Spoken like an emperor (with no clothes)

October 20, 2009
Singapore Democrats

This post is at least a year old. Some of the links in this post may no longer work correctly.

Singapore Democrats

“Never mind your Gini coefficient,” Mr Lee Kuan Yew told his audience at the National University of Singapore on Sunday night, “If you don’t have a job you get zero against those with jobs.” In other words don’t gripe about how much you are paid, just be glad you have a job.

End of discussion.

The MM was arguing against Minimum Wage, a policy that the SDP had proposed almost 10 years ago, the first opposition party to do so. It is also one where Mr Lee argued would bankrupt Singapore if introduced.

Isn’t this the same man who foretold that Singapore, just months before the country entered into its worst recession ever, was about to experience a “golden period [that] can stretch out over many years”? (See also Holding Lee Kuan Yew Accountable)

Mr Lee said that employers would hire less people if wages were to rise as a result of Minimum Wage. What he doesn’t understand, or want to acknowledge, is that higher wages would also mean more disposable income and spending power of workers.

In a rational economy, this would increase spending and consumption which would lead to expansion of businesses. The result is more hiring, not firing.

Of course this works up to a point where wages do not outstrip productivity. The Singapore Democrats have repeatedly argued that the other extreme where wages go beyond the means of businesses is just as undesirable.

This is where market forces come in, the kind where labour is free to organise and negotiate with management. Not the kind that the MM espouses where NTUC masquerades itself as the trade union and where the National Wages Council, on which foreign businessmen sit, determine the pay of Singaporeans.

Consider this: When the late Ong Teng Cheong, former president, deputy prime minister and NTUC chief, sanctioned a strike in the shipping industry, he did not tell the cabinet about his decision because his colleagues would have stopped him. “The minister for trade and industry was very angry,” Ong revealed, “his officers were very upset. They had calls from America, asking what happened to Singapore?—we are non-strike.” (emphasis added)

Depriving workers the ability to speak up while allowing corporations to dictate wage levels is not market forces. It is bad policy making. It is exploitation. It is greed.

It is also unsustainable. Society is going to be so drained of spirit if we keep paying our workers lower and lower wages that our competitiveness and productivity will be critically undermined. Economist and management expert (the late) Peter Drucker wrote:

…I have often advised managers that a 20:1 ratio is the limit beyond which they cannot go if they don’t want resentment and falling morale to hit their companies. I worried back in the 30’s that the great inequality generated by the industrial revolution would result in so much despair that something like fascism would take hold. Unfortunately, I was right. Today I believe it is socially and morally unforgivable when managers reap huge profits for themselves but fire workers. As societies, we will pay a heavy price for the contempt this generates among the middle managers and workers.


Unfortunately, he was right again. The current economic crisis gripping the world is a result of unbridled greed fuelled by the lust for control and power.

Such a trend is magnified in Singapore. Already productivity has been declining in the recent past. And according to a survey by marketing group Taylor Nelson Sofres, Singaporeans are more likely to suffer from depression, stress and fatigue than our Asian counterparts.

So don’t worry about the Gini coefficient, Mr Lee says? Pay the the top any amount it demands, and then keep the wages of workers down?

The MM is obviously still living in his “golden period” days. No runner can hope to compete if he only takes care of his brains and not his legs. If we fail to take a holistic view of progress we are headed straight for doom.

The NUS talk was set up with one objective and one objective only – to make the MM appear as god-like as ever and for him to talk at the people again.

With no one from the cabinet to the civil service to the media willing to tell the emperor he has no clothes, Singaporeans are in for an even rougher ride ahead. Fasten your seatbelts.