Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pioneer Generation Package - The Pioneers

 Feb 22, 2014
Just who are those pioneers, anyway?

The grandparents and parents of today's young folk are to get a Budget windfall - the Pioneer Generation Package. Insight looks at the people whose grit helped make Singapore great.

By Goh Chin Lian And Maryam Mokhtar

AT 16, Danny Wong had already lost his dad, survived a war and worked in three different jobs. The year was 1947.

Today's teenagers and their parents would find this almost unimaginable, but that was the reality for their grandparents.

Mr Wong's generation - Singaporeans born before 1950 who became citizens before 1987 - received a fillip when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last Sunday announced the Pioneer Generation Package.

Statistics show this generation did not have the same educational and job opportunities as those who came later, and so have some grounds for concern about what is meant to be their golden years.

Uniquely Singapore way to fund needs

Feb 27, 2014

By Chia Ngee Choon, For The Straits Times

BUDGET 2014 is elder-centric and, in particular, pioneer-centric. It sends a clear assurance to Singapore's pioneering generation that, having made significant contributions to Singapore when it was a Third World country, they can now retire with health-care security in a First World nation.

The Budget, announced last Friday, has set aside a whopping $8 billion in a Pioneer Generation Fund to finance health-care costs. This is the largest one-time capital injection to a single fund, and exceeds expectations in terms of its initial start-up capital and its comprehensiveness and inclusivity.

Malaysia, Singapore grapple with prolonged dry spell

Feb 26, 2014

SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Singapore and Malaysia are grappling with some of the driest weather they have ever seen, forcing the tiny city-state to ramp up supplies of recycled water while its neighbour rations reserves amid disruptions to farming and fisheries.

Singapore, which experiences tropical downpours on most days, suffered its longest dry spell on record between Jan 13 and Feb 8 and has had little rain since.

Shares in Hyflux Ltd, which operates desalination and water recycling operations there, have risen 3.5 per cent over the past month.

In peninsular Malaysia, 15 areas have not had rainfall in more than 20 days, with some of them dry for more than a month, according to the Malaysian Meteorological Department.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Doing justice by fixing broken young lives

Feb 23, 2014

A stint at the Juvenile Court proves sobering, humbling for this former district judge

By Lim Hui Min

I was posted to the Family and Juvenile Court as a young magistrate, more than 10 years ago. During this time, I used to cover the Juvenile Court now and again, when the regular Juvenile Court magistrate was on leave or engaged in other official duties.

This was something new for me. Juvenile law was not something I had studied in law school, and I did not handle any Juvenile Court cases when I was in private practice. Most lawyers would not have done a Juvenile Court case, as legal counsel are engaged to represent the child or his parents in relatively few of such cases.

Covering the Juvenile Court was a sobering and humbling experience.

Playing ‘good neighbour’ to ASEAN would help China more


By Christopher Hill

February 25, 2014

Not long ago, China was a soft-power juggernaut. Media accounts highlighted Chinese leaders’ thoughtful forays abroad, depicting policy-makers that were respectful of others’ opinions, willing to listen, humble to a fault, and reluctant to dispense unsolicited advice. Here was a country that was content to allow its own example of success to speak for itself.

Those days are over. Today, China, like many large countries, is allowing its internal political battles to shape how it interacts with the world, especially with neighbours whose sensitivities it seems entirely willing to ignore. (Indeed, with alarm bells sounding throughout the region, the United States’ “pivot to Asia,” widely derided for its clumsy rollout and unintended consequences, now seems wise and prudent.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

What Indonesia's Rise means for Australia

Northern Exposure
From: The Monthly - Australian Politics, Society, and Culture.

Hugh White
June, 2013

Large and close but poor and weak, Indonesia holds a shadowy place in Australia’s world view. We have never known quite what to make of it, or how seriously to take it. Soon there will be no option but to take it very seriously indeed, because Indonesia is changing fast. In the Asian century, it may matter to Australia as much as China and the US. It may even become our most important ally.

