Ladies and Gentlemen,
Singapore's state owned and controlled newspaper the Straits Times Online edition of Dec 2, 2010 has this story "Social safety net "working"". The Singapore strongman Lee Kuan Yew's son, whom he appointed Prime Minister, has ordered his paper, to say that the poor are not neglected by his government, a statement which has not an iota of truth in it. Of course in a country where he controls every single newspaper, he can say anything he wants and not be any worse for it.
He says "Singapore's social safety net is working well" and "the Government will keep finding ways to improve it".
The fact is, if you knew Singapore like I do, it completely neglects it's poor, and the justification they use is to say, we are a "meritocratic society", which again is a completely false statement. Lee Kuan Yew cronies being given top jobs and anyone else asked to fend for themselves, is not meritocracy. There is another word for it. It is nepotism.
The truth is this. If you are lucky to have had an education and the willingness to shut your mind to any thing political, or the willingness to crawl, you would be able to make some sort of a living. On the other hand, if you were incapable of studying or you were stupid enough to go against the Big Man, you are in very serious trouble. You would probably be unemployed and without any help from friends and relatives, would just about starve. To live, you would have to completely demean yourself for any help, almost begging for a handout from the government, which in turn destroys your self respect, which in turn destroys your spirit, which in turn destroys you.
The whole basis of Singapore's approach to social welfare is wrong. It is based on a distrust of their own people, on a false justification that if ever you showed the slightest of generosity to the disadvantaged, you will immediately open the flood gates of a crutch mentality and every one would become lazy and Singapore as we know would collapse tomorrow.
So with this false premise in mind, the government, although well able to afford it, go out of their way to demand their poor to almost be dying before they are even given a crumb. The entire process of it is not only demeaning, it is dehumanizing.
Instead of the government working out a minimum amount of income necessary for a citizen based on family size, which is realistic, rather than expecting someone to live on bread and water; giving them a means test and paying out what is due with respect and dignity, Singapore has a system which in effect requires the poor to literally beg.
Although there is some sort of calculation to decide what one gets, it is actually way way below what is needed to survive as an ordinary human being. We hear many stories in blogs and the Internet of families living in the dark because they are unable to afford electricity, of people having to sit on the floor because they cannot afford furniture, of people having to live on one meal a day, and just drinking coffee and bread for supper.
And when this sort of life becomes unbearable, they can try, with no guarantee, to get some more help, but this requires standing in line outside their Lee Kuan Yew Minister or Member of Parliament's office for many hours, and begging for some more help, which usually turns out to be no more than a bag of rice, some cooking oil and soya sauce.
My question to Lee Kuan Yew and his son is this, why do you have to make your citizens crawl so low and even so they don't even receive the basics? Why can't you trust your people, care for them, and treat them well? Why do you have this obsession of thinking that the moment you are nice, your people would turn on you? And since you yourself take a salary of several millions a year, which turns out to be 6 times what President Obama gets and what the incomes of all the European ministers combined, which you know is theft or corruption, why can't you give a little for your fellow Singaporeans?
Lee Kuan Yew's son should know that generous social welfare, instead of creating a crutch mentality, in fact has the completely opposite effect. In Europe today, Germany has one of the best social welfare schemes. It has also almost free education, where almost everyone not only has gone to school, almost everyone has tertiary education; a large proportion of them with PhDs. Despite the free or subsidised universal education and a comfortable social welfare net, Germany continues to be most successful economy in Europe and it's largest exporter, with Germans enjoying one of the highest standards of living in Europe. And the reason for this, which Lee Kuan Yew's son does not understand, is the realization by the government that Germans care for their government and a realization by the people that their government cares for them.
Today in Singapore, many look upon me with envy, because I have managed to move to the United States. In fact, a survey not too long ago revealed that 3 out of 4 young people surveyed had said, if given a chance they would emigrate to the West.
Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew should realize that a little caring for the disadvantaged, at least to a level necessary for normal life, has benefits which far outweigh anything undesirable. For one, their children have better lives and education, which results in better skilled future citizens. They appreciate what their country does for them and in turn reciprocate by doing what they can for their country. With their appreciation, Singapore no longer becomes a bad dream, and instead something they can be proud about. And as for the children who become the future adults in Singapore, they would probably do better than their parents who did not have it so good. Caring for your people can only be a win win situation, which Lee Kuna Yew nor his son do not appear to understand.
And as for the argument that Singapore would no longer be competitive if there is a decent social welfare in place, this argument has been disproved throughout the world. Everywhere you look, a decent welfare system in fact makes the country more competitive, not less. And this is because, the human spirit is such that it would find ways to re invent the wheel, to find alternative policies and ways to make a living and improve, but it can only do so, if there is mutual trust and respect, by the government for the people and the people for the government.
Singaporeans today hate their government and their government in turn is afraid of them. This accounts for the fact that emigration rates continue to mount, Singaporeans do not reproduce themselves and no one is getting married.
And one of the major problems the government has today is getting skilled English speaking workers. It is almost impossible to find any.
In this atmosphere of mutual distrust in Singapore, productivity can only fall, not improve, as shown by Singapore's falling productivity levels. And this proves the very point that I am trying to make, which is, a caring society has it's benefits.
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