Sunday, January 16, 2011

Minimum Wage: Another Perspective

For several months now, there is a debate on the issue of minimum wage on the local blogosphere. While many advanced economies has minimum wage as a bedrock of the national wage structure, the Singapore government has thus far refused to follow suit. Many proponents of the implementation of a minimum wage structure (almost exclusively bloggers and opposition leaders instead of speakers in our Parliament) in Singapore have given pretty valid and convincing analysis of the benefits of such a policy but the government's response has been disappointingly repetitive, almost irrelevant and unreasonable in the view of many.

While there are variants of responses from the multitude of government agencies on the subject of minimum wage, the central theme of all these counter-arguments is as follows. The increase in labor due to minimum wage will render doing business in Singapore expensive and inefficient. Companies will leave Singapore en-mass and with that exodus, economic and financial Armageddon will descend upon our shores. Overpriced local properties would then halve in value overnight while unemployment soars. "...we have to invade them else they are going to attack us with their nuclear weapons hidden in bunkers underneath their huts......we have sufficient evidence to conclude the weapons are there.....". Sounds familiar?? Sometimes the easiest thing is sell is fear and the only thing to fear is fear itself.

In this post, I propose a slightly different proposition to having minimum wage in Singapore. While there are definitely some benefits to some parts of our populace by institutionalizing a minimum hourly wage in Singapore, I propose that such an implementation will have effects that goes beyond enhancing the meager income of low-wage workers in Singapore.
I believe that a good proportion of Singaporeans are not directly affected by the absence of a minimum wage structure in Singapore. They are already earning above that minimum income level anyway and the implementation of an income floor do not directly affect people earning way above that floor. The absence or presence of minimum wage in Singapore has nothing to do with them, or so they think.

One of the biggest social problems countries like Singapore, China or India is the income disparity between the rich and poor in the country. A wide income gap presents a threat to the social harmony of a country. I believe instituting a minimum wage will go some way in elevating that problem. Singapore is a fully-fledged capitalistic economy. Free enterprise is encouraged and the desire to accumulate wealth is a celebrated trait in such an economic system. As such, we cannot and should not penalize the top earners of the country for getting ahead in our capitalistic society in a attempt to reduce the income gap. Instead we should try to elevate the income levels of the lowest earners in the country and instituting a minimum wage is obviously a positive step in that direction.

However, I believe that a minimum wage policy will have limited success in pushing up the lower limit of the national income gap. Other more robust and wide-ranging policies will have to be put in place for a more significant rise to be effected. Instead the major effect of a minimum will be to relieve the downward pressure on this lower income limit. Simply, it may not help push low incomes up, but it would certainly help in preventing low incomes being depressed even lower. Let me explain.

I actually agree with the government's analysis that some companies would transit out of Singapore when a minimum wage structure increases labor costs. Some industries may even leave Singapore all together for good. But if such moderate wage increases cannot be adequately compensated by Singapore's other economic virtues (like superior infrastructure, stable governance, geographical convenience, financial sophistication etc.) so as to render these industries commercially in-viable, then we can conclude that these industries must be labor-intensive, sun-set industries that are lower down in the value-added chain, industries that the government claim to want out off, more than 10 years ago!!! The departure of these industries cannot be such a disaster, can it?

While there will be some pain involved in such transition where some out-dated industries are phased out (temporary structural unemployment), in the longer run, there are potential benefits aplenty. I believe by implementing a minimum wage, Singapore will be sending a signal to foreign companies that Singapore is not an the place to engage in cheap, low-skilled work. Over time, the demand for such jobs will reduce and with that the supply of such workers will also disappear. Think of the current fury over the indiscriminate importing of foreign laborers and low-skilled workers. Would they still come when there are no longer $3-$4/hour jobs all over Singapore?

