Singapore’s future: some crystal ball gazing

Question
Is Singapore properly equipped and confidently prepared to overcome challenges they may face in the future?

Answer
Summary

Singapore is reasonably prepared to face the future economic challenges. However, the sociopolitical challenges may prove more difficult than perceived.

Details

Let us look at the key challenges that Singapore may face and analyze if it can overcome these:

1. Political
As Lee Kuan Yew (the founding father & the longest-serving Prime Minister) fades into sunset, his larger-than-life influence on Singapore politics has started to weaken.

Consequently, both the ruling PAP party and the opposition parties are re-calibrating their approaches.

The PAP is trying to open up to the ideas of social upliftment & economic inclusiveness against an earlier, dogged, focus solely on meritocracy. The current PM, Lee Hsien Loong, is making sincere efforts to change the pro-rich & pro-business image of his party & the government.

He has also developed good working relations with Malaysia & Indonesia, two large Muslim neighbors who were not very welcoming of Singapore initially.

The opposition, emboldened by unprecedented gains in the last general election, is becoming more vocal in its criticisms of government policies; it is also aided by young Singaporeans longing for an alternative force to emerge.

The new generation of Singaporeans don’t want to dwell on the past hardships through which Singaporean society passed and are clamoring for more liberties than ever. Consequently, many are cynical of the ruling party and identify themselves more with the opposition, perceived as more pro-Singaporean & pro-poor.

Unfortunately, LKY has been a polarizing figure in Singapore. There are die-hard supporters of his style of administration as well as those who viscerally hate him for his benevolent dictatorial / authoritarian rule. The fault lines are becoming more visible as the time passes.

Prognosis: The Singaporean politics may see more turbulent times ahead and the country may not be able to handle the transition as smoothly as everyone hopes for.

2. Societal
Singaporean society is a mix of three main races – Chinese, Malay, Indian – in decreasing order of population size.

Throughout its 48 years of independence, the Government has strove hard to maintain racial harmony.

The reason for this lies in the circumstances in which Singapore became an independent nation & separated from the present-day Malaysia.

The Chinese & the Indian people have had more economic success than their Malay brethren, due to the sociocultural issues faced by the latter, such as, large families, low education levels, etc.

Also, for some time, Singapore government was wary of the loyalty of Malays (mostly Muslims) and this resulted in an undercurrent of alienation and racial tension.

Thankfully, the society has moved on & there are sincere efforts to improve the lot of Malays. Singapore is unique in this sense that all the stakeholders are acutely aware of the need to maintain racial harmony even as the individual cultures and ways of life are preserved.

The unknown here is religious fundamentalism that may come from Malaysia or Indonesia, two large and (hitherto) moderate Muslim countries that are facing the threat of increasing extremism & intolerance.

Prognosis: The Singapore society is currently well capable of maintaining religious and cultural harmony. However, racial dynamics will continue to demand extreme vigilance, especially in a world that is becoming more polarized on religious lines. Singapore also has to be mindful of any external influence that may try to destabilize the delicate racial balance.

3. Economic
There is a unanimous agreement among everybody that Singapore is an economic miracle, an example of what visionary leadership can achieve with the help of hard, honest, workforce and a corruption-free, efficient, administration.

The government has excelled at successful, long-term, economic planning.

Singapore has ridden the waves of maritime, petrochemicals, electronics, and pharmaceuticals earlier; it is now working to become an Asian leader in banking (especially, wealth management), tourism, & biotechnology.

By all accounts, Singapore is an enviable economic position. It has huge reserves that are well managed by GIC and Temasek; it continues to attract businesses from across the world, and more & more rich Asians are parking their funds here.

However, there is a dark side to this. And, it is the unequal distribution of wealth. Singapore has one of the highest Gini coefficients among the developed countries, representing significant income inequality.

So, while it has the highest number of millionaires (as a proportion of the total population), a large majority of Singaporean earn only moderate income & can only afford public housing, albeit a world-class one.

The reason for this dichotomy is the extremely pro-business stance of Singapore government.

The trade union movement is widely perceived as very weak in its ability to protect the low-skilled & semi-skilled workers.

The government, hitherto, allowed business to easily bring in (low-cost) foreign workers and this led to suppression of wages among the weaker sections of the society.

