Sunday, August 30, 2015

China, economic growth, and the future - 4 articles

[Four articles on China. Firstly, is China strong and promising, or a house build on sand?

Secondly, Why the China problem is so complex.

Thirdly, Chian's debt is 282% of GDP. This is large. This is a problem. Or it should be a problem. Or is a problem just waiting to show itself. It's only a matter of time. Because all financial crises start with the same problem: too much debt. BUT, China has huge reserves and this gives them the resources to deal with a crisis and to ameliorate any effects. So they could still "pull it off".

Fourthly, China is not going to collapse. Huge growth is over, but there will still be growth.]

Putting the heartland at the core of its policies: Has the PAP done enough?

Aug 29, 2015, 

Chua Mui Hoong
Opinion Editor

Coffee shop politics has come to the fore.This was after the Aug 12 event when the organising secretary of the People's Action Party, Dr Ng Eng Hen, decided to hold the traditional press conference introducing new candidates at a heartland coffee shop in Toa Payoh.

The move sent the commentariat into a tizzy. Sarcastic comment flowed online about the PAP trying too hard.

Dr Ng’s move in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC was followed in Tanjong Pagar GRC and West Coast GRC, with the latter two going one better and holding their press conferences in a hawker centre (Tanjong Pagar Plaza and Boon Lay Market and Food Centre, to be precise).

Those truly in touch with the heartlands know the nuance: a coffee shop is usually run by a private operator (the Toa Payoh one was run by the Kim San Leng group), where a cup of tea or coffee with milk now usually costs 90 cents or even - gasp - $1.

A hawker centre is run by the National Environment Agency, where a cup of coffee or tea with milk can still be had for 80 cents.

If you want to be really heartland, the hawker centre trumps the kopitiam, anytime.

To what end, all the President's Scholars?

Aug 30, 2015

Lee Wei Ling

When the A-level results of my cohort were announced in 1973, I was named the top science student. I did not expect it and was pleased and surprised. I remembered feeling that I had performed extremely inadequately after completing every paper.

My results also earned me a President's Scholarship. I don't know where the scroll is now, nor does it matter. I wonder as well now whether the scholarship had a positive effect on my life's journey subsequently. That may astonish some, given the acute prestige associated with being a President's Scholar. Yet, the same prestige exerts extra pressure on the recipient to perform. Winning the scholarship attracts jealousy as well, and I have experienced both.

I was among 11 students in the class of 1972 who received the scholarship. Since then, I am aware of the progress of six. Three - Teo Chee Hean, George Yeo and Lim Hng Kiang - were also Singapore Armed Forces scholars. As many Singaporeans know, the trio became household names after they entered politics and rose to become senior Cabinet ministers. A fourth boy, Chan Seng Onn, is currently a Supreme Court justice.

Mood swings can lead to vote swings

Aug 30, 2015, 

Research says a negative mood has a stronger impact on elections than positive sentiment
Han Fook Kwang


Here is a numbers quiz: 70, 74, 78, 65, 63, 61, 65, 75, 67, 60. (Hint: It is not about maths.)

If you have been following the political news closely, it is not hard to guess that the figures represent the People's Action Party's (PAP's) percentage share of the valid votes in past elections.

With campaigning for the Sept 11 General Election set to intensify in the coming week, this numbers game will be making the rounds. How many seats will the PAP and opposition parties get, how much share of the popular vote, and what sort of swing will we see, if any?

While the general election is serious business about issues concerning Singapore's leadership, the future of multiparty politics, and even about the next 50 years, the reality is that when the ballots are finally counted, all eyes will be on these numbers.

And indeed when you look closely at the 10 numbers listed, they tell quite a story. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

WP has different objectives from other opposition parties: Low

By Ng Jing Yng -

August 27

SINGAPORE — Asked for his views on opposition unity yesterday, Workers’ Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang revealed that he was under “a lot of pressure” for his party to join the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) when it was founded by veteran opposition figure Chiam See Tong in 2001.

However, he held on to his belief of building up the WP to offer Singaporeans a “credible choice”, he said.

“We built ourselves up and today, after 20 years, we are still talking about opposition unity,” he said at the WP’s first press conference to introduce its candidates for the coming General Election.

“WP has taken its own path and I believe that is the path on which we can build a credible party to offer Singaporeans a credible choice.”

Friday, August 28, 2015

China will respond too late to avoid recession: Citigroup


NEW YORK — China is sliding into recession and the leadership will not act quickly enough to avoid a major slowdown by implementing large-scale fiscal policies to stimulate demand, Citigroup’s top economist Willem Buiter said.

The only thing to stop a Chinese recession, which the former external member of the Bank of England defines as 4 per cent growth on “the mendacious official data” for a year, is a consumption-oriented fiscal stimulus program funded by the central government and monetised by the People’s Bank of China, Mr Buiter said.

“Despite the economy crying out for it, the Chinese leadership is not ready for this,” Mr Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup, said in a media call hosted yesterday (Aug 27) by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “It’s an economy that’s sliding into recession.”

What should China do as its economy slows down?



The Chinese government’s heavy-handed efforts to contain recent stock-market volatility — the latest move prohibits short selling and sales by major shareholders — have seriously damaged its credibility. But China’s policy failures should come as no surprise. Policymakers there are far from the first to mismanage financial markets, currencies and trade. Many European governments, for example, suffered humiliating losses defending currencies that were misaligned in the early 1990s.

Still, China’s economy remains a source of significant uncertainty. Indeed, although the performance of China’s stock market and that of its real economy has not been closely correlated, a major slowdown is under way. That is a serious concern occupying finance ministries, central banks, trading desks and importers and exporters worldwide.

China’s government believed it could engineer a soft landing in the transition from torrid double-digit economic growth, fuelled by exports and investments, to steady and balanced growth underpinned by domestic consumption, especially of services. And, in fact, it enacted some sensible policies and reforms.

But rapid growth obscured many problems. For example, officials, seeking to secure promotions by achieving short-term economic targets, misallocated resources; basic industries such as steel and cement built up vast excess capacity; and bad loans accumulated on the balance sheets of banks and local governments.

Sylvia Lim: Will powerful ruling party model meet S’poreans’ needs?


AUGUST 27, 2015

SINGAPORE — In today’s increasingly complex environment where the Government does not have the answer to everything, will a “very powerful” ruling party model still be able to serve Singaporeans’ needs?

That was the question Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim put to the electorate today (Aug 27), in response to a journalist’s query on how her party is able to offer voters a better choice, as compared to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

China market chaos blamed on exodus of regulatory 'turtles'

August 27, 2015

SHANGHAI - At the height of the 2008 financial crisis, as Wall Street slashed jobs, Beijing took advantage of the disarray to poach top Chinese financial talent from overseas to help reform its stock markets.

