Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Idea of "Two Singapores" is not a new concept. But I think this idea is.


Leader of Opposition Pritam Singh, I think the only SMU JD in parliament, went viral when he spoke about Two Singapores emerging if we fail to rein in inequality. 

Interestingly, this idea has been introduced previously by yours truly. 

I wrote Growing Your Tree of Prosperity in 2005, and I've taken a screenshot of a page I wrote about 18 years ago. I'm sharing another snippet of my writing.  

Having two Singapores is such an old idea. There is no novelty in talking about it. And in the SMU JD program, novelty earns you an A+ in-class participation. 

Singaporeans should consider themselves lucky these days if there are two Singapores. We can solve the problem by taxing one Singapore and distributing it to the other.

The problem arises if we have 20-30 different Singapores with their own social norms and circles. Policymakers will have a brain aneurysm trying to balance out this kind of society. 

There is a certain fractal quality of income gaps in any society. Policymakers can target broad differences, but the finer societal differences are impervious to policymaking.

Take, for instance, the salary gap between polytechnic and university graduates. We're focused on that today.

But it gets more interesting. If you zoom into different local degrees, there is a gap between non-professional and professional degrees. You can google the massive difference in salary between an NUS graduate in Art, Media and Design versus a Law or Computing degree.

It gets worse. 

Within a degree qualification, major gaps exist as well. Compare lawyers' salaries in an international firm versus a big 4 versus a small firm. Look at the difference between what a Specialist earns compared to a GP. There might even be an intra-group salary gap.

As you zoom in on a population, you will find a gap between different sub-groups within a population. As you zoom into these sub-groups, you may find more gaps. If the gaps worsen over time, it may be because the premium knowledge workers are getting higher regardless of which sector you are in. 

If there are many Singapores, Then as a policymaker and individual, you've got a severe problem. No matter how much training, you'll always be in a collective with vast salaries and income gaps. 

If there are two Singapores, one Singapore is happy and cannot complain. If we have 32 Singapores, only one Singapore will be happy at the pinnacle of society. Does taxing the upper echelons solve that problem?

Economic intervention is something that MUST be done. But it will only solve the problem if we also attempt to change the mindset of citizens, which is hard and involves many fine-tuned interventions. Moving a rich-kid primary school to Tengah will just be the beginning. 

There might be one, albeit ugly, alternative.

Singapore stops seeing itself as a country but a temporary place to earn money. So we take in foreign talent, let them work and try to succeed in a low tax regime, but eventually, most of them will go to a cheaper place to retire. Some foreigners will make it to have children, but they will eventually be tested because they might not make it to produce the next generation. Future immigrants may drive real estate to levels the previous generation will not be able to handle. There's a certain perverse justice and fairness in all of this since most of us are descended from immigrants anyway. 

If you are an opposition MP or PAP supporter who wants to mine future talking points in Parliament, do follow the links to Amazon to buy my book. 

I'm also available to give speeches to your party cadre.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

How can one stop being a simp?


One benefit of having the occasional coffee with readers of this blog is that their questions often lead to new articles. This time, a loyal reader wanted my advice on stopping being a simp. During the session, I could not really come up with a good answer, so I thought I'd give a better answer here.

For one thing, we can't really use a dictionary definition of a simp - someone who is excessively sympathetic and attentive towards a person who does not reciprocate in return. I think this is what I observe of simps for the purposes of this blog.
  • It's generally a guy who simps for beautiful women. Ugly chicks don't get simps.
  • Often the love languages expressed are acts of service and gifts. Beautiful women do not really value the other forms of love language from their simps.
  • To rule out married cheekopeks and sugar daddies who do almost the same thing for different reasons, simps are generally not on the high-income scale and relatively young to middle-aged.. 
So if we take this rules in, simps are young to middle-aged men who give presents or perform services to hot women who are out of their league, losing valuable economic resources but not getting any reciprocation in the process.

Once we agree on this definition of simps, we will be able to give advice on how to stop being a simp. 

a) Climb the economic ladder.

My best advice is to focus on climbing the economic ladder. Make yourselves better and get into the league. The problem with simps is that they are on a lower rung on the economic ladder than the position the women are in the looks hierarchy. 

Readers of my blog, remember this iron-clad rule :

For guys, love is rarely unconditional.

The advantage of being a guy is that you can get into a rigorous habit of self-improve to climb the ladder. Women's positions are primarily tied to the looks they are born with.  This entire blog is written for the incels ad BBFA who want a better a status in life. 

