Counting the number of Singapores
By The Kway Teow Man on 01 Dec 2006 4:33 PM
Haloscan Comments Closed

This is a belated response to BL's claim of "Two Singapores," where on one hand, we have "a land of opportunity and meritocracy where local and foreign talent can compete in a free market and meritocratic system to move up the corporate ladder of Singapore Inc" and on the other hand, "a divide that splits between an educated and self-proclaimed enlightened oligarchy and the average day Joe".

Interestingly, one of his readers claims that there are TEN Singapores. This entry explores this question and attempts to count the number of Singapores. :-) This entry also an attempt to understand the underlying dynamics of the recent WSM affair and proposed GST hike.

A Struggle Between Haves and Have-Nots; Elites and Ordinary Joes; Rich and Poor?

History is full of stories of the oppressed rising against the oppressors. Marxism is a struggle between the proletariat (working class) and the bourgeoisie (capitalist). Therefore, would it be a leap of logic to expect that modern Singapore ain't too different? Is our current circumstances a struggle between the haves and have nots, i.e. BL's Two Singapores?

Undoubtedly there is a tendency for the anti-Government voices on the blogosphere to represent themselves as the voice of the common people. However as the Lunatic Fringe highlighted in his comments at the Void Deck:

The Singapore blogosphere is a microcosm of Singapore Society. However, it is a microcosm of those who are:
- Mainly English literate
- PC literate
- Young (demographically slanted to be populated by 15-40s with median to be late 20s/early 30s.)
...
Given the netizens demographics are not truly respresentative of Singapore society as a whole, the blogosphere's views represent that demographic that make up bloggers. It is a mob of relative young, educated and informed group of young singaporeans and residents.
Bart also has this theory of "new elites" versus "old elites" and claims that competition is a good thing. The KTM agrees with Bart that what we currently have in Singapore is not so much a struggle of the "elites versus the ordinary joe", but the "ruling elites versus the wannabe elites" (or the new elites in "non-elite underdog" skin, to borrow from Bart's analogy).

To some extent, the KTM agrees with Bart (that competition is good). Since the Opposition isn't acting quite so effectively as a check on the Government, perhaps these "new elites" are better suited to fill the gap? :-P

In Danger of Losing Sight of That which Matters

The KTM however sees clear and present danger in the current situation. As the case of WSM has shown, these "new elites" seem to have a penchant for "whipping up a frenzy of moral indignation drowns out any clarity of thoughts and arguments" (again to borrow Bart's words. The KTM is not trying to not take responsibility. Just that Bart is so incredibly articulate that the KTM has a hard time finding more appropriate words to express the same ideas).

To be fair to some of the folks who lambasted WSM, they are not trouble makers nor were they out to incite a riot. Many were indeed outraged and were simply expressing their indignation. There may also have been some sort of herd behaviour going on, as admitted by Fearfully Opinionated.

The KTM will not say more about the senselessness of the WSM furore. He already has. Basically, people got all upset. An apology was made -- but it did little for us as a nation.

On the danger of rhetorics, a more pertinent example would be that of the recent announcement of a 2% increase in GST. Again, you have folks working up a frenzy and claiming stuff like "robbing Peter to pay Peter". It surprises that the KTM that people have so much to say even though practically NOTHING has been said about the nature of the offset package. :-)

The danger with rhetorics is that they often have nothing whatsoever to do with reality. Instead they divert the people's attention away from what really matters to issues that are completely tangential and irrelevant.

For example, the rising income gap is not THE or even A problem. The income gap was increasing for something like 30 years from 1965 to 1997 without anyone noticing. Why? Because the problem is not about how much more the rich is earning more than the poor, but about whether the poor is earning enough to make ends meet.

Between 1965 and 1997, and factoring out the years of minor recessions, people were not unhappy because the globalization had not yet hit us, the economy was growing at some 8% annually and everyone was getting richer. The rich got richer, but so did the poor.

Suppose we reduce the current income gap by taxing the rich more and not making the poor any richer, will the poor necessarily be better off because the gap is narrowed? The answer is obvious right? So the focus should be on improving the lot of the poor rather than the lousy income gap. *sigh*

Next, we have the GST. Government detractors claim that the poor will be worse off under the new GST regime. The KTM believes that this claim is completely bogus. As KTM explained the comments section in his early blog entry on the GST, it is extremely easy for the Government to come up with an offset package that makes the poor better off than they are now.

