Sunday, August 14, 2011

Unhappiness runs deep.....around the world....

Riots in Britain suddenly erupted and many parts of London was set ablaze by protesters. What is going on in Britain and the rest of the world?

Some sociologists attributed the rioting in London to social exclusion, poverty. income gap between the rich and the poor, Earlier this year we witness the Jasmine revolution that saw the toppling of govts in the middle east. The income gap in those countries was on of the major contributing factors. In the Jasmine Revolution, people wanted change to democracy. In England, Greece and Spain, the people already have democracy and are rioting because of the economic conditions in their country. Even in Australia where there is little unemployment  it was reported that people of the "lucky country" are extremely dissatisfied.[Link].

Some one posted a comment on my blog with links to reports of massive protests involving more than 200,000 people  in Israel Tel Aviv

"Protesters appeared to have a more sweeping agenda on their minds. Traveling by car, bus, train and foot, some 230,000 Israelis, according to police estimates, descended on Tel Aviv to mount the largest social protest in the country's history. Young, old and middle-aged, they beat drums and waved flags, some chanting, "Social justice for the people" and "Revolution."
Some held signs reading "People before profits," "Rent is not a luxury," and "Working class heroes." In Jerusalem, more than 30,000 protesters gathered outside Netanyahu's residence after streaming past some of the most expensive real estate in the city. Other protests took place in further flung cities in Israel's north and south, drawing about 10,000 people." - Huffington Post Report[Link]

Israel is one of the most democratic states in the world so they are not protesting for more freedom or democracy. They are unhappy about the rising cost of living, income gap and struggles of the middle class and below. This is the biggest social protest in Israel's history. Many of the young people there are unhappy about the rising home prices - if I'm not wrong, they have a housing bubble of comparable magnitude to the one in Singapore. The majority Jews in Israel, one of the few places in the world where people serve longer NS than Singapore, are perhaps the most resilient group of people in the world given the wars they have fought and tumultuous history - even they find the current situation intolerable.

Because there are no protests in Singapore, people wrongly conclude that things are not so bad in Singapore. The fact is law abiding Singaporeans don't protest no matter how bad things get. Singapore suffers from all the problems people are protesting about around the world - our income gap is higher than that of Israel, our cost of living has risen even faster than many countries where protests have occurred, the same pressures on our middle class and rising poverty among lower income groups. In Britain, the PM said yesterday that the problems runs deep and the growing underclass has led to gang activity and poor communities that feel excluded  from society. Remember a few months ago we saw frequent acts of  gang violence - such activities  are usually the tip of the ice berg that shows up when you have a growing underclass in society. In addition to the problems seen elsewhere, Singapore also has a large foreign influx that has caused overcrowding and intense competition for jobs. There are reasons to believe the unhappiness here is no less than anywhere else in the world.

While strong signals have been sent during the GE, as Singaporeans sit back and wait for change quietly, these issues can easily fall into the background as businesses and economic pressures push govt to pursue policies that will worsen the situation. While part of the root cause is globalisation, we see govts around the world voted out one by one because they failed to address these issues.  If globalisation is the cause of the income gap and poverty in Singapore as the PAP MPs and ministers have claimed to be the case, we can argue that the plight of Singaporeans is caused by our open economy and the PAP govt embraces globalization. We can also argue that there is a limit to how much individuals can do to help themselves as the income gap and poverty is build into the system. Rather than calling upon the people to be more resilient and solve their own problems, govt will have to play a bigger role. While the external global economic system is out of the PAP govt hands, our local transport system, medical system, CPF. foreign labor influx, public housing system and taxation are under the govt's control and they have to steer these to lessen the negative effects of globalization.  At the end of the day, people everywhere in the world as a simple question - are they better off today then they were they believe things will improve tomorrow. People just won't support a system that won't produce better outcomes when they have already done their part.

