Tuesday, 21 October 2014

London's great, but have you seen Britain?

By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent In London, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2014

CONSIDER this for a contradiction. According to a recent survey, London is the world's most coveted place; the British capital's dynamism and welcoming approach to foreigners makes it the destination of choice for the largest number of people seeking a job abroad.

Yet at the same time, Britain is gripped by a powerful backlash against immigrants: if general elections took place today, up to one in five of all Britons could be voting for a party whose only political platform consists of a pledge to seal the country's borders against all incoming foreigners.

How can one explain this gap between a welcoming city and a hostile nation?

Simple: London is no longer representative of the country to which it serves as capital; instead, it's a city which has effectively created its own way of life, a parallel social ecosystem.

Nor is this phenomenon of the "urban bubble" confined to Britain alone, for Europe has other capital cities which increasingly also have little to do with their countries.

It is a trend which carries profound and long-lasting political implications, although few of these have been understood by Europe's current political class.

Profound differences between towns and their countryside have, of course, been a feature of European life for centuries. But at no point have such disparities been as large as they are today.

Take London, Europe's biggest metropolis, as an example. Its population makes up just 13 per cent of all UK residents, but the city accounts for a quarter of the British economy. On a per capita basis, Londoners are 30 per cent wealthier than the rest of the United Kingdom. And they are also much better educated: 40 per cent have a graduate degree, more than double the national average.

But it's the ethnic diversity of London which is most striking. Almost half of its population is foreign-born, compared with just 9 per cent nationwide. And while 95 per cent of Britons identify themselves as "white", only 59 per cent of Londoners do so.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Why bronze medallists are happier than silver winners

Humans are prone to "it could have been better" or "if only" thinking. Such counterfactual thinking has implications on personal and political life.
By David Chan, Published The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2014

AFTER something has happened, or an outcome is known, people often think about how things could have turned out differently. They imagine what it could have been.

This typically occurs when they wish something had or had not happened. They think counterfactually to reality by thinking "If only…"

Counterfactual thinking also occurs when people imagine how things could have been worse. These thoughts often begin with "If I had…" or "If I had not…"

Counterfactual thoughts are widespread in personal life, at the workplace and in politics. It occurs when we think about what we or others have done, or not done.

Psychological research tells us a lot about counterfactual thinking. This knowledge is useful for improving our own lives and the lives of others.

Counterfactual thinking is ubiquitous

IT IS human to think counterfactually. Counterfactual thinking occurs in all areas of life, and more often than we realise.

It occurs when we regret doing something - "If only I had driven home by the usual route, I would not have been caught in the traffic jam."

The regret can also be over not doing something - "If only I had read that news article, I would have answered the question correctly."

We think counterfactually when we are upset or assign blame. Here is a common refrain from advisers - "If he had followed my suggestion, we would have prevented this public outcry."

Counterfactual thinking also occurs when we feel relieved or grateful. After a workplace incident, employees may think that if the company had not implemented safety measures, there would have been fatalities in the incident.

Often, counterfactual thinking is used to help people console others or themselves. Accident victims may feel better when they imagine that the outcome could have been worse.

When are people more likely to think counterfactually?

IMF highlights risks to S'pore growth

Foreign labour policy, as part of economic restructuring, 'could lower competitiveness'
By Lee Su Shyan, The Sunday Times, 19 Oct 2014

Restrictions on foreign labour supply that could crimp Singapore's competitiveness, as well as the spillover effects of slowing global growth, are among the risks that could hurt the economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has highlighted.

In its annual review of Singapore's economic and financial policies issued late last Friday, the IMF noted that the "slowing inflow of foreign workers, as part of the ongoing economic restructuring, could moderate potential growth and lower competitiveness".

With Singapore being an open economy, other risks include a protracted period of slower growth in advanced and emerging economies, as well as the continued build-up and eventual unwinding of excess capacity in China.