Reliability of MRT key to having fewer cars on roads

Feb 13, 2014

By Christopher Tan Senior Transport Correspondent

AT A recent Chinese New Year lunch, a senior civil servant suggested that I write an article on why Singaporeans should give up their aspiration to own a car.

Half-jokingly, I said I would - provided there was no major MRT incident for six months in a row. By "major", I meant incidents that disrupt service for more than 30 minutes each.

The condition is fair and, in fact, is one I think train operators SMRT and SBS Transit should aim for.

While it is unreasonable to expect machines to operate without a single glitch, it is reasonable to expect major incidents to be kept to a minimum. After all, rail systems are inherently robust and durable. And a system that is as new, short and costly as ours should have fewer breakdowns.

For instance, breakdowns on the 125-year-old, 340km, 24-hour New York City subway average one every 260,000km operated.

Singapore's 25-year-old, 180km network breaks down once every 120,000km.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Is religion a destructive and divisive force?

Feb 15, 2014

By Mohammad Alami Musa For The Straits Times

LAST month, the Pew Research Centre released its fifth annual study of religious restrictions and hostilities around the world.

According to Pew, social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012. One-third of the 198 countries studied had either a "very high" or "high" score on Pew's Social Hostilities Index (SHI), up from 20 per cent in 2007. Has religion become something evil?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

On Meritocracy

Two articles on Meritocracy in Singapore - the practice, the problems, the prescription.


A fairer meritocracy 

 By Soon Sze-Meng -

20 August 2013

A fair and just society is necessary to ensure that meritocracy remains a fair “organising principle of Singapore’s society”, benefitting all as our country grows richer and more unequal.

Meritocracy ensures progression from merit based on hard work and abilities rather than gender, race and age. In the early years of Singapore, when most people were at similar starting positions, many deemed meritocracy to be fair.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sensitivity is a two-way street

Feb 13, 2014

Be sensitive to Singapore's feelings. This is the message from two former diplomats, responding to Indonesia's decision to name a naval vessel after the two marines who bombed MacDonald House in 1965.

By Bilahari Kausikan for The Straits Times

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has told the Singapore media that "no ill intent was meant, no malice, no unfriendly outlook", when Indonesia named a new frigate KRI Usman Harun, after two Indonesian marines executed in 1968 for a 1965 terror attack on MacDonald House in Orchard Road that killed three and injured 33.

Singaporeans will no doubt be happy to know this. But I am afraid that the Foreign Minister entirely missed the point.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

MacDonald House attack still strikes home in Singapore

Feb 12, 2014

Those old enough remember shock when iconic building was bombed

By M. Nirmala Senior Writer

THE bombing of MacDonald House by two Indonesian saboteurs might have taken place 48 years ago, but that event long ago casts a shadow that still falls over today's Singapore.

This explains the intense reaction of Singapore to Indonesia's recent decision to name a navy ship after the two men executed for the bombing incident.

Those old enough remember the shock of the event when the pair of Indonesian marines bombed the Orchard Road building on March 10, 1965.

The days when bombs went off in my kampung

Feb 12, 2014

By Salim Osman Senior Writer

When a bomb went off one Sunday night in April 1964 at Jalan Rebong in Kampung Ubi, the impact was so large that I could feel it from my home in Geylang Serai a kilometre away.

A 50-year-old Malay widow and her only child, a 19-year-old schoolgirl, who were at a neighbour's house were killed when the bomb exploded nearby.

Three days later, another bomb went off about a kilometre away, at the junction of Jalan Betek and Jalan Timun, at a public telephone booth. Five people were injured, including a 62-year-old Chinese woman and three Malays who lived near the booth.

As a 12-year-old boy who had just entered secondary school, I was curious as to why a bomb had gone off in my kampung area.

