Go with a smile!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Lee Kuan Yew's Not Good 1980s

The 80s were not a great period for Lee Kuan Yew. Most of his mistakes were made during the 80s.

1. Closure of Nantah. Nobody could have predicted that today, 35 years down the road, China would be poised for world domination. But cutting off that channel to Chinese culture, to our fellow SE Asian Chinese, to the mainland is just plain stupid. Pissing off a significant proportion of the Singaporean Chinese is just plain stupid.
2. Speak Mandarin campaign. OK, this was in 1979. This may have been in anticipation of the rise of China. (Which made it curious that Nantah was closed around the same time, and most likely this was more political than for Singapore's good.) This cut off some of our ties from the past, and I'm still pretty pissed off about it up til today.
3. Special Assistance Plan. This was a push to get people who excelled in both Chinese and English to succeed in the school system. Well and good. But how come there wasn't an equivalent scheme for the Malays and Indians? Yes, you had advanced Malay, advanced Tamil. That was it.
4. Dealing with Devan Nair. Devan Nair should never have taken the presidency, because that opened the door for JBJ to enter parliament. But once he was in the Istana, they should have tried to ease him out in a better way than trying to drug him and discredit him as an alcoholic was simply buffoonish.
5. Elected presidency. Making the presidency an elected one has repercussions that extend all the way until today.
6. Operation Spectrum. 'nuff said.
7. Asset enhancement. This opened the door to the property price bubble that carries on until today.
8. Designating his son an eventual successor. Lee Hsien Loong is not a terrible prime minister, but there may have been better candidates, although we'd never know. Sometimes I think about what it might have been like if it were George Yeo or Tharman Shanmugaratnam being the PM instead of him. Then again, I'd take him over Teo Chee Hean anytime.
9. Productivity movement. It wasn't successful. Possibly because we didn't push on technology hard enough. Possibly because we weren't allowing people from outside of the system to succeed.
10. Graduate mother's scheme. This may have started the reintroduction of the class system into Singapore.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You write very well and are really incisive. Can you write about what happened to George Yeo and Tharman?

7:05 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

I don't have a very good idea about what happened about George Yeo. I'm observing from far away. In Aljunied, there was a big gamble, and it failed. In 2011, it was clear to everybody that - because of what previously happened to Eunos and Cheng San - Aljunied was the GRC where the PAP's hold on power was its weakest. The PAP had 2 options. One of them was to just give it up, and put in relatively junior people. The other was to shore up the defence and put all your good guys into Aljunied. Looking back, they put all their good guys into Aljunied. George Yeo, Lim Hwee Hwa, Ong Ye Kung and Zainal Abidin Rashid. And it was a gamble that they lost badly, and they lost 3 ministers and 1 speaker.

Then on nomination day, Low Thia Khiang took the bold but risky move of moving from Hougang to Aljunied. To see why it was risky, think about what would have happened if they lost Aljunied. Then Yaw Shin Leong would have been the only opposition MP in Singapore. And we know what happened to him afterwards. The WP might have been forced to fire him and probably Png Eng Huat would still have won but it'd have been pretty weird.

Maybe George Yeo was put in that position because he's the guy that everybody likes but not necessarily the one you want in your cabinet? It's funny that he's an old friend of Teo Chee Hean, because I can't think of anybody else in the cabinet who's less like him.

Regarding Tharman Shanmugaratnam, I'll just repeat what the PAP said: he was not the cabinet's favourite candidate. Lee Kuan Yew was instrumental in planning for the future prime ministers. Perhaps that was in line with his philosophy of keeping his family in the center of political power in Singapore. For whatever reason, Lee Hsien Loong is less keen on that. The real story of Oxleygate is that the Lee dynasty is over, and that's a little eerie because the predictable politics of Singapore is over.

There are 3 things that count against Tharman: first, he is Indian. Second, his politics don't gel well with the rest of the cabinet, and third, he's not that much younger than Lee Hsien Loong.

2:34 AM


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How Society Falls Apart

The rapper KRS-ONE's name stands for "knowledge reigns supreme over nearly everyone". It is one of the tenets of the enlightenment that knowledge will win out in the end, that people will discuss the issues of the world and agree on the best path to take. But the enlightenment is breaking down.

Consider the biggest challenges of our day and age:
1. Climate Change
2. Economic Inequality
3. Rise of the Machines
4. Political deadlock
5. Withering away of liberal democracy
6. Fragmentation of society into tribes squabbling with each other / tribalism disguised as identity politics.

None of these problems can be phrased in black and white terms. None of these problems have the same moral clarity as what we had in the Great Depression or WW2 ("Hitler is Evil, Imperial Japan is evil, end of story").

For every one of those problems I've listed above, there are sufficient people out there who deny that this is a problem. There used to be gatekeepers of information who ensured that the general public were fed real facts. These institutions are crumbling. Even the Singapore govt who used to exercise such tight control over print media has decided to downsize.

People are fed lies and smears on a regular basis. We saw voters go to the polls to dismantle the EU. We saw how Hillary was maligned to the extent that a business-as-usual the-devil-you-know candidate lost to an orange freak show. Old systems that are tried and tested are dismantled rapidly and replaced with Frankenstein entities. There is a consensus emerging that destruction is almost always better than preserving that which is flawed and imperfect.

Trump is polarising debate within America to an unprecedented degree. He'll do something stupid or crazy in the press. Then obviously his detractors will say that some old norm has been breached. And his defenders will come out in droves and get even more convinced that there is a vast conspiracy that is rigged against them. Both sides increasingly see each other as a foe to be vanquished by fair means or foul.

People think that they are engaging in passionate debate, but what's going on is a gladiatorial hate fest, something akin to a football match, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. People turning up for entertainment, turning up to vent their emotions, but almost never getting anything done. Fan clubs for the young and energetic to spin their wheels until they become old and spent, all the while preserving the incumbent power structures.

We used to have institutions. Even as we reviled the Big Evil Behemoths of the Fortune 500, they were in a way a reassuring presence. If only due to their longevity, they made the world we lived in predictable and manageable. Now, they're being disrupted left, right and center. Now, they're gone. Hanjin is gone. Toshiba is gone. Sharp is gone. Sony is gone. Olympus is gone. The Big Three automobiles will still be around, but it's hard to see how they're going to survive if and when the self-driving car gets onto the road. Coca Cola and McDonald's are no longer the movers and shakers of the corporate world that they used to be. They're stagnant. They could go the way of Sears and Toys r Us.

Interesting times.