There could also be an abrupt surge in financial market volatility as investors reassess underlying risks, and geopolitical risks, added the IMF.

These concerns have come to the fore in the past week as global markets took fright and the Straits Times Index lost all the gains it had made in the year.

Concerns have mounted over the United States economy, which seems to be losing steam, while recent euro zone data has been weak. The moderating of growth in China is also another concern.

Advance estimates of Singapore's third-quarter gross domestic product growth came in at a lower- than-expected 2.4 per cent, while last month's export numbers edged up only slightly, as global demand slowed.

The IMF noted that as Singapore continues with its restructuring policies, tighter labour supply due to the slowing inflow of foreign workers and an ageing population will boost wages.

But as productivity gains are unlikely to fully compensate, this will lead to an increase in core inflation - a measure of everyday out-of- pocket costs - temporarily.

As the Monetary Authority of Singapore maintained its stance on a modest and gradual appreciation of the Singdollar last week, it forecast core inflation to pick up gradually into early next year before easing in the second half of the year. It is forecast to be 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent this year, and 2 per cent to 3 per cent next year.

The IMF noted that Singapore's ambitious restructuring efforts could "set the stage for a new era of sustainable growth".

CPF 'top pension scheme in Asia'

But the retirement system lacks adequacy, according to Mercer Melbourne Global Pension Index
By Mok Fei Fei, The Sunday times, 19 Oct 2014

Singapore's Central Provident Fund (CPF) has been rated the best retirement system in Asia despite slipping slightly in the overall score, an index shows.

It racked up a score of 65.9 out of 100 in the Mercer Melbourne Global Pension Index, down from last year's 66.5.

The score gave it a "B" grade, the same as Finland, Switzerland and Sweden in the index, which examined the retirement systems of 25 countries.

Singapore's rating put it ahead of five other Asian nations ranked - China, India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea, which was given a "D" grade.

Singapore was ranked 10th overall, with Denmark taking top spot with a score of 82.4, which earned it the only "A" grade.

A lack of adequacy in Singapore's retirement system, which takes into account factors like benefits, savings, tax support and growth assets, was the main reason for the dip in its score.

Singapore's adequacy sub-index score was at 56.4, down from 59 last year and also below this year's global average of 63.

Mr Neil Narale, the ASEAN retirement business leader at human resources consultant Mercer, said: "The lack of tax-approved group corporate retirement plans and retirement savings for non-residents continues to isolate Singapore from other high-graded countries on the global scale."

Mercer has identified possible areas of reform for Singapore, including raising the minimum level of support available to the poorest elderly.

It also recommended reducing the barriers to establishing tax-approved group corporate retirement plans, opening CPF to non-residents and increasing the labour force participation rate of older workers.

Mr Narale noted that changes announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the National Day Rally are expected to improve Singapore's grade.

The changes include the Silver Support Scheme, an annual bonus for poor elderly people when they reach the age of 65, and having more flexibility in drawing down CPF savings.

More facilities, activities at 80 Café Corners in North East District

By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 18 Oct 2014

Residents in the North East District can soon look forward to playing board games while having coffee with friends in their neighbourhood. The North East Community Development Council (CDC) is progressively enhancing its 80 Cafe Corners with more facilities and social activities for neighbours to bond with each other.

The new Cafe Corners will have programmes for residents such as arts and crafts activities and health talks. A social space at Blk 718 Tampines Street 72 is among those that have been upgraded to a Cafe Corner PLUS.

The CDC is even decentralising its district meetings at the various Cafe Corners. There will be 18 sharing sessions over the next four weeks to update residents on the progress of the CDC and plans for the year ahead.

"This provides an important platform for neighbours to come together informally to interact, to bond with one another, to connect with one another,” said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, MP for Tampines GRC. “It also provides a useful platform for us to reach out to residents to explain important policies, and how residents can make full use of these policies.”

