time for Singaporeans to wake him from his slumbers. A healthy dose of competition would go a long way to eradicating such incompetence but it is still hard to tell whether the voters are prepared to do the necessary in 2016.