Jan 13, 2007

Real Worlds

November 2006 wasn't that long ago, was it? Back then, Seah Chiang Nee of Little Speck wrote an article where, among other things, he indicated that in Singapore, alternative media (that is, blogs) simply isn't quite that credible. His argument went like this:

1. Singapore is doing very well now and the evidence is clear.
2. But bloggers still persist in painting a very negative picture of life in Singapore.
3. So they seriously lack credibility.

To make Point 1, he wrote this:

    IN the real world, the economy is humming strongly, more jobs are being created than at anytime in the last 10 years, the stock market is near record high and so are high-end properties.

    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 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.

    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.

    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.
To make Point 2, he wrote this:
    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.

    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.

    To the cynics, the government has lost its economic way, unable to steer Singapore to a better future. “They’re so desperate they need casinos to get out of the rut”, is a frequent comment.

    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.

Here - we can imagine - Mr Seah pauses rhetorically, shakes his head, sighs deeply, and then types out the next sentence:

    Why is there such a large disparity between the real world and the blogosphere?

... and then he proceeds to examine the implications of the blogosphere's lack of credibility.

But wait. Let's stop here for a moment. Why would bloggers paint negative pictures of their lives in Singapore, if indeed their lives were filled with light and joy and positive events?

Bear in mind that bloggers are legion. And that mass conspiracies are extremely difficult to coordinate. Can you imagine 1,000 Singaporean bloggers covertly exchanging emails and setting out an elaborate strategy to paint false, negative pictures of their lives in Singapore?

The truth is less diabolical, less dramatic. And for the average Singaporean, a lot sadder. On Thursday, CNA published the following

    Middle class wage stagnation could lead to social instability
    SINGAPORE: Middle class wages have been stagnant in the past 5 years, according to economists, and this could lead to social instability.

    These concerns were shared by economists at the annual Institute of Policy Studies Singapore Perspectives conference, who also added that the government is taking steps to address the problem.

    Economists believe a US economic slowdown in business and consumer spending may cause problems for Singapore, but as Singapore is tops in the ASEAN resilience index, it should be able to weather external shocks, thanks to a diversified economy and strong Asian demand.

    They predict that growth going forward will be above 3 to 5 percent.

    The long-term growth limits for a mature economy was previously in the 3 to 5 percent range.

    However, economists are asking who this growth is for. The income of the bottom 30 percent of the population has fallen. What is more worrying is the fact that the majority of Singaporeans in the middle class has only seen about a one percent increase in their nominal income in the last 5 years.

Looks like the bloggers got it right, after all. And had gotten it right all along, for the past five years at least. Well, they should know - it's their own lives they blog about. What say you, Mr Seah Chiang Nee?


Anonymous said...

I do not know Seah Chiang Nee personally so I cannot be certain about what guides his thought processes. However, whatever I can gleam from his writings, I can only draw to possible conclusions:

(a) He is prone to making sweeping statements unable perhaps to distinguish personal views from verifiable facts. Often one notes in his writings that he does not contextualised his statement. This is common for people of certain age, you know the "how-these-youngsters-don't-know" mindset. In which case, I supposed it is a forgiveable trait and his writting should not be treated as anything more than the ranting of an "experience" person.

(b) He is noted to fervour neutrality, which he often equate it to mean "objectiveness", in all his writings. To him this means when presenting one view point, he would counter with the opposite point. This means he would seek out a counter point for the sake of it, in order to demonstrate his "objectiveness". If this is the case, I would take his argument with a big pinch of salt.

Anonymous said...

From what I know in my Company, there has been no salary increases for the staff for the past 5 years except for those who are promoted or those who are resigning but asked to stay on. Bonuses other than the AWS have not been declared either. Our Company appears to be doing well as most of us have been working late every day generally up to 7pm & even up to 10pm for certain dept. No OT is paid.

Yet the MIW who pay themselves huge salaries (just like TT Durai) tells us that we should not complain but should be grateful that we still have a job.

Maybe See Chiang Nee is writing from the point of view of the Ministers & civil servants. If he has checked with me beforehand, I'm sure he would have written differently.

Anonymous said...

From what he have written, he seems to believe the rosy pictures painted by the MSM. Of course, some of us trust our MSM but some do not. He can choose not to believe the negative side of our lives here, but most of us walk the grounds and see the real problems in our faces. I cannot say the same for those wearing white pants and shirts.

Sometimes, arm-chair writers should look at their backyard first.nyiitw

Anonymous said...

Credibility? We depend on experts in the form of Economists to tell us what the alternative media (I prefer to call it the liberal media) have been telling us all along.

