Friday, February 05, 2016

#1 Peak Prosperity - The Poverty Simulation angle.

Sometimes, getting an article for this blog is so easy it is as if the Gods conspire to help you with your next posting.

This week, news started to spread about Singapore Island Country Club members conducting a poverty simulation for their members. Of course the news attracted a fair share of brickbats and I'm not going to go about making things worse.

My stand is that a poverty simulation is good thing even though there might be a better way to go about doing it.

It can be argued that my life as a law student is some sort of poverty simulation, I have to feed my growing family without touching my investment capital for a minimum of 3 years without rejoining the workforce. After three years, I will review my portfolio to figure out whether my financial independence is for real. If it is not real, then my retirement would have to end and I would have to accumulate more capital for the next stress test. (Likely a passive income of $10k/month with no more mortgage, so it would be a tough target to meet.)

Poverty simulation is only a symptom of Singapore's problem and not the root cause.

The root cause is the decline in social porousness of Singapore society. The rich is losing touch with the rest of Singapore society.

The section on Edinburgh in the book Geography of Genius  tries to explain the rise of the Scottish intellectuals like David Hume. Scotland's intellectuals are particularly interesting to me because they are known to be quite scrappy and like to find practical applications to their theories so they appeal to my engineering nature. One section I find particularly relevant to Singapore is that the city of Edinburgh which spawned the development of medical and intellectual advancements had great social porousness during its peak of its intellectual prowess. Particularly interesting is that social spaces were areas where a blacksmith and intellectual can trade and argue at as equals.

I would argue that social porousness was present when Singapore first gained independence. We lived in the same kampongs, students in top schools had very few economic advantages over ordinary students. Some ministers had degrees and some, like S Rajaratnam, don't. By contrast, the modern education system in Singapore focuses more on sorting individuals based on intellectual capacity and then confining them to different silos so that they can learn at their own pace. SAP education makes it worse by some form of government-approved racial segregation. One bright spark is National Service where people of different castes and strata could get together to fight as a unit.

From the lens of social porousness, it would be hard to fault the poverty simulators. You spend your youth ensconced in your parent's Maseratis and having all your wishes fulfilled by domestic help. It alienates you from the common man, but you remain human, so you fear falling from grace.

Why not simulate poverty first to cope with your fear and anxiety?

Let's not judge poverty simulators too harshly.

Instead, we can consider turning Poverty into a CCA in our middle-class infested secondary schools.

A Poverty Society can be fun and enriching.

Kids from upper class elite schools learn about the rich-poor gap, the GINI index and then have poverty camps to simulate perhaps a life in the HDB heartlands or a pocket money of working class families. They can have field camps to neighborhood secondary schools and maybe role-play a perfect for a day. For fun and recreation, they can role-play the Beggar Sect from Chinese Wuxia drama.

Done correctly, the rich can be shamed or guilt-tripped into wanting to create decent jobs for fellow Singaporeans.

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