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1.这篇文章是翻译自《关键评论国际版》The News lens International Edition网站。文章的题目是: “The Prime Minister or The People: Just Who is Stealing Lunches in Singapore?”(见网址:https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1770205213309827&id=1420116771652008)

  1. 这是一篇具有说服力的文章。它的主要内容在于解剖和揭露了李显龙在2017年“5.1”劳动节期间发表的号召新加坡人所谓“偷走别人的午餐”的谎言与谬论。文章的结语是:

“它将可以让李显龙牢记的是,新加坡有今天,那是因为它的人民的勤劳努力得来的。假设李显龙和他的政府未来达到世界顶端而继续“消费”他的公民——即是工人。那么,随着越来越多的公民被他们抛在后头,最终新加坡人将会背向李显龙。

这一天的到来,就是李显龙的午餐将会被他们偷走。”

  1. 本文章中文与英文内容之间如有不符、或者词不达意之处,均以英文原文作为最终解释权。

特此说明。

是谁偷走了新加坡人的午餐?是总理?还是人民?

×××××××××

在五一劳动节前几天,新加坡总理李显龙在与工会领袖举行的讨论会上,告诉新加坡人去偷走别人的午餐。

他说,

“你一定要偷走别人的午餐。”(见网址 said

他稍后又在劳动节集会上重复了这句话。同时又说:

“一些人一直以来就在尝试偷走你的午餐。我们必须看管好自己的午餐。” (见网址said

他的哗众取宠的讲话引起了许多人睁大眼睛注视着。但是,这并不是他第一次似乎如此迷恋着“午餐被人偷走”的说辞。

2013年,他在一个电视论坛上说:

“假设你看看其他国家,如越南、中国,甚至印度,他们正在谈论着工作与生活的平衡;他们仍然处于饥饿、渴望着偷走你的午餐”(见网址said

他补充说,“所以,我认为,我们必须看管好自己的午餐”

2014年,在福布斯全球首席执行官会议对话会上,他又说,

“我想,这就是新加坡必须做的事。那就是保持警觉和猜疑,这样你就会知道有人端走你的午餐。”

实际上,新加坡总理这么沉迷于提醒新加坡人的“警惕自己的午餐”似乎已经成为这个岛国的标志了。

回顾到2007年,他在国会宣布:

“我们的政府是一个“偏执狂”政府——我们的政府一直以来就忧虑着问题”。(见网址pronounced

2014年,在新加坡国立大学成立60周年的讲话上发表演说时,他说,

“甚至一些偏执狂是有益的——因为安迪·葛洛夫(Andy Grove)说过,只有偏执狂得以生存。可以让它在你的脚趾。”他同时也说,“我们同时需要两种偏执狂作为矛盾的自信。”这就是他所说的将使新加坡成为一个“特殊的国家”。

但是,他无法掩饰自己所执着的有关“偏执狂”论。

在纪念新加坡建国50周年的对话会上,他说,

“有人说我们是偏执狂者。我想,我们是偏执狂者。我们必须是这样。“(见网址said

他补充说,

因为你已经在一个高的层次,你期望在一个更高的水平。”

关于成功的问题。

或许李显龙已经被新加坡是一个成功的缩影所说服了。新加坡的人均国内生产总值GDP是世界上最高的和前提一些报告指数也是最高的。新加坡周边国家的人民为此而妒忌。他们羡慕这个岛国,但是。他们却不知道李显龙的最终议程是“偷走别人的午餐”。

这种 “偷吃别人的午餐” 极妙的想法是一种“咄咄逼人的竞争对[…]痛击对手”的金融概念(见网址financial concept)。这可能给予新加坡的领袖指导如何看待这个岛国面对其他国家。即便是当在描述其人造的社会政治时,李显龙用金融术语谈到它们:English英语时,他说,

“在许多亚洲国家里,英语是一个重要的竞争优势”,是一个“至关重要的竞争优势”,同时,“一旦失去这个优势,我们与其他国家一样[…],我们将会失去这个珍贵的优势。这样一来,我们就很难再变得特殊了。”

事实上,李显龙的谬论是与已故克鲁夫Grove先生的论述是相似的。他说,

“你是在世界上数以百计万相同的性质的商业和其他商人在竞争。你和他们一样在做同样自己能够做的工作,也许比他们更渴望,因此速度比他们快。”

克鲁夫也说,

“你也必须接受,不论你在哪儿工作,你不是一个雇员;你是一个自雇的商人。”这个想法似乎与新加坡领袖的想法是一致的。李显龙接受了这个想法。

正是这样的想法,它也让新加坡对人权的藐视与尊重。在2009年,律政部长K.桑木根(K. Shanmugam)在纽约律师协会的对话会上说,

“新加坡被视为一个背离民主规范,那是因为它被视为是一个国家。”

K.桑木根补充说,

这就是大多数人犯上错误的地方……我尝试向大家解释,我们有所不同的地方是我们是一个城市。我们不是一个国家。”

