Aug 13, 2009

More on the 9th Question

Let's imagine that 20 years ago, you went to NUS and NTU to ask the lecturers the following question - "What is the mission of this university?". I believe that the most common reply would have been something like this: "To provide a good university education for Singaporeans."

But what if you asked the same question today? I believe that the most common reply would be something along the following lines - "To be one of the world's leading universities" or "To develop its global profile and reach".

In other words, the mission changed along the way.

The new goals are not "wrong" or "bad". They are all very worthy aspirations for an educational institution. But once again, if you personalise the question, you will see the implications. If these universities succeed in their goals to become world-class, then they will admit only world-class students (Singaporean, or otherwise). If they admit only world-class students, then many Singaporeans who are not necessarily stupid or incapable, but merely somewhat less than "world-class" will not have an opportunity to study locally.

Thus these Singaporeans will be forced to go overseas for their university education (if they can afford it), or otherwise simply quit school.

For those who do go overseas, there will be also an opportunity to experience life in another country. And these Singaporeans may (quite rightfully) feel grateful that here in a foreign country, there was a foreign university which accepted them, which gave them the chance to grow and gain their higher education - when their own country, Singapore, did not.

Why should we be surprised then, that some of these individuals will choose to stay on in those foreign countries? After all, Singapore failed to provide for them what these foreign countries were able, and willing, to provide.

Interestingly, as Singapore expands its vision of becoming an international medical hub, we may see an analogous situation occurring in the area of healthcare. The mission of healthcare providers in Singapore may shift over time. There will be increasing focus on attracting wealthy patients from other Asian countries. These healthcare providers may become more and more profit-oriented, and less and less focused on any notion about providing good, affiordable healthcare for Singaporeans.


Anonymous said...

I feel that Singapore Inc sees its own citizens more as liabilities than assets.

We, as Singaporeans, are seen as a lot who is expensive, less willing to accept low salaries for poor working conditions, not as talented as top students from India and China.

Singapore Inc would rather give a China student a scholarship to NTU or NUS, than to award it to our own students who have good CCA record and good A-level grades.

I have known of many friends who get 4As for A-levels, do reservist yearly during varsity vacation, but still have to apply for student loan to study at NTU or NUS. In the meanwhile, a PRC student who can't speak a word of English, gets a fully paid scholarship without any obligation of an average citizen.

The Outer Layer said...

I agree with you Mr Wang. But education is more than just getting students to pass degree programmes.

Education to a nation, especially small little Singapore, is also about researching for technological, social advancements. The SAF new vehicles, weapons, results from having technologies from our Universities. The economic policies, social engineering (yucks) policies and tsrategies, political sciences, tourism management, etc all come from research advancements of the Universities.

So we need Universities (at least 1) capable of very advanced research capabilities. And for this to happen, these Universities must be "world-class" and have top students, academia and administrators.

2) Small intake to be highly selective of people they take in, for quality.

So what is going to happen to the rest of "not so up to mark" people when our Universities must shrink intake?

My proposal is Mr Wang, to have NUS and NTU shrink their intake and improve quality. But have more private or semi-private Universities to cater to the rest of us. NUS and NTU will also progress up the curve to be more Masters and PhD training instead of current Bachelor's.

This will increase our number of Bachelor holders (and people remaining in country to study) while increasing our talent quality of NUS and NTU. And get world ranking.

Anonymous said...

The City University of New York may offer a model for a solution. A teaching-oriented urban university, as opposed to a research-oriented one, focussing on those who got left out of the present system - the working adults, those who did not get into JC etc. This insitution would have numerous small campuses spread around the island, as opposed to a few large grand looking ones.

porcorosso said...

Dear Mr Wang - knowledge through education should be an end in itself. The dichotomy between teaching and research is something Cardinal Newman recognised in 1852 in his seminal work "The Idea of a University". He also commented on the inherent contradiction between the university as storehouse of tradition and its role in society as an agent of change. There are parallels in healthcare and also medical research. Do we focus on cutting edge surgical procedures (no pun intended) or better primary care and shorter waiting times? Should A*STAR recruit more "whales" who could might find a cure for cancer or do we focus on a vaccine for the common cold?

Terence Goh said...

For a population of 5 million and with a high literacy level, Singapore has too few universities. We should be looking at 8, 9 universities.

For some reason (money?), government prefer delegating this task of providing university education to private institutions and overseas universities. However, its kiasi and kiasu attitude means that graduates of private local or overseas universities are treated as second class graduates.

For some stranger reasons, foreigners from china and india 2nd tier universities are treated better than locals with private degrees, with many of them being given post-graduate scholarships. Try applying for a post-graduate course at our local unis with your private degree and see if you can get in?

Onlooker said...

And thus the basis for even asking question 9 is the fact that the complacent PAPers never realised the problem that they have created for theselves.