By summer 2015, China's Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) needed them more than ever; a year-long market boom had imploded in a few weeks, and the government was desperate to keep the crisis from widening.

But the best and brightest returnees, known in China as "sea turtles", had already left for the private sector, disillusioned and disappointed.

Monday, August 24, 2015

5Cs of looming GE

C for clash / C for consensus / C for countdown / C for coffee shops / C for candidates

The general election looks to be mere weeks away, and that would make today around the midpoint of the poll season. In B2, Insight highlights 5 concerns that could shape the campaign.

Aug 23, 2015,

Election fever is running hot, and it is easy to lose track of developments at what could well turn out to be the midpoint of the election season.

This halfway juncture is assuming that speculation about an early-to-mid-September poll day is correct and based on the kick-off point being July 24. That was when the report of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee was released.

Candidate introductions have come thick and fast, not to mention the point-scoring that goes with the territory - recall the comments from the Workers' Party on the shock announcement by Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew that he is leaving politics, and how the PAP retorted they were "crocodile tears".

Then, there has been the ebb and flow, and flow and ebb, of opposition party agreements on staking claims on constituencies to avoid vote-splitting three-corner fights.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Is a stronger PAP or stronger opposition better for S'pore?

Aug 23, 2015,

For a nation that stands at an inflexion point, there are good reasons to vote for either side
Chua Mui Hoong

Opinion Editor

The hot topic for discussion this weekend isn't the National Day Rally speech the Prime Minister is delivering this evening.

It is, instead, the coming general election. No one knows the date except the PM and his close confidants. But the entire nation has been in "election season" in the words of the People's Action Party organising secretary Ng Eng Hen, since the release of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee report on July 24.

Nearly every day for the past week, the incumbent PAP and its challengers have been calling press conferences to introduce potential candidates. Everything is being seen through the lens of the coming GE. Even the Jubilee weekend celebrations around Aug 9 were tinged with election hues. Certainly the Rally this evening will be viewed through election lenses.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ringgit slides to new low against Singdollar as reserves fall further

August 22

SINGAPORE — The ringgit yesterday plummeted to a new all-time low of 2.9736 per Singapore dollar, flirting closer to the 3.00 level, with analysts saying the weakness is likely to persist, after official data showed Malaysia’s foreign exchange reserves continuing to fall, leaving the central bank with less ammunition to defend the currency.

At the end of Kuala Lumpur trade yesterday, the ringgit recovered partially to close down 0.9 per cent at 2.9619 versus the Singapore dollar, and down 1 per cent at 4.1685 against the United States dollar, Bloomberg data showed. Hit by a political crisis centring on Prime Minister Najib Razak, falling prices of oil and other commodities amid weak Chinese demand, as well as capital flight in anticipation of an interest rate hike in the US, the ringgit has slumped nearly 19 per cent this year versus the US dollar and 11.9 per cent versus the Singapore dollar.

Separation 1965: The Tunku's 'agonised decision'

Mushahid Ali

21 Aug 2015

Was Singapore's exit from Malaysia in 1965 a 'coup' by Singapore leaders, or an eviction imposed on it by Malaysian leaders? It was the latter, says this writer, citing records that show it was then Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman who made the tough decision that the two go their separate ways.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

New Viet port a clue to Kra Canal?


Graham Ong-Webb

20 Aug 2015

American-backed project could provide vital link amid increasing China-US competition for Asean projects and influence

Talk just won't go away about a possible shipping lane - the Kra Canal - that, if it ever were to materialise, would be built through Thailand's Kra Isthmus, enabling ships to bypass the Strait of Malacca, and, in the process, Singapore's port hub.

The long-touted idea of such a canal, while conveniently linking the Gulf of Thailand with the Indian Ocean, is fraught with regional geopolitical sensitivities. Recent developments would elevate that to include China-United States sensitivities, as well. This is particularly so after Chinese media reported in May that China and Thailand had signed a memorandum of understanding in Guangzhou to build the Kra Canal for US$28 billion (S$39.4 billion).

Officials from both countries quickly denied the report in a matter of days.

Still, that did not stop speculation that the project will be revived.

Political change at the ballot box

Devadas Krishnadas

20 Aug 2015

Recently I was invited to an "informal chat" with a small group of undergraduates from our different universities. I found them reassuringly interested in political and social issues.

The discussion quickly turned to the notion of "change". One student argued that the United States had had its first African-American president in Barack Obama, the Arabs their "Spring" and even Malaysia had their "Anwar", referring to former deputy prime minister-turned- opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Singapore needed to get on the bandwagon of "democratic progress", he said.

The dangers of the milk-sharing economy


For millennia, infants have sometimes been fed another mother’s breast milk. Whether to ensure the infant’s survival following the death or illness of its own mother, or as part of a wet-nursing arrangement (common for high-status families in some cultures), sharing breast milk has long been acceptable, if not life-saving.

But, over the past five to 10 years, a new kind of Internet-fuelled milk-sharing economy has emerged — one that magnifies certain risks to recipient infants.

Numerous websites now exist to connect lactating women with excess milk and mothers who, unable to meet their own child’s needs, are seeking it.

In 2011, more than 13,000 women posted on such websites with the intention of providing or obtaining milk, either for free or for payment. Today, that figure has grown to more than 55,000.

Moreover, though these websites have so far been most popular in the United States, they are beginning to appear in numerous other countries. And, of course, many more women are probably sharing milk offline with friends, relatives and acquaintances.

The recent upsurge in milk-sharing can be explained by shifting attitudes towards breastfeeding in many countries, with the public-health and medical communities sending the message that breastfeeding is the best option for babies.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Singapore's Story of growth and progress as a Society

The Economic Society of Singapore SG50 Distinguished Lecture by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Part 1
How S’pore sustains income growth, tempers inequality and keeps social mobility alive

[See also this paper on MOF website.]


Underpinning Singapore’s success over the past 50 years has been broad-based social uplifting through a combination of economic and social policies to develop the country’s economy, and Singaporeans’ potential and sense of togetherness, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

He added that while the country’s focus was very much on economic survival in her early years, social policies started coming to the fore from the 1990s, and, in the past 10 years, a more decisive rebalancing has been made to ensure Singapore remains an inclusive society.

Speaking at a lecture last Friday, Mr Tharman said Singapore’s approach is to provide targeted help to temper inequality, while keeping relatively low overall tax revenues, in contrast to countries like Denmark and Finland, which have achieved large reductions in their Gini coefficients through heavy taxation on the middle-income.

Below is an excerpt from the Economic Society of Singapore SG50 Distinguished Lecture delivered by Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister:

Monday, August 17, 2015

Why some cities don’t like tourists


AUGUST 17, 2015

Cities such as Barcelona, Berlin, Lisbon and Hong Kong, which only became major tourist destinations in the last couple of decades, are starting to look for ways to keep visitors out. This is not about xenophobia: It is a protest against the changing nature of tourism.