Islamic Education Fund to be made available to more needy students

More can tap fund to pay for lessons; new programme also lets them learn at home
By Walter Sim, The Sunday Times, 19 Oct 2014

More Muslim children will get help paying for religious classes, with the enhancement of a fund to finance Islamic education.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) yesterday said it has revised the eligibility criteria for assistance programmes under the Islamic Education Fund.

Apart from that, it also launched a home-schooling programme, Kids aLive Home Edition, to cater to parents who want to teach their children about Islam at home.

The Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, said: "For now, only 40 per cent of our students are taking part in Islamic education programmes. We hope to raise this to 60 per cent."

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the launch yesterday at Al-Mawaddah Mosque in Sengkang, he added: "We need to decrease the obstacles that might be preventing some families from coming forward."

The Islamic Education Fund, which received a $2 million boost this year, was introduced in 2004 and provides subsidies to help needy children pay for religious classes.

Respect is key amid dissolving hierarchies

Power can no longer be preserved through distance as IT effect changes relationships
By Lydia Lim Associate Opinion Editor, The Sunday Times, 19 Oct 2014

If Mr George Yeo is right, top-down relationships everywhere are being turned on their heads.

In a speech at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy 10th anniversary conference last Friday, he spoke about a crisis of institutions worldwide, caused by the "disintermediating" effect of information technology.

The former foreign minister, who is now chairman of Kerry Logistics and a visiting scholar at the school, said of the growing role of social media in shaping perceptions:

"The most profound impact is in the way hierarchies are being corroded by information technology disintermediating what kept these hierarchies intact in the first place - sometimes by ignorance, sometimes by hypocrisy, sometimes by rituals, sometimes by selective information and disinformation.

"In the past, a child could become an emperor because he's all dressed up, protected by courts, by music, by distance and people bow. Today, the cameras are everywhere; the microphones are everywhere and if you're not authentic, well, you will be laughed at. The emperor has no clothes.

"This has changed relationships in a profound way: between parents and children, between teachers and students, between doctors and patients, between priests and laity, between government leaders and voters. This disintermediation of hierarchies has led to what I would call a crisis of institutions around the world. And the more pyramidal, the more elaborate - Byzantine - institutions are, far away in Beijing, in Washington, in Brussels, in Tokyo, in Delhi, the less the public affection."

In other words, power can no longer be preserved through distance. Instead, leadership has to be exercised through nearness.

What might this mean for a city state like Singapore, whose success has been built on elite governance?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Long-term policy issues must be studied objectively

This is an excerpt of a speech by Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy's 10th anniversary conference yesterday where the book, The Big Ideas Of Lee Kuan Yew, was also launched.
The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2014

LOOKING back, one cannot help but be struck by the tremendous courage that former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues showed in the face of great adversity.

The sheer audacity of what they did was breathtaking - from deciding it was possible to have a formidable military, to creating a Garden City and cleaning up the Singapore River; from deciding to make Singapore self-sufficient in water, to deciding to take on the communists when they were in their 30s.

Mr Lee holds firm convictions, but he is also a pragmatist who sees the world as it is.

He had "big ideas" but he also knew when to adapt to realities.

As we move into Singapore's 50th anniversary of independence, our Golden Jubilee, it is timely to look at some of his important ideas.


ONE "Big Idea" is that small states are inherently vulnerable and require a strategy to survive. Mr Lee himself reminded us that "small countries have little power to alter the region, let alone the world. A small country must seek a maximum number of friends, while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign and independent nation".

In the era of the Cold War, Mr Lee and his colleagues practised this principle decisively in securing multilateral alliances, building ties with major powers and countering the communist threat on home ground. The struggle waged against the communists is an important reminder that there is no clean line dividing foreign and domestic order. This remains the case today.

The world is in flux and borders are more porous than ever. Events and conflicts far away can affect us. Take the situation in the Middle East, and the expansion of the ISIL threat (ISIL is also known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS).