A most unfortunate name for a ship

Feb 11, 2014

WHAT prompted the Indonesian navy to name a warship after two marines hanged in Singapore for killing innocent civilians here a long time ago is hard to fathom. Such a brutal act flies in the face of established international law and generally accepted civilised conduct. How this could be deemed "heroic" is baffling. What is clear is that Indonesian officials are not taking adequate account of the public outrage the navy's action has caused. An insensitive act which could have been contained through neighbourly consultation is developing into a diplomatic quarrel neither country wants. This is indicated in the absence, through mutual pique, of an Indonesian military delegation at the Singapore Airshow where defence discussions take place.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Income + wealth inequality = More trouble for society

Feb 11, 2014

Data and studies on the wealth gap are needed to address inequality

By Robin Chan Assistant Political Editor

MUCH attention given to inequality in Singapore in recent years has focused on income inequality. There is a good reason: Singapore’s income gap, as measured by the Gini coefficient for income, is one of the widest among developed countries at 0.478.

The Gini measures how income is distributed in a society. The closer the Gini is to 1, the more unequal the distribution of income.

To narrow this gap, the Government has made efforts to raise wages at the bottom and increase taxes on wealth at the top. Among other things, it has given cash handouts and supplemented incomes with Workfare Income Supplements for low-income earners.

Indonesia says naming of vessel not intended to stir emotions

Feb 10, 2014

By Zakir Hussain, Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta

Indonesia's Armed Forces commander says the decision to name its new frigate after the two marines behind a 1965 bombing in Singapore was agreed upon over a year ago.

"We agreed on the name on 12 December 2012, after long discussions. There is no correlation with recent developments," General Moeldoko told reporters in Parliament on Monday.

"The naming is not intended to stir emotions. We did not think of that," he added.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Study sheds light on sex trafficking in Singapore

 Feb 10, 2014

Victims either lured here by friends or were already prostitutes elsewhere

By Toh Yong Chuan And Janice Tai

AN INDEPENDENT study of sex trafficking victims has shed some light on the murky world of the unregulated sex trade here.

It found that victims from the Philippines were lured to Singapore by friends and acquaintances on the pretext of jobs such as waitressing and hostessing, before ending up in nightclubs.

Some Indonesian victims, meanwhile, were already prostitutes in Batam before coming here to ply their trade on the streets and budget hotels, under the watchful eyes of local pimps.

The 144-page study, released last week, was conducted by Singapore-based academic Sallie Yea, an assistant professor of geography at the National Institute of Education, who interviewed 87 women tricked into coming to Singapore.

Comments from a (typical?) Indonesian

Comments from "Singapore raises concerns as Indonesia names ship after two convicted marines".

[Summary of the posts from the Indonesian:

Anyway, the discussion is getting a little long so just to keep track of what you have said so far:

1) Konfrontasi was NOT declared war, BUT it was a war

2A) Soekarno in his mercy and magnanimity chose to use terrorism with a more limited death toll instead of conventional war where the death toll would have been higher; OR
2B) Soekarno decided that 1 million Indonesian soldiers were no match for 14,000 ang mo troops in a conventional war and decided to go with terrorism as being more expedient, easier, and more affordable.

3) Indonesia supports terrorism as long as a) it is carried out outside of Indonesian soil, and b) is endorsed by the Indonesian government or military.

4) The three civilian lives taken by the Indonesian Marines were NOTHING compared to the lives of the two Indonesian Heroes, and Singaporeans are being too sensitive without considering the overall picture of Indonesia needing to inspire the next generation of soldier who might once again be called upon to sacrifice their lives and honour for Indonesia.

Note: The entire thread is rather boring, so I've done some major edits for readability. The link to the original is provided (above).]

What it’ll mean when easy money ends

By Richard Cooper and Richard Dobbs

06 February 2014

The departure of United States Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke has fuelled speculation about when and how the Fed and other central banks will wind down their mammoth purchases of long-term assets, also known as quantitative easing (QE). Observers seize upon every new piece of economic data to forecast QE’s continuation or an acceleration of its decline.

But more attention needs to be paid to the impact of either outcome on different economic players.

