About the blog
Singapore is an authoritarian regime that is in the process of transitioning to a democracy. It may not seem like it at times but the transition is inevitable. As political awareness increases, the economic issues pertinent to transitioning tend to get left behind or hidden in the myth of our prosperity. Singapore is frequently described as an economic miracle by even its critics. Critics of the authoritarianism and champions of human rights still mistakenly see Singapore as a country with an open or free market economy. It is no such thing. In this blog I try to shed some light, as an economist, on the true shape of our finances and freedoms in a tiny island nation where ministers are paid in the millions to keep us living in austerity.
My concern as always is with helping Singapore make that transition to full democratic status and true prosperity. I explore whether our economy is a miracle or a bubble waiting to burst. I attempt to demonstrate that the lack of transparency, the lack of a democratic structure, the failure to develop a rule of law, impedes our transition not just to democracy but to prosperity.
Wherever possible I try to brush the fairy dust off the idea that somehow Singapore, of all Nations globally and historically, has managed to combine repression with prosperity. That somehow we alone have managed to build a closed society and an open economy. This fairy dust is most often sprinkled by well-meaning local academics with poor knowledge of economics or by overseas academics who sometimes haven’t even visited Singapore.
I will try to be gentle dear reader but I make no apologies for being an economist. Sometimes theory, technical terms and even maths will be called for. I will not be so gentle on proponents of bad science, numbers that don’t add up and unreconstructed socialist theory circa 1950. These along with racists, homophobes, misogynists and bigots will be chewed thoroughly and then spat out.
This is not a political blog and I make no attempt to influence your vote or political ideology merely to provide some fresh ideas and open your eyes up to the way the numbers really stack up. When it comes to politics my view is, ” It’s the economy stupid!” The academic, author and activist James Gomez refers to Singaporeans’ habit of self censorship. There is an idea of a Faustian pact where we give up freedom in return for security and the appearance of prosperity. There is no need for this. In fact it works the other way. Without freedom there can be no prosperity and the richest countries in the world are always the freest. I know this because I am an economist. So for me the concepts of freedom and human rights are inextricably linked to the economic concepts concerning prosperity or the cost of living.
Why have I called my blog “Rethinking the rice bowl ?” Well, the term “iron rice bowl” was first used to describe the Communist Party in China’s system for providing for its citizens. The analogy was an apt one, linking to the term ‘Iron Curtain‘ which was used to describe Soviet Russia. The Iron rice bowl, with its connotations of unshakable strength, also became an analogy used to explain The Communist Party’s grip on power. The theory was that the state provided a job, basic housing, enough to eat and medical care in return for the citizen’s acquiescence in their absolute power over their public and personal lives.
Here, as we know, the PAP eschews any type of Welfare State system. In fact they claim to have gifted Singaporeans something much better than an everlasting iron rice bowl economy which leads to the dissolute welfare dependent citizens of the West. They have given us a “porcelain rice bowl” and being made of porcelain it can be easily broken if you do not take proper care of it. Due to its fragile nature we must constantly keep our noses to the grindstone, with the aid of a spur in our sides , and work the longest and least productive hours of many an advanced nation.
Sometimes the rice bowl slips from our fingers and cracks or breaks through sheer ill luck. There will be precious little sympathy for you in a porcelain rice bowl State should you be foolish enough to be retrenched, to have elderly parents, a chronic or terminal illness, a child with special needs or to be caring for a mentally or physically challenged dependant.
These are complex issues that cannot be reduced to sound bites. When I explain my ideas to journalists in the Main Stream Media it is like trying to reduce War and Peace to a Japanese haiku. Actually since the campaigning period of GE 2011, our Nation’s Media have put a blanket ban on mentioning my name . The very last response of mine that they reproduced was quoted as, ” ……………….., someone in the Reform Party said”. Are my ideas truly that threatening? Decide for yourself.
Here I will propose solutions to some of the problems that confront us today. I will highlight the problems and debunk some outmoded concepts, trying always to replace myth with fact. My aim is not to provide a definitive answer but to get a debate going in which you all join and vigorously challenge what I have written. I want to put forward my ideas about changing the Singapore Model so that we can have a better future. Equally importantly via the comments section and the Guest blog spot, I want to hear your ideas too.
Everything I write here is my personal view. Firstly as a Singaporean, secondly as a pro market ( albeit with interventions) economist and lastly as a liberal.
I don’t pretend to know at what point a word turns into action. I just know that change is coming and I just hope that I can contribute and trust Margaret Atwood the author when she says,
“A word after a word after a word is power”.