08 February 2004

The Liberal George Yeo

I've been away for some time. Was sucked into the US Democratic Primary campaign, and checking out all the candidate blogsites constantly, being the political junkie that I am.

I'm back now, with some interesting news to tell.
Tomorrow's blog entry will be called
Bangladeshi PhD thesis outsourced to Singaporean BA grad

Today though, I'll be aiming some potshots at our favourite "Philosopher-King" of the PAP, the greatest long-winded, tendentious and facetious bore and intellectual whore of all-time, BG George Yeo.

Most of you will be too young to remember that during the 1980s, Yeo was the person who pronounced, in Parliament, that media control and information control was important to Singapore, because foreign ideas can be good and yet very dangerous, so "we cannot let the flies in". Few years later, of course, we pretend that he's one of the more "liberal" and philosophical ministers, only because of his long-winded speechmaking...

Here's his latest nonsense.

Trade and Industry Minister urges Singaporeans to venture abroad is what the headlines had it, half a month ago. It all sounds very mature, wise, liberal, and open-minded, yes?

"Individual Singaporeans themselves to take the plunge and their chances [overseas]...

"Our minds must be much larger than our geographical confines"

"If we are too home-bound in our thinking, we will fail."

So why am I slamming and sliming this decent maverick?

General Yeo said: "Indeed, we should try to alter our social climate here so that those who do well overseas are admired, while those who prefer to stay home all the time are suspect.

Here's my beef: What are the list of countries that have a social climate that admires people who go overseas, and suspects people who prefer to stay at home? Answer: These countries are the major labour-exporting nations in Asia - The Philippines, Bangladesh, India, some southern provinces of China. You see their major exports every day in Singapore, working on construction sites.

Mind you, I'm speaking here as a researcher who's editing someone's doctoral thesis on international labour...

Most researchers on labour migration point out that very few of these migrant workers break even, and recoup their intial investments and costs of air travel to the host country. Yet, even if these workers finish their contracts with a big deficit, they'll still apply to work overseas again after a short rest home.

Why? Because in their countries, there IS a social climate that admires people who work overseas, and suspects people who stay at home - the very same social climate that Philosopher-King George Yeo wants to see in Singapore. The very same social climate that some researchers call migration mania, an irrational belief that the overseas is a source of riches and prosperity while the home is a source of stagnation...

It's irrational on 2 counts:
1. Most of the temporary migrants end up poorer
2. Most families WILL willingly go into debt to fund at least one member to work overseas.

So, why are the leaders in these labour-exporting countries not unhappy? Because the migrant workers will send back remittance money to the home country every month. Because, even if the poor worker is suffering overseas, he'll dutifully send back money, a small percentage of which gets taxed by the government before it lands back in the home village.

Why is it really so irrational? Because:

3. In reality, cost-benefit analysis by economists studying this phenomenon show that the migrant workers will actually have made MORE money (or at least made some profit) if they had settled for construction jobs in their own countries, instead of going overseas (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Middle East) for the same construction jobs...

Why don't they do that? Because in their countries, there IS a social climate that admires people who work overseas, and suspects people who stay at home.

4. Just look at the history of Singapore. Why is Singapore majority-Chinese? Because during the founding years, hundreds of thousands of "temporary migrant workers" from Southern China flocked to Singapore, where they found that after so many years of work and sending remittance money back to their families in China, they couldn't afford to go home.

People who CANNOT afford to work overseas should not be forced to go overseas. Why doesn't George Yeo argue for improving and reforming Singapore, for making it a place where we can proudly live and work again?

The economies of the major labour-exporting countries (Philippines, rural southern China, Bangladesh, some parts of India) have not made ANY improvement despite decades of migrant workers - unskilled or otherwise. If we listen to George Yeo today, Singapore will end up looking like these countries in a few years...

People who think Singapore has gone back to the bad old days of the 1980s recessions are wrong. We are going all the way back to the bad old days of the 1880s, with policy-makers and philosophers like George Yeo running around, shooting their mouth off, masquerading as liberals and mavericks, and offering what appears to be sensible advice.

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