换言之,新加坡的领袖们把这个国家的管理视为是管理一个商业机构。因此人权是可有可无的。

新加坡公司

事实上。新加坡已经被一些人(见网址some看成是一家企业。他们当中的一些人甚至认为,新加坡的公民相信新加坡必须这么管理。

新加坡的《今日报》陈查理先生在一篇评论里(见网址said说,

把我们的公民当成是新加坡有限公司的股东,我们实际上给每个人一份实实在在的‘国家股份’。这就是说,使更多人参与到国家的繁荣,这就会有希望产生广大的社区意义和参与感。

陈查理的逻辑似乎与李显龙的论述是相一致的,李显龙在国会里谈到(见网址said

创造一个“包容的社会[…]是让每一个人从中享有国家进不到利益的。这是一个每一个人都有发言权、股权和归属感的地方。这是一个每一个人通过自身努力和感受他/她拥有真正的机会往上攀升到地方。”

但是这是与李显龙(在五一劳动节)的献辞里的“偷走别人的午餐相”互矛盾的——一个人是否可以偷走其他人的午餐吗?而且他们还偷分享着他们的食物?

事实上,有关的统计数据已经说明了李显龙的谬论——它是没有实质价值的。布鲁金斯研究所已经说明了(见网址shown

一个国家收入差距扩大的国家。同时也是社会流动性下降的国家。它也显示,因为新加坡在发达国家中拥有高增长的收入,它也是社会流动性下降的其中一个国家。

根据密里.李小姐(Millie Lee)和保尔.莫里斯先生( Paul Morris)发表在《国际终身教育杂志》的调研(见网址study也显示,“甭管一个国家的经济成长的显著水平,扩大提供终身学习的意义、生产力率没有改进、收入差距的扩大、社会流动性已经下降,以及,穷人的‘生活素质’的条件在相比之下是差的。”

新加坡有限公司并没有给予新加坡人民股份,最低限度哪些属于中低收入的新加坡人。

是股东还是雇员?

有一点观察者没有认识到的是,以一个传统模式的概念去理解新加坡政府是错误的。因为这并不是你所看到的统治者。正如桑木根无意间揭露的,

“新加坡有限公司的经理倾向于把本地公民被视为如旧时代的公司城市的雇员,”在《财富》杂志的一篇文章简略地叙述(见网址describes)新加坡的领导人——最低限度也是新加坡政府是如何推荐自己给别人。缅甸的反对党领袖翁山素枝在2013年访问新加坡后,经典地描述了新加坡的教育制度是一个非常“劳动力的培训”。

她说(见网址said

这让我思考着一个问题,什么是工作?[…]我不想要为我们的国家争取更多的东西了。”

这同时也可以解释为什么新加坡执着于国内生产总值的增长——或者而不是收入,——和利润最大化。这是加剧工人的低工资、昂贵的店屋租金的经济。事实上,新加坡在过去四年已经被《经济学人》杂志列为世界上生活费昂贵的城市(见网址ranked)了。但是,它最终削弱新加坡增长的高成本。政府的统计数据说明了,从2014年之前,商店租金的已经不断提高达到一个顶峰。

接着,从2011年开始,新加坡的零售业指数以固定美元兑换利率计算就一直呈现下跌的趋势。第一太平戴维斯世界研究刊物(Savills World Research)在报导新加坡零售业部分是这么写到(见网址wrote),

零售业者仍然认为造成影响消费者购买力软弱的原因是高昂的营运成本,包括了员工薪金和租金,特别是面对来自网购方面。”这也就导致了子2011年开始,新加坡商店租赁的空置率一直攀升。在首选商业地段乌节路,空置率已经达到了8.8%。这是五年来最高峰。

但是,新加坡薪金问题造成令人感到的沮丧并不令人感到惊讶。新加坡政府至今仍然坚持不实施最低工资制以保护自己的工人。事实上,这些工人就是零售业的消费者,这就进而削弱了他们的购买力。在2011年(见网址2011),瑞银股价与收益报告把新加坡列为在发达国家里最低的购买力的国家。在那个时候,与香港相比,新加坡工人在税务和薪金(公积金)的扣除额后的净工资水平是被列为最低的。它甚至比台北还要来得低。瑞银股价与收益报告的2015年最新报告没有对新加坡进行评估,因此无法与其他国家进行最新的比较。然而,在它最新的报告里披露了台北已经超越了香港。

无论如何,李显龙执着于偷走别人的午餐的说辞已经伤害了大多数低收入和中等收入的受薪群体。新加坡人民行动党在李显龙的领导下,从2000年中开始,通过新加坡向国际开放,就开始实施廉价劳工津贴政策。这就是造成目前新加坡的工资被压低的情况。

工人的情况又是怎样呢?

