Sunday, May 09, 2021

Direct your umbrage at the system, not the person

As I am somewhat anti-woke and pro-PAP, I find other PAP loyalists jumping to the defence of SPH CEO Ng Yat Chung. This is puzzling because Ng Yat Chung is not a politician. 

In fact, Min Shan has spoken somewhat against him. 

I will not describe the immense and consequential damage that was just inflicted on SPH shareholders as this is well documented by many bloggers. In fact, I will try to figure out why so much damage control was done over a few words of someone who is a non-politician. All I can say is that my ERM students were burned by SPH's foray in Orange Valley in the past and buying SPH counts as one of the poorest investment decisions we have ever made during the life of the entire program, second only to the disastrous position in Eagle Hospitality Trust for one batch of students.

From the point of view of someone who actually worked under a statutory board, the words uttered by the SPH CEO were mild. I had supervisors in the public sector who asked my Indian IT vendors whether took part in the Little India riots during a team meeting and loudly voiced concerns over female employees about the possibility that they will get pregnant and go on maternity leave ( the supervisor being a mother herself )

For me, if I want to direct my umbrage at something, it would be the amakudari system that parachutes top Admin officers into private sector roles that may ultimately damage the capital that belongs to us hapless shareholders. This is really something that we investors do not deserve. As brilliant as a top civil servant is, I liken their experience to twenty years as a goalkeeper for a soccer team. When their time runs out, they are forcefully put in a position of a striker. There is no way you can hone the kind of adaptive entrepreneurial thinking from a formal rules-driven bureaucratic mindset of the civil service sector. Some may succeed due to luck, but many will fail.

This is the kind of arrogance hinted at by many old-timer government officials. Just because someone has high general intelligence, they can thrive in any environment, even a highly competitive one like the business sector. 

I think the true damage done by SPH has nothing to do with losses shareholders suffered on Friday but the consequences it will have on amakudari moving forward. Voters should not be shy to pressure the PAP to revise this system. ( I will happily troll my new MP Mr. Edward Chia on this issue the next time I see him hanging around in Segar Road. )

I want to offer a cautionary note on our religious fetish for government scholars. This comes from an unlikely source. 

Two issues ago The Economist published an obituary of Bernard Madoff, the man who built the largest Ponzi scheme in the history of mankind.

If you peer into the mind of Bernard Madoff, you will find some fundamental truths belonging to all Humanity. Bernard Madoff had no need to enrich himself at the expense of his peers - he was financially independent before setting up his fund. Things began to fall apart when his fund underperformed slightly and I suspect Bernard has so many strings of personal successes, he was unable to cope with his first failure in life, so he doubled up using fraud to cover up his mistakes. 

Introduce failure to a person who has been successful all his life will induce cognitive dissonance and it takes a very strong mind to resist doing something underhanded to keep his self-esteem intact. 

I struggle with this on a daily basis as well - I have three degrees in Engineering, Finance and Law. I have passed almost all the major investment exams. But every day, I see a 20-something year old become a multi-millionaire by buying Dogecoins or staking their coins in a Liquidity pool. Fortunately, I have done much worse and faced my own demons on this blog on March 2020. 

Today failure is my best friend and I often have a drink with it. 

I suspect many Admin service officers, being the Apex Predators of Academic Hunger Games may also never experienced a major failure in their lives. This can lead to disastrous consequences as they try to rationalise or even scold their way to avoid personal accountability. 

To assist them in coping with failure, perhaps a Gen Z crypto bro should flash a Lambo at their scholar pal every now and then to teach them a bit of humility. 

Singaporeans should actively promote someone who has a humiliating failure in his resume. 

Therefore,  it comes as no surprise that my favourite PM candidate is Ong Ye Kung. I think the Aljunied elections in 2011 has shaped his character for the better. 

Direct your umbrage at amakudari and the CEP system. 

This can be something that unites both PAP and Anti-PAP supporters. 


   

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Eternal trends and how to spot them

 



I always enjoyed reading books about the future. Future studies are the discipline about how to predict future trends and I'm gradually training my brain about how to think about prediction. Naturally, this can be a really inaccurate exercise and a lot of predictions turns out to be wrong, but imagine how much can be earned if somehow someone gets it right.

I'm still in the process of building a library of books on future studies, but this highly accessible book by Magus Lindkvist talks about a number of trends that are eternal for Mankind.

a) Wellness, health and convenience

We've always been trying to make ourselves live longer and easier lives. Many of the trends that affect us, such as eating in a healthier way, have been obsessed by even our ancestors. Someone will always be thinking about some form of exercise, diet or medication that can claim to result in better longevity. 

b) Self-expression

Everyone wants to be noticed and leave a mark one day.  Another parallel trend is the desire to belong to something.  Our ancestors have been using cave paintings to communicate their ideas, today they use social media. This is another trend that will not end, as an investor someone will produce the next Clubhouse or anything that allows folks to interact with each other and be heard by the larger community.

c) Sensory stimulation

People crave sensory stimulation so they will always be trying to experience new things. Ancient carnivals and theatre have evolved into the Disney Plus and Netflix channels of today. A parallel development is that new ways of grabbing someone's attention will always be in development. 

d) Technology

Enabling all the above eternal trends is mankind's ability to tame new materials and processes for his personal benefit. We're now right in the middle of the Information Age, the question is what kind of age will arise out of all the new internet technologies. 

Unfortunately, we might be quite far from Future studies becoming a serious discipline with its own methodologies. The book is also quite chaotic and disorganised. One wish list is that the author would look at these eternal trends and dedicate a chapter to the evolution of each trend and make a series of wild guesses on what to expect on the horizon.  

I'm personally betting that a Quantum Age is upon us soon enough that will make most information technologists obsolete. 


 

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Why policy makers may not plug the CPF Shielding Lifehack Abomination



Ok, this will be my last article on this issue as I've managed to get other bloggers chiming in on this issue and hopefully, the matter will take on greater prominence over time.

One interesting point to note is that matters will not have gone viral if I had not used the word "abomination". The inspiration behind this word was from the third book of the Dune series (Children of Dune) is this character called Alia who is a child savant witch-like character. Alia was imbued with the power of ancestors who lived before her. In the story, her conscious thoughts were like a battlefield where her good and evil ancestors fought to gain control over her mind. When the spirit of her evil grandfather Baron Vladimir Harkonnen took over her eventually, Alia became The Abomination and was the major villain of the third book of the Dune series.

In my opinion, the CPF Shielding issue belongs to the same class of problems known as "The Problem of Evil" that theologians and philosophers have to confront. 

  • If God was good, why does evil exist?
  • If government regulators were that good, why do commissioned FAs exist?
  • If the CPF was so good, why do Singaporeans need to resort to CPF Shielding?

CPF Shielding has been known for a number of years and nothing much has been done about it, I can speculate that authorities have not acted for the following reasons :

a) The impact of this hack was too small to warrant action

This seems to be the best reason for inaction. 

Very few Singaporeans have enough money in their CPF to need this hack urgently because their CPF-OA is normally exhausted by housing needs during their financial lives, so it easy to just shut off one eye and keep things status quo. In this sense, it's useful for us bloggers to keep driving awareness towards this issue so that more people may actively manage their CPF to be able to exploit this shield.

b) The government simply does not want you to get an extra 1.5%, so you need to work for it

Some folks argued that the government just wants to limit the number of folks who can max out their 4% so there was no incentive to make getting that 4% easier for citizens. 

This is less persuasive to me because they can cover up this hack entirely having all accounts flow to CPF-OA at age 55 before CPF-RA is constructed. But I think this will cost another GRC in the next elections for the PAP if carried out. 

c) The technical and operational change may be extensive

Changing the system to allow citizens to elect to top up of CPF-RA via CPF-OA first may require system changes. We really cannot tell whether the systems allow the priority to change. 

If someone hard-coded and compiled it years ago, the expense may not be justified. But it would be really dumb to hard-code the order money pours into CPF-RA from a software engineering perspective. 

d) The CPF Shield is a part of a complex system of compromises with the Finance Industry

This is a most interesting idea. 