In recent days, improving our transport system to deliver high quality of service at a cost that is affordable threw up some very interesting debate. In response to Workers' Party proposal, Minister Liu said it is not right to use tax payers' money on the public transport system because it is not fair - not all tax payers use the public transport so it is unfair to do so. Gerald Giam pointed out that this argument is technically flawed as the govt us tax dollars to construct rails and roads used by public transport. The argument put forth by Minister Liu is ideological in nature - why should the rich who pay more tax subsidize the poor using the public transport. I would argue that it is okay and pragmatic to do so because the rich as never been richer and the poor has not been poorer in the past 2 decades. Public transport is just an example of how the PAP govt can hit its ideological constraints in its search for solutions. If you can spend an extra $300M a year to achieve greater comfort on trains and buses, you elevate the quality of life of millions of Singaporeans  - the PAP would stop itself because it sees subsidizing the operating cost which they feel has to be passed on to commuters ideologically incorrect...but spending $10B on defense is okay. Given the choice to raise GST or increase progressive income tax, the PAP chose in 2006 to raise GST. Given the choice to deliver affordable healthcare to Singaporeans vs turning Singapore into a for-profit medical hub for the rich in the region - the PAP chooses "profits over people" is just not right for them to stop specialists and surgeons from becoming multi-millioinaires but it is okay for the sick to pay more. For Singapore, our hard working citizens have created large resources for the govt to solve problems that Singaporeans face today - the question is whether the govt can overcome its ideological baggage to do it.


Divali said...

[Protests across Israel against high cost of living] "The gaps between rich and poor have [increased] and I think right now, people really feel frustrated because they are working ... in very respectable jobs, but they don't get enough to live their lives and raise their children." (Reuters)

Divali said...

[The Meaning of the British Riots]
Corruption At The Top Leads To Lawlessness By The People
(The Big Picture)

Anonymous said...

The protest movement in the Middle East is widely known as "Arab Spring". The Jasmine Revolution you alluded to is the term that the media used to refer to the anticipated but prematurely crushed dissent movement in China( hence the term Jasmine as in Jasmine Tea). China has a budget of 625 Billions yuan for internal security ( sgd 175 Billions) equivalent to 1.5% of their GDP if I am not wrong. Internal security excludes the army and all the military expenditures. It only refers to the police, plain clothes police(secret police), network of internet spies to block off quickly internal dissenting websites, firewall to prevent access to external websites,etc. China CCP is trying to learn from the PAP - "We are everywhere but nowhere".

Anonymous said...

"it is not right to use tax payers' money on the public transport system because it is not fair - not all tax payers use the public transport so it is unfair to do so"

the same logic could also be applied on the upfront costs on national iconic buildings or places like the explanade, museums, stadiums, bird park, zoo, courts, etc, etc, as not all people use them or use them with the same frequency.

ain't the improvement of public transport is too encourage usage while discouraging negative externalities from private transport.

Anonymous said...

"Rent is not a luxury," and "Working class heroes."

well said.

1) whether you are rich or poor, you need a roof over your head and place to work.

2) the working class are into truly "more sweaty brick n mortar work" which is usually priced low while the not-so-much-of-a-working-class are usually into the business of peddling "fake magic potion" which they have the privilege to price high.

It must reach some unbearable point for the israelis to come out in full force to drive the message.

Anonymous said...

How bad and unhappy can Singaporeans be with PAP govt when 60% voted PAP in GE 2011?

If I am really unhappy, I will even vote for a "dog" or "cat" as my MP!

Of course I won't protest on the streets lah, because that's illegal but I will really vote to show my unhappiness!

Lye Khuen Way said...

Lucky, you are right that the worldwide sense of unhappiness is a worrying trend.
I dare say, the Government is worried. Very worried, after the Olso Incident.
Whatever Cultural/religious tolerence we have managed to build up these decades will go down the drains if the influx of too "FT" are not reined in.
Already we read of the "no curry cooking" incident that seem to be mis-handled by the "suthorities".