Further, economic growth, a low-interest regime, and ample liquidity led to rapid price hikes and increase in the cost of living.

This led to a lot of resentment among people and the government saw a significant drop in its share of the popular vote in the last general election.

Since then, the government has re-calibrated its policies to address these issues. However, it has also warned that this will result in slower growth rates over the coming decades.

A very important, internal, challenge to Singapore’s economic progress will come from its skewed population distribution.

The total fertility rate has fallen below the replacement levels for quite some time now and the proportion of senior citizens in the workforce is steadily increasing.

This will lead to significant changes in the way the businesses are run.

The external challenge to Singapore’s continued economic success will come from a host of countries, most notably, China & India.

China is developing Shanghai as a major financial center, in addition to the existing Hong Kong.

Singapore’s electronics component industry is already facing severe challenges from many countries, most notably, Taiwan & China.

Its leadership position in shipping is also under threats from countries as far as Sri Lanka & Pakistan.

Prognosis: Singapore’s continued economic success is not guaranteed and some of the adverse factors are beyond its control. Of course, Singapore’s planners are already working at identifying all these opportunities and challenges and preparing the proactive, calibrated, responses that have turned this country from third-world to first-world in a record short span of time.

Note: The above question and my response first appeared on Quora (https://www.quora.com/Singapore/Is-singapore-properly-equipped-and-confidently-prepared-to-overcome-challenges-they-may-face-in-the-future)

Sumari & Vizify – graphical bios

Have recently come across two interesting graphical bio services:

Vizify

The service has a smooth interface reflective of a storyboard. It, however, doesn’t add much punch to your résumé.

Sumari

Unlike Vizify, Sumari is center-focused on highlighting the achievements of the candidate – in terms of numbers, graphs, charts, etc.

You can check out my CVs on the two services to compare for your self:

https://www.vizify.com/reetesh

http://www.sumari.me/beta/reetesh

China’s internet infrastructure – hype vs. reality

Gizmodo has published an article, “China’s Internet Architecture Gives the Rest of Us a Run for Our Money“.

Is China's internet better than that of the US?It praises the technological superiority of China’s internet architecture as compared to that of the US.

It quotes a study that highlights two key points:

  • Source Address Validation Architecture (SAVA) - a security feature that builds up a database of trusted computers & their IP addresses
  • IPv6 adoption

I have two main issues with the article.

It is woefully outdated.

The article is based on a (recently declassified) 2008 study compiled by New England Complex Systems Institute.

This is hopelessly outdated for the topic covered – the internet.

For example, mobile & 4G were not as prevalent then as they are now.

Obviously, these developments have had an impact on the underlying architecture and vice versa.

I doubt if the study accounts for these developments.

The ground reality in China contradicts the claims.

A couple of readers have contradicted the claims made by the report

They have highlighted the following problems:

  • Service is not reliable for residential customers – it is either slow or blazing fast
  • The networks of the two main service providers do not integrate seamlessly

These are, indeed, serious problems from the viewpoint of end users.

More generally, China is not renowned as a country with fast internet.

In fact, China ranked at no. 123 as compared to no. 14 for the US! (source: “Top 10: Where to Find the World’s Fastest Internet“, dated 23 January, 2013).

As regards the two salient features of China’s internet infrastructure:

  • SAVA can also be used to monitor & censor the internet
  • IPv6 has not seen widespread adoption in the US for a variety of valid reasons.

Closing remarks

The above critique is not to say that China’s infrastructure is inferior or that there is nothing wrong with the US infrastructure.

What I want to highlight is that these are not really “apple-to-apple” comparisons.

Therefore, the conclusions derived from them are also not likely to be accurate.

In the end, the customer experience is the most important factor in deciding whether a service is good or not.

A tale of two innovations – one individual-driven & other government-funded

Came across two very interesting articles on innovation & thought that you might benefit from them…

How two volunteers built the Raspberry Pi’s operating system

This is the story of 2 volunteers who rebuilt 19,000 packages (~50%) of Debian’s Wheezy build so that their version of the OS, Raspbian, can take advantage of the ARMv6 floating-point unit on Raspberry Pi!

Raspberry Pi logoRaspbian OS is the recommended OS for Raspberry Pi, a testament to the innovation delivered by 2 people with a passion to do something.