If you think about it, allowing citizens to use up CPF-SA to buy select investment products is already quite a dangerous idea given that 4% riskless returns is rather high. CPF currently allows CPF-SA to be invested in balanced funds. From a risk-adjusted perspective, it's giving folks the option to trade off a product with a Sharpe ratio of infinity to maybe something with a Sharpe ratio of 0.4 - 0.6 in the best case. 

I'm totally fine if it's an option folks can refuse. But CPF also does not want to drive out the finance industry or trigger massive unemployment for FAs as well, many count on financial advice as a rare route to millionaire status without a degree. 

So maybe this hack is a series of compromises to keep some career paths open to Singaporeans. 

I like to think about compromise when I put myself in the shoes of a policymaker. There are a lot of things about financial advice that can be improved instantly for the good of most citizens, primarily ensuring that FAs have, at least, a relevant degree since financial planning is not a joke.

But this has not happened, so you've got a bunch of advisors claiming to be doing work as important as medical doctors as taught by their handlers but having no need to meet such standards.  

Sometimes I wonder if financial advice is really based on intelligence and knowledge, then how many Singaporeans will be out of a job if we reform the law to align with this reality?

In summary, I'm not trying to remove the freedom for Singaporeans to invest their monies. I just want the freedom to earn my 4% without resorting to third-party funds, hence I think giving Singaporeans a choice to populate CPF-RA from CPF-OA should be provided by the CPF Board itself. 

If a savvy FA can convince someone to invest their CPF-SA somewhere else, good for them. 

I see our role as financial educators to make sure that folks understand the price they pay when this happens.

CPF Shielding is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of reforms to the Financial Advisors Act that will benefit the people of Singapore and I hope one day I can convince an Opposition party to take up these issues one day. 


 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

More on the CPF Shielding Lifehack Abomination !


The previous article was a humongous success with so much interaction, I actually had to censor some comments from some angry FAs. This clearly means that citizens can be passionate about the CPF programme without resorting to unreasonable antics like those of Roy Ngerng. 

Seeking a solution to plug the CPF Shielding loophole is not too much to ask for.

Today, I would like to raise three points after readers have provided their feedback on my initial post :

a) $40,000 / $20,000 of the CPF SA/OA cannot be shielded

One reader pointed out that certain components of CPF-SA and CPF-OA cannot be shielded, so in my example in the first article, the advantages were overstated. If you have $280,000 in CPF-OA, you will are prevented from dumping $20,000 from CPF-OA, so you will have an extra 1.5% x $260,000 or $3,900 a year from successfully executing the hack. 

Still a fairly consequential amount of savings, so if you are reading this, please read my previous article on the hack and figure out what you need to do when you turn 54 years old. 

b) The lifehack itself contains some hidden risks, so it is not foolproof

The recommended funds tend to produce low returns but contain a lower amount of credit and market risk so when the hack is being carried out, you can lose the difference between the 4% and the amount returned by the funds over the short term. Some readers also commented that the hack should be performed using higher risk-balanced funds to minimise this difference, but this increases the volatility of the fund when it is in transition.

Ultimately there is no free lunch. 

You can lose money from the balanced fund or even the bonds in the short duration bond funds. The Sharpe ratio of CPF-SA is infinity with a 4% fixed return. No living FA can recommend an alternative to CPF-SA which is why having an option from CPF Board remains the best solution for everyone. 

As such, readers who recommend completely banning investments using CPF-SA may even have a point.

c) Why some commissioned FAs were baying for my blood while complaining about low commissions from executing this manoeuvre

Fortunately, I have FAs out there who are my allies who can assist in interpreting the antics of the angry commissioned FAs who read my blog. The fact that FAs earn low commissions from implementing the hack was explained to me by my allies. In fact, many of them are happy to assist my readers who need this hack but emphasised to me that a certain level of DIY is still expected because this is a really low margin service. 

So the question remains: why are some FAs so mad with my proposal to nerf this hack when they earn so little from this?

One possibility is that this hack gives commissioned FAs a foot in the door to the client's trust. If a client can save $3,900 a year with the hack, there should be no issue buying a couple of extra ILPs bundled into the service. 

I'm not done talking about this issue. I should have one more article from the policy maker's perspective that I will launch if I am still alive after my second Pfizer jab tomorrow.

Do keep your comments coming...




Friday, April 23, 2021

CPF Shielding Lifehack is an Abomination that must be ended by the CPF Board



So a few really smart CPF hackers discovered this CPF lifehack that you can read about here

Apparently, authorities will populate your CPF Retirement Account with your CPF Special Account first before drawing upon your CPF Ordinary Account. If you allow the default action to take place, then you can lose out on thousands every year because you can't boost your CPF-OA's 2.5% to 4%. So some guy suggested that you buy third party products with CPF-SA just before your CPF-RA is set up (at age 55) and then sell these securities off to return the money to your CPF-SA after your CPF-RA is set up. This ensures that the bulk of your CPF-OA will be pushed into your CPF-RA and the CPF-OA monies will work hard for you from age 55 to age 65. 

The difference in returns is non-trivial, suppose the Enhanced Retirement Sum when you retire is $280,000, hacking the difference of 1.5% interest will net you about $4,200 every year.

Personally, I'm all for CPF shielding. I suspect that I may not need to do so because my CPF-OA is kept small by my mortgage, but this is a serious penalty for folks who do not understand or fail to perform this manoeuvre just before age 55.

What I'm upset about is that authorities actually allow the hack to even take place. 

To execute the hack, I am forced to buy third party products, earning them a little bit of kopi money through fund expenses and commissions, otherwise, I may have to sacrifice an extra $4,200 every year in free interest from the government.

To me, the fact that this hack exists is a failure of policymaking. 

The finance industry gets to earn something every time this hack takes place and thousands of uneducated citizens may not be able to execute this hack in the first place because they don't really understand our CPF system.  The pushes the importance of having a financial education even more. 

As a voter and citizen, we should not remain silent about this. 

The CPF board should simply ask the citizen whether he would prefer the CPF-OA to be used to top up into the CPF-RA first with the status quo as the default option. 

Give us a choice in the form of an online survey at age 55 instead of greasing the palms of the private sector (or some commissioned FA who would happily sell this hack to retiring customers. )

I think the problem is that very few citizens are aware of CPF shielding hack, why it exists, and why it's a consequential hack for us. 

As of this moment, it falls to financial bloggers and CPF ambassadors to provide feedback to CPF board employees and tell them that this is an issue that should be addressed ASAP. 

CPF board probably would not want to talk to a troublemaker like me, but if you are a CPF ally, please let it be known that Singaporeans are getting smarter and are less tolerant of weaknesses in our social security system.    


     

Monday, April 19, 2021

Personal Update - The Future is Quantum


 I'm in between books, so it is time for a personal update.

a) Business

The rule I apply to this current life is that I need one win out of every initiative I have every year. 2019 was a win on all fronts. 2020 was a bad year for investments but it was ok for my training business. This year my training workload has been cut by a third so training takes a back seat, but the market recovery has been really fierce so far so I should do ok in 2021. 

To ensure that things will not go as bad as 2020, I am farming my excess time into the Introducer collaboration with iFast. As in all things, there is a lot of work for very few rewards at first, but it's something that can potentially grow over the next 5-10 years. 

b) CPF and taxes

I'm finding it hard to spend money this year as my leveraged portfolios begin to gush dividends faster than I can spend them ( I can just Netflix and Disney+ all my excess time ). So my finances have taken a very strange twist that readers should probably not replicate unless they know what they are doing.

First of all, I invest my training proceeds into the portfolio built by my students, so I don't really earn much money. Second of all, I finally figured out that sole proprietors can avoid taxes up to 37% of earnings if they farm earnings into the CPF and have it distributed across all CPF accounts like a working person. So instead of putting making SRS my priority as in previous years, I have been farming my dividends into my CPF! The numbers will cap at around $37k, then I am likely to farm the rest into my SRS. A guaranteed 2.5%-4.0% is a beastly return when you consider how low bond yields are. Add the tax benefit and it becomes better than most endowment programs off the shelf considering that I only need to lock it in until I am 55. 

This combined action is likely to push my taxes to an all-time low in 2022 unless my business picks up in 2H2021. 