新加坡李光耀公共政策学院和新加坡南洋理工大学前经济学教授Tan Kong Yam兼职教授在为新加坡海峡时报撰写的一篇文章写到(见网址said):

“工资占有国内生产总值的百分比从2001年的45%下降到200739%。这样跌崖式的下降反映了它主要是外来劳工的涌入,造成了本地劳工失去了要求提高工资的能力。与此同时,外来劳工却为公司创造了迅速增长的利润。”

“这样的结果是:在2002年外来劳工的增长率从原来的负6.3%,到了2005年变成了8%。到了2007年上升到19%。这样以牺牲本地居民为代价的政策,最终是有利于外来劳工,以及本地的雇主和公司的。它已经造成了本地居民在经济、社会以及物质各方面已经收到了限制。

贸工部和人力部在最新发表的联合声明反驳了Tan Kong Yam教授的说法。但是他们的反驳所提供的统计数据和分析是那么无稽的(见网址scant)。

但是这已经成为新加坡的人的共识了。新加坡人在《亚洲频道》(CAN)的脸书Facebook网页上的留言赞了Shinn Ng网友的帖子。Shinn Ng在《亚洲频道》的脸书Facebook网页的帖子说,

“问题是,(李显龙)邀请那些外来人才来偷走了我们的午餐。这样的情况还是足于恶劣。他的政府还通过调高水价30%偷走了我们的晚餐。在过去几个月,由于水价的调高已经造成了煤气价的调高!”

Shinn Ng的帖子获得了236个人的赞。

事实上,李显龙的执着于偷走别人的午餐已经造成了人民对过去的怨恨再次被提起。一部分新加坡人指向新加坡政府与印度政府签署的《综合性经济合作协议(CECA– Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) 。在这个《协议》约定下(见网址states),

“双方的任何一方应该满足对方的劳工认证测试、经济需要的测试、或者那些有益于本协议约定的自然人而言的其他类似临时加入条件的程序”单不仅仅是这些约定条款。类似的条款也新加坡政府与澳大利亚政府和巴拿马政府签署的《综合性经济合作协议(CECA》里出现。在这两项协议中,劳动认证测试取代了经济需要测试”。

这就可以解释为什么新加坡政府一再不规范合法保护工人权利的政策。世界银行在经济合作与发展组织(OECDOrganisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)里把新加坡列为最少就业保障的国家。

新加坡人的看法

Lim Hwee Choo帖子在《今日报》(Today)的脸书网页说出了许多新加坡人的共同的感受。她说,

“我有一个问题。为什么我们只有关注自己的午餐被人偷走?当其他国家发展人才,使他们能够扮演主要的角色。他们可以自己要做自己的生意,这样他们可以扩大到其他国家。我们的国家就这么小,我们需要降低自己,让那些大国到新加坡进行投资,然后,我们的工人为他们打工。这是什么逻辑思维?

她的帖子获得了41个人的赞。

事实上,正如陈教授所说的,

“在全球化的巨大压力下,许多工厂都搬到了中国和亚洲其他国家。以及技术进程也对那些非熟练和半熟练的工人的工资也产生下行的压力。然而,在国际套利活动下,对于那些顶尖的高技术工人,他们具有高技术的工资则已经被拉到了最顶

当陈部长把这个统计数据提交给国会时,他捅破了事实。他披露说,

除了专业人士、经理和执行人员,简称“PMES”外,事实上,新加坡人所赚取的薪金是比外来劳工来得低。在2013年,占25%的外来居民的专业人士每个月赚取的毛薪金是S$4,901元(或相等于美金3,500元)。新加坡人的专业人士却每月只赚取S$4,736。占80%的外来居民高管人员,每月赚取S$11,766,新加坡人每月却只赚取S$11,533。同样的情况(见网址same)发生在中等入息受薪阶层工人,在2011年,当新加坡人每月赚取少于S$3,248时,外来居民却每月赚取S$3,480,。这里指的居民是包括了在新加坡工作的新加坡永久居民和外来劳工,这就是说,外来人比新加坡人的薪金还要高。

是的。李显龙有关要新加坡人去偷走别人的午餐又再一次自相矛盾。对于许多新加坡人而言,相反的情况,这似乎是政府允许这样的情况在新加坡发生。

李光耀公共政策学院、前经济与战略研究所所长、新加坡政府投资有限公司首席经济顾问Yeoh Lam Keong教授在自己的脸书个人网页上写道:

“新加坡非熟练和半熟练工人的真正薪金收入在1990年代和2000年代被压制下来。这是由于面对从……整百万外来劳工的竞争。这样的结果就是:与同样是发达国家相比我们的工人阶级和底层服务工人的薪金相对的低和那些收入都无法养家的最底层10%贫穷的工人。即便是,PMETS也是同样面对着来自中国、印度和菲律宾的廉价工程师和IT行业工人的冲击”。这就是为什么在PMETS当中出现失业结构的一个大问题。在12年前,大约只有25%PMETS失业。今天PMETS的失业率已经占了将近一半了。

Yeoh Lam Keong教授反驳说,

“所以,是谁需要承担谁偷走谁都午餐?这是一个令人遗憾和巨大的政策错误所造成的”

