Sunday, May 11, 2008

Of Politics and Economics

As the Myanmar crisis mounts there is a lack of voices in ASEAN, perhaps particularly from Singapore when it comes to 'supporting' the military junta's style of governance in Myanmar.

Surprisingly there are no more calls of "let them handle it internally" in relation to the Safron Revolution some months ago. Back then, several countries in ASEAN repeatedly refrained from commitment to political change which would herald more democracy by proclaiming outright support for General Tan Shwe's (sp?) government.

In the current humanitarian crisis there suddenly seems a silence supplanted by words and deeds of NGOs of all hue, colour and ideological persuasion. Western nations are clamouring to get in to provide relief while ASEAN generally looks on and keeps mum. Ever wonder why?

Funny isn't it?

So the oligarchs rule a region together and openly support each other's style of governance and model of 'democracy' and even defend such 'styles' when the matter is that of political import. But come a natural disaster and the ASEAN governments who spoke up so eloquently and firmly suddenly become quietly reclusive - when human lives are at stake. So it must be true that money and power rules the world at the expense of general humanity.

All the more the Burmese should vote no to the national referendum which grants (if it is true) the military junta even more 'legalised' power (as if they did not already have enough but have to go through the motions of putting up this road show to 'appease' westerners). A vote for your stomach today leaves the future of your children in greater and perhaps triple jeopardy.

Jeopardy 1: military rule is continued and social progress is retarded since voters vote with their stomachs

Jeopardy 2: military rule is continued and international aid, if and when required, is hampered, economic growth is stunted as a result of embargoes and trade restrictions (though not with friendly countries like Singapore)

Jeopardy 3: military rule is continued and such 'threats' (natural or otherwise) to even life and limb will befall future generations going back to point 1 above

Roman strategy of bread and circuses. Except in Asia apparently we cannot even afford circuses so we just go with the bread part while wielding a huge stick. Is Singapore approaching this stage of political 'maturity?'

These three forms of jeopardy are a vicious cycle that military and other forms of oligarchs try to impress on their respective societies to different degrees. Some apparently more democratic and others less so.

In Singapore I expect that these three jeopardies will once again play out in GE 2010/11 since there appears to be no end in sight nor reprieve from internationally rising prices of staple commodties and derivative commodities. Which brings us to into the economic realm from the political.

The news today of a new 'market' being set up in Singapore today in an attempt to try to rein in prices of these commodities is a farce in my opinion. With a new 'market' comes regulation. With regulations come restrictions on entry - which usually result in the rich gaining access first, if not only. With a market mechanism also comes speculation (as a method of making money on the backs of others) which further drives 'inflation.' And the poor are left to fend for themselves literally.

Liberal economic theory is premised on inflation in a manner of speaking. In turn, the idea of a 'growing pie' is premised on infinite resources. And any sane person will tell you that there is no such thing as 'infinite resources' on planet Earth. Or is common sense not so common? Or is common sense prevalent but the will to change so dampened because of the culture and environment?

Singapore should work out a model system of redistributive justice based on the understanding of her entire population so as to meet the demands of 'sustainable development.' Not just some Ministerial hogwash on greener stuff and a literal drop out of our budgetary bucket to appease the 'greenies' in the international audience from whom Singapore craves such attention due to our inherent sense of insecurity.

Addressing the symptoms only alleviates the problem momentarily and is usually only great for fooling oneself and others in the short run until you run out of ideas. Yes, even the JV Tianjin eco-city project addresses only the symptoms! Addressing the root causes requires far more in-depth thinking, innovative thinking and a daring to challenge the status quo -- even if it means challenging international norms and assumptions! And challenging the PAP.

But this should never be the case for political participation because democracy is the only way to acheive a 100% buy-in, or as close to 100% as is possible, when it comes to changing the ways and habits of a country. And then serving as model for development for the rest of the world. The rules of system thinking (Peter Senge) apply only when democracy is allowed to work and the independence of each voter is neither compromised nor disallowed. In a 'soft-authoritarian' nation like Singapore, a systems thinking approach to long term policy design and implementation is likely to run into serious obstacles (as it relates to change management) requiring the interventions of a 'nanny state.' And thus the vicious cycle of 3 jeopardies repeats itself every 5 years or so in Singapore - as it will now do in Myanmar.

Majula Singapura!

Vote wisely.