Monday, August 20, 2018

Christianity at its most accessible

Kenneth and Adeline Thong gave up having children of their own to do this. The only way to beat this is to have more doing the same like Kenneth and Adeline.

From Francis of Assisi, to preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words continues to be the most eloquent way to tell others that Jesus lives.

Let the Christian witness look ordinary because much of life is ordinary. But the sacrifice of giving up children for others sake is and will always be extraordinary. It lurks in the background and only come to the front why people ask why do you do this?

When necessary use words. Meanwhile please go easy with Cru's Four Spiritual Laws.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Yesterday choices, Today options

What I am going to write next has nothing to do with river water pollution in Canada or the Singapore River. We are doing much better than them if that is one take away from reading the story, a pretty typical Singaporean observation.

It is the thoughts which surfaced in my mind from reading the story that I want to record (as usual not so much share, but record). It is about the choice we made regarding public housing ownership and perhaps paying our ministers million dollars packages. More to the point, I am thinking of the educational choices we allow the government to make for our children and the environment we have created to bring them up.

How do you link up home ownership, ministers' pay and education?

Home Ownership & Education: This girl had a sense of ownership of her country because she could do something about it. In their culture such initiatives are encouraged. We pretend to do the same because when we discover what others are doing, we can't disavow that but what we do is that we neglect and starve those possibilities because we choose "our way" i.e., how we compete in school and then for jobs and success which is always narrowly defined here. The decision looked good at the beginning but all good choices have some ways to turn bad over time and we are there now.

Two trends. There is a shift in developed societies to move away from owning to sharing/renting. It is further along in Japan, America and Europe but it should become increasingly prominent here as home schooling is becoming.  The other is a wake up call to what a 99-year lease means, which the public is presently quite unhappy about. This is not the government fault but they took advantage of people's misunderstanding of a leasehold when it was convenient for them to win elections.

When we use home ownership to anchor our sense of belonging, in a top down society we are, other forms of ownership are neglected and perhaps heavily discouraged. The consequence is we will not produce kids like this 11-year old Canadian. In fact we educated our kids not to be like her but pretend we did not and could even point to features of our education system supporting that as evidence. But that is missing the point. Beyond the first two or at most three top priorities, the other priorities are practically as good as absent. Simply after you have focused the lion's share of your time and effort on the top priorities (mostly exams outcomes) the rest are often a chore unless they help you to succeed on the recognized path.

Home ownership will no longer anchor Singaporeans to this place like before and we did not bring up our kids to be like this young Canadian. We have crossed the bridge and there is no turning back. How to deal with this challenge? Since we are a top down society, we look to the government for solutions and this bring us to ministers' pay and quality of leadership.

Ministers' Pay and Quality: We pay them to perpetuate the past but not preserve the status quo. What does this mean? It means keep things the same with small adjustments. Following this economic growth can only become slower and limited. The law of diminishing return is an iron law in Economics. However our leaders do not suffer the same life situation that we all do. They pay themselves first and they play heads they win, tails we lose, which I often wrote about here back in 2011. There is no need to repeat them.

The apt metaphor is that government under LHL is flogging an old horse. When he says "work harder" that is exactly what is needed because the horse is old. Exiting the metaphor, it means the paradigm of governing Singapore is tired and cannot produce many new ideas. Once we seized opportunities now we face limitations. Typically such limitations are overcome by taxes and they warned us it is going up.

They also play it very safe. That way their positions are secure. But the total risk the country faces is like a pie. If the government assume less risk then the bulk of the risk must fall on the rest. Big business also has the power to transfer risk to workers and between them they form the elite. That is the conceptual underpinning to heads they win, tails we lose. All these come about because we have a pay system which rewards caution and self preservation. At the end of the day ministers look after themselves, their families and their party first as the proxy for putting Singapore first. We ranked last especially when you fall outside their plans. And this will happen to practically everyone since all must eventually grow old. What have they done about the growing problem of ageism. They only appear to try very hard but there are no results. We should only pay for results and not hard work. In this sense they are overpaid for what they are delivering. They are mostly delivering for the elites. The ranks of billionaires here will grow.

GIC as an example of transferring risk: GIC invests CPF monies but a huge chunk of the returns is used to fund the budget together with contributions from Temasek. It is actually a deep indirect taxation on the CPF member for it explains why he/she isn't getting higher returns. Unless you are a high income earner and frugal at the same time you will not leave enough in the CPF for retirement because as the income was made, a large chunk went to finance the budget. Sure, taxes are low but indirect taxes are high. In other words real taxes are high. They pull wool over our faces when they say their good administration keep taxes low.

We can't go back and choose differently but growing unhappiness will produce viable options eventually but it takes a lot longer to happen here than elsewhere.