Naturally with the absence of these low-waged, cheap propellers of the economy, GDP may fall below the record levels we see today. But such stellar GDP figures tells little of the true economic well-being of the common citizenry. Powering a country's GDP with brute-force, no-brainer drivers like wanton condo-building and infrastructure projects is akin to pumping the economy full of steroids. It looks good now but it can never last and a crash is just round the corner. Instead, instituting a minimum wage is the first step towards priming Singapore's economy for a more sustainable and desirable evolution into a truly first-world one.

Economics has proved to be a dismal science in the past decade. We need to understand that any prediction of any economic policy is more of an art than science. My projection of the potential benefits of implementing minimum wage may never come to pass. Similarly, the government's prediction of economic disaster from such a policy may also be just conjecture. At least, for the thousands and thousands of workers slogging at McDonald's for $4 a hour, my suggestion gives them a couple of dollars more an hour for their efforts and a happier cashier when you next buy an Extra-Value Meal.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Be hungry, be foolish

Another brilliant post on my pal Fievel's blog on what it means to be happy and I am eternally grateful to him for reminding me again what it is supposed to be all about. Despite my mounting pile of work on my desk, I feel compelled to write a blog post about this gem of a speech by Steve Jobs, one of the most inspiring characters of our generation. Steve Jobs gave the speech at the graduating class of 2005 from Stanford University. He spoke about 3 episodes in his life to convey to the group of graduates a very important message, one that we often forget or choose to ignore in our busy Singapore way of life. After hearing his speech, I started thinking about the stark contrast between his experiences/views and that of a typical Singaporean, myself included, and wondered if we have completely missed the point of what it means to be happy and alive.

Episode 1 – Connecting the Dots

Jobs talks about the financial sacrifice his working-class parents had to make to send him to college which he subsequently dropped out. It wasn't that Jobs didn't like school or hard work but he didn't enjoy the prescribed course of learning that regular under-graduates had to endure as part of their university curriculum. Then he dropped out of college but still hung around school, only to attend the classes which he found interesting and engaging. His journey down this un-trodden path of learning led him to discover calligraphy and 10 years later, helped create the wonderful typography we see on our Macs today. What started as a seemingly frivolous interest in calligraphy, turned out to be one of the cornerstones of Job's legacy to the world. "…..You cannot connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards…..", he explained. I wonder how many of us in Singapore try to do the exact opposite.

I started thinking the hordes of young adults entering our local colleges, and like Jobs, they have no idea what they wanted to do with their lives. Most of they would try for the Medicine, Law, Business Ed, Accountancy and Engineering Faculties (which is indeed the sequence of choices in terms of popularity and desirability). These are the "safe" choices. The parents advise the benefits of such courses, the government advocates them on national media and even your friends see you in a different light if you are a future lawyer. Try telling your friends and family that you want to quit medical school to pursue a career in creative arts and I can guarantee that you will get looks of incredulity as if you had told them that you can fly. Here in Singapore, we connect our dots forwards. We care about what is apparent, what is immediately ahead of us, for the next few months or years. For most of us, we have neither the patience nor foresight to see that the dots connect backwards. A quick check on our property prices as well as the forecasted results for the next general election will confirms my assertion.

Episode 2 – Love and Loss

He then touches on his ouster from Apple at age 30 and his subsequent reunion with Apple after she acquired his new startup. "…..the heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again…..". After his departure from Apple, relieved of the pressure of living up to society's expectations and proprieties, he rediscovered his zeal for life and creativity energy. In this period, he founded startups Next and Pixar as well as married the love of his life. "….the only thing that kept me going is that I loved what I did. You got to find what you love…..if you haven't found it yet, keep looking, don't settle…..". Jobs correctly pointed out that a large part of our lives will be consumed by work. If we cannot love what we do or have passion and belief for that major component of our lives, how can it be possible for us to rise above mediocrity to become great at what we do. Without that passion, our work becomes a merely a job, a means of earning the dough needed to carry on an uninspired, unfulfilling existence.