The cost of this labor-of-love? $3,000 initially!

Clarification: The costs have increased later to account for distribution, hosting, compensation etc.

Swimming with spacemen: training for spacewalks at NASA’s giant pool

On the other end of the scale, is the world’s largest indoor body of water holding 6.2 million gallons of water!

NASA uses this humongous swimming pool, technically known as the NBL (Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory), to train astronauts for spacewalk missions during their stint on the ISS (International Space Station).

NASA logoLike most of the things associated with NASA, everything about this facility is enormously big, including expenses incurred to build & maintain the facility!

However, the money can be considered well spent considering that all the ISS missions have been successful with zero accidents.

The whole article is a must read for anybody interested in space exploration and suitably highlights the critical role played by everybody involved, not just the astronauts.

Will financial crisis lead to a new class war?!

The anti-capitalistic sentiments continue to find more supporters since the unraveling of the financial markets in 2007.

Like a tsunami, the rage (against MNCs & their executives) is picking up energy as it spreads to more countries, more people.

The latest to join are the Swiss, almost 70% of whom voted last Sunday to curb executive pay and other excesses.

This development is significant.

Swiss became the global market leader in private banking most due to these two factors – they never really probed the source of the money, or tried to question the background of their clients. [Read an year-old article that will sound relevant even today!]

What gives?

Arguably, the key reason for the changed mood of people is the lavish bonuses awarded to bankers even as their employers had to be doled out by the people.

Thus, there is a self-righteous indignation against the banking sector.

Interestingly, people have since then begun focusing on other sectors of the economy as well.

All capital-intensive industries (pharma, auto, etc.) have come in the cross-hairs of the “compensation crusaders”.

Why so?

The current kerfuffle seems to be moving into an “us vs. them” situation.

The “blue-collar” group is blaming the “white-collar” class for the hardships that they have had to suffer due to the latter.

It holds globalization responsible for suppressing their wages & losing their jobs to the developing countries.

It accuses the latter of “heads I win, tails you lose” approach in determining performance-based compensation.

It also accuses the latter of buying political influence through money.

The “white-collar” camp, in its defense, blames the price sensitivity of the former to keep looking for lowest-cost manufacturers of products & services.

It justifies its pay & compensation as being “market driven”.

It even demands to relax the immigration criteria to compensate for the rapidly declining knowledge & skills of the former.

What next?

Das Kapital

The views highlighted before are similar to those prevalent in the late 19th century when Karl Marx released Das Kapital.

That seminal book is widely credited with the start of the labor movement and its later expansion into socialism.

Therefore, it is easy to think of am emerging class war.

However, there are significant differences between then & now.

First & foremost, capitalism is fully adopted in most countries, even by the protesters.

The majority of protesters are not anti-money but anti-decadence.

Second, the history of socialist economies is enough of a warning to again consider going down that route.

Third & most importantly, the captains & executives of the industries are changing their behavior, voluntarily or after being “guided” by their Governments.

One thing all the stakeholder have to agree is this – we are all in it together!

Rhythm & Hues, the VFX artists behind Life of Pi, goes bankrupt

Co.CREATE reports on the VFX protests that accompanied last Sunday’s Academy Awards function.

The reason for protests? The relentless downward budgetary pressures on VFX (visual effects) budgets that have (most recently) led to Rhythm & Hues filing for bankruptcy.

Life Of PiR&H are the visual artists behind Life of Pi, which won the Best Visual Effects Oscar this year.

The artistic poetry of the movie has mesmerized all those who have seen the movie.

It is therefore very sad & depressing to learn that the bankruptcy was (mostly) caused by shrinking budgets & outsourcing / offshoring of work to low-cost locations.

Ironically, the same pressures are also leading to significant job losses in the other sectors of the economy, including the banking industry.

It is a downward spiral that will engulf more & more countries:

  • Vietnam, Bangladesh, et al are displacing China in manufacturing
  • China, The Philippines, et al are displacing India in IT services

It seems that everything is becoming commoditized in the global economy – first manufacturing, next services, and now, arts!

There are complex reasons behind this downward spiral; I will discuss them in a future article.

For now, let us wish that Rhythm & Hues will soon emerge from the bankruptcy and continue to make magic!