收入差距的峭壁

20年前,新加坡人在欢迎外来劳工在他们当工作时,收入差距已经引起人们的怨声载道了。它已经成为政府为制定鼓励外来偷走人们午餐的政策焦点了。人们在一段时间里把这个情况视为是外来劳工做造成的。

这可以在一个以色列进行的研究个案(见网址study)发表在里牛津大学出版社定期刊物上看到。它说,

“低级的社会经济地位有可肯能察觉出,群体工人是一个造成经济福祉的威胁原因。对于在经济上产生的竞争可能会引起敌对情况。”

但是,许多新加坡人要反对这个已经统治新加坡超过60年的执政党这样的政策感到无助。人们对这些政策都不敢发出任何抗议的声音。大多数人民愤满地指责,这是政府制定有利于外来劳工政策所造成的。这样的结果是导致了无助的人们与到新加坡寻求工作机会的外来劳工之间产生了潜在仇恨。

.“偷走别人的午餐”的课题的出现又引申出了另一个过去几年在新加坡人当中的问题。那就是:退休的问题。

当时反对党成员史蒂芬.谢竞丰(Steve Chia)在国会里提出询问(见网址:asked),

“(时任)副总理(李显龙)是如何期待公民在公积金计划下使用不确定的退休计划。这是公积金缴交计划下公民自己交付的钱。部长们和政府公务员本身的退休计划的利益是在一个使用纳税人的钱为先决条件下获得保证实现的。”

他说,

“这就是说,自己去世前已经被耗尽了。然而,那些符合退休条件的部长们的退休金却有纳税人的钱关照着直到他们逝世为止。”

无论如何,(时任)副总理见财政部长李显龙在回应时说,

“世界上没有白吃的午餐。”

李显龙接着问史蒂芬. 谢竞丰,

如果“部长们是在再让自己富裕”时,史蒂芬.谢接着又提出另一个问题,“那些年龄已经到达55岁的部长是否在领取薪金的同时,也领取退休金。假设答案是肯定的,那么,它应该继续服务。”

李显龙回答说,

“我相信答案是肯定的。”

后来李显龙在当年接任成为总理。这个(部长)退休计划最终在2013年才被废除。

双重标准

但是,这里带出来一个问题——为什么允许部长们在享有巨额退休金的同时,又能够拥有公积金呢?反之,新加坡人民的退休金是在自己掏腰包下的呢?

新加坡人从自己的薪金里扣除37%缴交到公积金户头里作为退休金计划。这是世界上社会保险金最高的缴交额。(见网址:highest)这也是新加坡成为世界上八个拥有最高退休金的国家之一。但是,这是被掩盖了的事实是:实际上新加坡人似乎没有从中获得任何利益——根据经济合作与发展组织(Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development,简称“OECD”)的报告(见网址:according),

新加坡人是世界上其中一个领取不相称的退休金的国家。报告说,在2011年,新加坡人领取公积金支付的退休金数额是每月新币260元(见网址S$260)。到了2014年,他们每月领取的退休金数额才增加到新币394元。

或许这也就是Kim Hwee S愤怒地在亚洲频道的脸书网页上发表的帖子所说的,

“但是,政府不应该偷走我们的午餐啊!”她的帖子获得了新加坡多新加坡人的认可。84个网友点击了赞。

新加坡人的退休金也让新加坡政府的投资机构——新加坡政府投资有限公司(GIC)财富壮大起来。——它已经会成为世界上10个最大的主权财富基金之一(见网址:become)。但是,它今日的财富与成就是建立在支付给新加坡人低数额的退休金的基础上。新加坡人为此必须放弃自己的退休计划。人们不禁要问,新加坡总理提出偷走别人午餐的道理是建立是在什么基础上?新加坡总理本身就是担任新加坡政府投资有限公司(GIC)的主席。

一个不可思议的问题是:

身为一个国家的领导人为什么必须推动鼓励它的人民去偷走其他人的午餐的价值观?为什么要把管理一家企业的模式去管理一个国家?

对于新加坡领导人而言,他们提出的管理国家的模式不存在着任何的虚伪或者伪善。他们的政策是带给人民很好的利益。新加坡领导人领取自己的薪金是世界上最高的。李显龙以前说过,他相信,新加坡领导人领取高额的薪金这是适合于“某些天生的贵族”。这是新加坡的制度所需要的条件。

但是,李显龙的“免费午餐”的说法则完全与普遍的新加坡人的想法不同。

李显龙于2011年在国会为部长们领取高额薪金辩护进行时说(见网址:said),

“我认为,对于我们的部长或行政人员来说,一直不断地担心着他们的家庭收入或者家人的福利问题,这不符合新加坡的利益。他们必须在不牵挂自己的家庭收入或者家人的福利问题基础上,把全部的精力放在管理好自己的部门和为新加坡的未来进行规划。在获得这样的保证前提条件下,他们能够为自己的家人提供与大多数自己同一代或者同年龄的家庭生活水平。