Anonymous said...

If it's not right to use public fund to subsidise public transport, it's absolutely right to use public fund to purchase dinosaur fossils at exorbitant prices?????

PAP logic is extremely challenging to understand. Am I living on planet Mars or them??????

Anonymous said...

And as a taxpayer, I feel very insulted that my welfare, a living being, takes a much lower priority than fossils.

Anonymous said...

"it is not right to use tax payers' money on the public transport system because it is not fair - not all tax payers use the public transport so it is unfair to do so"

So it is right and it is fair when millions of tax payers' money are spent on scholarships funding to FOREIGNERS??? What logic is this???

Amused said...

"it is not right to use tax payers' money on the public transport system because it is not fair - not all tax payers use the public transport so it is unfair to do so"

This is a very short-sighted view of public transportation. Improving public transportation will increase the productivity and wealth of a nation. Just talk to any economist.

runroad said...

You're mistaken about the causes behind the rioting in England. It was not social deprivation or extreme poverty that had youths running wild in the main cities as a look at the miscreants appearing before the courts will show. Many hold down good jobs, are university students, IT workers, 13-year olds with scumbag parents, even a young Olympics representative was in the mix. No, it was opportunistic criminality, some racism and envy, but mostly as someone memorably put it "shopping with violence".

If it had been a protest against government policies the buildings torched would not have been shopping malls and small neighbourhood businesses. These thugs were fouling their own nest for gain, not making a political point, unlike the dissidents in the Middle East.

A glorification of gansta culture has grown up in the West Indian and black areas of the country driven by a media that strives to be 'cool' and on the bleeding edge of youth trendiness. As historian David Starkey said, a segment of whites have unthinkingly embraced this and effectively 'become black'.

Couple that with creeping Labour lefty liberalisation over 15 years and the rise of a culture of entitlement and you do end up with a nasty recipe for social mayhem.

veritas said...

why should the rich who pay more tax subsidize the poor using the public transport.

Because when the poor uses public transport, the road get less congestions. And so, the rich receives material benefited.

And also the rich has been depriving the poor private transport by non-market price control such as COE. Else everyone here would be able to have private cars.

In fact more tax should be forced on the rich as they have been ducking their responsibility.

veritas said...

Re runroad said...

Even social deprivation is an understatement. I believe you are not aware that the policy of central banks all over the world, is to systematically creating unemployment and inequality. Below is by Greenspan.

"Under the rubric of risk management are a number of specific issues that we at the Fed had to address over the past decade and a half and that will likely resurface to confront future monetary policymakers. Most prominent is the appropriate role of asset prices in policy. In addition to the narrower issue of product price stability, asset prices will remain high on the research agenda of central banks for years to come. As the ratios of gross liabilities and gross assets to GDP continue to rise, owing to expanding domestic and international financial intermediation, the visibility of asset prices relative to product prices will itself rise. There is little dispute that the prices of stocks, bonds, homes, real estate, and exchange rates affect GDP. But most central banks have chosen, at least to date, not to view asset prices as targets of policy, but as economic variables to be considered through the prism of the policy's ultimate objective."

Thus according to Greenspan, keeping asset prices high and product prices low is now the sworn aim of the central bank.

And low product price is the result when of depressed wages.

In lieu of such environment of low wages, asset price can only be raise when free monies are given to elites. That creates inequality and social injustice.

The said...

/// as too friendly to big business. ///

/// fed up with the mounting cost of living ///

/// "It's hard to live in this country, we go to the army, work and pay high taxes and still don't earn enough" ///

/// The protests initially targeted soaring housing prices, but quickly morphed into a sweeping expression of rage against a wide array of economic issues, including the cost of food, gasoline, education and wages ///

Hmmmm, all the issues in Israel seem so familiar....

exposicion muebles madrid said...

Well, I don't really think it will work.

www.espa� said...

Here, I do not really imagine it is likely to have effect.