As for the recent intensive focus on research and the subsequent debate, obviously not all breakthrough are made in environment conducted in a pristine laboratory environment.

Just let me ask a simple question, who pioneered the local product "Sound blaster".
Having a good education might facilitate the process but it is the innate personal drive that the researcher have that will ultimately produce the result that is critical.
Then let me phrase this in another way.
Top talent do not necessarily want to publish the research finding they discover here in Singapore.
They can wait until their bond is up or pass the information to their counterpart in their homeland and publish a joint finding.Who could have known?
This is because they have a sense of attachment to the country that they were born in. A patriotism that can be explain by the fact that if the research result is important enough, they will be allowed back to their homeland as a high level official whose 2nd and 3rd generation welfare are guaranteed.

What to do? it happened......

HJ said...

I was thinking that perhaps the polytechnics could become 'polytechnic universities' instead, and they can award undergrad degrees too.

NUS and NTU, they can focus on bringing in students who are keen on doing research, who want to use their knowledge to 'change the world' so to speak. Small class sizes, highly motivated students, great teaching environment geared towards strong theoretical foundation, and plenty of opportunities to do apply them in practice. All so that we can provide opportunities for more singaporeans to become a part of the larger international academic community.

As for the new "polytechnic universities", they will provide the bulk of singapore's tertiary education requirements. Somewhat trivially, it could be argued that since everyone needs a degree these days, perhaps we shld just do away with the diploma. But seriously, I do wonder the difference between a Bachelor's and a poly diploma. If they're geared towards training for a skilled workforce, are so many grades of qualification required? Do their job descriptions differ substantially?

If there really is no difference, then we can combine the bachelor degree and the poly diploma into a single tertiary qualification degree, to be taken as equivalent to the current bachelor degree. With an honours year that is optional. Takes away the stigma of the poly too. The honours year will now serve as the differentiator of 'quality of skill', instead of what used to be, where poly students try so hard to enter uni because they think their poly qualifications are inadequate.

To summarise, research universities focus on developing researchers and thinkers. Polytechnic universities focus on providing a skilled workforce that can think for itself.

Of course, these comments were made without a sufficiently deep consideration of:
-what are the purposes of a tertiary education? what does it do for the people? their quality of life? for society?
-why we need poly diplomas AND bachelor degrees? what are employers' perceptions?

Anonymous said...

hello, im a local research student. it just annoys me that NUS gives away all these scholarships to the PRCs, indians etc but I, a Singaporean who served NS, got squat. Nada, Zilch, Rien. I don't know if I am the only one but I do believe that I more than deserve the scholarship if it really is a merit based scholarship. (i've got good grades and cca + i not rich :P....unless they are trying to say good grades from NUS cannot compare with good grades from Tsinghua or Beida).

I think if Singapore really wants to root her university going sons/daughters to her shores, maybe she should start building some good karma by first being more generous. (Of course, she can be more generous to her non-university going kids as well) What goes around, comes around.

Right now I do feel that NUS is not putting me above the foreign students that they so desperately crave. So I do not see why I must feel any sense of loyalty/gratitude for NUS. It is NEVER going to receive any donations from me.

Anonymous said...

actually, it's already happening in the healthcare sector. the public sector is chronically short of manpower, since MOH and the govt hospitals aren't paying well enough to retain doctors & nurses.

those remaining are now given the additional work of taking care of foreign cash cows... just take a walk around the hospitals and you notice lots of arabs and ASEAN patients around. what this means is that something has to give, which is inevitably the already limited time we have for our subsidised local patients.

only advice really is, bump up your health insurance for yourself and your family to as much as you can afford. current healthcare costs aren't sustainable, and you want to have the option of being able to afford being taken care of in Mt E or as a private patient in the govt hospitals.

kin said...

It's really a perversion of high ideals. In general, we have a perverted form of capitalism. This happens when priorities are reversed.

Capitalism - the quality service/goods come before. You make profits as you provide quality. Now, the profits come before quality.

In school situation, educating students and encouraging an investigative mind (in order to become wise) would be a goal. With quality students, the school becomes prominent and high-reputation. Now, reputation comes before education. Not only that, the curriculum is mainly catered to make students ready to pass tests, to perform work and become social servants.

In medical/hospital, the curing of patients and the health of patients are the highest priority. By providing that, the hospital and doctors can make a profit. Now, profits trumph everything else.

The meaning of profession is lost in profits.

The same patterns happen in everything now, in every nations, and even their citizens are falling into the same patterns of action.

Until we, meaning everybody around the glob, realize this and able to look beyond the microscope of one field/topic at a time, things will not truly improve (they may appear to improve superficially).

Anonymous said...

I am fast losing my loyalty towards Singapore. We are told to be loyal to our country. But is our country, Singapore, loyal to its citizens?