I have worked with many people that complained about their jobs being boring, meaningless and unfulfilling. Yet these very same people persist in performing the most menial and trivial of tasks, contented to fill their working day by pushing emails and repeating laborious paper work while simultaneously rejecting or avoiding the more creative or original assignments. Ask these people if they are willing to switch to more fulfilling and enriching roles, they will often cite the lack of financial stability or other excuses as reasons why they have to continue doing what they are doing, even if they dislike or even hate it. Many Singaporean, myself included, suffer from the "heaviness of being successful" indeed. Perhaps it is the way the Singaporean social society is setup, perhaps it is the lack of social security here or perhaps it is the suffocating costs of goods and services in Singapore. Whatever the reason, the "lightness of being a beginner again" seems like a forlorn ambition that adult Singaporeans can only dream to have but unfit to pursue. A lot of Singaporeans do not love what they do and in the rare instance that one has found what they love, Singaporeans are pre-disposed to discard that love and settle for a lesser, albeit more practical, alternative.

Episode 3 – Death

Job's recent health problems made the headlines and in the absence of Apple's charismatic leader, the shares plummeted. Jobs puts it very eloquently in his speech, "…..for the past 33 years, every morning I look myself in the mirror and asked myself 'If today was the last day of my life, would I do what I am about to do today?' and whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something…..". In the initial prognosis of his pancreatic cancer, his doctor told him that he had less than 6 months to live and advised him to make preparations for his impending death. Later it turned out that his cancer was actually not fatal and Apple today still enjoys the impeccable wisdom and guidance of its founder. Death, according to him, was the most effective tool to help him make the big choices in life, the best way to avoid the trap of thinking that one has too much to lose. "…..Death is the best invention of life, it clears away the old and introduces the new…..Death is the common destination for all of us…..your life is limited, don't spend your time living someone else's life…..".

This is a simple yet profound truth behind the meaning of our very existence. Our jobs, the money we have in the bank, the number of properties or cars we own etc., all of these things are accessories to a meaning and fulfilling existence. They are only material things, dead unloving possessions. They should rightly be secondary to the primary aim, which is to live a full and rewarding life. Instead, more and more, life itself takes a backseat to the pursuit of these material things. Somehow for many people, they have changed to become slaves to the very objects that they ought to master, as they are nothing but tools to help achieve a higher, ultimate aim. Do we have to be at our deathbeds, tethering on the brink of life, before we fully grasp what it means to be living and appreciate what we really should be living for?

In the near future, I hope to be embarking on my adventure for a more meaningful existence. Things will be tough and I will have doubts about the "things" I am giving up to follow my heart and intuition. When I do, I hope I will always remember this speech by Jobs and these poetic words from the Whole Earth Catalogue, "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish". I rather be hungry but foolish then to settle for a less inspired and mediocre existence instead.

Pls enjoy the original speech by Jobs.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009


While reading one of my favorite local blogs regarding an emerging social class in Singapore, termed by the media as an "ultra-underclass", I was very irritated by a comment left on the blog by a reader that do not even have the courage or decency to leave his/her name after the comment. In that comment, the reader wrote "without PAP, we will be fishing at the kampung and dying from cholera. ;)".

It is sheer propaganda that without the hegemony of the PAP government, Singapore will be reduced to an equivalent of the Malay fishing village 50 years ago. We should remember to give credence and gratitude to a government that did achieve remarkable feats with a pea-sized island with no resources except its people. However to infinitely extend that same respect and thanks we owe to the incumbent government, into pure awe and ultimate fear of the PAP reeks of mindless worship.

Singapore has its strengths and flaws. We do not live in a Malay village any longer. If Singapore is indeed the progressive and democratic state that she professes to be, then let there be open discussion and debate on the flaws that Singapore has, instead of reiterating only the good in our national press. If Singapore cannot achieve these basic human rights of freedom of speech and expression, then let the government be upfront about Singapore's inadequacy and confess that dirty linen such as this emerging "ultra-underclass" is an inevitable product of our national policies. Simply sweeping these politically-incorrect issues under the rug or papering it over with meaningless reports of rising GDP is pure hypocrisy.