与此同时,据估算(见网址:estimated),大约20%-35%的新加坡人是生活在贫穷线上。他们赚取的收入只足够餐桌上的午餐。

对于这些穷人而言,事实上是没有所谓的“免费午餐”。他们每天都面对自己的午餐被人偷走的情况。

事实上,就李显龙而言,他相信(见网址:believed),

“假设我无法再让10个亿万富翁移居到新加坡,并在此设立他们的基地,我的基尼系Gini coefficient)将会变差。但是,我认为,如果这些富翁能够到来并在此设立基地,新加坡人将会变得更好,因为他们将给新加坡带来商业契机、机会、开辟新的门路和创造新的工作机会。我认为,我们必须以这样的思维去看待这个问题。”

但是,《经济人》(The Economist)(见网址fourth)把新加坡列为裙带资本指数属于第四位国家。它仅次于俄罗斯、马来西亚和菲律宾之后。这就是说,新加坡是一个哪些与“政治有关系”的个别人士可以赚取成为世界上第四位最“富裕”的人。事实上,李显龙的理论根本没有改善大多数新加坡人的生活。

或许Jimmy Ng在《今日报》(Today)的脸书网页上帖子,是属于新加坡人综合性最好的想法,

“偷走别人的午餐是错误的。我们不应该创造一个不足够午餐的社会。人民付出的53个亿的年薪金给一群部长们,他们却无法做出进步。税务的收入是建立在提高物价的基础。其他方面我们只能靠相互偷走彼此间的午餐。”

他的帖子获得了44个赞的点击。

他补充说,

“是哪一个学府教导我们去偷走别人的午餐的?假设我们需要去偷走别人的工作,这意味着我们不受在探索如何创造就业机会,或者让自己的生活过得更好?”

但是,新加坡的通讯记者韩莉潁同时指出(见网址pointed out

“这种偷走别人的午餐的“零和”说法首先是整个问题的一部分。” 我们继续坚持在吃之前先吃人的思维的时间越长,我们将大多数人将会发现日子越来越难过。

她补充说,

“如果我们回顾过去几年的任何事情,可以肯定,这样模式不仅仅是非传统的问题,而是不可持续和适得其反的结果。”

或许,李显龙可以从克鲁夫的书里捡到一句话,那就是,“投资失败的原因,或许是因为离开了自己的顾客、或者是顾客离开的他们。”

它将可以让李显龙牢记的是,

新加坡有今天,那是因为它的人民的勤劳努力得来的。假设李显龙和他的政府未来达到世界顶端而继续“消费”他的公民——即是工人。那么,随着越来越多的公民被他们抛在后头,最终新加坡人将会背向李显龙。

这一天的到来,就是李显龙的午餐将会被他们偷走。

 

The Prime Minister or The People: Just Who is Stealing Lunches in Singapore?

 

The Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Singaporeans to steal other people’s lunches at a discussion with union leaders a few days before Labor Day.

Lee said: “You must make sure you steal somebody else’s lunch.”

He later repeated his message at the May Day Rally and said: “someone is always trying to steal your lunch and we have to guard our lunch.”

Lee’s rhetoric caused many to raised their eyebrows but this is not the first time Lee seems so fixated on lunches being stolen.

In 2013, Lee said at a live television forum: “If you look at other countries: Vietnam, China, even in India, they’re not talking about work-life balance; they are hungry, anxious, about to steal your lunch.

“So I think I’d better guard my lunch,” he added.

And in 2014 at the Dialogue at Forbes Global CEO Conference, Lee said, “I think that is what Singapore needs to do, to be aware, to be paranoid so you always know that somebody can take your lunch away.”

Indeed, Singapore’s Prime Minister’s obsession with exhorting Singaporeans to remain “paranoid” seems to be a trademark of the island-nation.

Back in 2007, Lee pronounced in parliament: “Our model is “paranoid” government – a government which worries all the time.”

In 2014, Lee remarked at the 60th anniversary lecture of the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) that, “even some paranoia is helpful – because as Andy Grove says, only the paranoid survive. And it can keep you on your toes.” He also said, “we need to be both paranoid and at the same time paradoxically confident.” That, he said, would make Singapore a “special nation”.

But Lee is unabashed about his fixation on being “paranoid”.

At a dialogue to commemorate Singapore’s 50th anniversary, Lee said: “people say we are paranoid, which I suppose we are and we need to be.

“Because you are at a higher level, you expect to be at a higher level,” Lee added.

A question of success

Perhaps Lee is convinced that Singapore is the epitome of success. Singapore’s GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world, and the highest by some reports. Singapore is the envy of many people in its surrounding regions, who also sing praises of the island state, but unbeknownst to them, Lee’s ultimate agenda is to steal their lunches.

The very idea of “eating someone’s lunch” is a financial concept of “an aggressive competitor […] beating their rivals”. This might give guidance as to how Singapore’s leaders see the island-state vis-à-vis other countries. Even when describing its socio-political artefacts, Lee talks about them in financial terms: English is “an important competitive advantage over many other Asian countries”. Singapore’s government, Lee said is “outstanding”, is a “vital competitive advantage” and “if we ever lose it and become “normal, […] we will have lost a precious competitive advantage and it will be very difficult for us ever to become special again.”