Even if Singapore is not a direct target, foreign interests may be targeted. And we know that a handful of Singaporeans have journeyed to Syria to join the conflict there. So while the events and conflicts abroad may seem far removed from the daily lives of Singaporeans, they can easily fray the fabric of our society, and pose domestic threats to our national security. As a small country, we must always stay vigilant and keep looking outwards, because the changes in the external environment can have a big impact on us.

LKY School's 10th Anniversary Conference

Lawrence Wong takes on some of Lee Kuan Yew's 'Big Ideas'
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 17 Oct 2014

Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong has said that opposition for its sake will not promote or strengthen democracy. He said this in a speech which touched on the "The Big Ideas" of Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Wong was speaking at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy 10th Anniversary Conference on Friday (Oct 17).


One big idea was "the need for a harmonious society that functions in the best interests of the community". However, this is being challenged by the onslaught of globalisation, the ease in which radical propaganda and inflammatory remarks can circulate online, as well as the new wave of migrants into the country.

Mr Wong cited how during the population debate, some groups had called for "zero foreign worker growth". He said that "it made for a good slogan, never mind the consequences it would have on the economy, local businesses and more importantly, Singaporean jobs".

He added that such challenges are not unique to Singapore. Other countries have also seen the rise of populist movements, tapping on widespread social discontent as well as nationalist and xenophobic sentiments to mobilise the masses.

"Opposition for the sake of opposition will not promote or strengthen our democracy," said Mr Wong. "Mr Rajaratnam once noted that it is easy to win attention by disagreeing with the Government. If the Government says 'white', and you write letters or articles in the newspapers advocating 'black', then your column will be read and you will be hailed at the next cocktail reception as an original and bold thinker. But how does this sort of discourse help us in solving the real and vital problems affecting our nation?"

The Big Ideas Of Lee Kuan Yew

A new book, The Big Ideas Of Lee Kuan Yew, was launched yesterday. Below are excerpts from three essays in the book by former ambassador Chan Heng Chee, former permanent secretary of foreign affairs Bilahari Kausikan, and Permanent Secretary (Public Service Division) Yong Ying-I. The book is based on a conference in September last year organised by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.
The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2104

Guiding the supertanker into the harbour
By Chan Heng Chee

TO HIM the US-China relationship is the most important relationship of this century. Lee Kuan Yew has made many efforts to help the West understand China; equally, he has sought to explain the United States in all its contradictions to the Chinese.

He does not want the two to enter into conflict; he fears they will misunderstand each other, underestimate each other, and miscalculate.

His main concern is to ensure a stable US-China relationship, which is the sine qua non for a peaceful and prosperous Asia. Mr Lee sometimes speaks up for one side, and at other times for the other.

Singapore's foreign policy is best served by ensuring views going in the wrong direction do not go unchecked. And he sees Singapore's role as being the voice of moderation.

Michael Green, senior director of Asian Affairs in George W. Bush's National Security Council, once described Singapore's role as a pilot for the US, guiding the superpower or supertanker into the harbour.

Singapore would tell the US, "come in, come in", or, at times, "go back, go back", because the US may be overstepping.

For example, during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and 70s, when voices calling for the United States to bring home the troops and end the war had reached a crescendo, Mr Lee argued for the US to stay.

Post-Vietnam, when America could not forget South-east Asia soon enough and the region grew relatively hostile to the US military presence, Mr Lee spoke of the dangers of US withdrawal from the region.

It was in this context that when the US was asked to leave Clark Airbase and Subic Bay, Singapore offered the Americans access to Singapore's military facilities, but not a base.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when the US and Europe, believing the end of history had come, pursued an agenda of promoting democracy and human rights as universal values, Lee Kuan Yew took on the West in a debate on values. Perhaps he saw this as a new form of cultural imperialism.

It was in this context that the case of Michael Fay, the American teenager who vandalised more than 20 cars one evening in 1993, became a cause celebre and precipitated the biggest row in US-Singapore relations.