There is no doubting the scale of QE programmes. Since the start of the financial crisis, the Fed, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan have used QE to inject more than US$4 trillion (S$5.08 trillion) of additional liquidity into their economies. When these programmes end, governments, some emerging markets and some corporations could be vulnerable. They need to prepare.

$1.50 an hour is just too little for anyone

Feb 09, 2014

Despite back-breaking labour, some foreign workers may be earning less than a cleaner's pay

By Radha Basu Senior Correspondent

For a year, Bangladeshi construction worker Hossain Iqbel worked seven days a week fitting pipes underground on Jurong Island.

His basic wages - at $1.50 an hour or around $280 a month - were a third of the $800 he had been promised when he left home.

He did not complain at first, despite having proof of his low wages - unlike many other employers of foreign workers, his issued payslips.

He held back because he had borrowed heavily to pay for recruitment fees and did not want to be repatriated.

Eventually, he lodged a complaint days before his contract was due to end, fearing he might be sent home without his dues being settled.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin told Parliament last month that migrant workers were generally treated well by employers, and a 2011 survey of 3,000 work permit holders showed that nine in 10 were satisfied.

Complaints to the ministry about work-related abuses are also low. It helped 7,000 foreign workers last year - less than 1 per cent of the 700,000 work permit holders here.

But these numbers may not reflect the true picture on the ground.

Friday, February 7, 2014

MacDonald House Bombing 1965 - Konfrontasi

Indonesia intends to name one of three new frigates after the two Marines who was responsible for the MacDonald House Bombing in March 1965 that killed 3 civilians. The two marines were arrested, charged and convicted of murder and executed.

A (link) to Requiem for Usman and Harun.

Feb 06, 2014

A primer on the MacDonald House bombing that shook Singapore in 1965

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Build on the lessons — and buzz — from the Hillford

By Richard Hartung

06 February.

After the disappointment of what was supposed to be the debut of a retirement resort community at Hillford turning out to be more like an ordinary condominium launch on Jan 17, policymakers have an opportunity to do better.

Admittedly, neither the developer nor the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) might call Hillford a failure. Yet, a look at what happened shows how the project strayed from its intended purpose.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Asia’s risky strongman nostalgia


By William Pesek

05 February 2014.

Indonesia is growing at 6 per cent, has rejoined the ranks of investment-grade nations and, after decades under the repressive President Suharto, has reaffirmed its place as the world’s third-largest democracy. Yet somehow, enough Indonesians remember the Suharto years fondly that his Golkar Party has hopes of regaining power in upcoming elections.

Golkar is not alone in trying to exploit nostalgia for past strongmen (and women). India’s Congress Party is trying to squeeze any remaining good feelings about the Nehru-Gandhi period (from 1947 to about 1989) to elevate lacklustre heir apparent Rahul Gandhi. Even as China’s Xi Jinping pushes ahead with market reforms, he continues to pay homage to Communist icon Mao Zedong’s rule between 1949 and 1976.

Thais are destroying their economy rather than cutting off support for tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra (in office 2001-2006) and his sister Yingluck. Many Malaysians wax sentimental about the boom days of Dr Mahathir Mohamad (in office 1981-2003). Japanese are indulging Mr Shinzo Abe’s dangerous stroll down memory lane.

What gives with nostalgianomics? The yearning for yesteryear speaks to our disorienting times and a dearth of visionary leadership when it is most needed.

What Machines Can’t Do

FEB. 3, 2014

David Brooks

We’re clearly heading into an age of brilliant technology. Computers are already impressively good at guiding driverless cars and beating humans at chess and Jeopardy. As Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology point out in their book “The Second Machine Age,” computers are increasingly going to be able to perform important parts of even mostly cognitive jobs, like picking stocks, diagnosing diseases and granting parole.

As this happens, certain mental skills will become less valuable because computers will take over. Having a great memory will probably be less valuable. Being able to be a straight-A student will be less valuable — gathering masses of information and regurgitating it back on tests. So will being able to do any mental activity that involves following a set of rules.