In Barcelona, leftist Mayor Ada Colau has advocated a cap on the number of tourists in the city, the world’s 11th biggest destination for overnight visitors last year, drawing 7.37 million of them — more than four times the city’s population. Ms Colau only ended up introducing a one-year moratorium on new tourist accommodation licences, due to opposition from the national government. Even so, that created uncertainty for 30 still-unlicensed hotel, hostel and bed-and-breakfast projects under way in the city. Short-term rentals, through services such as Airbnb, are already illegal in Barcelona.

In Lisbon, a rising European destination expected to receive 3.6 million overnight foreign visitors this year (about 6.5 times its resident population), local officials like what Ms Colau has done for Barcelona. A group called “People Live Here” advocates for protecting locals against the flood of tourists.

In Berlin, which received 4.5 million foreign overnight visitors last year (a million more than its population), anti-tourist sentiment has festered for years. There have been protests, and some clubs and bars make foreigners feel unwelcome. Airbnb is illegal, even if widely used in practice.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong — the world’s ninth-biggest tourist destination with 8.84 million overnight international visitors last year (about 1.7 million more than its population) — there has been a strong backlash against the flood of tourists from mainland China.

Behind the scenes: What led to separation in 1965

Edmund Lim

AUG 5, 2015,

Was Singapore expelled from the Malaysia federation or was the split based on mutual consent? A PhD student pieces together a behind-the-scenes version of events to suggest it was the latter.

On Aug 9, 1965, towards the end of a press conference after Singapore became independent, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said: "There is nothing to be worried about. Many things will go on just as usual. But be firm, be calm. We are going to have a multiracial nation in Singapore. We will set the example. This is not a Malay nation, this is not a Chinese nation, this is not an Indian nation. Everybody will have his place: equal; language, culture, religion."

Mr Lee's call for unity amid diversity in our multiracial society remains relevant half a century later. Fifty years on, as we near the jubilee year of Independence, it's timely to look back at events leading to the Aug 9 separation.

What were the events and the plans that led to that pivotal break?

What happened behind the scenes? Was Singapore "booted out" by Malaysia or was it a mutually agreed decision?

The Eurasian who drafted Singapore's separation documents

Susan Sim For The Straits Times

Aug 15, 2015,

E.W. Barker is best remembered for being independent Singapore's first law minister. But he also helmed other portfolios, and was an avid athlete.

He was the first Singapore minister to sign the Separation Agreement with Malaysia in the early hours of Aug 7, 1965. Mr E. W. Barker, however, left space at the top for his senior colleagues and so became the fourth of the 10 Singapore names appended to the treaty we now know as the Independence of Singapore Agreement, 1965.

Barely nine months earlier, Mr Edmund William Barker had been practising law. Then, suddenly, he was law minister, and sharing a closely guarded secret with five other men in Singapore: Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Minister for Finance Goh Keng Swee, head of the civil service Stanley Steward, head of Special Branch George Bogaars, and Cabinet Secretary Wong Chooi Sen.

By then, it would have been obvious, except to the most optimistic, that merger with Malaysia was not working. No, the secret was that both countries were negotiating an amicable separation. While Dr Goh engaged in shuttle diplomacy to convince the Malaysians that Singapore wanted to secede as an independent nation, it was Mr Barker's job to draft the legal papers.

It took 10 days for Mr Barker to draft, circulate, amend and finalise three documents - an agreement to separate, an amendment to the Malaysian Constitution to allow Singapore to leave since the Constitution provided only for states to join but not to leave, and a proclamation of independence.

Yet that was the easy part. He and Dr Goh then had to take the drafts to Kuala Lumpur and persuade the Malaysian government to sign them without too much quibble.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Lui's bombshell: It's about more than transport

Han Fook Kwang

Aug 16, 2015,

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew's decision to quit politics has ramifications beyond the coming general election.

But to understand the broader issues, you have to look beyond the immediate problems with the MRT system and the angst associated with them.

It's tempting to attribute his shock announcement solely to his accepting responsibility for not being able to fix the train breakdowns.

But his decision exists in a wider context that isn't just about trains and breakdowns.

It's also about the role of a minister, the concept of collective Cabinet responsibility, and about the sort of people attracted to the job. So, what exactly is the responsibility of a transport minister?

In the business world, it's clear who is ultimately accountable for a company's performance - that's the chief executive officer.

Fail to deliver and the CEO's head is on the chopping block.

In politics, it can be more complicated because there are many other players involved, depending on what the issue is.

In the case of public transport, and specifically the MRT, the minister will be hard put to escape blame.

The system is built with taxpayers' money - costing tens of billions of dollars over many years - and is expected to perform and meet public expectations.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA), responsible for designing and building it, is a statutory board directly under the minister who appoints its board members.

But the people who run and maintain the trains and stations work for commercial entities, publicly listed companies that are also accountable to their shareholders.

It raises the question: To what extent can the minister influence what SMRT and SBS Transit do, especially in the critical area of maintenance?

Teo Chee Hean rips into performance of Workers’ Party

Valerie Koh

August 15

SINGAPORE — The gloves are well and truly off, with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday firing the opening salvo ahead of an impending General Election.

In a media interview, Mr Teo, who is also the first assistant secretary-general of the People’s Action Party (PAP), slammed the Workers’ Party (WP) for its handling of the financial lapses at its Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), and criticised WP chief Low Thia Khiang for shedding “crocodile tears” over the stepping down of Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew. 

[Wah liao! The crocodile is Yaw Shin Leong lah! And he already resigned and disappeared! Nothing to do with Low. Not fair to say he buaya/crocodile.]

Saturday, August 15, 2015

US 'not neutral' in South China Sea? A rebuttal

James Kraska

Aug 14, 2015

The recent article by Mark J. Valencia ("The issue of US 'neutrality' in South China Sea disputes"; Aug 11) complains that the United States is subtly taking sides in the South China Sea disputes. Senior US officials - most recently Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel on July 21 - have stated that the United States does not take sides in the disputes, and that the US is "neutral when it comes to adherence to international law".

Mr Russel explained that the disputes should be resolved through diplomacy and in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

Mr Valencia notes that the United States is not even a party to the treaty. He sees prevarication, and worries that the US is being "disingenuous and hypocritical", and is really in the camp of rival claimants.

Sovereign rights for fishing and offshore oil exploration and navigation rules in the South China Sea are set forth in Unclos, and China's nine-dash-line claim has no basis under the treaty. Although the United States is not a party to Unclos, it was one of the principal negotiators of the treaty, working with the Soviet Union, China and numerous states on a consensus framework that has global acceptance.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Govt will seek to balance car-owning aspirations



SINGAPORE — Singapore need not go down the path taken by some cities that have penalised car owners, such as by imposing high parking charges, raising tolls to sky-high levels or taking away land meant for vehicles and giving priority to other users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

This is because Singaporeans still aspire to own cars, outgoing Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said, and the Government will seek to strike a balance between allowing people to fulfil their dreams and convincing more to take public transport to keep traffic flowing smoothly. It can achieve the former by exploring some options that have not been tapped fully, he added, such as car sharing.