I hope sincerely in my heart that the civil society in Singapore can emerge from the shadow of our pervasive government control but I can understand if the ruling class does not agree with my suggestion. Just be truthful and not be hypocritical about it. I think we deserve at least that decency.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thou shall not kill – a logical argument

Firstly I apologize for an extended time away from my blog. I just can’t seem to find the passion or conviction to put my thoughts in words. Anyway, here is my latest attempt.

The impending execution of drug trafficker Yong Vui Kong made the headlines in the papers today. His lawyers are challenging the validity of the conviction, insisting that Yong was not fully aware of drugs he was carrying when police apprehended him at the checkpoints. Yong claimed that he was only following instructions from his employer, helping to deliver "presents" to Singapore. Human rights campaigners all over the world rallied to the cause of the convicted man and accused Singapore’s government of double-standards, citing her “hypocritical” approach of executing traffickers on one hand and discreetly liaising with well-known drug lords on the other.

I am a proponent of Singapore’s tough drug laws. I believe the harsh legislation against drug crimes of any sort is a main reason to Singapore’s reputation as a drug-free state. However, I think the implementation of the death penalty goes beyond the mere function of prevention and deterrence against the dangers of illegal drugs. Sadly I think capital punishment is a by-product of the typical Singaporean attitude to conform to existing norms and resist deviation from traditional practices, as well as the ruling classes’ insensitivity and intolerance to the less fortunate populace. Sensibility, compassion or rationality count for little in this issue. Let me explain.

In my opinion, the penal code serves 2 primary social functions. The first is to protect the general society from probable future harm by segregating the likely offenders through imprisonment. The prerequisite of identification of such probable offenders is through their track record of lawful civilian behavior. Therefore we jail individuals that break the law, for a certain length of time, until the probability of these people harming society becomes unlikely. Repeat offenders get longer and longer sentences as statistically, they are more likely to harm society if they are not confined within the prison system and more time is needed to reduce that likelihood, either through rehabilitation or otherwise, before any release should be considered. The enforcement of tough laws against drug crimes from this perspective is therefore logically valid and convincing as we know the extremely harmful effects drugs have on individuals, family and ultimately the society.

The second primary function is that of deterrence. The death penalty was implemented ages ago to combat Singapore’s then rampant drug problems. The idea is to implement extreme tough punitive measures to deter individuals from such crimes. However with the passage of time and consequent progress of society worldwide, the castigatory divide between life imprisonment and the death penalty begins to narrow. Increasingly in a world where freedom is paramount and hope springs eternal, the prospect of spending the rest of your life behind bars is not significantly different from that of a death sentence. A potential trafficker would not view life imprisonment as a significantly more attractive alternative to a death sentence. As such, the death sentence starts to lose its validity as the ultimate deterrence mechanism when there is the alternative of life imprisonment.

As the logic of implementing the death sentence fails, the reasons for its abolishment gains credence. There are a couple of reasons for it. Firstly, proponents for capital punishment increasingly look like the bloodthirsty vindictive kind that desires vengeance instead of justice. Life imprisonment serves the 2 main functions to society just as effectively as the capital punishment, with the only difference being a lack of the element of retribution. The government, being a secular guardian of our society’s well-being and enforcer of our impartial judiciary system should rightly only consider the 2 factors I outlined above, instead of seeking retribution in the pretext of maintaining justice. Secondly, the capital punishment is a permanent chastisement with no future means of repeal. In the event that an individual is wrongly convicted of drug trafficking, the capital punishment is the most cruel and un-constitutional form of torture that is ironically endorsed by the weight of our judicial system. On the basis of compassion, justice and basic human decency, we need to at all cost preserve the sanctity and sacredness of human life and the abolishment of capital punishment is a good place to start.