Who's credible? The experts witholding information from us, or the many ranters on the ground reflecting that very information?

Anonymous said...

Is anyone going to draw Seah Chiang Nee's attention to Mr Wang's post? It will be interesting to hear what Seah has got to say.

Anonymous said...

Credibility from the MSM? That's a joke. Witness the flip flop on the figures on how many percentage of new jobs created went to foreigners vs singaporeans.

ringisei said...

Akikonomu has also written an excellent retort to Seah at his blog (link).

Anonymous said...

Oh, wait. Maybe he is saying the opposite. The MSM writes fairy tales and the blogosphere writes the real world on the ground. He may in fact, saying that MSM is crap.

Just a random thought...

Anonymous said...

1. Those in power would spend their means and ways to stay in power.
The way it is said is to pay enough so people do not become corrupt.
What in the world or in Singapore is stopping people who are paid enough or more than enough from becoming corrupt?
It is human nature to want more. Give a person a wooden hut, he would desire a brick house, Give him a brick house, he would want a Mansion, Give him a Mansion, he would want a castle, Give him a castle he would want a kingdom, Give him a kingdom, he would want the world.
What governs a person’s desire, his morals and not external factors of giving him more money.
Look and the NKF Mr Durai, he has a pay which is benchmarked against the CEOs of companies. Yet he wants more. Yet he is corrupt.
Look at Mr Chen Shui Bian of Taiwan. He started with no money and a nobody. He declared that the ruling government then was corrupt. Yet now in his position of power less than a decade of his rise. He too has become corrupted.
Powers corrupts.
Those who stay in power will become corrupt.
That is a simple fact of life.

Anonymous said...

And those who die die don't want to let go of power sure got lots of dirty things to hide. This is also a simple fact of life.

Anonymous said...

Well, as a IT Manager, my salary has been on the decline for the past five years. Things look really bad for in the year 2003/2004. The company nearly died.

I have received only 1 13th month bonus so far.

In summary yeah, as part of the sandwich class, I am being squeezed. Without the baby bonus, things would have been quite stressful.

Anonymous said...

I thought Seah Chiang Nee has always been a strong critic of the govt?

But since he's a product of the old media, it's quite understandable that he might be sceptical of the new media.

zHuAz said...

Note, nominal income of middle class went up by 1% in 5 years. Inflation has been more than 1% annually.

Compound the inflation, REAL wage of middle class has actually strunk.

Now tell me, why do the ministers want for track record?

Anonymous said...

I would just leave some of my opinion on this particular issue of blogosphere and reality.

Yes, I do agree that Singapore's growth is not really benefiting the average Singaporean as many of these jobs created required high level of skills which most of the middle-low and low income groups lack. Besides these jobs figures tend to be inflated by jobs openings for foreigners, therefore painting a rosier picture than many of us actually think.

However, I would also beg to differ that the life of the average Singaporean is hard. Yes, its worse as compared to the "Western" ideal of working less for more pay, but it is easy to forget the basis of how our economy is built, that is based on the hard work and hours put in toiling by our forefathers. Without this, we will most probably lose our edge as its still a wonder, even to me as a Singaporean, that how Singapore can survive economically without any natural resources.

Also, we usually compare ourselves to more well-off people in our society and the Western world. It is the perception that we must fight the race to the top that fuels these "negative" feelings that we are hard dealt by the government. If we were to compare ourselves to better endowed countries like those in Latin America, would cleaning tables in hawker centres seem bad? No, I seriously do not think so. However, I'm saying this not that I advocate it, but I seriously urge people to put themselves into proper context and try not to let personal emotions interfere into objective reasoning. Bearing this in mind, I think that the government could and should do more to equalize social disparity, but the point here is that bloggers should not just complain about how bad life is, but how to improve on them, and if they are that passionate, set up some NGOs that promotes the cause to really do their part to help.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I am a late addition to this, but I wish to point out to the author just before me that the reason for the existence of such blogs lies in their ability to put into perspective the often rosy pictures of Singapore. A very easy way to look for hard life is in Chinatown.

The reason why the government is not voted out is because these people form a major minority, around 30%. Much of our society is now composed of PMEB's, who of course believe in the lush rich veneer of Singapore. Also note that many of them are young. It often just requires a severe and/or chronic illness requiring them to pay loads of money, even if one argues that the companies are doing so well that they cannot go under. Unfortunately you have to wait for them to reach the age when the pinch is felt (wait ... how come Medisave was just recently allowed for payment of some chronic illnesses).

By the way, I am no socialogist, but I note somewhat wrily that the opposition captured about 30+% of the votes from the recent general election. Go figure.