Monday, January 18, 2016

Does nobody really owe you a living ?

Mr. Chan Chun Sing, in my humble opinion, may well be the best Secretary General in NTUC we would ever have. He gave a talk in NTUC while I was still an IT Assistant Director there and to get the ball rolling, I tried to corner him with a tough question on social mobility. I felt he handled the question well and from a rhetorical perspective, balanced logos with pathos. He had to bridge the elite-union gap which was not easily done. On the whole,  he was logical but also connected with the union leaders and explained assortative mating in simple terms which I felt was very impressive.

It was no accident that he soon become the Sec Gen of the organisation because he, too, came from humble beginnings.

I would like to welcome Mr. Chan into the blogosphere. You can find his first article here.

Now, that being said, I do not wholly agree with his first article.

The idea that "No one owes Singapore a Living" has been with us for 50 years. We have been using it to exhort our workers to work harder and smarter. Economies have been changing and we continue to use the same battle-cry over and over again.

I think after 50 years, Singaporeans know damn well that as a non-welfare society no one owes us a living. Advancements in the modern economy actually demonstrates that in the case of investors like us, quite a lot of folks owe us a living.

If you own a bond, the debtor is contractually required to pay you interest. A REIT holder is entitled to 90% of dividends paid to the trust to maintain tax benefits. While dividends are not assured for equity holders, minority shareholder have the legal recourse to fight shareholder oppression and in some cases, may even sue on behalf of the companies against the directors.

Play the game of finance well, and you might even be able to set up a trust for your loved ones in the future. Beneficiaries of a trust can take legal action against a trustees. There are the ultimate guys who are owed a living from their trustees.

Another words, quite a few parties owe capitalists a decent living.

The problem of course is that few workers are capitalists and in such a case, nobody owes workers a living.

I doubt NTUC has a plan to help us survive the Second Machine Age where society gets run by algorithms, my personal defense is to used these algorithms in industries which do not expect to be disrupted by them,

Now that being said, NTUC needs to confront the narrative which has led to Singapore's state today :

Religion is not the opiate of the masses.

The opiate of the Singapore masses are jobs !!!

Maybe authorities need to consider some ideas I have shared in this blog :

a) Push financial education into a Life Skills module for secondary school students and more flexibility for CPF investors.

Modules need to cover some basic financial planning and office automation skills. If Singaporeans retire early via investment income, it frees up jobs to be taken by others. Understanding financial independence starts at a young age. We should also allow Singaporeans more access to our CPF savings. nothing manifestly unfair if CPF account holders be allowed to invest 100% of their OA beyond $50,000 and be entitled to excess dividends beyond the 2.5%.

b) As a society we need to inflict a moral burden on the top 5% that they need to start businesses and create jobs for the rest of the 95%.

The rich can survive business failure and owning a successful enterprise can be a  badge of honor. This means retooling the scholarship system to recognize rich students without bonding them or subsidizing their studies. Put them in a special programs to grant them access to venture capital and business networks.

c) More government jobs of last resort which provide some shock therapy to older workers. 

No matter how you look at the problem, there will always be worker in their 40s and 50s who cannot develop new skills and no longer have taxis to drive because cars would be driverless soon. And the hard truth is that your mind closes at middle age and you no longer as fast as your younger colleagues - olders workers can be stubborn, dogmatic, and very annoying.

To plug the gap, a drastic solution involving an employer of last resort needs to arise from our uniformed services. Of course defence is rapidly modernising and becoming knowledge driven by the state needs to consider 6 hour a day jobs at small wages for middle agers. We are too slow in creating School administrator and low level health care workers within the system. Some of these jobs may be transitionary jobs which allow older workers to rejoin the private sector.

Sometimes, as a middle-ager myself who directly competes with Millenials for class-room distinctions, the government and some companies may need to seriously slap some of us around. A life spent making money in 20s till our 30s and raising kids gives some of us a mindset of entitlement. If we did not train our mental muscle to save money and pick up new skills when we were younger, a system of employment needs to be built to initiate that shock therapy to get olders to wake up their ideas. Behavioural economists are best placed to generate these transitionary shock therapy jobs to zap older workers to become productive for the economy.

All in all, I am very glad that the Sec Gen of NTUC finally has s blog. I consider myself a dissenting ally who can look into each blog posting and find ways to build on his ideas.

The idea that "Nobody owes us a living" has had a good run. Singapore has accumulated reserves over 50 years and own many bonds. The bond issues do owe us a living.

When thousands of workers and unionists start learning and earning  to become capitalists and shareholders, we can move beyond this slogan !

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