Update: Aug 20 7:45 am

Yes, what the PM proposed at the NDR yesterday regarding housing was innovative. It is the linchpin for anchoring Singaporeans to this island. This is the road we must travel as long as we are still able to lay new road. It is scary when we run out of road but for now the PAP is confident it would be good for the next twenty years at least.

The government has near total control of real estate and so the power to make things happen. On issues which we are price takers the problems are nearly impossible to solve e.g., replacing good jobs aging PMETs lost.

ESM Goh proposes good but not great monkeys

Goh is only interested in what works for Singapore. Our leaders are no different from Cao Cao. From time to time they need to borrow some heads for the good of the country. Recently they had been borrowing many heads in the guise of FTs. When EDB can't find the high paying jobs for highly trained locals they have to settle for good enough and cheaper foreigners.

The better Singaporean engineers can either suck it up to lower pay or head for Silicon Valley and be handsomely remunerated. That is the meaning of attracting investments and creating good enough jobs. FTs loved it, locals with high local cost find themselves under employed or worse, high potential fresh graduates do not get the working experience and training they need. Just go and check how they are doing audits now at the Big Four. The standards were far higher thirty years ago when we were still a developing country.

In my previous post as usual without much elaboration I submitted that we have no choice about the monkeys we have to live with. These monkeys will likely work especially for their families and associates interests. They like the FTs they bring in would be good enough but not great.

We will continue losing our best and brightest to other countries, especially America. Come on, even the best FTs come here as a stepping stone to the USA. Even after Trump makes America worse, they will still be a great nation.

Our leaders do not want to be leaders of a great people because they can't and specifically the EDB can't with the other agencies unable to foster enough indigenous opportunities. They are only capable of leading good people. A silent brain drain of great people is going on in Singapore. Family held some back or bring back some but that homeward pull is also diminishing.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Monkeys whatever you pay

That is what has become of our system since we took this path of richly paying our ministers. It is not going to be better if you cut pay. It is no good except for the elites and themselves if you pay ministers well as it is their instinct to protect themselves and their kind first in any policy making. We have the least worst situation when settle for the good to stop the great from coming in. Now we can't get the really great ones until we face an impending crisis. Problem is we will then see the good is the enemy of the great.

Mr. Brown is right. Pay well you get exceptional monkeys. Pay poorly you get mediocre monkeys. All are monkeys until there is a forest fire.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Our Zero Sum Games

Zero sum games getting more common here because we have ran out of space. 

How do you manage this when there is no escape from winners and losers? You got to have a society of give and take. One which is always asserting their own rights, calling it human rights even will create tension and discord. Right now there is no so much give and take but whoever has money wins, followed by the majority wins provided they make a lot of noise which is also capable of pushing back those with money. The majority do not often raise a hue and cry but they will eventually when they learn from experience. Then what would we become? Some might say this is not going to happen. Well that is thinking of those who is also in the same breadth saying, "I will be out of office" 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Selecting leaders: Good is the Enemy of the Great

To me there are two minor stories on top of the main story focusing on Bitcoin (Finally someone is making sense of this thing when Jaime Dimon and Warren Buffett could not).

I am interested in the main character Jeff Sprecher ability to spot talent. Something which our leaders and system refused to admit (afraid to be honest about) they can't do without using very high pay as a screen. Jack Sim the maverick could have been a younger Philip Yeo but the post LKY generation would never be able to deploy his talent inside government. As for pay, he is willing to work for free, and he is doing exactly that now for global sanitation.

So we run a system where we pretend to have great people by hiring good ones. People cannot know what are the great leaders when the jobs are taken by good ones except to compare them against the better ones before. Indeed Good is the Enemy of the Great!

Read the Fortune Magazine story.

Pay: Right Policies+Bad Politics...

EW Barker's daughter pointed out how out of touch Goh Chok Tong and his club have become. I have a slightly different take on this. I do not assume the daughter could speak for her father unless he had left behind writings for her and siblings. Were Eddie Barker a young and rising lawyer now, he might adopt the attitude of let others serve. But he was a product of a different time. There may be no Singapore if men like him to do offer themselves. GCT had referred to a repeat of that if this place ever face an existential crisis again.

I think we have good policies and bad politics. That is a combination which eventually produce bad policies, and we are at that point now. The baseline for a competent and effective politician, and we are not even talking political leaders which is what the PM thinks his team is, is to be able to connect successfully with the people. When you are out of touch with voters in politics that is the beginning of the end for you. If you are able to stick around for a long time, that is because the dustbin is sealed shut. Then the place really begins to stink.

Right policies + Bad politics = Bad policies. It is only a matter of time.