You can also read this article on modern dating for further inspiration.

b) Expend effort on someone ugly or more amenable to accepting you

An example of how a poor dating market works is SDU for folks in my generation. In dating events, guys and girls talk among themselves until some pilot or hot chick shows up. Then all the women gank the pilot, and all the guys flock around the hot chick. The problem is the pilot, or hot chick is actually a plant by the dating company for business development reasons. They are actually looking for something other than a partner. ( Some just want to sell ILPs to simps )

The situation would be better if guys picked a women who they think, based on his own capabilities and earning power, can credibly win her love. This means going against centuries of the genetic programming of overconfidence and picking someone more plainer looking.

One way is to date older women. Another dating market that repels most men is women who are very successful in their careers.

c) Go for foreign women

The problem for men is that it's within their power to climb the status ladder. But this means that every guy will try to jostle for position on the totem pole. Only some guys get to be on top. If it's not feasible to improve yourself to rise through the ranks of society, then take all your toys and play in a different field. The truth is that the average guy in Singapore can project a lot of economic power if it's wielded in other parts of South-East Asia. 

Lastly, I just want to say that it's not easy to stop being a Simp. So much genetic programming will need to be undone. I'm not even sure the economy can survive if simps just decided to go on strike and start allocating their economic resources just to enjoy themselves.

If I'm in my 20s, I might also be a simp. If you push, I'll admit that I have a preference for maybe someone like Annette Lee, who is quite wholesome, funny, and sings quite well. But Annette Lee married someone who works for a hedge fund. 

This totally vindicates my article.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Fork on the Road

For something to be defined as failure, it must humble the person who failed. If failure is just a precursor to success, then the person has imbibed a lot of shit from success gurus. 

For the past three months, I have attempted to balance a legal career while conducting an investment course, and I have realised this is unsustainable. 

An investment trainer's job is powered by optimism. We invest because we see a better future. 

A lawyer's outlook is generally very pessimistic, as we need to look out for risks and dangers when we think about what kind of advice we want to give. I find that there's very little room to see any good in others in this line of work. 

I was trying to place two large stones into my jar, but the jar was too small. And while I was chugging along, I couldn't help that I might need to discard the option before the year was over.

The question I've been asking myself is, what would the future of my career look like if I'm forced to make a choice. Perhaps I should talk about this on my blog before pulling the plug.

a) Investment training

If I stay on investment training, I cannot sustain myself with one program like ERM. Based on my projection, I will only earn between 15% of my peak this year, given the high-interest rates and low interest amongst retail investors. An 85% dip in earnings is quite hard to swallow, but I can wait for market recovery.

One way to carry on is that I have to launch a new course. I've been coding a few investment techniques and already have four Jupyter notebooks to launch a new quantitative investing course. But this is just 5% of the work, as there are lecture notes and previews to prepare. But now, I know I can launch it.

If I take this route, my legal work will be pushed to the background if I don't end it. I'm reluctant to give up the practice but may go to the office to do just pro bono work. My legal work will generate negative earnings in 2023 as I have to pay for insurance. 

b) Push on with my lawyer transformation

I can choose to push on with legal work. This means looking for a salaried associate position. This is because I've not been successful in looking for files, and a profit-sharing arrangement has not worked out. My attempts to replicate a payout like investment training does not translate to my legal career.

The upside is that the industry is hungry for associates again, and I can move on with a new career which is stable and will come with good increments. I've spent the last 3-4 months familiarising myself and am now ready to dip into a new position, but I have to choose a family-friendly path, which can mean a career in conveyancing. 

I've lined up interviews next week, and if successful, it can mean a short break from my investment training career. 

This also comes with great reluctance because I've been conducting training for four years and enjoy doing it. I may attempt to negotiate my way to keep training on weekends and use my leave to run my business, but this will not likely succeed. 

(Also, I will continue to build ERM portfolios with my community with 600+ members rather than just letting it go. I have a solid plan to do this.)

So this summarises my angst regarding my career at the moment. I suspect I don't have enough information to choose at the moment because I am still missing information on what my time is worth. 

I would like to delay pulling the plug on one of my careers, but as my practice license needs renewal on 1st April 2023, I have to start making a decision soon.  

Monday, February 13, 2023

[VDay Post] Why shouldn't Money be a Love Language?


It was Gary Chapman who pioneered the idea of the Five Love Languages. The idea is that you can have better relationships if you figure out your own love language or your partner's. The five love languages are:
  • Physical Touch
  • Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Quality Time
  • Words of Encouragement.
After a while, self-help gurus tried to expand the model into seven love languages. Some article I read a while ago added intellectual conversation and emotional connection, but if you google the seven, you will get Communication and Expression of love and affection.