[Car Sharing is NOT car ownership. Nobody ASPIRES to share a car.]

“There have been commentators and so-called experts who have said, ‘You ought to make it (car ownership) a lot more painful’ … At the end of the day, we will have to make the decisions, including the unpopular ones, and be responsible for them, rather than listen only to one side versus the other side,” said Mr Lui.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Bumper crop of shoebox units to come in 2017

13 Aug 2015

Investors may face trouble leasing them out on supply rise, smaller renter base: Analysts
Rennie Whang

High Park Residences in Sengkang has enjoyed roaring sales in recent weeks, but investors in its smaller units may have trouble leasing them out.

Many shoebox units are coming onstream, peaking around 2017, according to data from R'ST Research. Most will be in District 19 - Hougang, Punggol and Sengkang - with at least 700 of them set for completion over this period, based on caveats lodged.

Leasing demand is untested but supply is rising and fewer foreigners here may be able to afford them.

"Increasingly, many (overseas nationals) can't even afford renting a single shoebox unit, but would instead rent a room in an apartment... Rents will be under further pressure," said Savills Singapore research head Alan Cheong.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

S’pore and M’sia - 50 years on

Singapore's Independence sprung from our Separation from Malaysia. It is therefore inevitable that a comparison between the two, separate countries, be made. It is like a twin study. Separated, one cannot help but scrutinise the fate and fortune of either and see where we have diverged, and where we remain the same.

Are the similarities strong and deep and the differences shallow? Or vice versa?

Are we moved to say, "there but for the grace of god/gods/fate, goeth I"?

Or does success breeds certainty in predestination?

One wonders.

A reckless wager

Minimum wages

A global movement toward much higher minimum wages is dangerous
Jul 25th 2015

WHEN prices rise, demand falls. Exceptions to the most basic rule of markets are curiosities—the kind of thing an economist might bore you with at a dinner party. Set carefully, minimum wages can provide such an example. But policymakers must not assume this is a cast-iron law. Big rises in minimum wages are a gamble with people’s futures.

Modest minimum wages do not seem to sap demand for labour. Truckloads of studies, from both America and Europe, show that at low levels—below 50% of median full-time income, with a lower rate for young people—minimum wages do not destroy many jobs. When Britain set a new minimum wage in 1998 doom-mongers forecast that jobs would vanish. Employment proved resilient. Minimum wages help offset firms’ bargaining power over employees reluctant to risk moving elsewhere. They may even boost productivity and reduce staff turnover by making workers value their jobs.

Monday, August 10, 2015

PAP v WP: What these four years have shown

Aug 9, 2015,

PAP has adjusted to new reality; WP content to make headway steadily, rather than noisily

Han Fook Kwang 
Editor At Large

An interesting period in Singapore politics will soon end with the coming general election.

In fact, it was probably the most significant four years between elections. How so?

This requires some explanation, so I should start at the beginning, after the 2011 GE.

When the ruling party lost Aljunied GRC, there were some who argued that it was a good result for the country.

They were not necessarily opposition supporters but believed that the People's Action Party's almost complete electoral domination could not last.

Sooner or later, it would lose some of its appeal: its policies might not be working as well, voters want more alternatives or they might simply tire of its longevity and desire change.

This transition to a more competitive political landscape could result in several possible scenarios. Will a two-party system emerge, as in many mature democracies? Would the PAP lose power one day? Or might it survive and continue to succeed but renewed and transformed.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

China's July exports slump 8 percent, raises pressure for more stimulus

August 8

BEIJING/SHANGHAI - Chinese exports tumbled 8.3 percent in July, their biggest drop in four months and far worse than expected, reinforcing expectations that Beijing will be forced to roll out more stimulus to support the world's second-largest economy.

Imports also fell heavily from a year earlier, in line with market forecasts but suggesting domestic demand might be too feeble to offset the weaker global demand for China's exports.

Economists had forecast exports to fall just 1 percent, after a 2.8 percent uptick in June, but the data on Saturday showed depressed demand from Europe and the first drop in exports to the United States, China's biggest market, since March.

Exports to the European Union fell 12.3 percent in July while those to the United States dropped 1.3 percent. Demand from Japan, another big trading partner, slid 13 percent.

"A recovery in external demand remains far off and economic growth will continue to rely on domestic demand, which implies policies should continue to be relaxed in the second half," wrote Qu Hongbin, China economist at global bank HSBC.

As a nation celebrates, we ask: What makes us Singaporean?

8 Aug 2015

SINGAPORE — After 50 years of nation building, meteoric economic growth and progress, the picture that emerges of the Singapore identity — described by Singaporeans themselves — is not exactly charming or cheerful.

For many Singaporeans, the words that come to mind are “kiasu”, “hardworking” and “stressed”. The adjectives complement one another to showcase, in a way, a nation on steroids — a competitive citizenry that is obsessed with being No 1 in all that it does.

This, at least, is according to a street poll conducted by TODAY of 525 respondents here — 354 Singaporeans and 171 foreigners — across all ages, who were asked to pick any three words to describe the Singapore identity.

While there were differing opinions, the most commonly cited attitude among the Singaporean respondents was “kiasu” — a Hokkien word that captures the uniquely Singaporean trait of being afraid to lose out.

It was mentioned by more than a third of respondents, who also used another colloquial term, “kiasi” — afraid to die or cowardly — to describe their countrymen.

In contrast, foreigners here painted a more positive picture of Singaporeans, with words such as “friendly”, “nice”, “hardworking” and “polite” cited most frequently.

The Singapore exception

Special report: Singapore
The Economist

To continue to flourish in its second half-century, South-East Asia’s miracle city-state will need to change its ways, argues Simon Long 

Jul 18th 2015

AT 50, ACCORDING to George Orwell, everyone has the face he deserves. Singapore, which on August 9th marks its 50th anniversary as an independent country, can be proud of its youthful vigour. The view from the infinity pool on the roof of Marina Bay Sands, a three-towered hotel, casino and convention centre, is futuristic. A forest of skyscrapers glints in the sunlight, temples to globalisation bearing the names of some of its prophets—HSBC, UBS, Allianz, Citi. They tower over busy streets where, mostly, traffic flows smoothly. Below is the Marina Barrage, keeping the sea out of a reservoir built at the end of the Singapore River, which winds its way through what is left of the old colonial city centre. Into the distance stretch clusters of high-rise blocks, where most Singaporeans live. The sea teems with tankers, ferries and container ships. To the west is one of Asia’s busiest container ports and a huge refinery and petrochemical complex; on Singapore’s eastern tip, perhaps the world’s most efficient airport. But the vista remains surprisingly green. The government’s boast of making this “a city in a garden” does not seem so fanciful.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Stop calling it the “Sharing Economy.” That isn’t what it is.