Indeed, Lee’s rhetoric seems to parallel the late Grove. Grove had said: “You are in competition with millions of similar businesses, millions of others all over the world, picking up the pace, capable of doing the same work that you can do and perhaps more eager.”

Grove also said: “you have to accept that no matter where you work, you are not an employee; you are in a business with one employee-yourself.” This seems to be a line of thinking that Singapore’s leaders and Lee have adopted.

This has also become how Singapore justifies its disdain for the respect of human rights. At the New York State Bar Association Dialogue in 2009, K. Shanmugam who was then Law Minister had said: “Singapore was viewed as a deviation from the democratic norm because it was seen primarily as a country.”

“This is where most people make a mistake…I have tried to explain that we are different. We are a city. We are not a country,” Shanmugam added.

In other words, Singapore’s leaders consider the country they control to be a business entity where human rights are dispensable.

Singapore Inc.

Indeed, Singapore has been observed by some to be run like a corporation, some even among its citizens believe that Singapore should be too.

In a commentary in Singapore’s Today newspaper this week, Charles Tan said: “By treating our citizens more like shareholders in Singapore Pte Ltd, we effectively give everyone a more literal “stake” in the country, which means more even participation in the nation’s prosperity and, hopefully, a greater sense of community and re-enfranchisement.”

Tan’s logic seems to parallel Lee’s. Lee had said in parliament about creating an “inclusive society […] where everybody benefits from the progress of the nation. It is one where everyone has a say, a stake and a sense of belonging. And it is one where everyone aspires to do better through their own efforts and feels that he or she has a real chance to move up.”

But this contradicts Lee’s message of stealing other people’s lunch – can one steal from someone else’s lunch, yet share their pickings with the ones they steal from?

Indeed the statistics put paid to Lee’s rhetoric – it has no factual merit. The Brookings Institution has shown that the countries with rising income inequality are also those with declining social mobility, and it also showed that because Singapore has the highest income inequality among the developed countries, it also has one of the lowest rates of social mobility.

 A study by Millie Lee and Paul Morris in the International Journal of Lifelong Education also showed that, “despite the remarkable economic growth at a national level and the significant expansion of lifelong learning provision, productivity rates have not improved, income inequality has increased, social mobility has declined and the ‘quality of life’ is, in comparative terms, poor.”

Singapore Inc. does not give Singaporeans a stake in the corporation, at least not for the low- and middle-income.

Shareholders or employees?

One thing that observers fail to realise is that it is misplaced to use a traditional model of governance to understand Singapore because this is not how its rulers see it, as Shanmugam has unwittingly revealed. “The managers of Singapore Inc. tend to treat local citizens somewhat like the employees of an old-fashioned company town,” an article in the Fortune newspaper succinctly describes Singapore’s leaders – at least that is also how Singapore seems to introduce itself to others. Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had famously described Singapore’s education system as being very “workforce-oriented” after she visited Singapore in 2013.

“That made me think, what is work all about? […] I wonder whether I don’t want something more for our country,” she had said.

This also explains Singapore fixation on GDP growth – or revenue, rather – and profit-maximisation, which has been fuelled by a low-wage, high cost rental economy. Indeed, Singapore has been ranked the most expensive city in the world by The Economist for four years in a row now. But the high costs in Singapore have finally put a dampener to Singapore’s growth. Government statistics showed how rents kept increasing until reaching a plateau before declining from 2014.

This followed Singapore’s falling retail sales index, in constant dollars term, which has been happening since 2011. Savills World Research in its report on Singapore’s retail sector, wrote that, “retailers are still feeling the effects of weak consumer spending, high overheads from staffing and rental costs, as well as competition from the online space,” which has led to Singapore’s retail vacancy rate climbing since 2012, and which has reached a five-year high of 8.8% on Singapore’s prime stretch along Orchard Road.

But this is not all surprising considering that Singapore’s wages have suffered a bout of depression and Singapore continues to insist on not implementing a minimum wage to protect its workers who happen to be its consumers as well, and thus dampening their purchasing power which in 2011 Singapore was ranked by the UBS Prices and Earnings Report as having the lowest purchasing power than any city in a developed country. Singapore’s net wage level after taxes and payroll deductions was also ranked the lowest, together with Hong Kong, and even lower than Taipei, at that time. UBS’s latest 2015 report does not feature Singapore, so it is not possible to make a more recent comparison, though in the latest report, Taipei has taken the crown from Hong Kong.

The fixation that Lee has over stealing other people’s lunches has however hurt a large part of its low- and middle-income workforce. The governing People’s Action Party with which Lee leads has pushed for a cheap labor substitution policy since the mid-2000s by wildly throwing open Singapore’s borders thereby resulting in Singapore’s wages being depressed.

