Sunday, May 11, 2014

Who should be at the bottom of the barrel ?

Recently there has been a spate of articles criticizing Singapore's brand of meritocracy which has been gaining traction on the Internet. These articles almost always employ the same argument - they either draw an example or create a fictional character who faces many obstacles in life, and then they conclude that there is no way this character can get ahead without some sort of a push from the government or the Singaporean tax payer.

These authors are very conniving, because very often, the argument normally just stops there. The  logic is that basically, that some folks can never make it in Singapore  because not everyone has the same starting point, therefore tax payers are morally obligated to help them throughout their whole journey sometimes to the extent of sacrificing their own personal interest so that "we're all in it together".

Now my position on a meritocratic society is that it is not perfect, society is better served by always seeking to fine-tune the definition on what the meaning of talent is for a system to sustain itself. This is a never-ending process and winners in one generation may be losers in another. So bottom line is that no matter where we are, there will be winners and losers, but unless we take pains to paint a picture on how we want an alternative to look like, it seems to me that the anti-meritocracy camp is just as elitist as the status quo. Do these writers silently wish to create a new order in society where they become one of the privileged in Singapore society today.

What is their real agenda ? I do not know what is the secret agenda of these politically charged articles.

Instead, my post today is to confront the ugly truth by clearly stating who should be at the bottom of the barrel. This is in the hopes that by my admission, I will attempt to provide and answer that is avoided by many of these articles.

We cannot determine a fair pecking in society without coming to a consensus of who should right at the bottom of the pyramid. This is a head-headed process that all of us needs to go through. Someone has to be scrapping at the bottom of the barrel, no matter what happens. We just need to determine philosophically, who are the most appropriate folks to take on these roles.

So in my humble opinion, the stereotypical bottom-scrapper is the Flake.

A flake is a person who is at the bottom of the barrel in terms of the psychological measure of conscientiousness. He lives by the moment, never has a plan for the future. He may not show up on time in most meetings and is a dangerous asset to have in any project team.

Everybody knows who the Flake is, he comes in many names "LJ man", "Jackass". If you think Seth Rogen, the Wayan brothers, Ken Jeong or Johnny Knoxville can convincing play your buddy in a movie, he is a flake.

Flakes cannot be allowed to handle money, they have horrible marriages and drain the medical system as they can't be trusted to look after their own health. They cannot delay gratification and are very prone to addiction. Flakes probably inflict the most damage on their children, who may become subjects of anti-meritocratic articles in the future.

Now suppose, you are with me on this and actually agree that Flakes should be related to the bottom of the league.

Does the Singapore Meritocracy sufficiently address and agree to this division which I have proposed ?

I would say, to large extent, yes. We have a rigorous education which sifts out lazy and unmotivated students. A system of bursaries and scholarships are given to students who have the grit and tenacity to overcome their financial situation. Our baby bonus is a 1-1 matching system after $4,000 and not a pure handout so parents who save will be able to offload more expenses to raise their children.

But even from this point of view, our meritocracy is not perfect. Rich kids can be sent overseas for degrees even if they are useless wastrels. They also inherit 100% of their parent's hard work as there are no inheritance taxes in this country.

So in conclusion, you might be a flake and be offended by this article and disagree with me on who should be a bottom feeder. Come up with a social division of your own and defend it on the Internet. At the very least, by performing this exercise, you have a clearer perspective on what we want our meritocracy to be.


  1. Hi Chris,

    Enjoyed your article and I strongly agree with you that a "flake" should be at the bottom of the hierachy, if we have to arrange one.

    Basically, the society cannot be expected to provide unconditional help to those who are not producers but just extractors (of benefits, emotions etc) and most importantly, do not have the intention to become more productive.

  2. Let's hope that there's no financial blog run by someone called Hedonist Marx who will definitely disagree with you !

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