July 29, 2015

by Olivier Blanchard 

Filed under: Opinion.

“Disruption” isn’t always what you think it is.

It’s known under a number of names: The Sharing Economy. The Collaborative Economy. The Gig Economy. Because of its “fresh” and “disruptive” model, undeniable financial incentives in the middle of a global economic recession, and its integral connection to the tech startup community, this new business movement has been garnering a whole lot of attention in the last few years. If, like me, you spend quite a bit of time interfacing with tech companies and digital business professionals, you can actually feel the peer pressure pushing you to support companies like Uber, Lyft and AirBnb. If you don’t, your peers are likely to look at you a little sideways, cock an eyebrow, and find a roundabout way of asking you what’s wrong with you. If I look at this with suspicion, I’m old school. I’m stuck on old paradigms. I need to get with the times, right?

“It’s evolution, man. Business Darwinism happening right before our eyes!”

Well… no. I’m not exactly a conservative when it comes to tech or business, or pretty much anything. I’m cautious, sure, I tend not to be an early adopter (first generation tech is too buggy for the price, thank you very much), but I’m not a progress-averse curmudgeon. Far from it. I just like to understand stuff before I buy into it. That’s how I avoid falling for scams and bullshit (at least most of the time). I used to work in sales. I’ll just leave it at that.

“Disruption rocks though!”

No, it doesn’t. The right kind of disruption rocks. The kind that has value, that solves a problem, that improves an imperfect system. But disruption for the sake of disruption is just noise. It can even be destructive, and that doesn’t rock. It doesn’t rock at all.

Because Apple was “disruptive,” anything deemed disruptive now somehow borrows from Apple’s cachet. “Disruption” has become another meaningless buzzword appropriated by overzealous cheerleaders of the entrepreneurial clique they aspire to someday belong to. And look… every once in a while, someone does come up with a really cool and radical game-changing idea: Vaccines, the motorcar, radio, television, HBO, the internet, laptops, smart phones, Netflix, carbon fiber bicycles, drought-resistant corn, overpriced laptops that don’t burn your thighs in crowded coffee shops… Most of the time though, “disruption” isn’t that. It’s a mirage. It’s a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes, episode twenty-seven thousand, and the same army of early first-adopter fanboys that also claimed that Google Plus and Quora and Jelly were going to revolutionize everything have now jumped on the next desperate bandwagon. What will it be next week? Your guess is as good as mine.

I don’t know much about the hidden mechanisms of addiction, but I can’t help but notice a pattern with a certain crowd. There’s a compulsion there to jump on every new fad and build it up as something it clearly isn’t, right down to its unfortunate nomenclature. That’s probably why it isn’t unusual to hear fans of the “shared economy” talk about how this model is a new form of capitalism, how it’s going to change the world for the better. “Cab drivers refuse to evolve, man. They have only themselves to blame if they can’t compete. This is the future!”

Again, no. That’s not what’s happening. Could taxi companies stand to get better at using tech (like they do in Bogotá, Colombia)? Sure. But you aren’t talking about helping them do that, are you. You aren’t lauding a company that set out to bring cab companies into the 21st century. What you’re doing is lionizing the ticket-scalpers of the hired car industry just because they use a popular app. When you do that, you aren’t praying to the altar of progress or even tech Darwinism. You’re praying to the altar of “disruption.” It doesn’t matter how chaotic or damaging it may be as long as it’s disruptive. You’ve just jumped on the latest tech bandwagon without bothering to look at the big picture. Again. Which is to say that you’ve fallen for the latest hype bubble, the latest bit of messaging, the latest round of investment-driving marketing. You’re just parroting PR copy without questioning its validity in the real world.

And you know what else? (And this is actually more important.) That isn’t the future you’re looking at. It’s just an app-assisted reboot of the past. I’ll get to that in a sec. First though, this:

Piracy by any other name is still piracy.

If you really believe that a “ride-sharing” or room-booking service that deliberately attempts to avoid a country, state or city’s laws regarding licensing, insurance, fees and rate limits is somehow “competing” with legitimate taxis, hired cars and hotels, you’ve probably also rationalized that scoring your music and TV shows for free from pirating websites is somehow an example of legitimate market competition too. Well, it isn’t. Two sets of rules for “competitors” usually doesn’t end in fair competition – not in sports, and certainly not in business. Tip: There’s a reason Lance Armstrong was stripped of his 7 Tour de France victories, and it wasn’t because his training model was “disruptive” or “innovative.”

If, like me, you really want to see who comes out on top of a fair market competition between an Uber and an incumbent taxi company, then you have to level the playing field: “Ride sharing” services need to pay the same fees as the cabbies. They have to apply for the same licenses and permits. They have to submit to the same requirements in regards to driver qualifications, vehicle inspections, insurance coverage. They have to pay the same fees. If and when they start to do that, you’ll have a level playing field, and may the best business model win. Until that happens, good luck convincing authorities and the public that they aren’t running illegal taxi services and engaging in fare piracy.

Harsh words, I know, but that’s reality. Deal with it. And if you don’t believe me, go have a chat with a professional cab driver in NYC or Brussels or Paris or London. They’ve invested in their business. They’ve played by the rules and obeyed laws which are there to protect them AND consumers. Laws that took decades to come up with by the community in which they apply, whose intent was to established the most ideal balance possible between cab fares and consumer protections. Shattering all that work isn’t the kind of “disruption” anyone who understands the checks and balances of that market actually wants. What’s the impact on urban planning? What’s the impact on traffic congestion? What’s the impact on people’s quality of life? All of these things matter, and more so now than a generation ago. Per Frank Pasquale (University of Maryland School of Law) and Siva Vaidhyanathan (University of Virginia):

As allegedly “innovative” firms increasingly influence our economy and culture, they must be held accountable for the power they exercise. Otherwise, corporate nullification will further entrench a two-tier system of justice, where individuals and small firms abide by one set of laws, and mega-firms create their own regime of privilege for themselves and power over others.

While you’re at it, read their piece in The Guardian. It’s pretty great.