What about the workers

Writing for Singapore broadsheet The Straits Times, Adjunct Professor Tan Kong Yam at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and former Professor of Economics at the Nanyang Technological University, said: “the wage shares of GDP fell from 45 percent in 2001 to 39 percent in 2007. The steep decline reflected the substantial inflow of foreign workers, which weakened the bargaining power of domestic and foreign labour, and allowed rapid economic growth to increase company profits instead.”

“Consequently, foreign employment growth rate rose from a negative 6.3 percent in 2002 to 8 percent in 2005 to 19 percent in 2007. These policies have been favorable to foreigners as well as local employers and companies, all at the expense of the local residents, whose economic, social and physical space has been circumscribed.” The Ministry of Trade and Industry, and of Manpower later released a joint response to rebut Tan but the response was scant in its statistics and analysis.

But this has become a common sentiment among a segment of Singaporeans. Leaving their comments on the Facebook page of Singapore’s television news channel, Channel NewsAsia, the most liked comment came from Shinn Ng who said: “The problem is, (Lee)’s inviting those FTs (foreign talents) to steal our lunch. As if that’s not bad enough, his government is stealing our dinner too with all those increases like 30% water fee hikes and increase in gas tariffs for the past few months!” Her comment has garnered 236 likes at the time of writing.

Indeed, Lee’s rhetoric of stealing other people’s lunches have caused a past resentment to be brought up again. Some Singaporeans pointed to the trade agreement – Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) – that the Singapore government had signed with India, where a clause states that, “Neither Party shall require labour market testing, economic needs testing or other procedures of similar effects as a condition for temporary entry in respect of natural persons upon whom the benefits of this Chapter are conferred.” But not only that, a similar clause is found in the trade agreements that Singapore signed with Australia and Panama as well. In both of them, “labour certification tests” replace “economic needs testing”.

This would also explain why the Singapore government has refrained from legislating to protect the labor rights of workers. The World Bank ranks Singapore has having the second least employment protection among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and East Asian countries.

Local views

Lim Hwee Choo characterized the sentiment that many Singaporeans have in a comment on Today’s Facebook page: “I have a question. Why am I only seeing our own lunches getting stolen? While other countries grow talent so that they can take big roles and make their own businesses that can expand to other countries, we have very little of that but we lower ourselves so that these big giants will come invest in Singapore and our workers work for them. What’s that mentality?” Her comment was liked 41 times.

Indeed, as Adjunct Professor Tan also said: “The intense pressure of globalization, relocation of factories to China and ASEAN as well as technological progress have exerted strong downward pressure on wages of the unskilled and semi-skilled workers, while the international arbitrage pressure on the highly skilled workers at the top has pulled up wages at the top end.”

When prodded to provide statistics to this in parliament, Minister Tan revealed that for Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs), Singaporeans indeed to earn lower than foreigners. In 2013, residents at the 25th percentile and who were professionals earned a gross monthly income of S$4,901 (US$3,500) while Singaporeans earned S$4,736. For residents at the 80th percentile, they earned S$11,766 while Singaporeans earn S$11,533. The same is happening for median-wage workers as well, for whom residents earn S$3,480 in 2011 while Singaporeans earned a lesser S$3,248. Residents comprise both Singaporeans and foreigners working in Singapore, which mean that the income for foreigners would be even higher.

Yet, this again contradicts what Singapore Prime Minister Lee said about asking Singaporeans to steal other people’s lunches. To many Singaporeans, it seems that the government is allowing the situation to happen the other way around instead.

Yeoh Lam Keong, who is the Adjunct Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and former Director of Economics and Strategy and Chief Economist at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, weighed in on his Facebook: “Unskilled and semiskilled workers have had their real wages dampened for over 15-20 years over the 1990s and 2000s due to competition from … well over a million such immigrant workers. Our working class and lower service level wages are much below similar developed countries’ wages as a result, and the bottom 10% form the working poor – whose wages are not enough to support a family with. Even PMETS have been hit by cheap engineering and IT (labor) imports from China, India and the Philippines. That’s one big (reason) why structural unemployment among PMETs has risen. 12 years ago they only formed 25% of the unemployed. Today they are about half.

“So who is responsible for whom stealing whose lunches? A regrettable and massive policy mistake,” Yeoh retorted.

Inequality rife

Where Singaporeans were welcoming of foreigners working in their midst just two decades ago, the inequality that has been exacerbated by government policies focused on encouraging people’s lunches to be stolen have led to much resentment which a segment of Singaporeans have taken to blaming foreigners for.

This was found to be the case in a study conducted in Israel and published in a journal by the Oxford University Press: “individuals of low socioeconomic standing are likely to perceive out group workers as a source of threat to economic well-being, and that fear of economic competition is likely to prompt hostility.” But where many a Singaporean feel powerless against a ruling party which has controlled government for nearly 60 years and who do not dare whimper a protest, much of the anger that the citizens have towards government policies have been unfairly channelled towards foreigners, resulting in an underlying animosity that is brewing between the powerless and those who seek opportunity in the island.