I think you really need an existential vacuum to forego 37% of your earnings and then on top of that $15,300 in SRS every year. I suspect most sole proprietors would rather farm it back to their own business than have it locked in their CPF. If you push me on spending, I probably have only one discretionary expense this year which is the iPad pro coming out in 2021. 

Otherwise, I'm waiting for a good colour e-reader from Amazon.

c) Learning and Education

As an IT guy I feel really threatened by Quantum Computing, so to conquer my fear, I took a break from learning AI to pick up the basics of Quantum Computing. There is only one programme from a Russian University on this topic on Coursera so I pushed myself through it. 

Amazingly, I can do all the MCQ questions and score quite well without understanding barely 20% of what quantum computing is really all about. This is likely due to the heavy dose of maths courses I did during my JC and NUS Engineering days. 

I still feel overwhelmed by the topic but studying it is strangely motivating. My guess is any paradigm shift beyond quantum programming will not be my problem anymore and it's something my kids may have to deal with. 

The good news is that Quantum Processor Units are not available in Sim Lim Square yet, when that happens, expect the NUS Physics degree to become the most sought after degree in Singapore. 

d) Future Projects

RI has invited me back to talk about personal finance again in 3Q2021. By then I would have worked closely with my three RI interns so should be able to create the next version of my personal finance presentation for young adults. 

I continue to look for such gigs as a means of giving back to society. 

e) Hobbies


I'm barely clinging to my D&D hobbies, having run a game just yesterday. Fortunately, thanks to Ryan Toy review, I started playing Dungeon Mayhem by Wizards of the Coast with my kids. My kids are starting to get familiar with fantasy tropes thanks to card games and Mobile Legends.  

Hopefully, the card game can be a gateway drug to a full-fledged RPG experience. 

f) What I am reading

As I just picked up the Dune RPG, I decided to continue with Frank Herbert's Dune series starting with the second book Dune Messiah starting in the second book, the Dune storyline no longer looks like the real-time computer game beloved by Gen X and becomes more like the political board games we used to play in the 1980s.

I should finish this book before attempting to read Jordan Peterson a second time. 


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Is Blue Collar work feasible in Singapore ?

 


America is disillusioned about getting degrees. Unless you are going to an Ivy League university, the odds don't look good as you'll probably be saddled with crippling loans after graduation. If you study for some shit degree like Gender or Ethnic studies, things get even worse because the university is where you'll spend 4 years blaming all of your problems on white men. 

So Ken Rusk, a successful contractor, wrote a book to exhort Americans to consider good old-fashioned blue-collar work. The logic is quite compelling in America - if you are willing to get your hands dirty, you will be able to find a job that pays quite well and avoid getting into crippling student loans. Some statistics are super interesting. An air traffic controller does not require a degree but can earn an annual income of $108,000. Even an electrician apprentice can earn $48,250. Plumbers are also worth quite a bit at about $60,000.

Another compelling reason to consider blue-collar work is that about 4-5 years of work will make you an expert and you are more likely to upgrade by starting your own business. This is really all about the American Dream.  

I was attracted to Blue Collar Cash because I was wondering why polytechnic grads want to study for a private degree so much. The latest numbers look very bad on the mainstream news. Getting a private degree in Singapore is like putting a sticker on your head to tell the HR company to throw your resume away. So why not do blue-collar work in Singapore instead, start saving money earlier, and become a contractor towkay later in life?

Three words why this is not possible in Singapore - Cheap Malaysian Labour.

Half of my family is Malaysian, but I want to say that Malaysian Chinese contribute quite a bit to our economy. By keeping the fees low, Singaporeans pay less for contractor services and haircuts and a larger proportion of our workforce do supervisory and management work. The fact that a Malaysian can pop into the country to cut your hair, then go back to JB to spend their hard-earned SGD makes it impossible for blue-collar work to pay as well in the US.

So the bad news is that this book cannot be contextualised in Singapore :

  • Local universities are not expensive.
  • Blue-collar work does not pay well as there are plenty of Malaysians willing to do the work for half the pay because they spend in Ringgit back home.
If policymakers solve this problem by creating a licensing regime for work like plumbing and electrical services, it would be welcome by Singaporeans who love blue-collar work but it is highly likely that Singaporeans will end up paying more, so this is not something that can be solved without a proper study. 

Sadly the rest of the book is motivational in nature and lessons about grit, accountability and setting goals is not something specific to blue-collar work and too generic to be novel for the reader. I might be better off reading Angela Duckworth's Grit instead. 

Also, the author shared that his own daughter has advanced degrees in Architecture, so there was no attempt at eating his own cooking by making his kids follow the advice from his book. This is a major turn-off for me because I believe in having Skin in the Game. 

Nevertheless, it is very refreshing to read self-help for a segment of society and I will look for more books in this genre. 

Having an involuted society like Singapore that focuses purely on managerial and knowledge-driven work is unsustainable. We need good career pathways for folks who are good with their hands with numbers similar to the US.  

The salaries in the US look really yummy - maybe ITE grads may wish to start planning to emigrate and go work in the US with the aim to start a business before their mid-30s. I would not mind executing this plan if my kids are academically disinclined in the future. 

It may be a happier life as your work is less desk-bound and there may be less office politics.

Monday, April 12, 2021

What REAL retirees want

 


For someone who teaches an Early Retirement class, I'm quite clueless about the lives of REAL retirees - the folks who do not succeed in their mission for Early Retirement. So after reading about all the scientific advances on immortality, I went into all the books I bought on Kindle but KIVed for some reason to look for some information on old age and retirement. 

It was not fun reading about old people. 

The book spent lengths talking about ageism in the media and talked about how Americans coped with loneliness. The financial statistics are not really counter-intuitive, most Americans do not have enough to stop work, but the book may be useful for businessmen because what Boomers have is plenty of money. It's amazing that brands are so obsessed with Millenials and Gen Z when it is a grandpa and grandma who really has all the money in the US (and SG). 

[ Case in point, I think whoever solves the problem of loneliness amongst elderly LBGT would be guaranteed laugh all the way to the bank. ]

One way to look at the elderly and the patterns of TRUE RETIREMENT is that retirees generally fall into four patterns in fairly even proportions. ( Note that I tried to 2x2 matrix with the OCEAN personality model which is not in the original book so I totally made that shit up ) :

a) Ageless Explorers ( Conscientious, Open to new experiences )

A majority of FIRE aspirants hope to see retirement as a time for opportunity and new adventures. Ageless explorers tend to be fairly successful careerwise and will attempt to reinvent themselves by starting a business or teach ( I did both ! ). They just see retirement as a better way to balance work and leisure but loath to give up their corporate identities.

You can cater to Ageless Explorers by creating schools for the Elderly so that they remain engaged with the industry. Platforms to hire them as consultants is also a good play.

b) Comfortably Contents ( Conscientious, Closed to new experiences )

Comfortably contents see retirement in a more conventional way. Retirement is a reward for a life that was lived well. The main focus is recreation and work will only be done to supplement their income and remain engaged with friends. They also see this as a time to be close to their families and love playing with grandchildren.

You can cater to Comfortably Contents with a travel package that caters to their needs. 

c) Live for Todays ( Not Conscientious, Open to new experiences )

Your crazy artist friend who lives a life of great variety will retire as a Live for Today if they are lucky ( If they are not lucky, look at (d) ). These retirees are free-spirited and have a lot of projects to do when they are retired. Retirement means new relationships, new jobs and new locations. 

The only problem is that these guys tend to more 'save as you go' and have to supplement their expenses with some work to survive. Live for Todays all experience a fair share of frustration for not planning financially in earlier stages of their lives and may feel that retired living is actually more constraining than they think. When ISP premiums start to rachet up, the Live for Todays will begin to exude cold sweat.  

My guess is that Singaporean Live for Todays may struggle here but may thrive in places like Thailand or Malaysia, so if you design a business for them, it may be to help them relocate that is more amenable to their YOLO lifestyles. 

d) Worried Strugglers ( Not Conscientious, Closed to new experiences )

As I have breakfast at different kopitiams in the Bukit Panjang heartlands, the majority of 'retirees' I meet are Worried Strugglers. It would also be wrong to call them retirees because they are struggling with day jobs to survive. 

Worried strugglers are more worried, less secure, less healthy and less happy. These are not the Golden Years at all. 

