05 December 2006

Seah Chiang Nee: Blogosphere moves from infantile to shrill

Dear Readers, feeling somewhat discouraged about the state of the blogosphere and bearing the disappointments of a blog project gone wrong, I had decided to take a break. In the 3 months that followed, I realised that perhaps Singabloodypore has now been superceded by more credible groupblogs and aggregators (kudos to singaporeangle and the intelligent Singaporean!), but also that the streak of invective commentary I detested in SBP had in fact spread far and wide - witness the tenor of the rhetoric and sophistication of the criticism of the Wee father-daughter duo.

So you'd expect me to be somewhat sympathetic and in agreement with Seah Chiang Nee's recent proclamation that not only is the local blogosphere infantile, but shrill and out of touch with reality and not credible at all. I beg to differ, really - with almost every assertion he writes.

IN the real world, the economy is humming strongly, more jobs are being created than at anytime in the last 10 years

In the real world, Singapore has just had an entire decade's worth of recessions and meltdowns. Understandably, more jobs will obviously be created this year than anytime in the last rotten 10 years.

the stock market is near record high

Stock markets historically double every 7 years, a factoid quoted by Brad Delong, economic advisor to the Clinton administration - but that doesn't mean that the economy doubles every 7 years at all. In fact, there is no one-to-one correlation between the heights of the stock market and the health of the economy.

and so are high-end properties.

High-end properties are at record highs, but Seah neglects to say that public housing and even mid-end private property prices are still languishing at historic lows. Perhaps it has something to do with a record creation of millionaires here last year?

The Singapore dollar has strengthened to around S$1.55 to the US dollar on speculation that economic growth would quicken, thus encouraging investors to put more funds in the city-state.

The US dollar has fallen against every major currency - including the SGD - because of the record trade deficits, massive government and private debt, and the embarrassing conduct of GW Bush in Iraq. In the unreal world, the SGD has actually depreciated very slightly against the basket of currencies that it is pegged to, not counting the US dollar.

The sanguine mood is reflected on the streets. With the school holidays on, the crowds are out in force. At night, it is virtually impossible to get a cab in the city centre without prior booking.

Ah, yes. And all the time in these past decade, everyone in Singapore was wondering why the cabs suddenly disappeared an hour before the midnight surcharge. And in the past 2 years, everyone in Singapore was complaining about the single red line along all of Orchard Rd, making it illegal for cabs to pick up passengers on the street. Hurray for Seah, who finally solves the mystery with his impeccable logic!

Restaurants and shopping malls are full, and people are spending ahead of a hike in Goods and Services Tax from 5% to 7% next April.

A little premature. Not even the Straits Times has reported or even hinted at a really-existing spending spree. Obviously the ST is out of touch with Seah's reality.

Year-end festivals are a month away but a fairyland of lights already covers the kilometres stretching from Orchard Road and Bras Basah Road to Marina Bay.

Dude, every year in Singapore the Christmas and Chinese New Year lightings go up by November. Where do you live, in Malaysia?

While the mood is upbeat, the Internet world, however, is painting a very different picture. Here, the talk is of continued weakness, rising unemployment and people committing suicide.

Hasn't Seah heard of jobless recoveries? Hasn't he even read the reports from the Economic Policy Institute, or seen this graphic?

Seah is a former editor in various news agencies. Clearly he hasn't picked up any shred of economics 101 despite his years in the job.

Forums are still full of tales of retrenched managers driving taxis, and 70-year-old “uncles” cleaning tables when they should be enjoying their sunset years.

They also feature pictures of homeless families sleeping in housing estate lobbies.

In the mind of Seah Chiang Ngee, it is impossible to have an economic recovery and continued unemployment occur at the same time. It is also impossible - in his world - for companies to be enriched and ordinary workers left behind in an economic recovery. It would blow his mind even to contemplate that even in an economic recovery, the poor could get poorer while the rich get richer.

Hence, OUB bank is shrill and out of touch with reality when it prints posters like this:

The brochure explains: On the 4th of april 2006, the Straits Times reported that "among all active CPF members, the median amoiunt saved is s$66,400." Assuming that you retire at 54 and live up to the age of 85, this means you would spend 30 years in retirement.

