Log 10-9-13 Why policymakers may have no choice, but to accept a slower pace of life in Singapore

September 10, 2013

This is a true story…

There once lived a very egoistic and foolish landowner who believed – to get the highest performance out of his workers – they would have to be constantly spurred on with whips and scorpions.

This foolish landowner would often set impossible task for his farmhands – he would often  be heard recounting, “light a fire underneath a man’s backside and he will learn how to jump and run!” – for instance, if it took ten men to dig a ditch. He would insist that it could be done with only five. He even suggested it was possible for his harvesters to work in the rain. Despite the high rate of men falling sick. This greedy and foolish landowner got his way.

In the beginning it seemed, his beliefs were proven true – as in the first year not only did his estate manage to turn a handsome profit, but yield also increased.

On another valley across the river, there was another landowner who did not seem very interested about profit, productivity or for that yield. In fact many other landowners considered him a peculiar chap – as he was often seen living like a labourer and was often out in the field instead of the golf club – this man would often prioritize the welfare of his workers. At times, he would often forgo higher productivity just to keep the well being and moral of workers in top form. As this man believed in the simplistic idea: a happy worker is a productive worker.

It was not uncommon for this man to spend so much time in the field that even his workers wondered to themselves – why does this wealthy landowner live in a tent full of holes and eat gruel when he can enjoy life in his big mansion on the hill – when his workers worked, this man would often be seen working beside them rain or shine.

But unknown to many, even those closest to him, this man had a plan. He would often increase the workload of his workers without them realizing it – always leading from the front – this he did in steady increments which they hardly ever noticed. And since these alterations were so subtle, often his workers did not register any hardship, discomfort or sickness at all. In this way, he was able to steer them to higher productivity without them even realizing it.

In the first year, this farmer did not manage to produce stellar yields. In fact he lost money and many even consider him a bumbling fool who had no business dabbling in plantation. But as time went by everyone began to notice his yield growing exponentially. Not only that, his men could even work under the harshest conditions. As for his lorries, they could carry the heaviest loads in plantation road during the rainy season. Something which was once considered impossible. Soon his productivity even outstripped the productivity of the foolish farmer. Above all everyone wanted to work for his farmer and his sphere of influence grew to a point where whenever he spoke, others will prick up their ears.

As for the foolish farmer. Each preceding year his yield dropped lower and lower. As all his good workers had either moved to the village across the river or had grown so demoralized and disillusioned by his relentless obsession of growing at every cost and opportunity, that even they could no longer be counted on to see this grand design through. 

One day, the yield of the foolish farmer dropped so low that he found it impossible to keep up with his monthly repayments to the bank. Eventually he was forced to sell his lands to the wise farmer across the river. He was last seen taking to bottle to drown his sorrows. Rumor has it from time to time, the foolish farmer would be heard recounting to anyone who might me interested to hear his lament,

“I was cheated by the devil. He stole my lands. Beware of him, he wears a baseball cap and talks to himself.”


“The Ancients wrote, ‘Lead a family in the way you would fry a small fish.’ This to me has always been very instructive in business. What they meant to say is be very careful that you don’t overdo a thing – as when it comes to some things that r important such as family, business and country, when a thing is over done, usually it cannot be undone and you may have to eat it even if taste like army boots.

Recently, LKY suggested, the low baby birth rates has nothing to do with his ill conceived “two is enough” policies. But the fact, he even feels the need to rebut this after nearly 40 years – I think speaks volumes ( I will leave it to you, the perceptive reader to figure out whether he is related or a reincarnation of Nostradamus).

My point is once lousy policies seep into the ground water of society. Frequently, they stay within that substrate of consciousness for generations – and that is especially true when it comes to governing a family or country – it’s not like playing a video game, where if you fuck it up. All you have to do is press the reset button and play again.

Sometimes when you fuck it up – you will have to live with that social fall out like Chernobyl. You may not even have another opportunity to try again. At times that screw up can be so monumental that its even irreversible!

And this underscores the need to manage change intelligently – as change is often necessary to stay competitive. That’s given. No one denies this! Not even those who are critical of the government denies this! Not the opposition or even the tea lady in your office who is not happy about how 3 in 1 coffee seems to be rendering her obselete. So whenever officials couch the whole argument in terms of only reducing the entire argument for change in – change or stay the same – I feel they are very disengenous to do so. As the vast majority of people have already accepted that change is inevitable.