Footnote (from the same piece):
“Nullification” is a wilful flouting of regulation, based on some nebulous idea of a higher good only scofflaws can deliver. It can be an invitation to escalate a conflict, of course, as Arkansas governor Orville Faubus did in 1957 when he refused to desegregate public schools and president Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce the law. But when companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and Google engage in a nullification effort, it’s a libertarian-inspired attempt to establish their services as popular well before regulators can get around to confronting them. Then, when officials push back, they can appeal to their consumer-following to push regulators to surrender.
Again, could cab companies stand to upgrade their tech? Absolutely. Does it mean that anyone with a car should be able to steal their fares by running a part-time, unbonded taxi service from behind the wheel of their Camry? No. And if you want to bring up the old line that “the old taxi model is corrupt,” don’t. If the new system aimed to end that corruption, you’d have a point. But it doesn’t. There’s no high road here. Replacing anecdotal incidences of corruption with a nullification scheme isn’t improvement. It’s the opposite. Bring ethics up again if and when ride sharing services ever manage to occupy that particular high road.

Before you brand me a hater or an enemy of startups, understand that I am the exact opposite: I love startups. I love new ideas. I want to see more of them. Any way we can improve on a model is something I can get behind. Cheating though, covering up unethical practices with crackerjack dogma, that’s something entirely different. And success obtained via illegitimate means isn’t success at all. You think that “breaking the rules” makes you a rebel or a rock star? No. It makes you a cheater.

Tip: If you really want to be a rebel, make your idea so great that people will want to rewrite the rules. That’s the difference between a change agent and a cheater, and it’s time we started making that distinction.

I won’t say much more about the devastating economic impact that unlicensed cabs can exert on taxi drivers, and unlicensed hotels can exert on small independent hotel operators (it isn’t all about Hiltons and Marriotts). That isn’t the topic I really want to dig into today. We’ll circle back to the very real (and dangerous) socioeconomic consequences of shattering full-time gig models in favor of opportunistic part-time gig models, but for now, I want to bring this back to the term “Sharing Economy” real quick, and why it is such a misnomer.

For starters, renting isn’t the same as sharing.

Let me make something really clear: that whole “ride-sharing” thing? It isn’t ride-sharing at all. You aren’t sharing. You’re renting. You’re renting out the back seat of your car. You’re renting yourself as a driver. You’re renting your spare bedroom for the night. You’re renting your flat while you’re on vacation. There’s no sharing anywhere near the so-called “sharing economy.”

If you really want to see the sharing economy in action, check out timeshares. Check out farming co-ops. Check out hippie communes. Hell, join your local homeowner’s association (or rather… don’t). Even profit-sharing at your company is part of the sharing economy. There are tons of examples of legitimate “sharing” economic models out there if you actually look. Here’s how an actual “sharing economy” works: a group of people co-owns and shares property or certain resources, and they get to enjoy their use based on their ownership shares. Neighbors operating small farms might purchase a harvester together, for instance, and share both its maintenance costs and its use throughout the year. With a timeshare, a group of owners owns shares in a piece of property and they share both its use and its costs. That’s how sharing works.

Other examples of shared services we run into every day: 911/emergency responders, public transportation, public schools, public parks, and so on. That fire truck screaming down your street to go put out a fire a couple of blocks away, you’re sharing that with the rest of the community. You all pay for it. Your resources are pooled together to provide this service for everyone. Because government is the operator in these instances, this is a more socialist model than the entirely capitalist timeshare, but the principle is the same: sharing is sharing. Anything that isn’t sharing isn’t… well, sharing.

So if one of those farmers we mentioned earlier decides to rent the co-op’s tractor through some tractor-sharing app (let’s call it Tractr), or decided to turn his farm into a boarding house for itinerant drifters heading West in search of actual jobs (good luck with that), that would be renting, not sharing. The moment you start renting something, you move into the “Rental Economy.” It’s just… there’s nothing new or sexy about that, so what would be the point of even talking about it?


You think this is revolutionary? No. It’s just another sales pitch.

What about the Collaborative Economy?

My friend and colleague Jeremiah Owyang has dubbed this movement the “Collaborative Economy,” and I applaud the effort, but… I have to respectfully disagree with the use of that terminology when it encompasses rental models. There’s nothing more “collaborative” about charging someone to sleep on your couch than there is about charging someone to book a room at one of your hotel properties. No one is actually collaborating. Buyers and sellers are just using an app to transact. That’s all. The only thing that’s new here is that the marketplace has shifted from the web to an app.

(Airbnb and Uber might as well be offshoots of eBay when you really think about it.)

A true “collaborative economy” would be more applicable to crowdfunding services, for instance, or apps that connect individuals and organizations to one another based on their ability and willingness to actually collaborate on projects: “I’m looking for engineers to help me design a $5 water purification system for disaster zones” is a collaborative ask. That’s a legitimate “collaborative” model. And to be fair to Jeremiah, he does include these types of companies in his giant chart-o’ collaboration. That chart though… may be a little too inclusive. Case in point: “I need a car to pick me up at my hotel and take me to a club” is about as collaborative as “my yard looks like crap and I really need to find a cheap landscaper.” You’re talking about buying and selling services now, not collaboration.

Let me ask you this: if someone pushed out an escort-booking app (let’s call it Hookr), would that be “collaborative” too, or is it only collaborative when the transactions involve cars and apartments?

Context matters: Co-creation apps are collaborative. Co-curation is collaborative. Helping make higher education available for free on the web is collaborative. Wikipedia is collaborative. Crowdfunding and P2P loans are collaborative. But renting myself out as a part-time driver or a weekend boarding house manager without a business license or proper insurance isn’t collaborative. We can pretend that the collaborative economy “an economic model where technologies enable people to get what they need from each other—rather than from centralized institutions,” and that certainly can be the case, but most of what we’re actually talking about is a mobile marketplace for rentals and sales.

And that’s the crux of my objection: If collaborative economy discussions were about true collaboration apps, we would have something to talk about. But they aren’t. What leads those discussions? Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. When we hear about how big their footprint is, those numbers include Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. When we talk about the financial aspects of the market’s size, who comes up again? Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. Incorporating renting apps into the model skews the numbers. It skews the terminology. It’s a lot like trying to classify pizza as a vegetable: you can if you want. If you’re willing to twist yourself into a pretzel to make the logic work, more power to you. But you know it’s ridiculous.

Note: You should definitely check out Jeremiah’s work on this. (We only really disagree on two points.) Regardless of where you stand on the issue, his work is important and relevant. He is probably the best resource on this topic today, and his charts and graphics will help you become well-versed in this complex ecosystem.

One of the most helpful bits of content you are likely to find is his handy honeycomb graphic:

The Gig Economy:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently used the term “gig economy” to describe this movement, and that’s actually not bad. It’s catchy. More to the point, it fits a certain piece of this: The piece that focuses on part-time employment (assuming we can call it “employment” at all). The piece that lets creatives hire themselves out by the hour or by the task, for instance. Fiverr and Task Rabbit fit into the gig economy, obviously. Even Craigslist fits in there somewhere. Nothing super sexy or high tech about that. And I think that’s the part that bothers me the most about the massive hard-on some people seem to have for the so-called “sharing economy.” In spite of all the noise, and even aside from the flagrant semantic misdirection, there’s nothing really all that new or original about any of it. The only thing that’s new is that it works via apps instead of yellow pages, flyers and ads. The tech is new(ish) but the model is essentially the same as it’s always been.

