Monday, August 12, 2013

GCT: Singapore's mid-life crisis

Jialat the ESM, the PM and all ministers. Mati you talk like that.

This is not the 90s, 80s or before. Don't come to us and talk about mid-life crisis. There is too much knowledge on all sorts of matters floating around absorbed by so many people. Mid-life crisis exist because you know more or less when you are going to die. You wonder in the middle of your life have you achieved what you had wanted. Half your life is gone, will you succeed or fail with your life. In short, nations do not have mid-life crisis, only crises.

I tried very hard to be generous in my last post on the OSC. Trying to give them a huge dollop of benefit of the doubt. Looks like it lasted only a day.

What does the government want from us? I read his speech, it is more or less of the same as in the past and yet talking about how things must be different? That's an oxymoron.The link to the ESM's speech in full.

If the government hadn't fallen into a hole over immigration, public transport, housing, cost of living, medical costs practically all the basic stuff the PWP would have sailed through. But no, we cannot accept the PWP because we have been short changed by them. About the only thing he had gotten right is the loss of trust. And the only thing I want to hear from the PM in a few days time is how he intends to rebuild trust. That is the foundation every initiative must rest on.

The way this government rule is quite simple: get us to do as much, pay as much as possible. If the leaders of other nations envy their success, they are focusing on the wrong party. It's not the government but our willingness to accept tough measures for our long term good. That had worked for as long until they lost their way and the promised results never materialized. Then we discovered that they no longer cared as they used to, that they had become even more Darwinian. They extended the process of Natural Selection from within our gene pool to beyond.

What the government is doing today is best described as palliative. Their basic thinking hasn't changed but they are aware if they persist in their old ways, they are working themselves out of office. Mid way the OSC becomes a careful and calibrated strategy to target pain relief in order to retain voters' support. Since many of us are pragmatic about results, we do not bother about the whys. We are still shallow and struggling to sink roots but a small and growing number have achieved that especially among civic society and the gay community. When we have more depth, the whys would matter as much as the whats. For now most families a better living trumps over any other why. This leads to the narrowest definition of success which only a few can win. To the government broadening the definition of success is a political necessity for their survival. To us it must be more existential - the purpose and meaning of living. Government will discover they cannot mandate alternative models of success as this must come organically. We will be chasing after the same trophies until enough people learn the hard way that life is more than so many Cs. We cannot sustain ourselves with mostly negative energy, we have to nurture the much harder to grasp positive energy but the transition is risky.

Meanwhile the government is trying to regain trust by earning again credibility with superior results from housing, transport, cost of should work at least in the short term but I wonder how all these would be funded in the longer term.

Indeed we have a crisis but it isn't a mid-life one. I hope it does not turn out to be terminal. Some days I think we are in the high dependency ward, at least it isn't everyday.

Update: August 13, 9:30am

Coincidentally this topic was on 93.8Live this morning. Unlike most times many callers spoke good sense and I am very happy about this. One caller explained what is being realistic or unrealistic. He said expecting to go to the casino and make money consistently is unrealistic. Asking for high pay is unrealistic but better pay isn't. Some spoke about can-do and my thoughts (I never call into radio progams) silently were, we are mostly a group of can-do people. The younger generation have it even more when you see how much harder they worked. What we cannot accept from the government is to take our can-do attitude to be a can-screw one.

I have blogged about this many times already. We have a good government but unfortunately the Little Red Dot needs a great government. When government isn't great the people suffer. As the government confused good with great, they complained we aren't realistic. But look at what they are telling us to do. Just give a perennial example: have more babies but also put in the longest time at work. Except for the few with luck, this is not possible for most of us. In fact as the competition at PSLE intensifies, the most thoughtful couples are even more discouraged about having babies. Anyway I am just relieved my children cleared the PSLE a few years ago. Looking at how those assessment books have become harder makes me sad for the kids.

Update: 8:55pm

The government is generally competent and good with some pockets of great work. An example has been recently chronicled in a CNA program, "Nature of a City". Another great piece of work is the NLB. These two are contrasted by the poor performance of LTA and the many glaring mistakes we all know very well from the Cabinet.


  1. Singaporeans do not have any mid-life crisis. Mr Goh Chok Tong is sadly mistakened.

    The PAP - Peoples' Action Party is suffering from severe mid-life crisis. If the prime minister does not talk about getting rid of all the casinos...sorry, integrated Singapore at his forthcoming National Day Rally, that mid-life crisis suffered by the PAP will become deadly serious.

    The next general elections will show that the PAP had Passed Away Painfully.


    Low Hou Loke
    NRIC: S0005657/Z

  2. "We have a good government but unfortunately the Little Red Dot needs a great government"

    Its too early to say we have a "good" govt. Ireland, prior to the bursting of the bubble, was called a Celtic Tiger. Well deregulated, growing economy, attracting FDIs / investments, highly skilled workforce etc. Even our Ministers visited Ireland to see the miracle for themselves and see what can be learnt.

    Look at what happened today.

    The issue to me, is whether or not the "success" we're enjoying today is sustainable. If its brought about by sustainable measures, then we've a "good" govt. If its not brought about by sustainable measures, then we could be that Ireland.

    To achieve the same GDP growth as the other Asian Tigers, we've had to pump prime the economy by importing boatloads of FTs. No other country needed to resort to that. Even S'pore in the 70's/80's/90's didn't need to resort to that to grow. In so doing, we don't create the space for certain skills to develop indigenously, whether its construction, marine engineering etc. Is this sustainable?

    PAP governs as though it has >90% mandate from the people. Why? Because it has >90% representation in Parliament. The govt thinks that these represent the voice of the people and acts as such. Laws are bulldozed through. Non-answers (witness the recent one by Iswaran on the inmate who died in prison, your favorite Breakfast Network just had a piece on that this morning) are routinely given in Parliament. But the PAP is only supported by 60% of voters. Where's the political space for the other 40% to have their voice heard? Is an essentially unaccountable Parliament, and this system of governance, something sustainable? Is the "peace" and "harmony" we're seeing just like the surface of a pond, with turbulence just below the surface? The US has experienced changes in power, and handled it well, through ups and downs, precisely because the system of governance is sustainable. When was the last time we have a meaningful equivalent of a Congressional testimony?

    When George Washington won a hard fought war against the British, he could have instituted any system of govt. Including centralising power unto himself. Probably just like what LKY did when PAP enjoyed real strong mandate in the 60's. GW did not. He recognised that his legacy is defined by what happens to the country, decades, centuries, after he's left the scene. He designed a system with 3 co-equal branches of govt because he knows that the future is inherently unpredictable and no one person has the monopoly of wisdom. That system has served US well until today.

    Do we have a "good" govt? Time will tell. But I do know that the economic and social results we're seeing today is brought about by means that are unsustainable. That's what so scary. A truly enlightened leader, with more self-confidence, will have initiated the necessary change AT A TIME WHEN TRUST BETWEEN GOVT AND PEOPLE ARE STILL STRONG. Try doing that when the trust breaks down. Look at Egypt today.