berthahenson

Swinging the other way

In News Reports, Politics, Society on October 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm

ST had an interesting column today on the three missed opportunities in the population debate. The three:
a) No one wants to talk too much about the plight of SMEs who suffer a shortage of manpower especially with the squeeze on foreign workers. Many want to re-locate.
b) Not many want to assert the old Singapore must be No.1 maxim, going for break neck economic growth to outpace competitors. Even past advocates now sing a different tune.
c) Not many, including new immigrants, want to talk about the benefits of having foreigners in this country.
It’s so strange. It used to be that speaking for fewer foreign workers was anathema given that going for slower growth was taboo. Making noises about immigrant influx was likely to be countered heavily too. The counters came from officialdom and ministers. That being the case, what they said carried weight. I reckon people decided that it was better to keep quiet than to think carefully about whether their words had “holes’’ which should be pointed out and debated. The “robust’’ response that is the habit of the G achieved its objective of keeping people in line. Now the opposite is true. We’re hearing more of the other side of the conversation. It’s a pity because some arguments – maybe not all – for the “old ways’’ could still valid. It’s just now politically unpopular to say that we need more foreign workers, more immigrants and should grow as fast as we can. Does anyone want to risk being flamed?
I am not in favour of more immigrants and would not mind sacrificing a percentage point or so in growth to achieve social harmony. But then again, I hope I am not so obtuse as to close my ears to countervailing points and arguments. The pendulum cannot swing so far the other way. That’s no way to conduct a reasoned debate. If there’s one thing the Singapore conversation should be clear about, it is to ensure that even unpopular views (by that, I mean the G’s point of view, I’m afraid) should surface. Sometimes, I find that the “defending’’ is all being done by the G and those who repeat or espouse the views are immediately labelled lackeys. Speaking for the establishment is not trendy.
It might be worth asking how it’s come to this point. I would suggest that it’s all due to what I described earlier as the habit of robust response that the G is so proud to proclaim. With its superior intellect, extensive information and multiple platforms, when it talks, it outshouts all others. That’s the trouble with a strong G; even clever people are in awe. And those who are not clever but think they have a legitimate grievance don’t have the words or the information to argue a point. They know getting emotional is irrational. And no one wants to lose face. This is too small a country to find a private place to lick your wounds after being lambasted or even gently chided. We are so thin-skinned.
I don’t know what the Singapore Conversation is suppose to achieve given its current unstructured format. From what the G has let fall, maybe we shouldn’t set our expectations too high. Maybe it’s just an ideal we are reaching for rather than concrete policies. Like achieving 6 million people in Year X. In this case, what is the Singapore Conversation suppose to achieve in Year X, whatever that might be?

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  1. 1. Notwithstanding that Singaporeans aren’t really against foreign workers who take up dirty shops that Singaporean shun, I’d like to say:

    Why do we want so many SME’s? If SME’s are so reliant on low-cost foreign labour, it means they aren’t competitive, they aren’t productive, they’re living on very thin profit margins.

    If they could redesign their jobs to be more productive, hire one Singaporean instead of two foreign workers, wouldn’t that be ideal?

    On the other hand, if they cannot do so, and they relocate or close shop, ie they exit the market, the remaining companies can get better economies of scale, isn’t that ok too?

    The point is, they’ve been living on cheap labour for far too long. Like a drug addict, it’s hard to imagine life without cocaine. But drugs have their side effects, and in our case, citizens have determined that the side effects, in terms of the squeeze in Singapore, are too much for their liking.

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