Tuesday, January 03, 2023

On HDB - What is the opposite of innovation?


One popular idea gaining traction is that Singapore's HDB policy stifles innovation and risk-taking, which has been shared by some real-estate gurus or famous Millennial voices like The Woke Salaryman. 

The central idea is quite persuasive. 

As a generation of young Singaporeans gets tied down by expensive mortgages, Singaporeans begin to make career choices that are more predictable and secure, and this often precludes options that involve creative pursuits and entrepreneurial risk-taking. 

I have argued in the past that home ownership creates positive externalities, and I would not want to live in a neighbourhood where folks rent their property because there is less incentive to look after the area. 

I will try to unpack this argument further and talk about this ephemeral concept of innovation and why we are not thinking as critically when we try to tie this up with the HDB policy. 

a) Can we import innovation?

The first question is that for policymakers to succeed, we may need Singaporeans to benefit from innovation, not necessarily to become the source for it. We're not known to be great creatives, yet our GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world. If we can import innovation, best practices, or even culture, what's there to say that we would be lost because we can still benefit from it.

So an argument needs to address the importation of creative talents, and we can choose those who are already proven right by the markets.

b) Folks can choose to be creative. The problem is that they don't want to lose out to those who are not.

I firmly subscribe to Jordan Peterson's idea of the lobster world. When guys get together, it becomes impossible to avoid the formation of hierarchies based on financial success. In Singapore, if you pick a creative and entrepreneurial path, you are essentially taking a much higher risk of failure, but that means perhaps a smaller house or more awkward questions in Chinese New Year.

But I think what guys hate is to be "marked down" by women. If women choose the stable and somewhat boring resource provider rather than the creative edgelord, the creative edgelord will... be even edgier.

No rule in Singapore says you can't live with your parents and pursue your entrepreneurial vision. The problem is that that accountant boy next door who has a personality of a doorknob is getting laid, making babies, and earning $600k from his EC. What the fuck are you doing, re-reading your old collection of BigO magazines and masturbating in your bedroom?

This is unique to Asian societies that run on personal responsibility rather than welfare. If the state does not contribute to child-rearing, economically more resourceful and stable men have a better chance of getting laid. In Scandinavian countries, single mums get a lot of support, and the beefier kind of men tend to win.

c) What is the "opposite" of innovation?

It would be dumb if we thought that our policymakers would create an HDB policy and trade-off innovation and creativity for nothing in return.

But what did we get in return for the HDB policy? It cannot be simply the positive externalities of 90% home ownership, which is a big deal to me.

So this blog is going to try to take a stab at this problem. We need to realise that in this working world, there is a lot of "Sai Kang" or vital grunt work that pays decently but is unpleasant, and no sane person would do it if they were financially independent. 

Who resets the network switch at 3 am if remote access fails? 

Who is good at pivot tables and audits your finances? 

Who combs every clause in your sales and purchase agreement?

Who procures toilet paper for the government?

I can say with authority that writing a tender document is nowhere as personally satisfying as drawing Renaissance Art or NFTs.

How do you tie intelligent, conscientious folks to work that keeps the Nation and systems running. We can't all be in the business of creating NFTs. Maybe for one creative, ninety-nine needs to do work that is BAU. 

This is the crux of the HDB policy. Suppose they can keep golden handcuffs on some citizens and reward them financially for doing BAU work, which they otherwise would not do if they were economically independent. Give women a reason to prioritise predictable men. HDB is perfect because women who want to roost will wish to a nest.

So the opposite of innovation is predictability. Predictability can make a nation wealthy and powerful in a world where water needs to flow from taps and supermarkets need to be well-stocked with chicken. 

That's the key to what makes us tick. 

Creatives and suits have fought over the lobster world for Millenia. Nation states will enact a policy to favour or nerf one party for the greater good. 

HDB is such a policy. 

Think about what we stand to lose if we get rid of it.

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