In a land where we have multi-millionaire politicians and sky-rocketing public housing, costs of maintenance of human life within a state-funded prison system, cannot and should never be the principal factor determining the right of individuals to live. I am not a Christian but I can the validity of what the Bible preaches when it tells us that “thou shall not kill”. Because at the end of the day, we do not want blood, innocent or not, on our hands, particularly when we have a better and more logical alternative.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Singapore Chocolate Factory

The National Integration Council announced plans for a $10m fund to facilitate efforts to help new immigrants integrate into the local community. The $10m fund can be used for co-funding of projects by private and public organizations or societies that promote social cohesion amongst citizens and new immigrants. In true Singapore fashion, the government wasted no time in packaging this initiative into a national media campaign and solicited the artistic community to lend a helping hand. Unexpectedly, the arts fraternity declined to take up the offer. The reasons given by the leaders of the community for declining the government's offer include the reluctance by the artists to engage in propaganda art as well as the basic difference in opinion for fostering social integration in Singapore. Many in the arts circle feel that the government's approach to try to create a common identity and culture amongst different community groups is the opposite of their vision of a celebration of diversity and promotion of healthy interaction and dialogue amongst the different groups. The artists' deliberate dissociation with the campaign seemed to me to be of an ideological and technical nature. For someone with little or no artistic talent or inclination, my concerns are much more prosaic and ordinary.

Let me begin with a story.

There is a factory that produces chocolates for sale. There are 20 bakers working in the factory and a manager to keep things running smoothly. Work is hot and stuffy but there is a big fan to keep things bearable and the bakers are satisfied with their jobs. As the factory is working well, orders for its chocolates started pouring in and the manager realizes that 20 bakers may not be enough to meet the orders. He wants to produce the numbers to present to higher management but is also worried about rising costs if he implements overtime pay for his bakers. He then sees some gardeners working outside the factory. He figures that chocolate-making isn't really a difficult art anyway and decides to employ the gardeners to be his new bakers. The gardeners, due to their inexperience, were much cheaper than the experienced bakers but they didn't mind since baking beats gardening anytime anyway. The manager got to meet his production numbers while keeping costs low. However, with the addition of the new bakers, the factory was getting more crowded and hotter and the bakers started complaining. The manager had to turn up the fan to its maximum speed to keep the temperature and tempers down. Some bakers warned that the fan was never meant to be operated at that speed for a prolonged period of time but the manager didn't listen. True enough, the fan soon broke down and the workers had to pool together a big sum of money out of their meagre pay to get the fan fixed since it is essential for their daily work. The manager did not contribute since he did not work directly with the bakers but spent most of his time in his air-conditioned office. He reminded the bakers that the fan was a luxury provided by the factory which should not be taken for granted and thus the factory should not be held liable for its repairs. The fan was nevertheless repaired with the bakers' money and the orders were met on time. For his leadership, the manager was awarded with an extra month of salary. Using the spare change from this his bonus, the manager bought a packet of sweets to be shared amongst his bakers for a job well done and encouraged them to take 5 minutes off to get to know each other better before starting work on the new orders.

Can anyone identify with the bakers in the story above? While $10m does sound like a lot of money, I consider this sum of money to be only the explicit cost of social integration of the new immigrants in Singapore. The implicit costs are way higher and I believe that the local populace, rather than the government, bears the bulk of this unintended burden. I feel that the roots of dissatisfaction of the local population with the new immigrants do not primarily lie in the cultural or racial differences. There will be undoubtedly small amounts of conflict arising from the differences in culture, race, language and religion between the local population and the new immigrants. Every now and then we will still have the minor disagreements with our neighbors and friends, regardless of their race, religion, sex or age. We have always been able to resolve these differences and I believe we will continue to do so if the differences are of this benign nature. The widespread discontent with new immigrants, spreading like wild fire within the media and cyberspace, is due to matters much more tangible and realistic; that of property, jobs and quality of life.

