Friday, December 23, 2011

Hard Time reviewing the Hard Truths.

Even though I have read it twice and made notes all over the place, I had a hard time trying to write a review on this. Maybe because the topics covered were rather wide ranging. 

However, it is a good easy read in sense because it is arranged into question and answer manner. Therefore, you can read it and drop off without being lost.  Each chapter, the authors actually summaries the questions and answers very well.

Growth for people? People for growth?

As asked by Economics professor, Linda Lim.

The general impression that still leaves me unsatisfied is really whether we can go for an economy model, a style of living that is like the Scandinavian countries?  Sad to say, I don't really think that MM Lee thoroughly answered that.

Why do we have to grow so fast now, inviting so many foreign talents?  Because “if we don't take this chance to grow right now while our neighbours like China and India are growing, we are stupid” -  to answer it in his words.

However, it still doesn't answer the key question – why do we need to grow? And fast? 

It seems that is really about the vulnerability of the nation - an inescapable, permanent condition of the Singapore as an independent republic as listed on page 17.  We need strong financial power to be free.

This freedom from being bullied by our nations is underscored by our dependence on Malaysia on water and even sand for construction, and the massive amount of money put into defence. As long as the country experiences growth, it will have the resources to take care of any social issues.

Therefore, we grow and fast so that we can have money – money allows us to do many things that we don’t possess and give us a sense of security.  Because, in lee's word, “Singapore is a chronometer. We may never get a second chance if Singapore breaks”.

Page 57. What keep Singapore together? Economic necessity of peace and stability and growth.

But really, all these don’t mean anything to me as an individual? I think Singaporeans are really feeling this disconnection as the country gets more and more congested.

Pg 296 - In 1970, of a 2 million pop, only 2. 9 % were non-residents. By 2009, with a population of 4.99 million people, 36 % was PRs and non-residents.

When asked on Pg 112, why are other countries with small populations such as Denmark and Norway, able to support competitive, multi- party politics?  

His Answer: If you believe that we're just like Norway or Sweden or Denmark, then I think we won't survive. We are not. Denmark and Sweden can get by with mediocre government, Singapore cannot. It will sink.

That’s the thing. I can agree that due to Singapore’s vulnerability, we need to keep growing.  However I don’t think I am satisfied with the answer of why we can’t go the Scandinavian countries way of placing equality over growth, sacrificing some economic growth to level up the society. 

Then again, I am one of the spoilt younger generation – taking Singapore’s growth for granted.

Pg 70 – “People take what they have as a new base. “
 I see just want a clean, incorruptible government. But how deep it is as Lee says, Americans went to 2 world wars.  First World War – backs were carriers of ammo. Second war, they fought together .but when they came back, the blacks when back to the slums, whites the suburbs.

Thus we cannot take Singapore’s success for granted.

Genetics, social welfare and homosexuality:

I find his entire pragmatic approach attractive mainly because I am also very pragmatic.   However, I have to say that it is not sexy and does not inspire.  Still, it is interesting to read how learned MM Lee is in evolutionary biology.  In essence, pragmatism, hard evolutionary biology science and real world experiences shaped his views and policies.

Pg 50 – His Fundamental belief is that no matter what is one's background, one should have enough to make sure that you are not stunted and you can perform and achieve your best.

Pg 186 -  
Human beings are born unequal, and no amount of social engineering can significantly alter one's lots in life.  The solution is to create the condition for the ablest to go as far as possible and create the surpluses that can be redistributed.

Pg 187 –
In his own admission, Lee was also attracted to the ideal of an equal, just and fair society. But once in office, he sees the performances of various races. Since 1959, Lee learnt fast that talk of an equal society and distributing it was empty talk unless there was income to redistribute. It was more important to create wealth and worry later how to redistribute it.

Pg 212 –
We work towards equal opportunities in life not equal results.

Lee’s genetics view work for and against the idealist. Often most idealists will disagree that people are born different but the same genetic views of MM Lee support homosexuality.

In summary: “Grow not equalise.”

Pg 304:

Lee's geopolitical views were driven by his beliefs that genes shape human behaviours.

2 core convictions: relations among individuals, groups are determined by genetic factors.  Hence we tend to help those that are most similar to ourselves genetically.