The bulk of our scholarships go to foreigners, not to our talented local students. Look at the sheer number of scholars from India and China at our NUS and NTU campuses, compared to local scholars.

If Singapre so craves these Indian and PRC scholars so much, then let them go bear arms on our behalf as well.

I no longer see myself as a stakeholder in Singapore, and Singapore doesn't see me as one either. I am seen only as an eligible person to do cheap NS and reservist labour, and to lay down my life to protect the foreign scholars.

Anonymous said...

Not forgetting, many of our able ministers were educated in foreign universities in the first place. So it shouldn't be a surprise that the places in our local NTU and NUS are given to PRCs and Indians, who can't get into the top universities in their homeland too.

Our subsidised university fee comes with a 3 yr bond, to work in Singapoore, while the scholarship awarded to the foreign students come with no attachments?

Now I really feel short-changed as a singaporean.

The Outer Layer said...

Caution on "upgrading" Polytechnics to degree awarding institutions.

Experience to be taken from UK and Australia.

UK top Universities now no longer offer Bachelors. Because the Poly upgrades awarding Bachelors were not academically sufficient. So the top UK Unis award "Masters" and recognise foreign Bachelors from top Unis as Masters equal in UK.

Australia Poly "upgrades" include Curtin, RMIT, who are now operating more profit orieted degree teaching without sufficient depth.

Plus, Polys in Singapore serve the very important purpose of providing the industries with ready blue collar, hands-on workers. How do you think we are to replace this segment of workers if all our Polys now award degrees instead?

Anonymous said...

Being a student who went overseas to study, I cannot help but echo Mr Wang's sentiments about Singaporeans being more grateful to the foreign university/ country.

To add to that, I would like to say that it is also well known that US universities hand out scholarships to students who do well in school, regardless of nationality.

Therefore, it comes of no surprise that many Singaporeans studying overseas prefer to stay overseas rather than return to Singapore after completing their studies, especially in cases where the foreign university had not only provided the opportunity for education, but also at no cost/ little cost to the student.

Jack said...

Absolutely agree with kin.

Money runs everything now. It only surface and become unacceptable when it got its way into education and healthcare.

I came from a Polytechnic background. During my time, all us poly students knows very well that only the top 5% gets into local university. It wasn't a big concern for teenagers at that age. But as me and my fellow friends grew mature and completed our NS, we understood the importance of education but further education is no where to be found locally for people like us(and that's one huge demographic I'm talking about).

As a result, we Singaporeans had to turn to overseas Universities for education which our very own local Singapore government failed to provide.

"How do we bond students going abroad to Singapore, physically if possible, and if not, at least emotionally?"

Your must be kidding me.

My sister who is pregnant, she is one of some unique cases where she often has to admit to hospital.

Staying in a B2 ward, the doctor assigned to her rarely see her in person and sometimes refused to. Only to found out from the nurse the doctor put his priority towards wards B1 and above.

So now we know a doctor can be brought down to a level on par with a hawker. You buy a plate of chicken rice, you want more chicken, you pay more.

Well done, K K.

Anonymous said...

I am fast losing my loyalty towards Singapore. We are told to be loyal to our country. But is our country, Singapore, loyal to its citizens?

The problem is not the country. The problem is the ruling party, the PAP. This party has hijacked the country, is holding it hostage, and using it as a "human shield" to deflect/hide its own party agenda and political corruption. Think of it as the NKF using kidney patients as "human shield" and telling the public to 'think about the patients' and donate.

Anonymous said...

Therefore, it comes of no surprise that many Singaporeans studying overseas prefer to stay overseas rather than return to Singapore after completing their studies, especially in cases where the foreign university had not only provided the opportunity for education, but also at no cost/ little cost to the student.

Ain't we doing the same? Ain't you protesting against giving scholarships to foreigners? Now you are advocating it?

Sigh... confusing.

Anonymous said...

So it shouldn't be a surprise that the places in our local NTU and NUS are given to PRCs and Indians, who can't get into the top universities in their homeland too.

I think we need proof for this. NUS I suspect not. NTU I not too sure. SMU might be the most likely case.

But we need proof.

Anonymous said...

all i wanna say is that they don't really care about us...

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

I discovered from MOE, NTU and NUS web sites that each Undergraduate foreign students intake in our local Universities is limited up to 20%.

Is this too big a number? I also do not know how their selection criteria stack up against local students.

In the US, where I received part of my postgraduate education, the percentage is even higher than 20%.

If we looked at the department of statistics numbers, there are now more people with tertiary education or higher amongst those 35 and below.

There are quite a number (although I don't know exactly how many) who go overseas for their education based on my observations amongst friends and relatives.

I tend to agree with some of us that we are not building tertiary education institutions fast enough.

Having said that, how about those that should not make it to Universities because they could not cope, etc.?

Its true that it does not take high education to be an entrepreneur, but it generally helps the average folk who has higher education get a better paying job.