Now all this fine and good, if you are in the business of selling self-help books. Recent surveys show that for the men who read this blog, they really need to focus on other things in life to attract a mate. Dating companies conduct surveys in Singaporean women and find out that they prefer the following:
  • Education Qualifications
  • Salary
  • Similar religion
So my question for Valentine's Day in 2023 is simply : 

Why can't money be a love language?

If you think about it, money can be used to buy gifts. It can also buy services that end up giving you more time, which pays for more quality time and enables more acts of service. It provides more economic security and in an economic regime of high inflation and rocketing real estate prices, why can't it be formally inducted as a love language?

I think if we can acknowleged Money as a Love Language, we can have a very fruitful conversation about what kind of money is your Money Dialect, to which there are several interesting examples :
  • High-earned income
  • Dividends / Royalties
  • Investment Growth 
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Inheritance
  • Marriage
Even if your Love Language is Money, there are many ways to make money, so you should think  about what kind of Money Dialect you speak. 

It's pretty obvious my Money Dialect is Dividends. Someone who is always hunting for expat men might see Marriage as a means to get more financial security. Someone who is always studying to join a high-paying profession will speak the Love Dialect of High-earned income. 

Reading someone's Money Dialect is a useful skill even if you are not looking for romantic entanglements. A person who has a Money Dialect of Dividends will tend to prefer to save a lot of money to grow their passive income. This person may clash with someone whose Money Dialect is Entrepreneurship. 

There is nothing more annoying for a dividends investor to keep hearing about self-aggrandizing stories of hustling and Lamborghini cars.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Letter to Batch 29 of the Early Retirement Masterclass


Dear Students of Batch 29,

It’s been a great honour and privilege to conduct a 5-Day Early Retirement Workshop for you.

When I was preparing the slides for Batch 29, we saw some glimmers of hope in the market. The US Fed declared that we were in a period of disinflation, and markets rallied. ERM portfolios built by previous batches of students all began to see positive signs.

The possibility of a recovery then led to the possibility of restoring leverage to our ERM portfolios. While we can consider leveraging our investments again, two major impediments to executing this manoeuvre exist.

Firstly, interest rates are at an all-time high. Leveraging Singapore stocks with Interactive brokers will cost over 6%. This is higher than the dividend yield of Batch 29, which is a respectable 5.97%.

Secondly, the US economy generated more jobs, and unemployment has dropped. This can mean that inflation will be harder to control. The investing public has probably underestimated how far the Fed will raise interest rates and how long they can keep it at such a high level.

Because of these twin considerations, we will hold back on leverage for the moment, and I intend to pick up the stocks using my traditional trading account.

We will revisit the possibility during the next batch of training.

Lastly, I hope that Batch 29 will participate actively in the FB group. Sometime in Q1 2023, we should meet for an online community webinar.

Hope to see you then!

Christopher Ng Wai Chung

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Career Counsellors in Secondary Schools


Last week I was volunteering at my secondary school providing career talks, I had my first encounter with a career counsellor. The formal designation is Education and Career Guidance Counsellor or ECG Counsellor.

It's pretty clear that Minister Chan now has his hands full with reforming the education system to cope with an AI-enabled future, now we have folks who focus on career guidance for secondary school students. 

In my opinion, the implementation of this is still quite iffy because the counsellor I met had to cover not one but two secondary schools, and I'm not sure how much of a difference this would make to students if counsellors were spread so thin. Do note that my alma mater has two counsellors in charge of mental health likely because of the incident at River Vally Secondary School. 

My encounter with that specific career counsellor, sadly, did not paint a positive picture of this new role. Prior to our career panel, the counsellor gave an interesting pep talk on how ECG counsellors fit into the school ecosystem and explained why he had to engage with us. I perked up when he said that some of the things that might be presented may not align with a modern view of career counselling citing the old-school preferences of "Sciences over Arts" as an example of such a bias.

He got me really hyped up on my own presentation, which was really about hyphenated careers and why students now have more time to try out different professions rather than jumping into a professional law or medical degree immediately. I wanted to really open up the possibility of at least a pure numbers and tech person entering the legal profession. 

What actually happened was that we gave our talks as scheduled but the ECG counsellor disappeared. Beyond the pep talk, there was no engagement with volunteers. 

After this event, I doubted that the ECG counsellor could have done more. He might need to get into the territory of vetting our slides and risk offending some alumni. Alternatively, he might have to organise another event and state what MOE's position is. Some matters are quite consequential to students: I did tell the students to use ChatGPT for all their homework to figure out how to do better than an AI.