I can't even think of a business that caters to them. If you really do care, I suspect shutting the 4D outlets down will do them a lot of good even though they will probably curse and swear at you for doing it. 

Can I integrate these insights into my program? I think the goal of Early Retirement planning is to shut off scenarios (c) and (d) totally so that you can qualify to be (a) and (b). 









Saturday, April 10, 2021

Immortality - what lies beyond FIRE

 



The financial market in Singapore is booming and not even news on a delay in succession planning was able to dent the performance of my portfolio, but as of late, I'm less interested in my personal finances than what lies beyond FIRE, so I am gradually shifting my readings to books on longevity and ageing. 

As a type II diabetic, I am very afraid of getting old. If anything, I should be ageing faster than my peers. As of late, I am also not as enthusiastic as before with my personal outings. One reason is that I can practically own anything I want because I have access to Carousell and Amazon, the other reason is that I've mostly been there and done that. Netflix and Coursera keep me company if I am getting bored.

What I'm afraid of is that my mind can't keep up with developments in IT and finance. While I am well ahead of my peers in my ability to pick up new things, I know that once I can't keep up ( and I already don't care much about DEFI and SPACs ), it's game over for me. 

So I am now starting to become more interested in longevity. Biogerontology is a field that is quite difficult to understand given the number of MLM companies spreading misinformation about what is good for a person's health. There are too many Youtube channels backed by so-called Doctors who are not MDs. ( In the US, a chiropractor can call himself a doctor! Dr. XXXX, DC !)

Ageless by Andrew Steele seems more credible than many other books. Every assertion is backed by research and the reason why I trust him is that he does not trust the eating of nutritional supplements. Instead, he highlights the important research developments that can lead to longer lifespans. Part of the problem is that humanity does not classify ageing as a disease, so attempts to lengthen our lives are incidental to the elimination of illnesses and diseases. If you do not wish to attend another MLM nutritional seminar, we do not have an anti-ageing centre backed by rigorous scientific research. 

The pay-off to studying longevity is high and can be amplified by FIRE. Imagine wealthy people able to buy off an additional 10 years of a healthy lifestyle. The cumulative advantage of wealth would be enormous - just think about how much more CPF Life will have to pay if rich folks can pay money to live longer. Modern science can already lengthen the life of some worms by 10x. Imagine living to the age of 1500 years old!

As of now, I still can't act on some of my research. As a diabetic, I'm already on Metformin, one of the leading immortality drugs available to mankind. I suspect my other pill Jardiance has the capability to give me a couple extra years as well as it's kept my weight mostly down. 

I read that there is a possibility that supplementing my regime DHEA, a hormone, may improve the odds of living longer but local drugstores are not allowed to sell this over the counter.

Another promising candidate is a cholesterol vaccine called a PCSK9 inhibitor which I should start making enquiries with my specialists. This is the domain of rich, as results are still unknown but vaccine shots twice a month may cost $1,500 SGD in the US - nowhere near break-even point if you attempt to game your CPF Life on this. 

Anti-ageing may be something Singapore can readily make itself a hub for since it already has so many billionaires setting up family offices here. It makes a lot of sense to allow healthy multimillionaires the means to extend their lifespans with the latest advances in biomedical science. The first step though would be to recognise ageing as a disease and something optional once the right advances have been made in modern science. This will attract top scientists to ply their work here. 

Right now it's unethical to test an anti-ageing drug on an otherwise healthy adult.

 

 




Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Ideas on Wealth by Woke Academics

 

The FIRE community is grateful for the works of many sociologists in the past. The most important work is The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley. Sadly the field of sociology has been co-opted by left-winged bleeding hearts who'd rather find excuses to soak the rich and distribute their wealth to others. To these guys,  it is immoral to profit from conducting a business and climbing up the economic ladder, but it is perfectly fine to use taxation to take wealth from others who earned their money legitimately.  

As much as I hate this current generation of woke social scientists (especially the more self-righteous academics in NTU), I try very hard to keep up with their works because the moment people start feeling hope is lost or social mobility is non-existent, they will invoke these papers to support wealth redistribution. At the moment, we're seeing attempts by the US to coordinate a tax hike for all G20 countries. 

I think the book Wealth by Yuval Elmelech does an adequate job summarising the latest developments to study the accumulation of wealth. I managed to complete the book in two days but it's not an enjoyable read because it's written in a really boring manner. Also. readers who think that it can shed some light on how wealth is accumulated should ignore this book and read Thomas Stanley instead.

There are three barely useful ideas to keep in view.

a) Wealth inequality will be more central than income inequality

I suspect the left is trying to convince governments to invent a new form of tax that targets your wealth level instead of your income level. In many Western countries, welfare systems are unsustainable and consumption and income tax are already really high. The welfare queens, being lazy bums as they are, now want wealthy taxpayers to pay a portion of their wealth to the government coffers. Another-words, a 0.5% wealth taxation would ensure that a millionaire pays $5,000 on top of paying higher income taxes and GST. In Singapore, property taxes are a stealthy form of wealth taxation.

Sociologists are backed by data that shows that even though income inequality can be kept under control by income taxation, wealth inequality remains high. Expect a lot of research to take place here over the next few years. 

Wealth taxation is fine if it is one-shot, and allows a country to get out of a mess like the pandemic. If a wealth tax is levied every year, people will lose their motivation to innovate and to improve their lot in life. Who wants to work hard when all the money they work for will be used to subsidise all the welfare queens in society?

b) Risk transfer from companies to employees

Sociologists are obsessed with the transition from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans. The idea is that company pensions use to guarantee a fixed benefit/return for their workers but companies do not wish to take that risk anymore. They prefer to get employees into defined contribution plans where employees choose where their money can be invested. 

I don't see anything wrong with pushing the risk to employees - Employees need to pick up some basic investing skills to do better than their peers, it's their money after all. There will be some employees who will make even more money if they have the right investing skills. Also, I doubt the professionals who manage these defined benefit programs know any better. In a low-interest-rate environment, they'd probably find excuses to lower their returns anyway to keep their funds sustainable.

What is ludicrous is woke Singaporeans lamenting about defined contribution plans when this cannot be recontextualised here. Our CPF program is a defined benefit plan and the political left is always complaining about it. 

c) Cumulative Advantage and Disadvantage of wealth

I don't understand why is this a thing?

Suppose you come from a wealthy family and you decide to study law. If NUS can't take you in, you can fly to the UK and get some Law degree but your parents got your back. They can pull some strings to force their lawyer vendors to take you in for practice training. So because you are wealthy, you get social and cultural advantages beyond the value of your wealth. Even better, you can pass these social advantages onto your kids.

Maybe the sociologist professors have a point. 

But I'd also point out to the sociology professor that she probably committed assortative mating and dated another degree holder (often another PhD), and also contributes to inequality in her own special way. Her kids may inherit her intelligence and conscientiousness. Why are sociologists not promoting equal sexual access where well-educated women grant sexual access to BBFAs, men with below-average height, and INCELS?

Societies have actually come a long way. In the 70-80s, if your vehicle accidentally overtakes a royal in another SE Asian country, you may get beaten up because... the dude you overtook was a royal.

This is a Euro Board game problem. One aspect of successful game design is that players who are on the losing end must have a game mechanic for them to get back on top because otherwise, the game is no fun. People want to gamify the real world. 

Anyway, these ideas are still in the incubation stage in academia and I think serious investors should study them carefully. One day some opposition Phd politician may take these ideas out for a test drive so rather than hear repeated calls for a minimum wage, we may be hearing innovative ideas like wealth taxation. 

If everyone is getting rich in Singapore and advancing together, the opposition MP will just become a joke on social media. 

However, once younger Singaporeans feel stuck and can't advance in life, the torches and pitchforks will come for Singapore investors and landlords first. 

 


Sunday, April 04, 2021

Brutal Truths about Modern Dating in Singapore Part II

The previous generated quite a number of hilarious exchanges in the FB finance forums so I thought a follow-up post should be in order.

I think a large part of the hilarity came from the piece de resistance that was this table I posted which, in my humble opinion, is as revolutionary as Copernicus' heliocentric model applied to the dating context in Singapore.  