Its also a fact that those with better results tend to do better at selection interviews at fortune 500 companies.

In my previous role, I was involved in hiring interns from local Universities. From what I observed, the top students tend to fare better at case study interviews, which involved problem-solving business issues. SMU students in general are also better communicators.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

If Singapore's universities were private institutions run on private money, then I could not care less who they give their scholarships to.

Simiarly, American universities such as Harvard are private institutions that run on private money. It's not really the average US citizen's concern who Harvard gives its money to.

However, NUS, NTU and SMU run on taxpayers' money, therefore I think that there is much more legitimate room for Singaporeans to ask if/why this taxpayers money is being used to finance foreigners' education at the expense of citizens.

Anonymous said...


In my postgrad NUS class, sinkapooreans are defintely in the minority.

And because we are graded on a curve, it is difficult not to get A ... so dun worry abt local students who cannot cope. Worry abt local students forced to take courses they have no interest in. also the many straight A's students who cant get into Medicine.

If u have actually been to NUS, u will find it difficult to believe that there is a 20% limit. I mean the PRCs alone seem to exceed 20% in some faculties.

Anonymous said...


If it makes u feel better, my mom was in A1 and got pretty much the same treatment in another local public hospital. And this after telling us straight that paying will get more face time.

At least ur sis is subsidized.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

Its a fact indeed that our Unis rely on our tax monies. My guess is that they let these institutions sit there for too long and out of the blue, these institutions were asked to be world-class and I believe one of the measures is ratio of foreign students.

If a local could get in, it would be quite interesting campus life, getting a chance to perhaps date someone from another country. :)

Anyways, for forcing students to take courses they don't like, I agree. Its the system here.

My hypothesis for that happening is the shortage of tertiary resources to meet demand. The old system was built to churn out white collar workers to meet demand to grow the economy.

We simply need more quality Universities.

For medical care, I have a different experience. My mum had a knee replacement lately at SGH, staying in a B2 ward. Very good, efficient and doctors and nurses were fantastic and cost about S$12000 all in. Some nurses actually came to bid farewell when my mum was discharged.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

For those who planned to migrate, particularly to Australia. Here are some facts:-

How did Australia, with just a population of 21m manage to have the world's 4th biggest current account deficit, despite being a major commodity exporter.

Rank, Country, Current Account Balance (million US$)

1 People’s Republic of China (PRC) 179,100
2 Japan 174,400
3 Germany 134,800
4 Russia 105,300
5 Saudi Arabia 103,800
6 Norway 63,330
7 Switzerland 50,440
8 Netherlands 50,170
9 Kuwait 40,750
10 Singapore 35,580
11 Venezuela 31,820
12 Sweden 28,610
13 United Arab Emirates 26,890
14 Algeria 25,800
15 Hong Kong 20,900
16 Canada 20,560
17 Malaysia 17,860
18 Libya 14,500
19 Brazil 13,500
20 Iran 13,130
21 Nigeria 12,590
22 Qatar 12,510
23 Taiwan 9,700
24 Finland 8,749
25 Iraq 8,134
26 Angola 7,700
27 Oman 7,097
28 Belgium 6,925
29 Austria 5,913
30 Argentina 5,810
31 Chile 5,063
32 Denmark 4,941
33 Philippines 4,900
34 Luxembourg 4,630
35 Trinidad and Tobago 3,259
36 Azerbaijan 2,737
37 Egypt 2,697
38 Korea, South 2,000
39 Bahrain 1,999
40 Gabon 1,807
41 Botswana 1,698
42 Yemen 1,690
43 Indonesia 1,636
44 Peru 1,515
45 Israel 1,643
46 Uzbekistan 1,410
47 Burma 1,247
48 Republic of the Congo 1,215
49 Vietnam 1,029
50 Ecuador 727
51 Bolivia 688
52 Papua New Guinea 661
53 Namibia 572
54 Ivory Coast 460
55 Cameroon 419
56 Morocco 389
57 Bangladesh 339
58 Turkmenistan 321.2
59 Equatorial Guinea 175
60 British Virgin Islands 134.3 (1999)
61 Kazakhstan 113
62 Cook Islands 26.67 (2005)
63 Palau 15.09 (2004)
64 Tuvalu 2.323 (1998)
65 Samoa -2.428 (2004)
66 Tonga -4.321 (2005)
67 Comoros -17 (2005)
68 Kiribati -19.87 (2004)
69 Swaziland -23.13
70 São Tomé and Pr íncipe -24.4
71 Vanuatu -28.35 (2003)
72 Federated States of Micronesia-34.3 (2005)
73 Anguilla -42.87 (2003)
74 Cape Verde -44.43
75 The Gambia – 54.61
76 Burundi -57.84
77 Haiti -58.72
78 Tajikistan -73.95
79 Lesotho -75.44
80 Seychelles -78.59
81 Antigua and Barbuda -83.4 (2004)
82 Guyana – 84.3
83 Rwanda -104.1
84 Honduras -160
85 Zambia -165.4
86 Republic of Macedonia -167
87 Belize -173.4
88 Malawi -186
89 Ghana -219
90 Armenia -247.3
91 Togo -261.9
92 Zimbabwe – 264.6
93 Kyrgyzstan -287.3
94 Paraguay -300
95 Chad -324.1
96 Benin -342.7
97 Guinea -344
98 Cambodia -369
99 Mexico -400.1
100 Uganda -423
101 Eritrea -440.5
102 Mozambique -444.4
103 Fiji -465.8
104 Panama -467
105 Madagascar -504
106 Laos -404.2
107 Belarus -511.8
108 Syria -529
109 Moldova -561
110 Uruguay -600
111 Burkina Faso -604.6
112 Mauritius -651
113 Albania -679.9
114 Georgia -735
115 Tunisia -760
116 Slovenia -789.2
117 Nicaragua -883
118 Senegal -895.2
119 Thailand – 899.4
120 Tanzania -906
121 Malta -966.2
122 Jamaica -970
123 Cyprus -1,051
124 El Salvador -1,059
125 Sri Lanka -1,118
126 Kenya -1,119
127 Dominican Republic -1,124
128 Costa Rica -1,176
129 Cuba -1,218
130 Guatemala -1,533
131 Bosnia and Herzegovina -1,730
132 Estonia -1,919
133 Ukraine -1,933
134 Colombia -2,219
135 Serbia -2,451 (2005)
136 Latvia -2,538
137 Lithuania -2,572
138 Jordan -2,834
139 Croatia -2,892
140 Iceland -2,932
141 Ethiopia -3,384
142 Slovakia -3,781
143 Czech Republic -4,352
144 Sudan -4,510
145 Poland -4,548
146 Bulgaria -5,100
147 Lebanon -5,339
148 Pakistan -5,486
149 New Zealand -7,944
150 Hungary -8,392
151 Ireland -9,450
152 Romania -12,450
153 South Africa -12,690
154 Portugal -16,750
155 Greece -21,370
156 Italy -23,730
157 Turkey -25,990
158 India -26,400
159 France -38,000
160 Australia -41,620
161 United Kingdom -57,680
162 Spain -98,600
163 United States -862,300

