Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Thoughts on being a father a second time.
Last night, my son Durendal Ng Mun Khoi, was born. It was a happy day for me and my missus and right now, mother and son are doing well.
There is some excitement over why I chose such a strange name for my son. Durendal from what I gathered from the web is also a card in some collectible card game. If it is spelled Durandal, it's the name of a kind of bomb which is used to penetrate airport runways. So on first inspection, it's quite a ferocious name.
For our case, Durendal is named after a holy sword wielded by an Ancient Frankish knight called Roland who served as one of the paladins under Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor and the founder of Carolingian empire in Western Europe. If you play a lot of RPGs, this is the origin of the Paladin class.
But more importantly, embedded in my son's name is the french verb "durer" which is "to endure" or "to last".
Most fathers can write about their hopes and dreams of their newborn son and how optimistic they are about the future. I have decided to take the opposite stance and share with readers the doubts I have about Singapore society that Durendal and his elder sister Clio ( who is named after the Muse of History ) would have to navigate in the future.
Naturally as a father, I will do everything in my power to help them thrive, but I doubt that the world that Durendal and Clio will live in would be better than ours.
The future of Singapore may not be lived by its citizens, it may have to be endured.
a) Children always revert to the mean through generations
Without even seeing my kids in school, I can sort of predict my children's IQ.
If a solid lawyer-doctor couple with 150 IQ each. Their kid's average IQ would not be 150 but 125 - The mean of father and mother's IQ then averaged against 100. That's why you may hear of ministers being somewhat disappointed with their progeny. It's actually built into our genetic code. Things always revert to the mean. Without even taking an IQ test, parents are better off assuming that their children are average and start planning for it.
And as it turns out, thing don't look bright for average Singaporeans.
b) Average is Over - Actually being average downright sucks !
I used to write about the three kinds of work following the ideas developed by Robert Reich over 10 years ago. Manufacturing, Service-oriented and Symbolic analytical work. Things will shift even more dramatically against manufacturing in the future. And services jobs are being automated even faster - we are not even sure if taxi drivers would even exist in 20 years time with driverless cars being tested right now. Worse, symbolic analysts are losing their jobs at a rapid rate because of huge paradigm shifts and the rise of artificial intelligence. Server support administrators used to be able to support 16 machines per head count with solid pay. These days, thousands of clustered virtual machines can run a business conglomerate in a cloud.
As of now, the sexiest jobs go to those who manipulate machines to manipulate symbols. Being a strong programmer is not enough, you need solid statistical skills and enough domain knowledge to solve business problems in your industry. Look at what Fintech is doing to our banks. It's only a matter of time that someone comes up with some sort of Lawtech to disrupt the legal industry ( and if no one does, I am going to just do it myself. )
Perhaps only 1% of the human population can do the work required to manipulate these machines because they require so much logical and mathematical proficiency. After that, in order to succeed in solving a useful problem they must also achieve mastery in a business domain. Then you have to manage the different specialists at both ends, programmers and salesmen to accomplish your vision.
The average Singaporean cannot do this.
c) Educational pathway for the average Singaporean is still inadequate.
Average generally means someone who cannot qualify for a non-local degree. The 50th percentile would need to settle for a Polytechnic diploma. The good news is that while I was in charge of data.gov.sg, I was aware that the Government was already investing $1000 more a year on the Poly student compared to his or her JC counterparts. The question is whether the investment is bearing fruit for the Nation ?
From this very brutal but logical posting from Limpeh, the pathway for Poly graduates is not world class yet. Paying for a private degree will signal to gatekeeper that you are not good enough for a decent job and it costs a bomb compared to a local degree. But what Limpeh hints at is much darker. If a parent pays for private degree, the kid would go through it and thinking that they are superstars in their own degree programs, which really isn't as competitive as the course administrators claims to be, graduate with a sense of entitlement.
There are a lot of admirers for the German apprenticeship system. But the German economy has a network of Mittelstands or family-owned world-beating SMEs who can give craftsman a decent career.
We don't. We just have SMEs who want to stick their hands out and ask for government help to bring more foreign workers who can tolerate being underpaid and abused.
d) We are a yardstick society
Regardless of the well-meaning words of our politicians, Singapore has always been a yardstick society.
But it's not the government's fault.
If women continue to see men as a pillar for financial support, then the yardstick will always be about income and wealth. The men who are likely to start families with the most good looking women would always be the pilot, lawyer, doctor or accountant. Economic growth in Shanghai was rapid because Shanghainese women do not care whether you are short, tall, ugly or handsome. To get Shanghainese women to say yes, give her an apartment. Even now China is expecting more than 5% growth in a horrific year.
The solution is not to get rid of the yardstick but finding space for different yardsticks.
And we did try that too ! Resulting in the DSA program which led to RI being shamed even though they remain an elite Tier 1 institution.
In Conclusion - What does it mean for baby Durendal ?
It means daddy may not bring you into a better world which was promised to daddy when he himself was born in.
We will not know whether you will become the sword of your father's ambition, but you must endure.
There is a genuine possibility of Peak Singapore - a point of prosperity which heralds a golden period for us and then it's downwards all the way. Problem is that we may have reached Peak Singapore 2 years ago.
But as of now these are the plans for my kids :
a) I spare my kids form enrichment classes except perhaps swimming and cycling. Kids need to play to develop their imagination. I had Dungeons and Dragons which defined a huge portion of my life.
b) Tuition money is invested into a portfolio to be compounded and released until they start working. My kids need to enjoy learning to have hope of becoming the top 1% of knowledge workers. Tuition may not be best approach unless they reason with me that they need it but they need to learn independently. I will be personally very hands-on in this area as I expect to cover the Science and Arts subjects with ease by then.
c) If they cannot get into the JC track, they are expected to start work unless a local university admits them. If they are not academically inclined, why force them ? If my plan works, my kids would be able to tap into any online course material to pick up the skills they need.
d) They will all learn to manage money. Money management is where average folks have a great advantage over the sophisticated intellectuals. This is where there is plenty of evidence that active managers underperform passive ETFs.