Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tharman gets it

Excellent Tharman, finally someone senior in government who gets it. He is a very quotable guy, so let's hear him directly.

"the lesson we are learning in the world is that inclusive growth does not come naturally". "Growth itself does not lift all boats, and certainly does not lift all boats equally."

He offered four components:

One: "focused on social mobility and on guarding against extremes of wealth and income".

Two: a work culture that respects and rewards individuals fairly, and gives them chances to advance upwards based on merit, regardless of where they left the education system.

Three:  there must remain a strong belief in individual effort and responsibility. The erosion of this by the entrenchment of welfare systems in the West is what Singapore must learn not to repeat

Four: a spirit of "community initiative and activism" must thrive, in which those who have succeeded take it upon themselves to give a hand to others who are still struggling.

Putting all these into practice will be hard, very hard and demand much courage and determination. In its essence it is just taking Singapore back to its roots as his former schoolmate Yeoh Lam Keong suggested.

The fourth component is the hardest because the majority of the successful are more afraid of losing their position than confident to lend a hand to others.

As a people we are too rational, calculate too much and have too little faith. Naturally they made their calculations and among other things discover that having children is unaffordable. Chan Chun Sing is right about taking the plunge but he needs to learn to get the message across much better. Rationality alone cannot take us into the next lap.

My fear is that these four components might not materialize because this government need the will and courage in excess of what it possess. We need a supportive external environment to accomplish them, which we have no control. As other economies become more protectionist and turn inward, we might have that opportunity. It is a relative world, we will become less competitive and we are betting they will act to make themselves even more uncompetitive. They are already beginning to. Even China will become less competitive as she faces the constraint of environmental exhaustion, ageing population and declining political and social cohesiveness. Already their costs is climbing fast.

Just be least bad in a very bad world, which I hope is temporary. It will turn out well. We could all die of too much globalization. We need a period of Jubilee.

Ah, forgot I wanted to add this...

Children must have the space and time "to do other things, to interact, to be on the playing field three times a week... and even to daydream", he said.
To appreciative laughter, he added: "I spent a lot of time daydreaming when I was young, and I happen to think it was a rather good investment."

Tharman wasn't a scholar. He even repeated his A levels to get better results. Scholars are often too rational and risk adverse. Just another way of saying they lack the upbringing of risk taking and uncertainty. Their typical response to policy dilemmas is to increase the yoke on the people. Worse, scholars are often kiasi and always want it all.


  1. I so totally believe in day dreaming.It's where the best ideas come from. It's where one tanks up on energy. The fact that it is hardly done here becos there is no time, and everyone is busy chasing $s, has resulted in our sitn now.

    Tharman obviously didn't daydream enough. Neither did most MIW and pple in civil service. If they had, it would have been pretty obvious that inclusive growth does not come naturally and will not lift all boats equally. In fact, one doesn't even have to daydream to know this. It's common sense.

    And since the team indulging in the latest claim to slay sacred cows is highly unlikely to have daydreamed, being products of our so-called pragmatic society, change is simply not going to happen.

  2. Like you, I found myself nodding in agreement when I read the article on Tharman. However, while his heart is in the right place, I found myself still skeptical that this will mean anything concrete.

    Firstly, a "dreamer" is not necessarily a good "doer". Sgp's Team #1 had a good combination of dreamers (Rajaratnam), doers (GKS, HSS) and visionary (LKY). They brought about the kind of results unmatched by Team #2 or Team #3 or even many other govts worldwide.

    Is Tharman a good "doer"? Lets evaluate his record. "Teach less, learn more" - words spoken 8 years ago. Do parents think we have even moved an inch in this direction? The recent discussion about pre-school education and how Primary 1 kids are expected to be already learned when they step into class, suggest we're going backwards, not forward. And here ( is another scathing take-down on Tharman's actual record.

    Secondly, is this the same vision shared by the cabinet. There seems to be different "factions" within the PAP. The hardliners are DPM TCH, NEH and even Grace Fu. TCH is chairing the population/immigration review committee, TCH headed the Hougang by-election effort and PAP re-election effort. Which do you think is the stronger faction? The problem is compounded by the fact that PM Lee is not a strong leader. He's the teamy-teamy type. Have a committee or team ferret out the facts, have the cabinet team debate, and like the mathematician weigh pros / cons and make a rational decision. That's a good manager, not necessarily a strong leader.

    In summary, Tharman's remarks are insightful but its one of those once-in-a-while voices you hear in the wilderness, thats blown away by the prevailing winds.