Sunday, June 30, 2013

Do S'porean workers deserve their wages?

Yes, do Singaporean workers deserve their wages? Some but these are a tiny number deserve world class wages but not the majority.

Han Fook Kwang moved in the circle that did not allow him to know about these realities a reader wrote to him about. I am glad he wrote about his education. That is a good newspaper man achieving balance.

What's missing? How did we get here? Such knowledge can help us fix the problem. Many of us know what's wrong. A lot of it had to do with our education system and it not just the focus on exams but that is the key obstacle. Egregiously the focus on exams performance is ratcheting up and so the negatives will be accentuated. Since there is a time lag for it to show up, we are easily lulled into thinking all is well until employers complain. Very dangerous. Likewise fixes that work do not appear effective until many years later. And who knows what skills and habits are in demand then? We are living the moments when it is better to be lucky than smart unless we have a fundamental breakthrough in thinking to reverse that.

 My hunch is you cannot have a successful five-year plan to help workers deserve high wages for the value they bring to their jobs. This is more like growing fruit trees and that takes time. We can have quick small improvements through managing differently and fostering a positive work culture. Don't look too much to IT investments. Those low hanging fruits have been plucked clean. Ever since I started work I have always felt that Singapore management compare badly with many from the First World economies. They are the fruits hanging on branches just a little above IT. Unfortunately a little higher does not make it easier when the ladders you raised don't reach high enough to comfortably let you pluck them. So how? And this bad example of English is defeating us in ways we don't even understand because language is much more than just communicating.

New thinking must begin somewhere, not anywhere. It should begin with MOE with the PM's personal interest. I have no reason to be hopeful. They love their sacred cows too much. They even take them to bed to serve as blankets.

Update: 10:10am

That's the common problem with economists. The very good ones are not good enough times and the bad ones are always ivory tower bad but very good at getting themselves into textbooks and exams for our children.

This was just convenient coming together with Han Fook Kwang's article in one morning.

Dr. Yeoh is only narrowly right. Without immigration, higher wages will price us out. The conceptual tools economists bring to problems are almost always narrowly cast. What can they do without Ceteris Paribus? So the best economists when they put aside their tools and roll up their sleeves tell stories with wisdom embedded. Real life stories. Beware of economists bearing models or worse equations.

Update: 10:05pm

You don't often have an editor who penned a piece that caused so much reaction. Folks from the MSM usually play it safe and know the OB markers better than any of us. Now I had friends emailing or telling me to read Han Fook Kwang's article. I replied the latest and quoting from my earlier reply to another as follows.

[redacted] had sent me the article. She felt it was too important to missed. I replied her:

People must appreciate that the economy is a huge and diverse creature. Many of them provided shades of truth and there are many truths out there covering and overlapping niches. Trouble with them is that so many are one dimensional. Han Fook Kwang was himself and he is learning from readers' response to his previous article. 

Therefore I agree with you. There are a myriad of correct explanations. Like HFK each of us will talk from his or her own book and experience.

Come on, our latest high profile event: the haze. The Indonesians and us saw the same thing but interpreted and reacted completely differently. In our disagreements one man's meat is another's poison. 

This is not my job and neither is this the place but what I want to see is wise leadership. Frame the problem, suggest the objective and go fix this. You will not get consensus but there are various ways to make most people feel that matters could be improved. And I think Singaporeans deserve more. 


  1. We are doing it all wrong. Singapore should not artificially lower the cost of doing business here through the mass importation of cheap foreign labour and executives from neighbouring countries just so as to keep some of these companies afloat.

    What we need is not a revamp of the education system, but the industrial system. MNCs that rely on large numbers of foreigners should not be allowed to set up shop here in the first place.

    Take note, the current situation is this: Singaporeans are priced out, NOT our country. We have the best infrastructure in place, we have the most educated workforce in the world. We shouldn't compete in terms of prices, but on other strengths. This government, by allowing mass importation of cheap labour, is pricing Singaporeans out, and out of the property market too.

    Ask your children whether they will be able to afford a house of their own in the future, looking at the amount the graduates are earning now, compared to the housing prices. Are you voting for the right government? Is this what you want for the future generation?

    1. Your views are similar to those of many of our neighbours, that is why they are still stuck in the rut while Singapore following US take advantage of immigrates and has progress.

      But you can still stay in Ubin if you like, but you and your family will never prosper. If that is what you like don't compliant about being poor.

    2. Singapore is way ahead in terms of GDP, but has its citizens benefited on the whole? I would dare say the citizens in our neighbouring country leads a FAR happier life than most of us because their government does not take advantage of its people.

      The Singapore government takes full advantage of both immigrants and its people and squeeze everyone dry. The immigrants have a choice. But citizens do not. Even people staying in Ubin are being made to leave directly or indirectly.

      Maybe this is what Kaw wants in order to "eradicate" poverty.

      ~ Simon

  2. Never trust Straits Times editor to write a fair article. They are the government's mouthpiece. They are grass that bend according to the wind direction. Look at how HFK completely reverses his stance from his previous article. I am quite sure he is either being arm twisted to come up with this piece or his intention is to mislead the readers like you.

    1. You seem to be ranting without any proof. Can you give me a unbiased newspaper in Singapore of anywhere in the world?

    2. Refer to the press freedom index which rank us 149, next to Iraq.

      ~ Simon