18 August 2009

Minilee NDRS decoded: 2009 edition!

By now, it should be apparent that every Prime Minister has a different style of doing the NDRS and their major policy speeches: Lee Kuan Yew relished the details, seeking to win hearts and minds through logic and superior reasoning; Goh Chok Tong is fond of putting the issues on the table as questions and dilemmas - leading to observations and comments that these questions either present false dilemmas or are attempts in leading the question to very controlled and guided ends; Lee Hsien Loong is noted for painting in very broad brush strokes, leaving his ministers to fill in the details weeks and months after the NDRS.

In all instances, basic comprehension of the NDRS and subsequent analysis can only come about when one understands this rule instead of throwing a hissy fit and denouncing the speech as "strangely empty" or worse.

Here then is Minilee's NDRS decoded!

The economy

1. The economy is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels of health - Minilee did not use the word "boom" to describe the eventual recovery from this economic crisis. What the PAP promises, it delivers - and Minilee has not promised a boom, merely a recovery.

2. In fact for the short term, Minilee's economic team cannot foresee exactly what will happen beyond Q3 of this year. The situation is so murky that they'll only review just before the end of this year to figure out their plan for next year.

In other words: We have no green shoots. We are in a transitional period.

3. Singapore will be building 2 "National Continuing Education and Training Campuses" in Paya Lebar and Jurong.

In other words: The shrinking of Singapore's white collar jobs and subsequently its middle class will continue, no thanks to the economic crisis. Perhaps Minilee's team expect a permanent and protracted change in the type of jobs available in the emergent post-crisis economy. We cannot otherwise justify 2 *permanent* institutions for retraining otherwise.

In other words:

Structural employment of the former white collar class to continue.

Current crisis expected to affect Singapore as a financial hub - most white collar jobs lost here are in this sector, many other currently existing white collar jobs
are dependent on the financial sector.

Look forward to continued downsizing of the middle class, structural unemployment necessitating a trip to one of the two retraining centres, and a future of structural underemployment.

Religious and racial harmony

Yugoslavia was a model of religious and racial harmony. But when their economy went bad - as with other pieces of Eden in the world and in history - the racial and religious harmony evaporated, no thanks to the diminished authority of the state (imagine if all Singapore's government could offer you was retraining in a blue-collar job, or suggest you sue your kids for maintenance to pay your medical bills?).

With trust in the government plummeting and no solutions forthcoming, it is no wonder that Yugoslavians sought their answers in religion, or that unscrupulous and power-hungry actors sought to stoke racial and religious tensions and present themselves as leaders.

We suggest that Minilee's team, having seen the economic growth forecast for Singapore in the next 10 to 30 years, are worried that conditions are beginning to look ripe for radical leaders to radicalise susceptible segments of Singapore society. It is this economic base that will empower and embolden a culture war.

Looking to the future

Spending half an hour on a now-and-then photo slideshow?

In other words: It may be difficult to tell if Singapore has improved between the last 5 years and now, especially for the poor; but it's really easy to tell the difference between the last 50 years and now.

Of all the forecast improvements in Minilee's "future segment" of his slideshow, which ones hint at an improvement for the lot of the bottom 1/3 of Singapore's population?

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