Let's look at some of the feedback from my fans and critics. 

a) Why some guys who rank 7/10 in income do not have air stewardesses throwing themselves at them

The first criticism I received was a question from a relatively high-earning guy. He ranks about 7 on the income scale and complained to me that air stewardesses are not exactly throwing themselves at him. 

There can many reasons why mismatching occurs in markets. I had a field day buying UMS as it rose from $0.50 to $1.30. Sometimes, a stock is priced way less than what it's truly worth. I think my friend is a hidden gem.

One question is whether my friend is signalling a seven from his external mannerisms and deportment. He admits that the way he dresses signals at best a 4 which is about how much I signalled when I was single. 

At the end of the day, guys need to know that women cannot telepathically figure out what their salary is when they swipe to the right on Tinder. Gen X female private bankers even help their pals assess the net worth of their potential boyfriend salaries.

If all else fails, just buy a Lambo. 

b) Table alignment of top actresses does not match with income requirements 

A lot of folks KPKB (particularly lawyers not married to hot actresses) about this point, so I need to make a clarification of my table. The argument is that the women who score an appearance of 9 are rated along with international actresses and many men felt that even with a monthly income, $15k is not enough to marry such a successful actress. 

My table is a comparison guide based on appearance to help people benchmark themselves. At the 90th percentile, this is only two standard deviations better than the mean. While Elisabeth Olson is the benchmark at 9/10, a lot of women who look great are actually not actresses. She can even be a hot chick next door.

If you don't believe me, google "Gal Gadot stunt double" and check out the images.

c) Low earning men in Singapore can become high earning in another part of South East Asia

It's probably Divine Providence that this article arrived on Mothership. The owner of the Vietnamese Marriage Bureau was my history teacher in secondary school. A discussion on my alumni group confirmed that his Vietnamese bride is his third wife. 

Readers have rightfully pointed out that the power of the Singapore dollar allows single men to translate their salary to another regime to get higher scores. So theoretically a Singaporean rated 3 at $4,000 SGD per month becomes $12,000 per month MYR in Malaysia which puts them straight away at a score of 9. 

I agree with the general logic that low earning Singapore men can resort to getting foreign brides, but the truth is that while they are settling down on Singaporean soil, their expenses would still remain high. Also while foreign brides acclimatise to Singapore society, their preferences will become local as well and this can create a lot of friction within a marriage. 

A better approach would be to set up a new family within that foreign country. 

Of course, the model will only have as much explanatory power as single-factor models do in finance. If you examine the way women make decisions, the way they screen men can be quite strict. 

A good screen some women mentally use is like this :

  • Height above 50th percentile
  • Income > My earnings
  • Take the highest score that is willing to date me. 
We know that if a stock screen is positioned too strictly, it often results in 0 stocks. 

We can't blame women because parental investment for the female gender is high. Women need to undergo nine months of pregnancy and can only raise a few kids at most simultaneously. 

Men can generate millions of sperm from 10 minutes of hands-on effort.

 





Thursday, April 01, 2021

Brutal truths about Modern Dating in Singapore


Disclaimer: This post will trigger a lot of people who will say that I am generalising too broadly with my model and that it can be disproven by anecdotal evidence. I just want to say that ALL MODELS ARE WRONG. We construct models to understand a phenomenon better and possibly predict future behaviour. If there flaws in a model, we can always finetune it to make it better.

Recently, I've been spending more time on NUS Whispers where I can relive the olden days when I was a relationship troll in nus.talk.romance

The basic relationship problems shared on that FB group has not really changed over the past 20 years and I think young folks may benefit from constructing a simple model that resolves most of the unhappiness when it comes to relationships. 

In this article, I will present a very simplistic model on modern dating practices in Asian societies and then I will try to explain why it causes so much pain to Millennials and Gen Z. I may also propose some trade-offs and solutions. 

We will first examine the most simple mating preferences of Singapore or Asian women. Singapore women are deeper than Singaporean men and employ a multi-factor model when valuing their men. But for simplicity's sake, let's just assume that Singapore women rate their men based on earning power. A large number of posts in NUS Whispers is angst about the low earning power of potential husbands, so we'll just make a hypergamy assumption.  

So, how do we score men using this single-factor model? By looking at income data from government statistics.

How do men score women? It's even simpler, men have not evolved from his neanderthal roots. Evolutionary psychology combines facial symmetry, hip-to-waist-ratio into an attractiveness score. Simply rate women based on attractiveness and let the bell-curve god do the rest.

So our crude model has a single score to rate men and women. It can look like this :


Now, let us look at the constraints impinging on our model. 

In modern societies, Asian women don't simply match their attractiveness to a mate's earning power directly. They need prospective husbands to earn more money than they do. So a woman earning power of 7/10 can only marry men who are 7,8,9 or 10 from an earnings perspective.  A mismatch occurs if she only has looks of 6 and below. On the other hand, even if a guy is low earning, he may not want to settle down with a woman who is 1 or 2 in attractiveness. 

(There is always pornhub and Geylang.) 

So this model predicts the following :

a) Low earning men and high earning women stay single

The easier conclusion that comes from this model is that men who have low pay stay single. The rate of singlehood can be brutal when aggregated confirming that greater singlehood will be concentrated at lower ends of the educated spectrum. For women, the opposite occurs, the more well-educated she is, the most she is likely to stay single. Having an above-average IQ increases the marriage rates of men but decreases it for women. Statistics will also support the prevalence of local-foreign mating pairs, especially among lower-earning men.

This will be a source of many postings on NUS Whispers in time to come. 

b) Male traders who flaunt trades during the US Tech boom may be compensating for poorer educational qualifications 

Administrators on popular finance FB groups have been cautioning members not to show off their super-successful trades in TSLA and other US tech stocks, but we're still seeing a lot of trader bros showing off their 500% returns without explaining their thought processes behind them. 

Why are these "flexes" of investing genius are always committed by men? 

My hypothesis is that absent the signalling effects of educational attainment, successful trades are a sign of future earnings potential. 

This is the same as a male peacock showing off their beautiful plumage.

That being said: I really miss these traders bros. They seem to have disappeared lately.

c) Really smart women may take on roles beneath their true earnings potential in the workplace

I'm saying this with a lot of worries on my mind because I hope my daughter does not need to do this in the future.

While men have to puff their finances up, really smart women who want happiness in life may suppress their true earnings potential. This can be done by joining nurturing professions like childcare and nursing to seem less intimidating to men. 

In essence, women are playing themselves down so that their future husbands will not lose face and be seen as "eating soft rice". 

This is a really powerful model when explaining dating mechanics. 

When I was out with my ex-colleagues who are all about half my age, they told me a story of a lady friend who, against the advice of her pals, dated a playboy and got a not-so-nice disease after a brief fling. I explained that the playboy is probably a 7-8 but he's smart about dating. Instead of targeting another 7 or 8, he chose to build a harem of 5-6s that are at his beck and call. 

I predicted that the lady must be somewhat plain but the playboy has some K-pop Oppa flair and fairly well to do. I was spot-on regarding my analysis. 

Given her looks, the lady cannot possibly find a boyfriend of that kind of quality anywhere else. But she is wasting her time because he will eventually find a 7-8 to settle down with later in life.

To conclude this article, what is the most important pre-requisite before getting into the dating game? 

Know your score and your decile. Know where you stand compared to your peers.

When I was in my 20s, women who were rated 8,9 or 10 would come over and speak to me. 

When faced with this, I normally open with "You are selling insurance or MLM?"

I was 100% right in all of these cases.

Because in my 20s, I don't attract 8,9 or 10s.





Monday, March 29, 2021

Insights from Gen Z lingo

 


Every generation has its own lingo that reflects what matters to them. Today I will be sharing three really amazing words/phrases I picked up from hanging around younger colleagues and influencers and why older folks should add them into their vocabulary. 

As I have also finished The WEIRDest people in the world by Joseph Henrich, a masterpiece in the evolution of Western societies, I will attempt to interpret these Gen Z ideas in a novel way. The book was a tough read and took me more than a week to cover. It felt like reading a piece of work by Thomas Piketty. Maybe one day I will flesh the book out in a more amateur review.   