That is only one year deficit of US$42 billion. It has been doing this for decades, which is why it escaped recession several times.

Borrow and spend.

Its external debt now stand at US$1,032 billion. How much natural resources have it got left?

The future generations of Aussies will have to pay for it and it could come any time.

Anonymous said...

Future generations of Singaporeans also have to pay for Ho Ching's mistakes.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

Just sharing an interesting article. How do we think Singapore should measure besides GDP?

Our Government cite this metric often. Is this the best we can do?

The key insight is about natural capital and how it is not taken into account when depleted.

Its about how there are currenly insufficient resources in the World for Emerging Markets to fully develop and fluorish to attain the same standard of living as the OECD countries.

Clearly some enhancement needs to to be made to account for natural capital:

The New York Time
August 10, 2009
G.D.P. R.I.P.

Montpelier, Vt.

IF there’s a silver lining to our current economic downturn, it’s this: With it comes what the economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction,” the failure of outmoded economic structures and their replacement by new, more suitable structures. Downturns have often given a last, fatality-inducing nudge to dying industries and technologies. Very few buggy manufacturers made it through the Great Depression.

Creative destruction can apply to economic concepts as well. And this downturn offers an excellent opportunity to get rid of one that has long outlived its usefulness: gross domestic product. G.D.P. is one measure of national income, of how much wealth Americans make, and it’s a deeply foolish indicator of how the economy is doing. It ought to join buggy whips and VCRs on the dust-heap of history.

The first official attempt to determine our national income was made in 1934; the goal was to measure all economic production involving Americans whether they were at home or abroad. In 1991, the Bureau of Economic Analysis switched from gross national product to gross domestic product to reflect a changed economic reality — as trade increased, and as foreign companies built factories here, it became apparent that we ought to measure what gets made in the United States, no matter who makes it or where it goes after it’s made.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

Since then it has become probably our most commonly cited economic indicator, the basic number that we take as a measure of how well we’re doing economically from year to year and quarter to quarter. But it is a miserable failure at representing our economic reality.

To begin with, gross domestic product excludes a great deal of production that has economic value. Neither volunteer work nor unpaid domestic services (housework, child rearing, do-it-yourself home improvement) make it into the accounts, and our standard of living, our general level of economic well-being, benefits mightily from both. Nor does it include the huge economic benefit that we get directly, outside of any market, from nature. A mundane example: If you let the sun dry your clothes, the service is free and doesn’t show up in our domestic product; if you throw your laundry in the dryer, you burn fossil fuel, increase your carbon footprint, make the economy more unsustainable — and give G.D.P. a bit of a bump.