Politics and the general population

Page 68 – society is such that interest of the upper middle class will be divergent, and they don't think they should subsidise the lower classes. There will then be divergence.  Politics is always holding the middle ground for most votes.

Page 174:
“Chaps at the bottom are going to be unhappy? Well we are watching the median upwards. That's politics”

Ministerial pay and elitism:

Pg 122 –
Question: Aren't you concerned that your ministerial pay polices remain deeply unpopular?

On this issue, I agree that we have to be practical and pay the minsters well.  Bob Rubin, Hank Paulson, Larry Summers. All were mentioned in the Inside Job. Half a term, one and half term etc and according to the “Inside Job”, they all manipulate the financial system and regulations to benefit themselves later. Paul Vocker is an unusual man and was the only Chairman of the Federal Reserve or top US financial government official that granted an interview in the Inside Job.

He goes on to quantify that once quality at the very core goes down, in all subsidiary organisations, quality will go down. No man can judge a man accurately if that latter person is superior to him.

MM Lee says that it is the people's expectation – Office is for honour. I think yes, they are compensated in some other manner – not all CEO will have the general public giving eulogy when they pass away but as a minister, you will have some form of spiritual compensation. So pay the minister well, but still give them a discount of the best paid people, afterall they are still compensated in the form of public respect.

Pg 104 – Writer Catherine Lim recounted her experiences with Western audience thus: “ A forum, a British Businessman said give us your Lee Kuan Yew, we will give you our Tony Blair and throw in Cherie Blair as well. “

Page 87 – The western media believes theirs is acme of perfection and that anything that deviates and is successful must be knocked down. If we are not successful, why would they bother to attack us?

Lee has no patience for the litany for the criticism of elitist leadership. PAP leadership selection model is no a hypocritical system that pays lip system to being egalitarian. Reality is as society becomes developed, leaders often come from the same social circles, educational background.  Oxbridge graduates stock Whitehall in United Kingdom. In China, second generation are relatives and acquaintances of country founding father.
Sad but true.

Opposition and democracy:

Pg 45 – It is true. “Contrary to what the critics claim, the opposition's main problem has nothing to do with the state of civil liberties. It is that the PAP has left no stone unturned.

Pg 46 - “Only one virtue in democracy – it allows governments to be thrown out without violence.” Same as what 易中天 says in “帝国的终结

Pg 82 – What political party helps an opposition party to come into power? Why should we not demolish them before they can get started. If you are polite to me, I will be polite to you. But I will demolish your policy.

Pg 61 – PAP does only one tenth the gerrymandering in elections.

Climate Change and the Environment:

Pg 336:

Lee is a complete realist when it comes to Global warming. He accepts that rising CO2 will cause sea levels to rise.

But he does not believe that self- interested nation- states can get together to agree to binding cuts in emissions.


There is no perfect system. As a while, the human race is trying to still trying to find the perfect form of government. Afterall, the poster child of perfect government - United States, has appeared to be incapable of effective long-term government.

But if don't help me to see the benefit for myself, I don't see a reason to slough it out.

In the older days, the world probably needed more authoritarian government because information can't flow as fast.  As technology advances with Twitter and Facebook, we see the Arab Spring. Now technology will enable us to engage more, to create more buy in.

Of course, I may just be at the bottom rung of society and hence I feel the need for consultation. However, it is true, when there is more buy in, there is more commitment. And as the TED talk (Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies) shows, the more equal the country is, the happier the people are.

The ultimate question or balance in the end is this: are we a nation judge that ensuring our security through economic success is more important than everything else.

Another must read: pg. 360 – Singapore for Lee was a conscious choice – the rest of us, who were born here just had to live with it. 

Singapore was a near miracle, an accident of history. “When you come in, you are joining an exceptionally outstanding organisation. It is not an ordinary organization that created this.. It came about by an stroke of luck, if you like, plus hard work, plus an imaginative team, original team. “


Pg 409 – MM Lee encourages the teaching of mediation in schools. Same as Singapore Google dude.

Page 84 – in 1974 management shares were created of the press holdings and given to the local banks. Banks are politically neutral and interested in stability.

On Malaysia:

Pg 30 – This is how rational and pragmatic countries operate. We don't have to love each other to work with each other. A convergence of interests does not erase emotions but can temper them.

Singapore stood for all those that Malaysia chose not to become – meritocracy, multiracisim and protection of minorities.

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