The effects that the influx of immigrants has had on property and jobs have been widely discussed. The strain the increasing population places on our transportation system is another no brainer which I do not wish to elaborate. What cannot be denied is that in more ways than one, the influx of immigrants does not seem to have caused a positive change in the lives of the majority of Singaporeans. In fact many will argue it is quite the opposite. The root causes of the social unrest remains unresolved. Furthermore these causes seems unlikely to be ratified any time soon. No amount of advertisements and posters protraying neighbours holding hands, exercising together or any other imagery of inter-racial harmony will change that. Some will argue that some improvement, no matter how insignificant and irrelevant, is still better than no improvement at all and I have to agree with that. One sweet is better than no sweets at all right? Years after the "Speak Good English" campaign, we still have a certain Miss Ris Low appearing on national TV to "boomz" the audience. This social integration effort by the council will follow a similar fate. Singaporeans will remember the campaign slogan, perhaps the campaign mascot as well. But the real healer to the social pains we are experiencing now will not be due to this initiative of the council. Instead it will be the uncanny ability of Singaporeans to endure, rationalize then accept the status quo. That is the true Singaporean virtue and that is how the immigrants will be accepted and integrated into Singapore.

But just take a moment to consider. If Singapore is indeed like a chocolate factory, are common Singaporean like the bakers? If the bakers paid for a fan they did not break, are Singaporeans paying for the effects of asset inflation and crushing debts which they were not responsible for? If the cheap sweets were scant consolation to the bakers, would a $10m sweetener from a multi-billion GDP (thus bonus) windfall make any difference to the common Singaporeans? We need to ask ourselves if the common Singaporean is indeed a baker and if benefits for the factory equates just rewards for the bakers. What is the rationale in what we are doing as a country and can there be a better way out? There are the questions we need to ask ourselves if we do not want to end up like a typical baker in the Singapore Chocolate Factory.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Deceptive Statistics

In a review article in the Straits Times last Saturday, a certain Professor Ivan Png argued that the “foreign worker buffer” was working as intended. Prime Minister Lee had also reiterated this in his speech to NTU students in his forum (see above) in NTU. Similar as the two views may seem to be, they were in fact different and I will explain why.

Many have assumed that Prof Png’s article was just another unmitigated attempt by the media to drum up support for the government’s labor policies. Actually I think that is not the case here. The professor’s article was a simplified version of a more technical consideration. Like all scholars, his view is that of an unbiased nature, stating the facts as what it is. There is no moral right or wrong in argument, instead it is simply a matter of facts and accuracy. Using foreign labor as a buffering mechanism to prop up the unemployment figures is an established method utilized by many governments to “enhance” that statistic. Singapore is not alone in doing so. The only difference is that perhaps only in Singapore, the touch-up work done to the unemployment statistic was not shamefully grossed over in the media but printed in bold as if to represent some kind of righteous justification. Let me illustrate with a simple example.

Take for example there are 7 unemployed Singaporeans for every 100 Singaporeans. That is 7% unemployment. Say we are in good times and the industries need to recruit 8 of every 100 people more. Because we only have 5 suitable local workers for this employment, we need to import 3 foreign workers. The unemployment ratio would have dropped from 7% to 1.9% (2/103). If there wasn’t foreign workers import, the unemployment rate would be 2%. Therefore in a booming economy, foreign labor help reduce the unemployment rate more quickly. Now, say the economy turned southwards and the industries are laying off 4 of every 100 people which we can reasonably assume will be 50% local Singaporeans and 50% foreigners. The unemployment ratio would have risen from 1.9% to 4% (4/100). Without foreign workers, the unemployment rate would be 6%. The foreign workers would have returned back to their country and do not contribute to the ratio’s denominator here. Therefore in a lagging economy, foreign labor help cushion the rise in unemployment rate.

This is the “buffer” effect the professor was talking about in his article. Whether such mechanism does indeed benefit the host country as a whole is debatable and personally I think it is nothing but a statistical disguise. But its efficacy of suppressing the unemployment rate cannot be denied.

Now, once we understand how this buffering mechanism is supposed to work, we must then think deeper into its exact usefulness and relevance to the country and its citizens. As seen from the simple example above, regardless of the overall unemployment figure, the number of Singaporeans employed during good times and laid off during bad times remains constant. If that is the case, the unemployment figure is but another test score on our government’s report card which it will use to pat itself on it pat for a job “well done”. The statistic means little if it doesn’t translate into actual effects for the people of Singapore.