In general, the replacement of natural-capital services (like sun-drying clothes, or the propagation of fish, or flood control and water purification) with built-capital services (like those from a clothes dryer, or an industrial fish farm, or from levees, dams and treatment plants) is a bad trade — built capital is costly, doesn’t maintain itself, and in many cases provides an inferior, less-certain service. But in gross domestic product, every instance of replacement of a natural-capital service with a built-capital service shows up as a good thing, an increase in national economic activity. Is it any wonder that we now face a global crisis in the form of a pressing scarcity of natural-capital services of all kinds?

This points to the larger, deeper flaw in using a measurement of national income as an indicator of economic well-being. In summing all economic activity in the economy, gross domestic product makes no distinction between items that are costs and items that are benefits. If you get into a fender-bender and have your car fixed, G.D.P. goes up.

A similarly counterintuitive result comes from other kinds of defensive and remedial spending, like health care, pollution abatement, flood control and costs associated with population growth and increasing urbanization — including crime prevention, highway construction, water treatment and school expansion. Expenditures on all of these increase gross domestic product, although mostly what we aim to buy isn’t an improved standard of living but the restoration or protection of the quality of life we already had.

The amounts involved are not nickel-and-dime stuff. Hurricane Katrina produced something like $82 billion in damages in New Orleans, and as the destruction there is remedied, G.D.P. goes up. Some of the remedial spending on the Gulf Coast does represent a positive change to economic well-being, as old appliances and carpets and cars are replaced by new, presumably improved, ones. But much of the expense leaves the community no better off (indeed, sometimes worse off) than before.

Consider the 50 miles of sponge-like wetlands between New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that once protected the city from storm surges. When those bayous were lost to development — sliced to death by channels to move oil rigs, mostly — gross domestic product went up, even as these “improvements” destroyed the city’s natural defenses and wiped out crucial spawning ground for the Gulf Coast shrimp fishery. The bayous were a form of natural capital, and their loss was a cost that never entered into any account — not G.D.P. or anything else.

Wise decisions depend on accurate assessments of the costs and benefits of different courses of action. If we don’t count ecosystem services as a benefit in our basic measure of well-being, their loss can’t be counted as a cost — and then economic decision-making can’t help but lead us to undesirable and perversely un-economic outcomes.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

The basic problem is that gross domestic product measures activity, not benefit. If you kept your checkbook the way G.D.P. measures the national accounts, you’d record all the money deposited into your account, make entries for every check you write, and then add all the numbers together. The resulting bottom line might tell you something useful about the total cash flow of your household, but it’s not going to tell you whether you’re better off this month than last or, indeed, whether you’re solvent or going broke.

BECAUSE we use such a flawed measure of economic well-being, it’s foolish to pursue policies whose primary purpose is to raise it. Doing so is an instance of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness — mistaking the map for the terrain, or treating an instrument reading as though it were the reality rather than a representation. When you’re feeling a little chilly in your living room, you don’t hold a match to a thermometer and then claim that the room has gotten warmer. But that’s what we do when we seek to improve economic well-being by prodding G.D.P.

Several alternatives to gross domestic product have been proposed, and each tackles the central problem of placing a value on goods and services that never had a dollar price. The alternatives are controversial, because that kind of valuation creates room for subjectivity — for the expression of personal values, of ideology and political belief.

How, after all, do we judge what exactly was the value of the services provided by those bayous in Louisiana? Was it $82 billion? But what about the value of the shrimp fishery that was already lost before the hurricane? What about the insurance value of the protection the bayous offered against another $82 billion loss? What about the security and sense of continuity of life enjoyed by the thousands of people who lived and made their livelihoods in relation to those bayous before they disappeared? It’s admittedly difficult to set a dollar price on such things — but this is no reason to set that price at zero, as gross domestic product currently does.

Common sense tells us that if we want an accurate accounting of change in our level of economic well-being we need to subtract costs from benefits and count all costs, including those of ecosystem services when they are lost to development. These include storm and flood protection, water purification and delivery, maintenance of soil fertility, pollination of plants and regulation of our climate on a global and local scale. (One recent estimate puts the minimum market value of all such natural-capital services at $33 trillion per year.)

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

Nature has aesthetic and moral value as well; some of us experience awe, wonder and humility in our encounters with it. But we don’t have to go so far as to include such subjective intangibles in order to fix the national income accounts. As stressed ecosystems worldwide disappear, it will get easier and easier to assign a nonsubjective valuation to them; and value them we must if we are to keep them at all. No civilization can survive their loss.