Here's what I learnt from my younger friends :

a) Flex

When people say that you are "flexing", what they are saying is that you are showing off your brand and wealth. For young people, there exists a flex culture. Some FAs who earn a lot of commissions may drive a flashy European car. Other young men may buy sneakers that are now collector's items. Of course in financial groups and forums, flex culture is currently experiencing a backlash because everyone hates a showoff.

I have bad news for Gen Z - humanity has been flexing for thousands of years. The correct anthropological term is potlatch - where leaders flex their power by destroying their wealth and gift-giving.  

One way of framing flex culture is that they are largely perpetrated by younger males who are seeking attention from females. When a young male buys a European car, in essence, he is playing the script of a male peacock, displaying his wonderful feathers to attract a mate. As peacocks can attest, there is an evolutionary price to having such a beautiful plumage. It is easier for predators to eat them. In similar vein, it is also easier for speeding European cars to smash into buildings resulting in great tragedies.

b) Simp

If you are very attentive and submissive to women, gen Z will label you a Simp. It's quite nice already considering that liberal men are called cucks in the US. Some guys are really nice and will go quite far for a Beautiful lady. I'm sort of sympathetic because my generation has its own SNAGs or Sensitive New Age Guys.

If you can't flex, maybe you can simp. 

Human societies got out of polygamous relationships only after intervention by Churches so for the broad part of human history, powerful men have multiple wives. It's worse for us Han Chinese as Polygamy only was banished by the Communist Party only in the 1950s, so we're still playing an ancient script when it came to dating and mating. 

Polygamy created a lot of social instability as 70-80% of men, naturally would not have sexual access throughout their lives. For men to spread their genes, they either had to signal more power wealth or signal willingness to share this wealth. 70-80% of men fail to spread their genes under the old system.

This maps exactly to the Flex or Simp strategies.

c) You do you

When I was young, I did not have enough wealth to Flex. I also refuse to Simp. Many guys, however can't decide and want to know which strategy to employ.

One of best lingos I picked up from Gen Z can be applied when a guy asks for dating advice, but you know will devolve into a basic Flex/Simp script depending on where he is in terms of economic resources. 

The solution is to just reply with "You do You." 

"You do you" can affirm someone's action if it is something that they genuinely believe in. It can also dismiss "askholes" - those folks who seek your advice but will not follow it anyway.

Example #1

"Dude, should I buy an Audi so I can park tor with my girlfriend in Labrador park ?"

"You do you, man  !"

Example #2

"Dude, I bought $100k of binary options on Dogecoin after applying for a home equity loan. What do you think ?" 

"Cool ! You do you !"

I love the idea that different generations have their own lingo. 

If you spot a mistake and I misrepresented the application of these terms, do let me know. 



Saturday, March 27, 2021

How deep tech skills can become irrelevant in the working world


In a chat with Gen X IT uncles, an ex-colleague had a grand theory. His hypothesis was that all the director-level IT guys he knows relied upon the coat-tails of another senior manager to climb up the career ladder. In fact, he asserts that skills don't really matter. So it's not what you know but who you know.

As we had the same colleagues in two US MNCs, I thought his observations are not too bad, but they can't be applied to all cases. The folks who are now directors in my generation cannot possibly be incompetents, they had some basic level of skill to supplement their political savvy.

From the last post, I sensed that younger tech workers largely disagreed with my analysis but the older guys agreed with my enlightened position on dealing with CECA and career obsolescence. 

But I need to make a clarification.

In this current economy, by all means, develop your technical skills. Computer Science graduates command the highest pay and employment rate in employment surveys and I do envy the jobs, my money-making buddies, Evan Koh of Stocks Cafe and Ivan Fok of Pyinvesting have. They are not just financially rewarding, but they involve a lot of data science and software development and involve negligible office politics. I was never to do work like this until I became self-employed and could build up my own web app development for my students. In the good old days, SGX staff would call me into a room to bash me for all sorts of horrible things my engineers did, and they did horrible things - like trip on a UNIX server power cable and halt trading in financial markets for half a day!

In my last meeting with Evan Koh, he said something really insightful about AI and software development. He actually felt that getting into the deeper end of AI ( tensors, back-propagation, neural network activation styles which I still struggle with ) may not be necessary for a future career because neural networks may be "pre-tuned" by someone else ( I suspect another AI ), many professional jobs should focus on practical application instead.

So here's my position :

  • As it stands, the economy does reward workers for having deep knowledge of tech. This is undeniable and developing it will give you a very high income without long and painful working hours. If you can do it, just do it.
  • However, tech workers should not think that it is your intelligence and skills that will carry you moving forward. Your rising star is similar to lawyers in the 90s - 00s. There was a supply-demand mismatch. If you look at the hordes of law students returning from England and Australia, even having a Guild to protect their interests now would still mean slowly declining salaries over time. 
  • You have to do a thought experiment - what happens if thousands of engineers descend into Singapore from India, Eastern Europe and China who can do your work for $2,000 a month. Are you still worth $8k-$14k? 
  • The tech dividend was paid out because of a political process that gave Aljunied and Seng Kang to the Worker's Party in 2011 and 2020. This constrains the ruling government from opening a CECA floodgate and benefitting the employer instead. The government's utilitarian calculus will always be that cheap engineers make Singapore competitive. Engineers must lose for everyone else to win. They'll do it until the MRTs break-down. Gen Y does not understand this, but Gen X does. Your money comes from disgruntled voters. 
  • You don't have to wait for CECA II to be signed to panic. You can chew gum and walk at the same time. While building your top-flight tech skills will take time, also build a financial portfolio with a focus on what happens when more foreign workers do arrive, even if it just to train us to be better engineers. Some argue that Silicon Vally landlords made more money than software developers during the boom. 
  • Even if you decide to do more tech, I see some developments that may shift the paradigm so abruptly, you can become obsolete overnight. In this regard, it may be safe to read up on Quantum Computing and understand its implications today. Evan explained this elegantly to me - an Algorithm that runs slowly with O(2^n) may become blazingly fast at O(n).
Before I end, I like to categorically say that I am not against CECA. 

In fact, I am for these floodgates to open via some new CECA, but my reason is that I have devoted the greater part of my life building a portfolio to benefit from that when my colleagues are looking for a pillar of support or patron to become directors in tech firms. 

I don't expect most Singaporeans to agree with me on this. I acknowledge that more competition and innovation is good for the overall economy and investments. But career dislocation in middle age is painful - I had a European IT colleague commit suicide after his contract was not renewed. 

[ Just for fun here's the list of IT certifications I held in my previous life: MCSE, MCSE-W2k, MCSD .NET, SCJP, LPIC-1, CCNA, CCDA, CISA, CGEIT, CISSP, PMP, Novell CNA, TOGAF, HP-UX Admin, AS400 admin ]








Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Brutal lessons from the Gen X experience in the Technology sector


Recently, there have been many articles in mainstream media that celebrate women in Tech. If you examine closely at the career profiles of Gen X women making it big in Tech today, you will find that most of these profiles are those belonging to successful saleswomen with degrees or diploma in business, hardly the knowledge workers that are facing a shortfall today. While we should celebrate inroads made by women in Tech, much less is said about Gen X men in Tech who are driving Grab, selling insurance or hawking real estate today- often doing so because they were retrenched by management decisions made by the top directors who used to have a sales role in those Tech firms. 

Contrast this against news on graduate surveys that show Technology degrees riding high with record starting salaries and almost perfect employment numbers within 6 months upon graduation.

I think the mistakes of Gen X tech graduates should be a cautionary note to millennials and Gen Z riding high today.

Successful career outcomes for a generation is not the result of meritocracy or talent. 

A prominent NUS Computing professor openly scorns the engineers of my generation for taking up project management roles and exhorts his students to level up their skills to take on more difficult technical problems. He ignores the fact that many engineers actually prefer solving technical problems and took on project management roles when the government signed agreements to open the floodgates to foreign engineers and diluted the earnings of professionals to stuck onto technical roles. This was years before companies realised that they may need a dual-track to manage technology roles to retain and nurture tech talent.  

Eventually, it took the fall of the ruling party in  Aljunied in 2011 and Seng Kang in 2020 to create such wonderful numbers for Computer Scientists today. My opinion is that the professor overvalued skills and talent when it was politics that saved the day for technologists of this generation.  