More and more, national statistics are like playthings of the rich and powerful, used to justify the whims and fancies of the decision-makers. We have politicians that use statistical cosmetic surgery as an advertisement for the government’s labor policies instead of being red-faced and embarrassed for data manipulation. Either they do not understand what they are saying or they think we don’t. With a majority of the local population that takes every at face value and forgets to read between the lines after glancing through the headlines, such nonsensical and erroneous usage of statistics will continue to be tolerated and increasingly, accepted as the biblical truth. The people who blasted Prof Png’s article as well as the people praising the labor policies of our government are but 2 sides of the same coin, people deceived by the deceptiveness of local national statistics.


Thursday, September 17, 2009


French president Nicolas Sarkozy had announced a revolutionary plan to include joy and well-being of his people as 2 of the key indicators of growth, in addition to traditional yardsticks like GDP. Together with Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz (2001, economics) and Armatya Sen (1998, economics), Sarkozy proposed that statistics on work-life balance, recycling, household chores and even levels of traffic congestion be taken into consideration when assessing the new indicators of growth.

France is the first amongst the developed world to adopt such a policy of economic measurement. Currently, only the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan puts happiness and well-being at the heart of the government’s policy. In Bhutan, before any major fiscal or economic policies are implemented, the government must convene to evaluate how such new proposals will impact the country’s “Gross National Happiness” (I am not joking; this is an official statistic in this little enlightened nation). Sarkozy is going to present his plan in the next United Nations meeting.

Naturally, I started to compare France to Singapore upon hearing this piece of news. France’s official working week is 35 hours long and that is strictly enforced through the French employment law. Singapore’s working week is 45 hours or more with little or no avenue for recourse. Yet it is the French who are proposing to put more emphasis on the quality of life. The irony of it all makes me cringe. However I do think this is a very enlightened move by the sometimes controversial French president and the rest of the world’s leaders should take heed in this matter. Singapore, like many other countries, employs the increasingly irrelevant statistic of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the main measurement of progress. I am not talking simply about economic progress as many governments, including ours, have irrationally extended GDP improvement to imply overall improvement in the lives of its citizens. There has long been other statistics like the GINI index proposed to complement GDP figure but thus far, none of the leaders are listening. I suspect none of the leaders wanted to start appearing inept if they are re-evaluated on a more comprehensive basis. Most of them had gotten straight A’s for their governance through the GDP measurement and subsequently reaping the rewards of it. No one is about to give that up and stop the party.

Singapore, to me, is more of a corporation then a democracy. Like any big corporation, Singapore naturally seeks the simplest and most efficient way to move forward. More sophisticated and intricate mechanisms are often discarded in favor of simple, direct methods which the leaders (in their ivory towers) can quickly see and easily understand. However, a country should not be run like a profit-seeking machine. Its people should never be treated like mere employees, much less a good or commodity, like instruments the company uses to realize its profit ambitions before discarding after use. In a true democracy, which many of today’s countries profess to be, the power of the people, instead of the government, should be absolute. The people will in turn exercise and express that power through the democratic processes of elections and protests. The resources of a nation should naturally be employed in benefit of its citizens instead of being locked up in chains behind opaque governmental institutions where it makes little or no difference to the everyday man. In Singapore and many other countries, how many people will say that true democracy exists or that government policies are driven primarily for the benefit of the common people, rather than the leaders?

The French invented many wonderful things. Amongst many things, they gave the world the croissant, the 2-piece bikini, the modern cinematography and the french kiss. President Sarkozy’s proposal may turn out to be the next gem. I am not sure if the French president’s commitment to improving the quality of life of his people can help bring about a fundamental shift from the failings of today’s “GDP-centric” governments. But anyhow, I would like to say a big “Merci” to Monsieur Sarkozy for at least trying to make a difference.