On the whole, I can imagine how ECG counsellors need to deal with conflicting interests in their daily jobs :
  • In the JC versus Poly debate, how can the ECG Counsellor reconcile promoting a Polytechnic education when salary gaps are so high between Poly and University graduates?
  • Will the counsellor try to promote jobs that are prone to be outsourced or vulnerable to high-interest rates like technology and engineering roles at the expense of getting secondary school kids to aim for banking and finance instead? 
  • Will the Ministry have a different message on career counselling to different secondary schools? Will RI have a different career counselling content than my secondary school?
All this does not mean that ECG Counsellors suck. If anything, I think we need more ECG counsellors and create a path for burnt-out educators to take on this career path after a short stint, perhaps, in government HR. 
Personally, I will not trust the State to chart my career :
  • When I was in Sec 3, Poly lecturers were sent to my school to convince us to take on the Polytechnic career path. That one event sealed my determination to get into JC program. I think they need to be held accountable for leading students to a poorer employment outcome and lower salaries curing right now. 
  • In NUS, during my final year, a talk by a GIC manager to engineering students was cancelled because authorities were afraid of Engineers not joining the tech industry. It was that same government that brought in foreign talent to keep engineering salaries low half a decade later. This, in turn, led to Aljunied GRC's fall in the 2011 elections.  
I was a difficult teenager to teach when I was 15 years old. 

Instead of seeing ECG Guidance counsellors as a source of career advice, I think my younger self will openly challenge them. Smart kids should google salary statistics and minimum grades to qualify for a specific profession. 

ECG Counsellors should be openly challenged and forced to debate on their outlook on the employment landscape. 
  • If they represent MOE, they should be asked on their own opinions whether they think it's conscionable to ask students to aim lower in life. 
  • Ask them whether they'd give the same advice to their own kids.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

On plumbers who emigrate to Australia to get $100,000 salaries

Recently, an anonymous poster claiming to have graduated from ITE bragged online about earning about $100,000 annually. This post attracted a lot of supporters and haters. 

Haters attempted to discredit the poster and combed through the post to see if there were any inconsistencies. One argument from this faction was that after paying income and consumption taxes, the numbers would not bad as favourable as they looked. Another argument was that this poster was lying. The weakness of this argument is that no matter how you play with the numbers, a $100,000 income after taxes in Australia would still be more favourable than the wages of a local ITE graduate. 

Supporters generally use this post as an opportunity to discredit the government, hinting that societies that respect trade labour exists and ITE graduates are better off emigrating there. To me, supporters are insincere. They do not consider some benefits of staying in Singapore - escalating real estate prices allowing wealth creation within a short time, and low investment taxes. If I look at social media and read about the pro-Australia folks in Singapore, I see a reflection of their dissatisfaction with society. While they might have a point,  I think it's more about them and their hissy fit than plumbers with a Nitec qualification. 

Looking at both sides of the argument, I think it is safe to conclude that an ITE graduate can take on a trade role in Australia and earn $100,000. But doing so requires overcoming some obstacles specific to that trade which has not been discussed in the original post. This will require some grit.

I think that if we can agree that my point is reasonable, then there may be some truths that we need to confront :

a) ITEs should actively encourage graduates to emigrate

Singaporeans have complained that Malaysians have been more than willing to take up blue-collar work here to keep services cheap at the expense of local tradesmen. If ITE provides such solid training in trade skills, it makes more sense for locally trained tradesmen to ply their trade in a country that pays them more so that they can remit their earnings back to support their parents back home in Singapore. This is straight from the playbook of Malaysians who work here.  

Perhaps a final-year module can teach ITE, graduates what steps to take to emigrate to Australia. When I was working for the unions, I met some union leaders who had fascinating knowledge about the Superannuation system in Australia, even though I suspect they don't know what CPF shielding is. 

b) It has to follow logically that our polytechnics must be terrible institutions

Recently we've been treated with very unflattering statistics about polytechnic graduates in Singapore. 

A diploma holder earns about two-thirds of a degree holder, and authorities are now coming alive to the idea that this gap can cause a serious fracture in society. In the 1980s, the polytechnics sent their lecturers to neighbourhood secondary schools like mine to tell us to aim lower in life and not insist on entering University. I wonder how they are reacting to the statistics now. 

Now things get worse. 

If the poster is right, an ITE graduate is better off skipping polytechnic and going to Australia instead. If this is true, then what does this say about the value-add of a polytechnic diploma in Singapore? As tax payers should be continue to expect our government to keep putting so much investment into polytechnic education?

I think this is something policymakers need to think about.