Sunday, April 17, 2011

The PAP manifesto

I just downloaded the PAP manifesto which was released hour earlier. Here are some of my thoughts on their limitations. Beginning with the first thrust....I have no time to work through the others at the moment.

CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR HIGHER INCOMES FOR ALL
• Ensure a diverse and innovative economy, that enables
Singapore to overcome the competitive challenges
ahead and hold its own internationally
• Help companies expand and compete overseas, while
attracting new investments that add value to Singapore
• Deepen R&D and innovation in every industry, so
that companies can come up with new products and
services to grow their businesses
• Work with unions and firms to raise productivity and
upgrade jobs in every line of work, so that all workers
can raise their skills and earn more
• Invest $2.5 billion in Continuous Education and Training,
so that everyone has the chance to develop their skills
and expertise or enter new fields throughout their
working lives

The PAP will do the same as in the past by adding on to what they have always been doing. Don't expect it to be better. There may be some good surprises if our backs are against the wall, when necessity becomes the mother of invention. Otherwise they have adopt a why risk it attitude; why retool when it is still good to use, ignorant of what serendipity might bring.

The PAP will always pluck the low hanging fruits. Most people would do this but not the long term strategic thinker. Therefore we can only wish but unlikely to achieve a diverse and innovative economy. What shape the economy take will depend on what is easy and attractive to bring to Singapore (we are tolerating the socially unattractive casinos option); what we can grow ourselves and also often constrained by the size of government: by that I mean, governments can work with big business effectively but hopeless at creating hundreds of quality small businesses where many more people can be employed, where some can have astonishing growth rates, grounded here and moving beyond later. The size of government vis a vis small businesses prevent the blooming of a field of flowers and instead can only invest in a few large flowering trees. No wonder however hard they try, most of our SMEs are not making the progress we had hoped. Conveniently they blame the limited talent pool, but haven't we been investing in education for a few decades now?

Raising productivity unfortunately is so industrial age thinking. We have moved away from making widgets. A bunch of services now envelop a widget. Better yet if it carries an attractive brand. You can no longer just produce efficiently and effectively. Lots of businesses do that and increasingly even to the degree that labor cost is becoming less important through the clever use of knowledge embedded and surrounding the processes. What is needed is superior marketing and selling. As important is the creation of demand. High productivity only qualify you to play. Your goods and services may not sell. You might end up having to dump them in a price war.

Schools prepares you to learn on the job. There are a few exceptions e.g., Medicine, which brings the job of treating people into school: the teaching university hospital. Continuous Education and Training is inefficient without a new work culture, and this culture cannot be created top down but bottom up business by business. Governments are not equipped to achieve this. Business leaders must be sold on this. We might be able to influence the local business on this, but MNCs have their much narrower agenda for being here. MNCs were a boon and helped us become rich in a hurry. Increasingly they will become a bane and eventually a liability to our long term future.

We need new thinking because old strategies are returning less and less. At the same time our problems are not getting easier to solve. So the PM keeps telling us to work harder, but there is only so many hours that you can put into working.

We must recognize that the government has abrogated too much power to itself and from this manifesto the PAP is attempting to solve problems that governments just are not structured effectively to solve. If they attempt to achieve this, the results are not likely to be good unless they press the people hard, infuse them with the fear of failure and tire them out. We will end up doing better than most countries, but only relatively. We will be left burnt out and more unhappy than the previous five years. Do you want that?

Government is not the solution to some of our major problems. Therefore the Opposition parties also cannot solve them. Empowering the people, taking ownership for our families, businesses and civic organizations is the way to go. Unfortunately the way we are organized today makes it very difficult. Compounding this, there is too much fear in large segments of our population who are used to having the PAP government solve economic and labor problems. Of course, I don't expect the man in the street to understand that the tools which were highly effective previously are not as helpful today and tomorrow. We need leadership for a paradigm change, but it does not appear to be happening.

Further thots:


They are not going to achieve much of it. Years later, they are going to then blame the external environment like all good CEOs do and tell us to be realistic. People are just going to get even more tired of them. 

We don't need brains as much as we need courage and boldness of vision. I have no problem with the PAP overwhelmingly dominating politics but they must earn the right to it. They mustn't have the habit of talking and spinning like other politicians in the developed world. Once they do that, over time the electorate know and we will grant them an opposition like other governments have to live with.

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