The issue of contention as I see it is – how does one go about managing change? One needs to be always mindful that there are two faces of change – one side is wholesome and the other is destructive change – just as there is healthy and unhealthy competition. Or even good or bad cholesterol. 

When the pace of change is unreasonably fast and unrealistic targets are set – this can only produce stress, grief, low moral and even threaten the idea of well being that makes the whole idea of higher productivity sustainable. Sure in the first few years you will have stellar growth. But as more and more people fall off the thread mill – that’s bound to corrode moral.

As when the pace of change is so hellish that it produces more negatives then good – then surely you cannot blame thinking folk for questioning, “whether it is worth it?” After all, even Grace Fu has no hesitation in questioning the idea, if she cannot turn in a decent living based on X amount of renumeration a year, then she may have to reconsider a job in politics. So why should the man in the street be so different from Grace Fu?

So coming back to the fundamental issue: if the vast majority of people seem to only get high blood pressure, sleepless nights and heart attacks every time they go to NTUC to see how little their dollar can go – then can anyone here please tell me, how reasonable is it to blame them for questioning the whole idea of change? I don’t believe for one moment these people are subversive or trying to run down Singapore – they are just questioning the trade off’s.

However IF the pace of change is well managed and respectful of the strengths and weaknesses of both people their communities – IF change even comes in a considerate way that pays homage to the whole idea of dignity of labor along with provisioning for many a means where they can gainfully actualize their dreams – then, it is possible to grow from strength to strength in a way that is both enjoyable and rewarding – in this way people can only support the whole idea of change whole heartedly – as they can see the magic working in the lives of their loved ones and their circle of friends – when change is well managed and respectful of people’s needs and aspirations, it can be something that is truly edifying, nourishing and even a source of great happiness.

But to insist that change can only come by prioritizing growth even if it means we all have to settle for a lower quality of life. Or that the good life can only come, if all of us buy into the idea of ramping up the population to 6.5 million – then I think, if you keep talking like that, all you will do is make a bloody fool out of yourself. As not everyone is so gullible or naive to believe that sort of simplistic reasoning.

Let me share with you all why – while  no one denies to grow an economy critical mass is needed. But you will NEVER ever find it spoken or written anywhere that the definition of critical mass is either 1, 2, 5, 5.5 or even 6.5 million people.

As when you take the trouble to look around, the world’s most progressive societies have succeeded with much smaller populations. Stuttgart with a population of about 0.6 million is home to Mercedes – they also have the same problem of having to manage an increasingly elderly workforce. But do you see them bringing in Russians? Munich has only a population of about 1.2 million and is home to BMW – again do you see the German PM mooting the idea of bringing in workers to fill that intellectual deficit, Smaland-Sweden with a population of about 0.7 million is home to Ikea and Zurich with a population of about 0.4 million is the financial capital of Continental Europe.

So let us put a bullet into the myth – that is so often propogated by the propagandist press and officialdom that to grow the economy one needs to ramp up the population –  as anecdotal evidence clearly proves this is not only false, but to insist time and again that is true is both dishonest and disengenous.

As many countries, not only Germany but I might add Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, South Korea and Taiwan have also blossomed but with mostly indigenous talents. Do you see any of them trying to squeeze as many foreigners into a telephone booth?

As usual, I give you the facts – you go decide for yourself. 

If you want your business to grow from strength to strength – be mindful that HOW you set about changing a thing – it can either make or break you. And once an important thing is broken, it can at times be like a cracked humpty dumpy….all the king’s men cannot fix it back again. Not even money can solve that problem. You just have to learn to live with a broken thing. You will have to accept it. And worse of all, when you want to change….no one will follow you. Life is very cruel and brutal.

That is why I believe from time to time, it’s  best for leaders to shaddap and just reflect deeply what it really means when a large and intelligent segment of the population say, they prefer a slower pace of life to steroid fueled growth.

I suspect if these ‘leaders’ bothered with the thinking, they will all definitely come to the finality of the realization, “OMG! We may have gone too far!” And that may not be such a bad thing after all. Well that at least is one man’s opinion – my opinion that is.”

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