Gen Y and Millenials need to reflect upon the failures of Gen X. While you are having the time of your lives drawing $8,000+ starting salaries, maybe you should observe to see whether you can find 40-something colleagues in your offices. If not, you need to start having some plans before you hit your 40s, maybe you, too, would mysteriously disappear from the workplace. 

I have a strong conviction that levelling up your skills will not work and I don't care if the person who disagrees with me was a GEP alumnus. If the pendulum swings the other way one day, and Singapore opens the floodgates again, you can get top software engineers here at Fine Arts graduate prices. 

You might even rue the day that you did not read Philosophy instead!

The solution is to adopt the Stoic position - just believe that the party will end one day and subsequent flooding will take place again once the ruling government collects more political capital. 

If a sequel to CECA gets signed tomorrow, what will you do?

Here are some possible remedies for technology professionals in the future :

a) Join the sales or business development team

If you can't beat them, join them.

If there is anything these successful executives can teach us, it's that pivoting to sales or business development can help. Sales roles are not for everyone, but an engineer can pivot into sales engineering before getting an accounts management role. Of course, guys can't really pull a Cecilia Sue while doing sales, but a technical background can ease the main concerns of the customer and someone else can be *ahem* hired for the Cecilia Sue role.

b) Emigrate to a place where you will be more valued for your skills

When the well began to dry up in Singapore after 2005 when CECA was signed, a number of my friends in Tech emigrated and left Singapore for good. I know of one who was retrenched and found himself in Canada and about two who could not get an account management role locally left for Australia. 

This is a good solution because Singaporeans are generally welcomed in many places and that the country you go to may protect their local workers more putting you in a better position when you become a local there. 

c) Position yourself financially to benefit from the floodgate of talent entering our shores

This is obviously my favourite solution since it was what allowed me to thrive post-2005.

If you read CECA, the terms are not unanimously disadvantageous to us, our banks have ready access to emerging markets so investing in banks would be a good idea. It comes as no surprise that my backtests have shown outperformance from the STI for the past decade as DBS extends its reach in India.

When you read about the transformation of Silicon Valley, you might think that the engineers made a lot of money from stock options. But it was the landlords who ultimately got richer who rented their rooms to software developers coming in from other states.

Similarly, while CECA may not be great for local technology professionals, it was fantastic for investors who bought real estate property in Singapore.

It should come as no surprise that I like (c) the most. 

I'm not a people person so I may be too disagreeable to be in a sales role. As an only child, I can't just walk away from living with my parents. So in my view, positioning my investments to benefit from immigration is the best defence against a second CECA. If a foreign expert will be renting your premises and paying you a fee every month to be here, it becomes really impossible to be xenophobe. If anything, landlords may even want a new CECA signed immediately with China or some African states tomorrow. 

We can own shares in the Development Bank of Africa!


  


  

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Channel your "arts brain" for more financial security


An acquaintance was recently outed by Rice Media and Chinese mainstream newspapers as running a vending machine business which led to many unhappy franchisees. You can read the details here.

When I saw the article, I had a short private correspondence with a friend who is a thought leader in Singaporean linguistics and a poet and found that he was also being sold aggressively by our mutual acquaintance. My poet friend said something interesting - he said that he never bought into those schemes because of his "arts brain". Making a living in the Arts constrained him into living life with a level-headed philosophy so he was less vulnerable to get rich quick schemes. 

There are too many ways to deconstruct what an "arts brain" really means when it comes to financial savvy. My educated guess (with my very-limited  "STEM brain") is that living in the arts and cultural realm often means being more prepared for leaner times and being compared against wealthier counterparts in banking, so I guess what emerges from many years of arts and cultural practice is strong resistance to envy and a large reservoir of mental resilience. This mental reserve can be useful in avoiding scams.

This is something folks who are not the Arts should do their best to cultivate. In the investment realm, the challenge for most of us is to ignore the news of folks making it in big in the latest fad of the day. 

( Yesterday it was DeFI, today it is NFTs )

Two examples in literary works contain financial lessons that may be worth more than 10,000 hamburger meals in MacDonalds with your commissioned financial advisor. 

a) Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice understood a man's worth in passive income 

Folks who keep getting ghosted on Tinder would know that classical literary works show that making a demeaning remark to a woman will still allow you to win her over in the end. That is exactly what happened between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. But negging may not be enough...

What is less prominently mentioned in the English Literature study notes is that Mr Darcy derives passive income from his ownership of Pemberly estate, a large estate in Derbyshire England. His passive income, by modern standards, is a pathetic £10,000. Sources on the web translate this to $13M a year! 

Are Pride and Prejudice also the reason why modern men love negging women? I think its almost the same as the Mr Darcy manoeuvre but without the dividends to back up the negging. 

( Incidentally, Pride and Prejudice was the first book I was forced to read as part of some Primary School English reading exercise when I was in Pri 4. )

b) Terry Pratchett's Captain Sam Vimes's Boots theory 

I don't really care that Terry Pratchett is not part of any English Literature syllabus. His works are relevant to the modern world and his observations of human nature are super sharp. 

Captain Sam Vimes is a recurring character in his series on the city of Ankh-Morpork and first showed up in his cop-dramedy series which began with Guards! Guards! One of Captain's most astute observations is celebrated in many financial blogs.

The theory is that what differentiates the rich and the poor is this - The poor need to pay $10 for a pair of boots that spoil easily and needs to be replaced very quickly. The rich, however, can pay $500 for a pair of boots that can last them for life. Over a long period of time, the rich pay far less for boots than the poor. 

As I built up more and more passive income, I started to adopt Sam Vime's theory when it came to using technology even though I'm still a cheapskate when it comes to clothes. 

I find it really hard to leave the Apple ecosystem for my tablets. (I'm still on a 1st generation iPad Pro and it's still getting OS updates !) I also use a Google Pixel phone for at least 4 years before upgrading it to the latest and greatest of that time. Even my laptop is a high-end Microsoft Surface Pro2 that's almost $4,000 a unit.

Hopefully, the pandemic will create a new kind of artist. It was rough being labelled irrelevant, experience revenue and job loss, and then have their religious shrines like the Substation cruelly taken away from them. 

Some will whine and bitch and get upset that the Government don't sayang them. 

But pay attention to those artists that survive or even thrived amidst the pandemic. 

They can teach a lesson or two to the most astute investors. 



Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Career advice for civil service farmers

 



I'm fairly used to getting questions I'm totally unqualified to answer during course previews. 

Last night, after hearing my story on how I performed a career-limiting manoeuvre in the public sector, someone asked me to give him advice on whether he should join the government in spite of not being a scholar. I think there are a lot of successful officers who are non-scholars who are in a better position to answer the question, but I try my best in every Q&A. 

I told him that the advice I failed to follow from my government senpais, which is this very simple act.

The secret to succeeding in government work for non-scholars is to swallow.

Swallow what, you might ask? Swallow your pride. Accept that the best assignments will be given to those with the highest CEP. Some officers will be blue-eyed boys. Those who swallow can expect generous bonuses and a better work-life balance than the private sector. I failed because I refuse to swallow.

That's a simple answer that might earn me a "B" in SMU Law School.

For an "A" answer, I would recommend Lim Hwee Hwa's Government in Business which explains painstakingly why private and public sector work is very different and why some of the best attitudes in the private sector will never translate to government work. If I read it before I took the leap, I may not have left the private sector. This would have saved me a lot of pain. 

My favourite idea is Lim Hwee Hwa's assertion that innovation is all about exploiting the lacuna of the law. Grab is essentially exploiting the fact that you can get an army of contactor drivers without trying to give them the perks of employees, resulting in a more competitive company. Here's another example - what is an ICO but an attempt to avoid prospectus requirements?

Here's the rub. If you want to exploit the lacuna of the law, there is a lot of money that will follow you to the ends of the earth. VCs have a lot of liquidity and they want to be onboard your innovation train. 

But if you are on the opposite end and functioning as a regulator, you will scant support from the tax-payer to plug these loopholes. Guys like me spend weeks using every tax-deductible there is to reduce the money I give to my former bosses, why should I pay top dollar to someone who would plug my next big innovative idea?