Given the fundamental problems with G.D.P. as a leading economic indicator, and our habit of taking it as a measurement of economic welfare, we should drop it altogether. We could keep the actual number, but rename it to make clearer what it represents; let’s call it gross domestic transactions. Few people would mistake a measurement of gross transactions for a measurement of general welfare. And the renaming would create room for acceptance of a new measurement, one that more accurately signals changes in the level of economic well-being we enjoy.

Our use of total productivity as our main economic indicator isn’t mandated by law, which is why it would be fairly easy for President Obama to convene a panel of economists and other experts to join the Bureau of Economic Analysis in creating a new, more accurate measure. Call it net economic welfare. On the benefit side would go such nonmarket goods as unpaid domestic work and ecosystem services; on the debit side would go defensive and remedial expenditures that don’t improve our standard of living, along with the loss of ecosystem services, and the money we spend to try to replace them.

In 1934, the economist Simon Kuznets, in his very first report of national income to Congress, warned that “the welfare of a nation can ... scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income.” Just as this crisis gives us the opportunity to end the nature-be-damned, more-is-always-better economy that flourished when oil was cheap and plentiful, we can finally act on Kuznets’s wise warning. We’re in an economic hole, and as we climb out, what we need is not simply a measurement of how much money passes through our hands each quarter, but an indicator that will tell us if we are really and truly gaining ground in the perennial struggle to improve the material conditions of our lives.

Eric Zencey, a professor of historical and political studies at Empire State College, is the author of “Virgin Forest: Meditations on History, Ecology and Culture” and a novel, “Panama.”

Have a good weekend!

Anonymous said...

The world faces the biggest market failure it has ever seen - sustainability and climate change.

Quite simply, it is the failure of current economic models to include and price externalities.

The world over, governments and policy makers are waking up to this fact. But the PAP garment are still drunk on the traditional economic model of inputs consumption. GDP numbers above everything else, importing foreigners to boost consumption, totally ignoring sustainability. And because Spore is a small island, the consequences can be observed sooner.

recruit ong

Onlooker said...

To Achronic(Keep.It.Short.S :) :->
August 14, 2009 1:58 PM:
Singaporeans = Locals + PR.
Do the math and your homework :P

August 14, 2009 5:10 PM
I'm glad you have a good experience that most Singaporeans don't experience. :)

What to do? it happened.....

August 14, 2009 5:22 PM
Aussie have a better quality of life in living pace with their work life .There is no life if there is only work and you are paid according to the "Merit" of grades and who your daddy/mommy :P.
All work no play make jack a dull boy :..(

Even Xiao fu chun want to stay there as a safety officer.O_ops system analyst.

What to do? it happened.... lol

August 14, 2009 6:09 PM
August 14, 2009 6:10 PM
August 14, 2009 6:11 PM
August 14, 2009 6:27 PM
What to say but:-
It is a well written article, Except it is based on Yankee land they have natural resource and they are correct to be concern about that and the article is also about accountability.
Yet Singapore is now abusing the resource that is most valuable to her.
And it is not the fault of the people because we were fooled by the poisonous "carrot" that we allowed the complacent D'elite to put in place policy that are detrimental to the well being of the people and only beneficial to some.(in the long term)

We are now at the phase where the emperor go into the public in his luxurious robe made of "sheer" material,That is until the little boy giggle and shout:"The emperor wear no Garment"

What to do? It happened..... XP

Achronic do not take my comment as offensive it is just the way people felt about the current situation.
Kind of glad that someone is enjoying life here when the situation is really bad for someone else.

What to do? It happened.....

Enjoy your weekend

Anonymous said...

To Jack & Anon @ August 14, 2009 4:42 PM:

just to give a perspective from the other side of the table, you'll notice being in A1 does not necessarily give you the best medical care, as this really depends on who your consultant doctor is. some are better than others.

What being in A or B1 does mean though, is that you get to choose your consultant by name, whereas subsidized patients are assigned one by roster. so if you're in the know and you are willing to pay, you can pick someone who you know is good.

some other things that you can't determine though, is the team of junior doctors (from the houseman who takes your blood to the registrar who is the main man on the ground) and the nurses assigned to you. and this plays a huge role in the quality of care you get, and you've no control over this... having said this, I would say the majority of healthcare personnel in public service still try to give our best, although we are frankly stretched to our limits.

also you might want to consider what you mean by 'good care'. a doctor who spends a lot of time explaining things to you may not be technically the best, and similarly, the one who is the best in his specialty may not always be the person who have the best people skill. some of the most popular surgeons I know aren't the best in terms of surgical skills, but their patients love them coz they know how to talk to them. which would you rather have, talk or skills? you can't always get both.

CK said...

Anon @ August 15, 2009 1:09 AM:

I want House, MD.

WLPT said...

I think is it overly harsh to say that "Singapore Inc sees its own citizens more as liabilities than assets", or that our govt treats Sporeans as '2nd class citizens".