But what human skills will be more valuable?

Low take-up for hawker apprenticeship programme

05 February.

SINGAPORE — In contrast to the strong initial interest, fewer than half of the places offered under a scheme to learn from famous hawkers here have been taken up so far — more than three months after it was launched.

The Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme, which lasts about five to six months, has 23 trainees filling the 50 places available.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Let court trial outcome determine lawyers' fees

Feb 03, 2014

By Andy Ho Senior Writer

THE way the legal services sector is regulated will be tweaked in the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill to be tabled later this year. The Law Ministry, which will be inviting feedback on the Bill, should seriously consider legalising the contingency fee system.

In such a system, a lawyer's fees depend on him winning the case. Should he lose in court, then both he and his client walk out of the courthouse with nothing.

This arrangement is not yet permitted in Singapore. But it is already allowed in the United States, Britain and Canada.

The long-standing Singapore ban derives historically from English law that traditionally barred contingency fees.

It was feared that with a financial stake in his client's claim, the lawyer may be driven, "for his own personal gain, to inflame the damages, to suppress evidence, or even to suborn witnesses", as Lord Denning, the most celebrated English judge of the 20th century, said in Re Trepca Mines Ltd (1963), an appeal he presided over. Such a system, it was argued, may promote frivolous suits and those without merit.

Britain decriminalised contingency fees in the Criminal Law Act of 1967, 119 years after the US state of New York did so in 1848. Today, 28 states in the US allow it. Canada followed suit in 2002.

In the US, the impetus for change came from rising rates of workplace accidents as the economy industrialised in the 19th century. Such victims, who were too poor to hire lawyers, clamoured for access to justice, as Lawrence Friedman notes in A History Of American Law (1973).

In Singapore, some valid claims are not being litigated but not just because the victims are indigent. Some victims are middle-class folks who cannot afford lawyer fees as well.

Writing on the Singapore Law Watch website run by the Singapore Academy of Law, Mr Seow Tzi Yang and Ms Debra Lam noted recently that, based on the 2010 census, only 12 per cent to 17 per cent of two-income households here qualify for legal aid.

This means that much of the middle class does not qualify for legal aid. They are thus also unlikely to be able to afford litigation, given that each trial day in a District Court costs $12,000 to $16,000 while a day in High Court can "nearly wipe out an entire year's household income". As Mr Seow and Ms Lam note, the median family income in 2010 was $48,000.

The two writers observe that such economic reasoning "cuts directly against the usual complaints that the contingency fee encourages frivolous litigation".

Instead, it is about making meritorious litigation possible not only for the impecunious but also for the middle class. Thus, the contingency fee system increases access to justice, which is "a fundamental human right" as the duo note.

In the US, the industry standard for contingency fees is one-third of winnings. But because these fees have, on occasion, amounted to astronomical sums, they make lawyers look avaricious. So a main gripe about contingency fees is that they can turn out to be exorbitant.

Many cite as example the class action suits brought against US Big Tobacco in the 1990s by several states. In the multi-state class action lawsuit against Big Tobacco, which eventually agreed in 1998 to pay US$206 billion to the states over 25 years, the winning lawyers made so much that their fees worked out to the equivalent of US$200,000 (S$255,300) per hour - had they been retained on billable hours instead.

Detractors say that, as one of the two classic professions, lawyers have an ethical obligation not to charge such unreasonable fees.

However, such fees are not unreasonable if one does not use hourly rates to evaluate them.

The essence of a contingency fee arrangement is that it is a deal between the client and the lawyer that turns on the latter's risk-taking. The lawyer risks not earning anything for all his work if he loses the case, while the victim stands to lose merely some portion of any potential compensation that would go to his lawyer.

Such a deal aligns the economic goals of lawyer and client.

The fee acts as an incentive to encourage more diligent work from lawyers, while clients neither have to contend with billable hours nor worry whether their lawyers are efficient or not, since the fee does not pivot on such considerations.

