Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lim Chong Yah's wage shock therapy

My first reaction when his suggestion was first mooted in the front page of ST a couple of days ago was: he cannot be serious. How could he be so out of touch. I would have expected him to support a minimum wage law but to bring a sledge hammer to the economy, this was quite a shocker.

I think what we need is a more targeted approach, which given our development and information culture, infrastructure and intellectual attainment weren't doable in the late 70s. The economy was much simpler but now it is wiser to be cognizant of the inter-connections locally and globally.

Most important, today we live in what I call a "by pass" economy. The ultimate example of the by pass economy is the use of complex derivatives to get around regulations in the financial sector. The US is making a comeback because they are the most advanced by pass economy. As usual as the economy change we do not know until we experience it. We study it and then before long it has changed again and economists always run the risk of prescribing solutions that are no longer suitable. They are like generals always planning to fight the last war.

What we need now aren't legislation unless it is accompanied by suitable incentives and culture change. Top down approach is so yesterday and no longer workable. We now live in a world where we can only set the direction but cannot determine the destination, much less when we arrive. Power must devolve downward and people must be trained and their confidence built to handle it. Why we are hostage to a small group of the highly skilled and talented is because all over the world we have failed to prepare and produce more such people. Unfortunately the successful few never felt motivated to produce more of their kind. Why would they want to share? This is just human nature.

There are no quick fixes to our problems but we must offer our people a solution they they have faith in. This is a problem that is plaguing the whole world and we ought to take courage that we are better equipped and weathering better than most others.

Finally I often read about people suggesting that we ape the west. I think that is not clever at all especially when they are not model of success themselves.

Beware of economists bearing ideas.

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