Actually I see this penchant for attracting outsiders and neglecting our own as something quite typical of Spore organisations. For example, our companies are so aggressive in attracting new applicants and poaching talents from outside the company, they neglect their own staff and then complain that Sporeans are not loyal.

Similarly, many of our businesses (esp the telcos, I think) are so aggressive in getting new customers, they sometimes make their regular customers feel like suckers who keep getting the message; "If you are not happy, you can always take your business elsewhere".

So we shouldn't just point the finger at the govt. We are all guilty.

Anonymous said...

"Our subsidised university fee comes with a 3 yr bond, to work in Singapoore, while the scholarship awarded to the foreign students come with no attachments?"

The scholarship does come with a bond, but the govt is not strict in enforcing it. I know one guy who, after completing his engg, left for France for higher studies and came back after a while. No questions asked. He believed the govt is quite lenient in such issues as they badly need foreign talent.

"So it shouldn't be a surprise that the places in our local NTU and NUS are given to PRCs and Indians, who can't get into the top universities in their homeland too.

I think we need proof for this. NUS I suspect not. NTU I not too sure. SMU might be the most likely case."

I can't provide proof but Singapore is usually second priority for Indian students. The ones who reach here are those who cannot make it to the IITs or to prestigious colleges like BITS.

Anonymous said...

The Singapore govt wants the city to be able to compete with the world's best, so it's not surprising they welcome foreign students. Where they have failed, IMHO, is in the duty towards the citizens.

If they think that only the best of the local brains should study in Singapore, surely the rest, or some of the rest, can be sponsored for studies overseas, instead of being forced into polytechnics or to study on their own.

If Singapore had actively encouraged a worldwide diaspora of students, it wouldn't be the target of so much ire.

My 2 cents (don't have much left, you see).

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

Hi Onlooker,

I still have the 2007 numbers from Department of Statistics, which still seperates PRs and Citizens. Happy to send to anyone who would leave your contact email here.

Anyways, its not difficult to break the numbers down even if they combine both now. One could go to Elections Department website and you could get total number of Citizens, age 21 and above by constituencies. Just minus this number for current Department of Stats (combined number Citizens and PRs) and you get number of Singapore Citizens. (Please bear in mind that those who converted to Singapore Citizens would be included too.)

I would urge you to work and live in Australia or the US for a year of two. Go to NY and Sydney and see how many homeless are there.

For that article, its just a stimulus for thinking. Whether its Yankee Land or not, perhaps you or someone else would do a similar on Singapore.

Anyways, is in several overseas forums, many foreigners are discussing the Singapore model of success.

Perhaps they have never lived here, we may say.

I am not saying our Govt or PAP are the best. They are not perfect. I know there are people who associated Govt to just PAP and because PAP dominates the Parliament, they simply dislike PAP and Government.

H/w, let's look at the pros and cons. There are always cracks on a wall and some are bigger than others.

I think for the fact that Mr Wang brought up regarding the scholarships to Non Singapore Citizens, perhaps someone would be bold enough to write to Education Minister, etc. At least make that person respond to you. His email is also easily available on Government Directory.

If you feel so strongly about an issue and it affects you, why don't take some action?

Once you have done that and you don't get a satisfied response, you could think of other options e.g. like migrating, etc.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

For those who wants to know about some facts on Singaporeans versus Australians emigrating to another country.

Singapore may not publish emigration numbers, but it is not difficult to work out.

Citizens growth (30,600) = Births - deaths + new citizens - emigration.

For example, the citizen population increased from 3.1338m (2007) to 3.1644 m in 2008, a net increase of 30,600. Citizen births contributed 32,400, (2)citizen death was 14,500, and in 2007, there were 17,300 new citizens. This implies emigration was 4,600, at 1.5 citizens per 1000 per year.

Citizens leaving Singapore cannot be that high.

I know a country with a higher emigration rate - Australia.

In Australia, emigration is about 70,000 per year out of a population of 21 million.

This works out to 3.3 per 1000.

If Australia is so good, why so are people emigrating to another country?

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...


Before you are thinking of migrating to Australia, you may want to read this article:-

Graeme Hugo, ‘A New Paradigm of International Migration: Implications for Migration
Policy and Planning in Australia’ (Research Paper No. 10 2003‐04, prepared for general
distribution to Senators and Members of the Australian Parliament, 2004) 16‐7.

From the article:-

"In 2002‐3, permanent departures as a percentage of permanent arrivals was 53.7%, compared to 43.3% in 2000 and only 23% in 1990.

With nearly 5% of the population living overseas permanently, this is one of the world’s major diasporas in relation to the resident population.

You may want to pick another country.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...


Here is a fact on tax comparisons between countries like Australia, NZ, UK, US, Singapore and Hong Kong. Its done by University of Melbourne.

It was presented in a tax conference in Australia.

I think I didn't make up any of the information in the comments I made.

Read for yourself.