Such a system would allow the lawyer to "invest" his time and resources in a litigation "market" as he deems fit, taking into account his tolerance for the risk of losing and ending up with nothing for all his work.

The idea of big rewards for the risk-taker who ends up with nothing if he loses, is consistent with a capitalist market system.

Consider the chief executive in a market economy. Like a lawyer, a chief executive is a fiduciary, holding a legal and ethical relationship of trust between himself and his beneficiaries. So a chief executive has a fiduciary duty to shareholders and acts as a trustee for their best (financial) interests. In carrying out his duties, he has the same obligations of full disclosure and fairness to them as a lawyer has towards his clients.

Now a chief executive does not justify his salary on an hourly basis. Instead, he is judged on the basis of the financial impact of his activities in, and risk-taking for, his corporation. How he spends his time (not illegally, of course,) does not matter as long as he delivers the goods.

In the same vein for a contingency fee lawyer, it is not how many hours he chalks up on a case that matter - so hourly rates do not matter. What he is being rewarded for is his acceptance of the high business risks as well as his efficiency and expertise in working on a case and winning it.

In the multi-state litigation against Big Tobacco in the 1990s, the state of Maryland alone, for example, asked 150 law firms to take up the litigation on a contingency fee basis but only six firms submitted bids. This shows how few law firms have the capacity and risk propensity to take on such a risky endeavour.

Right now, it is impossible to quantify the number of meritorious cases that never went to court because the victims did not have the resources for legal action. Allowing lawyers to be risk-taking market participants in a contingency fee system will afford access to the courts for such victims who are not just the indigent but also the middle class. This is clearly a good thing that Singapore should legalise.

[The corollary to this system is that if a middle-class client goes to a lawyer and none of them will take the case on a contingency fee basis, he would realise that his case is weak and he should forget about it.]

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Air India

Delhi says air 'not as bad' as Beijing after smog scrutiny

Jan 29, 2014

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's air monitoring centre denied on Wednesday that pollution in New Delhi was worse than in Beijing, following scrutiny of the Indian capital's winter smog, which shrouds the city each year.

A report in the New York Times last week and fresh research by scientists at Yale University suggested Delhi's air was more harmful than Beijing's, where concerns about the health impact of pollution are growing.

"I am amazed to read such reports because Delhi air quality, especially in winter, is very poor but certainly not as bad as in Beijing," Gufran Beig, from the state-run System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), told AFP.

Yale's Global Environment Performance Index, a study of 178 countries released earlier this month, showed Delhi had the highest concentration of harmful small particles less than 2.5 micro meters in diameter (PM 2.5) followed by Beijing.

The New York Times meanwhile examined pollution figures collected from one monitoring centre in the first three weeks of this year, which found on average the daily peak figure over the period was 473 micrograms per cubic metre.

This was twice as high of an equivalent figure in Beijing, the newspaper said.

Beig said that a better measurement of Delhi's air would be the 24-hour average of PM2.5 pollution taken from nine air quality monitoring stations spread around the capital.

This showed that PM 2.5 never crossed 250 - although this is still 10 times the limit proposed by the World Health Organisation.

China's capital was shrouded in thick smog between January 16-18 with the count of small particulate pollution reaching 650, more than 25 times recommended levels.

Pollution in China has been linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths, and has tarnished the image of its cities including Beijing, which saw a 10 percent drop in tourist visits during the first 11 months of 2013.

Because PM2.5 particles are very small in size, they can easily enter the body and interfere with the functioning of the lungs.

They are also associated with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart diseases.

A World Bank report last year which surveyed 132 countries ranked India 126th for environmental performance and last for air pollution.

see also:
Why the US releases pollution data on Beijing but not Delhi.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The triple package of success

Jan 31, 2014

Three cultural factors explain the success of ethnic and cultural minorities in American society: a belief that the group one belongs to is exceptional; a goading sense of inferiority; and impulse control.