Detractors then also claim that it's a one-off package? How do they know? Did the PM say that? Please lah, once increased, the GST is not going to drop which means a constant income stream and therefore it is perfectly conceivable that whatever offset package that is proposed, it can be sustained in the long term. Supposed it is sustained, then what? Everything's good??

The argument that there will be some who will fall through the cracks is also a very weak one. Not matter WHAT the Government tries to do, some will fall through the cracks.

The main problem with the GST is that it might result in the marginalization of the middle class in favour of the "poor". There will be those who are not exactly poor who will have to pay more and yet not enjoy any offset packages whatsoever because "they aren't poor enough". And the irony is that the very fellas who are spouting all that "poor" rhetoric probably do not belong to this group and are probably able to adjust to the 2% increase in GST without any trouble.

It is comforting that Yaw Shin Leong of the WP is able to cut to the chase instead of going on some rhetoric merry-go-round. This reflects well on the state of the Opposition, but also demonstrates the danger of rhetorics causing people to lose sight of what matters.

The Death of Reason

Some time ago, Michael Palmer, one of the new P65 MPs, blogged about the lack of passion and invited feedback from the public. The KTM was struck by the following comment left by one Q on Michael's blog:

In Europe, everyone is passionate. Everyone feels like they can do better than their government and so they angrily demand that the government listen to them. However, often this is counterproductive as these people want to take part but have not thought their ideas out fully, and get angry when this is pointed out. In Europe, everyone is a rebel, and no one is a follower. Without followers, what are leaders? Without leaders, where would society be?
The KTM thought that this comment describes the situation we currently have in Singapore. As people get more educated, they start to think that they are smart. Smarter than the Government. And they clamour for the Government to listen to their views.

Actually, perhaps the Government did listen (or perhaps not. Like the KTM would know right? :-)), but it doesn't matter. What the people really want is for the Government to give in to their demands, many of which are poorly conceived --- but of course these fellas don't think so. :-) (Footnote: The KTM is really not trying to insult anyone. He's really trying to look at the situation from a third party's perspective. Forget for a moment that the KTM is Singaporean. :-P)

Moving Ahead

What is, is. What will be, will be.

The KTM is but observing and commenting on what he observes. He recently came across a very interesting blog written by a Malaysian who is apparently studying in Singapore, and he would like to quote a short para from a recent entry on governance:

I presume, in the first place, we vote for leaders whom we believe could lead the country, not for their ability to follow the crowd in areas that require expertise e.g. economic planning, foreign policy, law, intelligence and security matters. Thus the proper stance in facing dubious policies should be of questioning, not of teaching the experts. Likewise, an enlightened government would conduct consultations with the professionals from their respective fields before the release of a policy, e.g. Singapore and Hong Kong.
Very interesting hor? :-) Especially the part about the proper stance being one " of questioning, not of teaching the experts".

Moving forward, we know not how the blogosphere will evolve and even less where the nation is heading. However, the KTM is quite heartened by recent developments in the evolution of the blogosphere. While the blogosphere used to be but a cacophony of mindless chatter, more and more bloggers are saying terribly sensible and insightful things (as evident from the numerous quotes that appear in this article). It bodes well for the future of our nation. :-)

What started off as a simple counting exercise has taken a somewhat meandering path. Alright, so how many Singapores are there exactly?? Actually hor, the KTM must admit that he actually also doesn't know. :-) Alright, the KTM hereby admits that he cannot count. :-P

Ideally, we should have four million different Singapores, one for each and every citizen, and where everyone can find their own space, peace and happiness. :-P

Acknowledgments: This article is but a collection of the thoughts of various bloggers and netizens. Not much is original thought on the part of the KTM. Apologies. Special mention goes to BL for kicking the KTM to finish up and publish this article. Without BL's kick in the behind, this article would probably still be languishing as a half-written draft and never see the light of day. :-)

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1737 words | Categories: Philosophy, Politics, Society

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