Note: this is probably why there really are 70-year-old uncles cleaning tables when they should be enjoying their sunset years.

But wow... this means that not only is the UOB shrill and unbalanced, unduly pessimistic and out of touch with reality... so is the Straits Times! And obviously the Department of Statistics in the Singapore government! The web of shrillness and unbalanced, gibbering entities widens!

Ironically, this is happening as the city is flourishing with growth expected to reach 7.5% to 8% this year and new jobs created – 132,000 in the first nine months – being at a 10-year high.

You know, if you start with a very low base (i.e. 10 sucky years), a half-baked recovery would register a similarly high percentage growth. Again, the new jobs created aren't quite enough to cover the new graduates coming out of NUS and NTU in about a month's time. And not to mention, the millions of unemployed new PRC grads who will flock to Singapore because our government gives them a 1 year Social visit pass, no strings attached, specifically to find a job here...

So who is right? Are we in a time of boom or doldrums? Why is there such a large disparity between the real world and the blogosphere?

Yes, Grasshopper, it is possible to have what is known as a jobless recovery. Also, refer again to the graphic from the EPI.

A Citigroup analysis recently asked if it is sustainable or heading for a bust like that in the 1990s when the economy fell into a recession. By keeping labour plentiful and wages low, it said Singapore should continue to perform strongly. Other reports predicted a 6% annual growth for the next 10 years. There is a caveat, though: the wage gap between rich and poor will continue to widen. The Internet community, which considers itself an alternative information source, carried few, if any, of the good news.

1. Citibank's analyst says Singapore can continue to grow, only if it artificially depresses wages.
2. Other analysts - as well as our political leaders - admit that the growth will continue, but at the expense of a growing income gap. Which coincidentally, should explain why it's possible for bloggers to report on the plight of the poor even in this sparkling year.

I shudder to think what Seah Chiang Ngee would consider as bad news.

So why is there a credibility gap? There are several reasons. Firstly, the growing influence of a liberal-minded Internet, which often paints the sufferings of a minority as a city-wide phenomenon.

High-end property prices at record highs, stock market at record highs. Yup. That's the bounties that a majority of the people have experienced and benefitted from, a real city-wide phenomenon.

Which brings me to a serious point: if the youths are so active and the Net is anti-government (a government backbencher said she was shocked to find they made up 80% of postings) it is a worrying trend.

A rising number of youngsters have stopped reading the traditional media, or what the government says, and have cocooned themselves into a sub-culture group that just talks to each other.

No. Seriously. How on earth can the liberal blogosphere criticise and make fun of ministerial policies and speeches, if they stop reading the traditional media and stop listening to the government? Where does the liberal blogosphere get its talking points of penniless uncles and MRT suicides - if not from the Straits Times itself?

Hurray for Seah Chiang Nee, keyboard kommando, social commentor and economic theorist par excellence! May he smite the ever-increasing hordes of shrill, unbalanced, out of touch and non-credible bloggers, who have managed to take over the Dept of Statistics, the Straits Times, and even the UOB!


Anonymous said...

> Dude, every year in Singapore the Christmas and Chinese New Year lightings go up by November. Where do you live, in Malaysia?

I realize it's a rhetorical question but couldn't resist: Close enough, in Punggol or Sengkang apparently. *Prepares to be trampled by all my friends in Sengkang*

akikonomu said...

OMGWTFBBQ! When I read his *short description* about being a columnist for The Star, I thought maybe he could be forgiven if he were writing this very strange article from the safe confines of Malaysia...

Question: Why isn't he posting this great essay to the ST forum page?

Anonymous said...

Seah reminds me of the PAP MP who said, "Before I joined the grassroots organization, I never knew there were poor people in developed countries."

Anonymous said...

Yes, he is commenting about the differences between MSM and blogosphere in the ecomonical front. Maybe, he is trying to show the world that the MSM is not telling the real truths about the real world and the blogosphere is showing what MSM is trying to cover up.