By Amy Chua And Jed Rubenfeld

A SEEMINGLY un-American fact about America today is that for some groups, much more than others, upward mobility and the American dream are alive and well.

Indian-Americans earn almost double the national figure (roughly US$90,000 or S$115,000 per year in median household income versus US$50,000). Iranian-, Lebanese- and Chinese-Americans are also top-earners. In the last 30 years, Mormons have become leaders of corporate America, holding top jobs in many of the most recognisable US companies.

Jewish success is the most historically fraught and the most broad-based. Although Jews make up only about 2 per cent of the adult population in the US, they account for a third of the current Supreme Court; over two-thirds of Tony Award-winning lyricists and composers; and about a third of American Nobel laureates.

Comprehensive data published by the Russell Sage Foundation in 2013 showed that the children of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese immigrants experienced exceptional upward mobility regardless of their parents' socioeconomic or educational background.
Take New York City's selective public high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, which are major Ivy League feeders.

For the 2013 school year, Stuyvesant High School offered admission, based solely on a standardised entrance exam, to nine black students, 24 Hispanics, 177 whites and 620 Asians. Among the Asians of Chinese origin, many are the children of restaurant workers and other working-class immigrants.

Merely stating the fact that certain groups do better than others - as measured by income, test scores and so on - is enough to provoke a firestorm in America today, and even charges of racism. The irony is that the facts actually debunk racial stereotypes.

There are some black and Hispanic groups that far outperform some white and Asian groups. Immigrants from many West Indian and African countries, such as Jamaica, Ghana and Haiti, are climbing America's higher education ladder, but perhaps the most prominent are Nigerians.

Nigerians make up less than 1 per cent of the black population in the United States, yet in 2013 nearly one-quarter of the black students at Harvard Business School were of Nigerian ancestry.

Cuban-Americans in Miami rose in one generation from widespread penury to relative affluence.Meanwhile, some Asian- American groups - Cambodian- and Hmong-Americans, for example - are among the poorest in the country, as are some predominantly white communities in central Appalachia.

Most fundamentally, groups rise and fall over time. The fortunes of Wasp (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) elites have been declining for decades.

In 1960, second-generation Greek-Americans reportedly had the second-highest income of any census-tracked group. Group success in America often tends to dissipate after two generations. Thus while Asian-American kids overall had SAT scores 143 points above average in 2012 - including a 63-point edge over whites - a 2005 study of over 20,000 adolescents found that third-generation Asian-American students performed no better academically than white students.

[There is a Chinese saying, that family fortunes are lost within three generations. This seems to support that saying.]

Three traits for success

IT TURNS out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in the United States today share three traits that, together, propel success.

The first is a superiority complex - a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite - insecurity, a feeling that you or what you've done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.

It's odd to think of people feeling simultaneously superior and insecure. Yet it's precisely this unstable combination that generates drive: a chip on the shoulder, a goading need to prove oneself. Add impulse control - the ability to resist temptation - and the result is people who systematically sacrifice present gratification in pursuit of future attainment.

Ironically, each element of the triple package violates a core tenet of contemporary American thinking.

We know that group superiority claims are specious and dangerous, yet every one of America's most successful groups tells itself that it's exceptional in a deep sense. Mormons believe they are "gods in embryo" placed on Earth to lead the world to salvation; they see themselves, in the historian Claudia Bushman's words, as "an island of morality in a sea of moral decay".

Middle East experts and many Iranians explicitly refer to a Persian "superiority complex". At their first Passover Seders, most Jewish children hear that Jews are the "chosen" people.

That insecurity should be a lever of success is another anathema in US culture. Feelings of inadequacy are cause for concern or even therapy; parents deliberately instilling insecurity in their children is almost unthinkable. Yet insecurity runs deep in every one of America's rising groups.

A central finding in a study of over 5,000 immigrants' children led by sociologist Ruben Rumbaut was how frequently the kids felt "motivated to achieve" because of an acute sense of obligation to redeem their parents' sacrifices.