The issue of lunches came up again on another issue that has aroused Singaporeans over the last few years: pension

When opposition politician Steve Chia asked in parliament, “how does the Deputy Prime Minister (Lee Hsien Loong) expect citizens to take the uncertainty of retirement planning under the CPF (Central Provident Fund public pension scheme), which is a defined contribution scheme, at their own cost, whereas Ministers and public officers themselves are under a guaranteed and defined benefit pension scheme, using taxpayers’ money?

“In other words, their CPF may run out before the citizens die whereas qualified Ministers are taken care of by the taxpayers’ money until they die,” he said.

However, in replying to him, then-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lee Hsien Loong told him, “There is no free lunch.”

Lee then asked if Chia was asking if “the Ministers (are) enriching themselves again”, to which Chia followed up with another question: “Does any serving Minister who turns 55 actually receive both salary and pension at the same time? If yes, should he be serving?

To which, Lee replied: “I believe the answer is yes.”

Lee was promoted to Prime Minister later that year. The pension was finally only scrapped in 2013.

Double standards

But this begs the question – why were the ministers allowed the entitlement to keep their high pensions, on top of having CPF, while Singaporeans are left with only the CPF to fend themselves with?

Singaporeans contribute 37 percent of their wages into the CPF pension scheme, which is also the highest social security contribution in the world. This has led to Singapore having the eighth largest pension fund in the world but this belie the fact Singaporeans do not seem to reap benefits from this fund that they pay into – Singaporeans have one of the least adequate pension funds, according to the OECD. The median CPF Life pension payout in 2011 was only S$260 while it increased to only S$394 in 2014.

Perhaps this is also what led Kim Hwee S to exasperate on Channel NewsAsia’s Facebook page: “But the government shouldn’t steal our lunches!” Her comment has one of the top likes – 84 – suggesting an agreement from many Singaporeans.

Singaporeans’ CPF pension funds have also enriched the GIC – a government investment firm – which has become one of the top 10 largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, but this is at the expense of the low pension payout of Singaporeans whom many have to forgo their retirement. One wonders how Singapore Prime Minister makes sense of his claim of stealing other people’s lunches, in relation to this, especially when he is also the chairman of GIC.

One cannot feel but think – should the leader of a country promote values that encourage citizens to steal lunches from other people? Should a country run itself like a company?

For Singapore’s leaders, there is no hypocrisy in its approach. They are benefitting well from their policies. Singapore’s leaders pay themselves the highest salaries in the world, befitting of a “certain natural aristocracy” that Lee had said before he believes the Singapore system needs to have.

But Lee’s idea of “free lunches” is quite different from the average Singaporean.

In arguing for the high salaries of his ministers, Lee said in parliament in 2012: “I feel that it is not in the interest of Singapore for our Ministers or office bearers to have to constantly worry about their family income or the welfare of their family. They should have the freedom to concentrate on their jobs of managing their Ministry and planning for the future of Singapore with full assurance that they can provide for their families in the same manner as the majority of their contemporaries.”

Meanwhile, an estimated 20 to 35 percent of Singaporeans who are living in poverty barely earn enough to put lunch on the table.

To them, there is indeed no “free lunch.” Theirs are stolen from them on a daily basis.

In fact, to Lee, he believed that, “if I can get another 10 billionaires to move to Singapore and set up their base here, my Gini coefficient will get worse but I think Singaporeans will be better off, because they will bring in business, bring in opportunities, open new doors and create new jobs, and I think that is the attitude with which we must approach this problem.”

But where Singapore ranks fourth on The Economist’s crony capitalism index, after Russia, Malaysia and the Philippines, which means that Singapore is the country where individuals with “political connections” earn the fourth most “riches”, Lee’s ideology has not actually improved the lot of Singaporeans.

Perhaps Jimmy Ng’s 44-likes comment on Today’s Facebook page sums up the thoughts of Singaporeans the best: “Stealing is wrong. We should never create a society where there is not enough. We pay $53m to a group of ministers that have not progressed. The tax income is secured by raising prices. The left over, we need to steal from each other.

 “Which institution teaches us to steal? If we need to steal jobs, it means we are not exploring how to create opportunities or make us better?” he added.

But “this sort of lunch-stealing zero-sum rhetoric is part of the problem in the first place,” Singaporean journalist Kirsten Han also pointed out. “The longer we stick with the “eat before you get eaten” mentality, the more we will find that there’s less and less to go around for the majority of us.”

 “If we’ve seen anything in recent years, surely it’s that this model is not only unethical, but unsustainable and likely counter-productive,” she added.

Perhaps if there is another leaf that Lee should take out from Grove’s book, it is this that Grove said: “Businesses fail either because they leave their customers or because their customer leave them!”

It would serve Lee well to remember that Singapore is where it is today because of the hard work of Singaporeans, and if Lee and his government continues to exploit the citizens – his workers – for gains that go to the top, with the large swath of citizens who are increasingly being left behind, one day they are going to turn their backs on Lee.

One day, it is Lee’s lunch they will steal.

 

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