Worse yet, the model itself caters to the worst aspects of neo-libertarianism (no rules, no regulations, no oversight, no workplace protections, no safety nets, and so on). It’s as cynical and even a little desperate. It can even be predatory and opportunistic… which would be somewhat fine if the prize were worth the cost to the community, but the reward is basically worth pennies on the dollar, which makes it a zero-sum game for everyone not standing to make real money on the back end. It undermines full-time employment. It undermines workplace protections. It undermines income security. Follow that daisy chain long enough and you’ll see how it impacts consumer confidence and spending too. And does it at least lower the cost of goods or increase real GDP? Nope. It doesn’t.

Here’s the truth of this model: look at it long enough and you’ll start to see how Dickensian it really is. And once you see it, once you get what it really is and where it really leads, you can’t unsee it. For more on that, read this bit by Alexander Howard (Huffpo’s Senior Tech and Society Editor).

Here’s an exercise: Imagine a world where nobody has full time jobs anymore, where everyone is a contractor. For some of you, that will probably seem like some kind of entrepreneurial utopia, a libertarian dream. In theory, sure. It sounds kind of cool because “freedom”… but then you realize that it’s the kind of model that we did away with in the early parts of the 20th century, and for good reasons: A “gig economy” cannot produce or support a healthy middle class. It doesn’t factor-in realistic retirement planning or college savings. Because it eliminates income security, it all but eradicates upward mobility. What you end up with is a 1% class (more like a 5%) and a 99% (95%) class, which isn’t super healthy for any economy, as history shows us time and time again. Fully realized, that gig economy looks like this for the 99%: selling and renting everything they possibly can to make ends meet and save a little money here and there. For the 1%, it cuts most of the cost out of running a business, which is kind of the point.

Don’t worry, I’m not here to make a slippery slope argument. The world isn’t going to slide into a dystopian future where the starving homeless masses fight each other in bloody rickshaw wars over trivial absurdities like Yelp reviews. I’m only trying to make a point, and it’s this: we’ve been here before, and it wasn’t pretty. We don’t need or want to go back to that model. The “gig economy” isn’t something new or cool or ultimately beneficial to anyone except the handful of clever CEOs and their investors, who have managed to convince masses of “independent contractors” (not really) to go out and break up the very fabric of local economies so they can make a few bucks and feel like they’re part of some kind of biztech revolution. It’s a mirage. It’s a con. Speaking of which…

Here’s a tip: No matter what apps you use on your phone, you aren’t Steve Jobs. You aren’t Richard Branson. You aren’t a maverick. You aren’t part of something grand. You’re just moonlighting as an amateur cab driver or a handyman so you can maybe pay off your student debt before you’re 80 (or just buy a bigger flat screen TV for your ridiculously overpriced mousetrap of an apartment). So before you start telling me how awesome this “sharing economy” revolution is, and how important you are to it, take a step back and get some perspective.

That’s why terms like “the sharing economy” are so dangerous: they sound so benign, so positive… They make you think that you’re doing something good for yourself and the world, that you’re part of some great wheel of progress. You’re sharing after all, right? You’re collaborating? Well, no. What you’re really doing helping tech dudebros with no concept of the real damage they are about to cause undermine local economies (and your careers) just so they can take their companies public and buy their third yacht. That isn’t an indictment of capitalism, by the way. (I happen to like capitalism. And yachts.) It’s an indictment of tech con jobs (i.e. bubbles) and irresponsible economic behaviors. And what do you get out of it? A little extra cash on the side? Awesome. How about a side of higher taxes to go with that, when all the cabbies and small business owners in your town have closed up shop? How about a dessert platter of more crime, dirtier streets, and an uptick in substance abuse and suicide when all the full time jobs have been replaced by low-bidder independent contractor apps? You haven’t really lived until your municipality’s tax base tanks to the point where there isn’t enough money to pay teachers, cops and street sweepers, and your property loses half of its value inside of ten years. How about a little shot of ice cold no-retirement-for-you to wash it all down with? Bravo. Way to see the big picture. And guess what: the guys who built those apps, who sold you on the “sharing economy,” they aren’t living in your neighborhood, are they. They don’t have to “share” your experience or your shattered local economy. They’re hundreds of miles away, on the other side of an ivy-covered gate or a gorgeous marina, wondering how to squeeze more money out of you with their next prepaid startup du jour.

And look… I don’t want to make this about class warfare. I really don’t. I’m not going to be that guy. That’s why I don’t want to give too much credence to cynical terms like “the Serf Economy.” But it isn’t hard to see why they’re beginning to catch on. We’re all lining up to become drivers, maids, delivery boys, babysitters, lodgers of fortune… and for what?

More importantly, for whom?

As much as I dig the cool choices Airbnb gives me whenever I travel, the big picture doesn’t seem all that awesome to me. Something’s broken here, and it doesn’t take a genius to see it. So before we get too deep into this “revolution,” maybe it wouldn’t suck to give some thought to what it really is and where it is taking us. (That extra $50 in your pocket comes at a price.) Case in point, via Tech Crunch’s Jon Evans:

Let’s face it, “sharing economy” is mostly spin. It mostly consists of people who have excess disposable income hiring those who do not; it’s pretty rare to vacillate across that divide. Far more accurate to call it the “servant economy.”

So what’s the fix?

The fix is simple: Level playing fields. Fair markets with controls. That means regulation, oversight, rules. I know that doesn’t sit well with the “deregulate all the things” nullification crowd, but there’s a reason we have those kinds of protections. They protect small, privately owned companies from being smashed to bits by giant global conglomerates and fraudsters. They protect full-time workers from losing their jobs to cheap and/or disposable part-time labor. They protect water quality and air quality and food safety. Everything from speed limits in school zones to building permits is there to protect someone from getting hurt. Sometimes, those rules protect our physical safety, and sometimes they protect our combined economic safety. If better controls over bank practices had existed pre-2008, we wouldn’t be in a recession right now. If better controls over pollution and greenhouse gas emissions had existed for the last 50 years, we might not be dealing with drastic climate change right now either. Rules might seem sucky and unfair when you’re six years old, but for the most part, they’re what ultimately holds our civilization together. They’re the mortar. Let’s not forget that.