By contrast, white American parents are found to be more focused on building children's social skills and self-esteem.

In a study of thousands of high school students, Asian-Americans reported the lowest self-esteem of any racial group, even as they racked up the highest grades.

Plus, being an outsider in a society - and America's most successful groups are all outsiders in one way or another - is a source of insecurity in itself. Immigrants worry about whether they can survive in a strange land, often communicating a sense of life's precariousness to their children.

Cubans fleeing to Miami after Fidel Castro's takeover reported seeing signs reading "No dogs, no Cubans" on apartment buildings. During the 2012 election cycle, Mormons had to hear presidential candidate Mitt Romney's clean-cut sons described as "creepy" in the media.

Finally, impulse control runs against the grain of contemporary culture as well.

Countless books and feel-good movies extol the virtue of living in the here and now, and people who control their impulses don't live in the moment. The dominant culture is fearful of spoiling children's happiness with excessive restraints or demands.

By contrast, every one of America's most successful groups takes a very different view of childhood, inculcating habits of discipline from a very early age - or at least they did so when they were on the rise.

In isolation, each of these three qualities would be insufficient. Alone, a superiority complex is a recipe for complacency; mere insecurity could be crippling; impulse control can produce asceticism. Only in combination do these qualities generate drive
and what Tocqueville called the "longing to rise".

Flip side of success

BUT this success comes at a price. Each of the three traits has its own pathologies. Impulse control can undercut the ability to experience beauty, tranquillity and spontaneous joy. Insecure people feel like they're never good enough. "I grew up thinking that I would never, ever please my parents," recalls the novelist Amy Tan. "It's a horrible feeling."

Recent studies suggest that Asian-American youth have greater rates of stress (but, despite media reports to the contrary, lower rates of suicide).

A superiority complex can be even more invidious. Group supremacy claims have been a source of oppression, war and genocide throughout history.

Even when it functions relatively benignly as an engine of success, the combination of these three traits can still be imprisoning - precisely because of the kind of success it tends to promote. Individuals striving for material success can easily become too focused on prestige and money, too concerned with external measures of their own worth.

The good news is that it's not some magic gene generating these groups' disproportionate success. Nor is it some 5,000-year-old "education culture" that only they have access to. Instead their success is significantly propelled by three simple qualities open to anyone. The way to develop this package of qualities - not that it's easy, or that everyone would want to - is through grit.

It requires turning the ability to work hard, to persevere and to overcome adversity into a source of personal superiority. This kind of superiority complex isn't ethnically or religiously exclusive. It's the pride a person takes in his own strength of will.

The US itself was born a triple package nation, with an outsize belief in its own exceptionality, a goading desire to prove itself to aristocratic Europe (Thomas Jefferson sent a giant moose carcass to Paris to prove that America's animals were bigger than Europe's) and a Puritan inheritance of impulse control.

But prosperity and power had their predictable effect, eroding the insecurity and self-restraint that led to them. By 2000, all that remained was America's superiority complex, which by itself is mere swagger, fuelling a culture of entitlement and instant gratification. Thus the trials of recent years - the unwon wars, the financial collapse, the rise of China - have, perversely, had a beneficial effect: the return of insecurity.

Those who talk of America's "decline" miss this crucial point. America has always been at its best when it has had to overcome adversity and prove its mettle on the world stage. For better and worse, it has that opportunity again today.

[There are 3 criteria for Success according to this article, and their upcoming book. So while Americans never lost their sense of "American Exceptionalism" and so their sense of superiority has always there, the authors suggest that their recent failures have brought "the return of insecurity".

However there is a third element in their hypothesis for success: impulse control.

I do not see that happening.]


The writers are professors at Yale Law School and the authors of the forthcoming book The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain The Rise And Fall Of Cultural Groups in America.

Amy Chua is the author of the controversial book on parenting, Battle Hymn Of A Tiger Mother, published in 2001. Jed Rubenfeld is her husband.

This is excerpted from a longer article in the New York Times.