So no matter how good a government is, the government will lag the private sector and is perpetually in the process of playing catch up. In fact, if the government needs to compete for top talent to plug up these regulatory lacunae, they need to get the best brains (scholars) to predict where future regulatory challenges are, possibly bonding the scholars, giving them a high CEP and, hopefully, ruining their ability to join the private sector after they become really good at what they do. 

It is quite clear that Lim Hwee Hwa is not using this book to explain why she lost the 2011 elections in Aljunied. I find her examples very clear and she does not apologise for some of the more dramatic failures when private-public sector cooperation failed (particularly in SMRT). In her defence, the opposition parties who clamoured for SMRT to be nationalised after 2011 did not make any noise when PWD was privatised to become a leaner CPG years ago. Sadly, every good government would need to keep eliminating pockets of inefficiency by privatization every now and then. This ensures the best services for the people. 

There are some insights I picked up from the book. At the end of the day, term limits before an election drastically reduce the ability for governments to make tough decisions that pay off over the long-term for the people. In this case, the median voter theory is incomplete. The median voter today may contradict the median voter tomorrow. 

When Low Thia Khiang invited me to join the Workers party more than a decade ago, I told him that I want to be a man of economic means and not political means. Money managed well is a power source of its own. 

I think I made the right choice. 

If I have a time machine, I will tell my younger self not to leave the private sector. Just stay on, and get retrenched when it happens, and go start a business if necessary. My personality is to RED to play catch-up with the private sector - I should be leading the disruption instead. 

If I won't touch a China SOE with a ten-foot pole, I should never have entertained joining a statutory board. 

Those entertaining a stint in the government should put this on your reading list. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Is love a concept invented by losers ? Now 80% of men are not marriage material !


I continue to be haunted by the ghosts of the past. 

During the interview with MissFITFI, she mentioned the article I wrote in 2007 about why 70% of men are not marriage material. This article was dated 1st July 2007, which was the day I went to ROM. It sparked so much controversy that I was questioned by journalists on the Chinese press. In those days, evolutionary psychology has not become popular yet and I was quite proud of my thought leadership regarding that topic 14 years ago. Now we have a lot of experts who use it to provide advice for men i.e Jordan Peterson.  

We will never know whether psychological research conforms to real life. The field has been known to be plagued by problems of replicability. Nevertheless, my assessment is that situation has possibly gone worse. My cousin was forwarding me some discussion about Sugar Baby websites in Malaysia and I reproduce some snippets here :

First, we have a 2015 study on Tinder with regards to how the men and women were liking each other's profiles to determine the dating economy. 

"It was determined that the bottom 80% of men (in terms of attractiveness) are competing for the bottom 22% of women and the top 78% of women are competing for the top 20% of men." (1) "

The introduction of dating platforms like Tinder and Sugarbook have the effect of commoditizing relationships and we're starting to see a shift towards the Pareto principle or 80/20 rule as markets become more efficient. So it comes as no surprise to see that the top 78% of women are competing for just 20% of men.

Unfortunately, I don't have access to where this research on Tinder comes from, but the idea that only 20% of men are marriage material can have a huge impact on income requirements to be eligible for marriage for dudes who do not look like a BTS band member.

The median income for a Singaporean worker is about $4,534 in 2020. Household income at 71st-80th percentile is approximately double that of household income at 41th-50th percentile. So if we can estimate the monthly threshold of a guy who is marriage material, it would be in the region of $9,068!

Commoditization of relationships would ultimately be damaging to single men. 

Imagine you are a single guy on campus with no income and some vague notion of your earning potential based on salary data of university degrees and our thought experiment supposes we normalise dating websites like Sugarbook. If a female undergrad knows that she can fetch a tidy sum from a dating app, why would she consider spending time on you when there are wealthier men who are willing to pay a fee for her company?

This can have damaging consequences for the emotional development of single men. For one thing, the campus will not be a training ground to learn how to relate to women emotionally. If they are lucky, maybe they will get to work on a few academic projects with women. 

(Good luck my juniors in engineering school!)

Many of them will join the working world with a lot of bitterness and will aggressively climb the corporate ladder so that they can get a Sugar Baby of their own. Of course, given that our Women's Charter will not allow men to take on more than one wife, so these women in commodified relationships may find themselves sidelined as they lose their physical beauty. 

But there is good news.

We're probably not at this extreme state of commodified relationships in Singapore yet because women do look at men holistically and many have a high degree of financial independence. But I think Singaporean men live in a precarious state with huge questions about industrial relevance and stable employment. If you want a guy to settle down, he needs a good stable job.

This may the real reason why I tell guys to emphasize pay over passion when choosing their first degree.

Still, I think there is nothing wrong if a guy makes the assumption that the age of commodified relationships is already upon us, so dudes need to buck up and focus on achieving greatness in the economic sphere. Even if women don't expect it, it may give their future wives more latitude to choose between career or family later on. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Collaborating and hanging out with Millenials and Gen Z content creators

What do I not wish to become?

I don't want to be another 40-something year old whose musical and pop culture interests were stuck in the regressive 90s. Where Gen X would speak fondly of Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman, music from Depeche Mode, and maybe even cry every night to sleep because the Substation is closing down. Imagine trying to remain relevant by invoking these outdated aspects of cultural capital.  

One of the most important lessons I picked up in Law School is that if you hang around enough with younger folks, you will also feel younger. You'll never catch up with them, of course, but you'll be miles ahead of peers your own age. 

This is why, as far as possible, I find ways to collaborate with younger influencers and content creators and this article shed light on some of the stuff I'm doing with younger folks.

a) Jenson Chen - Superstar of the Central Providend Fund

Jenson approached me because he has a posse of young folks who wish to try out Dungeons and Dragons. As I wanted to influence an educator on the usefulness of this hobby, I was happy to do so. So I ended up conducting a pen and paper D&D game for a team of four players almost half my age. In spite of the group's inexperience with the rules, they seem to be better coordinated than many gaming veterans I played with. 

Here's the picture that was drawn by players to depict the final brawl with a Ghast in Triboar.

In particular, I was entertained by the way they played with the Prestidigitation cantrip and amused by Jenson's obsession with the Command spell. 

Jenson is now a bonafide superstar having ascended to CPF Sainthood. You can access his video on CPF here.

b) MissFITFI - At the cusp of greatness as a financial influencer


My money is on MissFITFI attaining prominence in financial blogging. 

I will not spoil the podcast I made yesterday with MissFITFI. I spent yesterday evening creating an hour of the recording where we discussed whether pay or passion should dominate when choosing a vocation. The material should be useful for listeners and I really hoped to reach out to MissFITFI's younger listeners. 

Like many female finance influencers, MissFITFI has been the target of attacks by toxic masculinity trolls just because she accumulated $100,000 before she was 30. But I think we don't give her enough credit, for her first degree she's formally trained in Finance and worked in M&A. She probably also runs 2.4km in a shorter time than me. 

One of my biggest regrets over this effort was that it was International Women's Day this week and we should be debating on whether women need a separate forum to discuss financial issues. This would have been a lot more controversial. But maybe in a future podcast, we can do this.

The podcast is being edited and likely will be out next week. You can follow this link here.  

c) RealMelTan - Already a Youtube superstar



The most pleasant surprise of the collaboration yesterday was in fact the really patient and unassuming cameraman for the event turned out to have a major Youtube presence and is a Youtube star in his own right. RealMelTan has a Youtube channel (link) that specialises in building gaming rigs. According to him, he has built rigs for commercial purposes that can cost up to $13,000 each.

As fellow gamers, we clicked immediately so right now, I'm brainstorming with RealMelTan on appearing on his Youtube channel and I have no idea where to begin. One possibility is financing gaming hobbies with dividend income. 

Readers thoughts and suggestions are welcome.

In the midst of generating content for everyone, I think the best bits when interacting with young creators is when everyone's guard is down after a hard day generating content. I think if the evening tea conversation was turned into a podcast, I think we can get 2-3x the audience.

Some stuff discussed included wide-ranging topics on Gay Guardsmen, why Mortal Kombat is like Happy Tree Friends, Wife hunting via Language classes, and how to become a subject matter expert in BDSM. 

Unfortunately, I will not further details on these topics on this blog. 

If you want the salacious bits, invite me for a collaboration on your channel. ( But I'm choosy )