And if your argument against this hovers along the lines of “the world isn’t fair,” or “survival of the fittest,” or some other law-of-the-jungle-inspired bit of “toughen-up, buttercup” BS, (you know who you are), this is the part of this post in which I probably need to remind you that you aren’t actually living in a jungle. You’re living in civilized society, protected within its walls, which are paid for mostly by everyone you’re trying to dismiss as useless or disposable. Like it or not, you’re part of that community. And I get it: being a predator is super cool if you’re in the wild. I totally understand if your power animal is the cunning wolf or the mighty lion. But… look at you. You’re no wolf. You’re no lion either. On a good day, you’re barely a muskrat. You wouldn’t last the night in an actual jungle. So now might be a good time to stop being a delusional wrecking-ball of a sociopath, maybe, and start treating the community you live in like the fragile ecosystem it actually is. Be a leader: improve the system instead of wrecking it for your own benefit.

Okay. Back to terminology.

The Microtransaction Economy:

I’ll tell you what this really is, what it should really be called: the Microtransaction Economy.

I know. It isn’t sexy. You aren’t going to sell that to millions of people as something cool or exciting, but that’s all it is: microtransactions. A fare here, a fare there, $5 for a logo, $7 to deliver a pizza, $10 to wash someone’s car, $15 to babysit someone’s pug while they’re at the nail salon, $30 to let a stranger crash on your couch for the night, $50 to drive someone to the airport, and so on.

You aren’t sharing. You’re selling and renting little blocks of your life for a few bucks and giving your opt-in marketplace a cut of the action. No matter how well it adds up at the end of the month, it’s a means to parcel out your time and your resources so you can rent them in convenient little blocks. No business license required. Minimal fees. No permits. No inspections. Just you and some single-serving customers looking to do a quick bit of business through your phones. Like it or not, it’s no different from selling oranges out of the trunk of your car on the side of the freeway, or selling concert tickets in the parking lot. Just because you use an app to do it doesn’t make it any more modern or disruptive. It is what it is: a super efficient market that fits in your pocket.

It isn’t all that different from this adjacent microtransaction model, by the way, which gamers should be pretty familiar with by now. In this instance, you may not be transacting with a “peer,” but the principle is the same: you’ve opted into a convenient virtual marketplace that happens to live on your device. Whether the seller is a $10B company or some guy who lives three blocks away, what difference does it really make? A market is a market.

And don’t get me wrong: I don’t begrudge anyone the decision to make more money however they can, especially in this economy. You have to do what you have to do. But once you realize the extent to which these everyone-for-himself models end up undermining the very mechanisms that we should collectively be fighting to preserve and strengthen, it’s hard not to feel a little discouraged and cynical about how easily people can be manipulated into working against their own interests. It’s proof that the right kind of sales pitch and packaging can turn us into our own worst enemies, and I think that’s both scary and sad. In the end, the only we may end up actually sharing in this so-called “sharing economy” is the big ugly bag of consequences that we’re all collaborating to bring down on ourselves. Give that some thought.

Okay, that’s it. I’m done. Feel free to agree or disagree. The comment section is all yours. As always, try to keep things polite, but if you can’t, that’s okay.



WP, NSP in heated wrangle over three constituencies


AUGUST 5, 2015

SINGAPORE — A day after opposition leaders emerged all smiles from a three-hour meeting and declared that most potential multi-cornered fights had been resolved, it emerged yesterday that discussions were dominated by a heated tussle between the Workers’ Party (WP) and the National Solidarity Party (NSP) over Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC), Jalan Besar GRC and the MacPherson single-seat ward.

At one point, an NSP representative even threatened to send a team to contest in Aljunied GRC — which is held by the WP — if the WP refused to back down, sources who attended the closed-door meeting at the NSP’s Jalan Besar headquarters told TODAY.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Dangerous Rise of Buddhist Chauvinism

JUL 28, 2015 12

TOKYO – The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, composed no sutta to religious hatred or racial animus. And yet Buddhist chauvinism now threatens the democratic process in both Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka. Some of the same Buddhist monks who braved Myanmar’s military junta in the “Saffron Revolution” of 2007 today incite violence against members of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. In Sri Lanka, the ethnic chauvinism of the Buddhist Sinhalese, stirred by a former president determined to reclaim power, mocks the supposed goal of reconciliation with the vanquished Hindu Tamils.

In Myanmar, Buddhist racism is at the root of a virtual civil war in the state of Rakhine and is fueling a humanitarian crisis in which hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled their country by land and sea. Most ominous for Myanmar’s future, given that all genocides are linked to official action, this racial and religious antagonism is in no way spontaneous. The Rohingya have already been stripped of their Myanmar citizenship, and a raft of new and proposed legislation that would further marginalize Islam seems certain to provoke further violence.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

'I owe Singaporeans a responsibility' to get foreign worker balance right: PM Lee

Keeping the Singapore identity intact for the next 50 years will be a "big challenge", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong tells Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee in an interview aired on Sunday, Aug 2.
02 Aug 2015

SINGAPORE: It is the Government's duty to grapple with the "very difficult issue" of getting the inflow of foreign labour right - and at the same time maintaining the unique identity of the nation, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"It is an issue where honestly speaking, there are no easy choices. There are trade-offs," said Mr Lee, speaking on Friday (Jul 31) in a television interview with Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities.

"I would like to keep this a Singapore-Singapore ... it has to maintain that Singapore character."

The programme, A Conversation with the PM: Our Future, Our People, was telecast on Sunday (Aug 2) on MediaCorp's Channel 5 and Channel NewsAsia. In the show, Mr Lee touched on concerns about the economy, anxiety over job competition with foreigners and a possible identity crisis in the future.

Move to raise employees' minimum salary to US$70,000 reportedly backfires on US company

2 Aug 2015

SEATTLE - Things are not looking quite so rosy at US company Gravity Payments, less than four months after it made the news for a groundbreaking move to erase income inequality.

In April, the Seattle-based credit card payment firm announced it would be raising its employees' pay to a minimum of US$70,000 (S$96,028) across the board, earning praise from its 120 workers.

CEO Dan Price, who took a US$930,000 paycut to sanction the move, had said then: "Everyone started screaming and cheering and just going crazy."

But The New York Times, which first broke the story, is now reporting that Mr Price's decision has generated internal strife within the company.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

For some CPF members, a case of too many investment choices

Siau Ming En

July 30, 2015

SINGAPORE – When it comes to investing their Central Provident Fund (CPF) monies, some feel that there are too many options to choose from, some are not confident enough to invest or have no time to actively monitor their portfolios, while others feel the charges are too high, reducing their returns.

These were some of the key concerns that Dr Tan Chorh Chuan, chairman of the CPF Advisory Panel, picked up during yesterday’s CPF Advisory Panel focus group discussions on alternative investment choices.

Providing flexibility for members to get higher returns while balancing higher investment risks through private investment plans is one of the issues that the panel, which was set up last September, has been assigned to tackle.

The 13-member panel hopes to come up with its recommendations by the end of the year, as Prof Tan noted that this is a “more technical piece” that requires more work, including commissioning a study to model the effects of the different options to be offered.