Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lee Kuan Yew as a role model rational, family man

Mr Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) is known to the world as a great statesman with brilliant insights and widely credited to be the man who turned Singapore from Third World to First in his lifetime. Ordinary mortals like me cannot aspire to that kind of near-impossible achievement. However, as a role model, there are certain attributes of him which all of us can copy with some hopes of success. Mr Lee Kuan Yew will always be known to me as a wonderful husband. In his choice of wife, he has demonstrated himself to be the epitome of rationality. These are behavioral traits all Singaporean men can aspire to and hopefully achieve.

I do not earn my bread from the government and do not get any benefits for singing their song. Besides, nobody really knows who I am. The purpose of this post is to describe certain behavioral traits of a role model that can be emulated by all of us regardless of class and intelligence. My intended audience are my sons who will be able to read it a decade later.

I would like to dedicate this post to two past and present Prime Ministers of Singapore and the extraordinary woman who gave us those two Prime Ministers.

  • LKY remained faithful to his wife. Not a single mistress.

When the Jack Neo sex scandal broke loose, one of our MPs commented that a man who has a good career development would find such scenarios unavoidable. How many can claim to have a more successful career than LKY? He never took a mistress in his life.

LKY had many enemies. It is inevitable that a tough leader who bulldozes unpopular policies will make several enemies because those policies, even if effective ultimately, will create many losers along the way. These losers will hate him no matter what. Being a reader of alternative news media, I have encountered plenty of vile comments about him on internet forums by anonymous haters. Yet, LKY was so clean on this aspect of his life that never a single hate comment ever hinted that he had affairs outside the marriage. If it were true, his enemies would have seized upon such news to destroy him. These kind of rumors are the hardest to suppress because they make the best fodder for gossip. It is impossible to shut people's mouths on such topics because they are so juicy. Nothing destroys a politician faster and more thoroughly than juicy news like sex. The deafening silence of such rumors about LKY is solid evidence of his faithfulness to his wife. The absence of such rumors apply to his son, our present PM, as well.

LKY became the Prime Minister of Singapore at the age of 36. At 36, one is still sexually vigorous and easily tempted ( I am fully aware as I am only slightly younger than 36). Despite attaining power at such a young age, he never abused his power and stayed true to his woman. If you have a copy of his auto-biography, the photos showed him as a tall and handsome man in his young days. With such physical characteristics, temptations may even come his way without him seeking it. Unlike the successful men throughout history who have indulged in womanizing, LKY remained a one-woman man.

It is no big deal for a middle-class income boring engineer like me to stay faithful to his wife, but it is a big deal for highly successful men to stay clean. Although I have been a faithful man to my wife, I cannot claim to stand on moral high ground because I am devoid of such temptations due to my lackluster career achievements as an engineer. Should I become rich and successful one day, I cannot guarantee that I can resist such temptations. To be honest, I cannot even guarantee that I would not seek out such temptations. LKY is a good role model to remind potential cheaters like me to stay steadfast to our wives. If a more powerful and more handsome man exposed to more temptations could do it, I should be ashamed of myself if I failed.

This tradition started by the first Prime Minister of Singapore should be made into an iron-clad rule to be followed by future Prime Ministers. If a politician can cheat the woman he claims to love, then what more for strangers like the voters whom he is elected to represent? For practical reasons, I am not sure if this rule should be extended to the Ministers for fear that the country may run out of Ministers. I think a country headed by men who stay true to their women will have a better chance of staying corruption-free.

  • Highly rational in his choice of wife and approach to life
In a speech to university students, LKY said "You either have the Western view: You marry the woman you love. Or the Eastern view: You love the woman you marry. I tried to match both and I think it wasn’t a bad choice." When young men follow the first view to marry the woman they love, they usually end up marrying the woman they lust. I would like to boast on matters relating to women, I am a rational man who acts from the head. Unfortunately, this boast collapses the moment a stunning lady comes along whereupon blood flows from the head straight down to the groin. Most young men made their choices of girlfriends/wives not from the head but from the groin but very few admit it. 

LKY certainly acted from his head in his choice of wife. Mrs Lee caught his attention when she beat him in English and economics in school. A man who is used to winning will probably be furious at being beaten by a woman. He gave new meaning to the phrase "If you can't beat them, join them". He married the victor. 

His choice of wife was unusual in Asian society. Asian men preferred to marry down and not up. Asian men preferred younger women. LKY defied both conventions and married a smarter, older woman. (I think since women generally have a longer lifespan, society will be better off if more men marry older women so that neither party will be lonely for too long in the last years of their lives.)

Mrs Lee yielded numerous advantages to the husband. His political opponents did not enjoy the same edge as he did in having a brilliant adviser behind the scenes. By providing insurance for his risky job, the capable wife who can look after the family independently gave him a psychological advantage over his enemies who have to worry constantly about their own family. Mrs Lee was frugal and therefore careful with the family's finances. No wonder LKY dared to share a joint account with her. As co-manufacturer and nurturer of the next generation, Mrs Lee gave Singapore a Prime Minister, a business leader and a skillful neuro doctor. I think Dr Lee Wai Ling is skillful because I had a relative who was so pleased with Dr Lee's treatment of her little girl that she said she will vote for PAP as long as she lives. (Wonder why the linkage?). 

LKY was very rational in his choice of wife. It is not hard to see that his choice was made on good calculations. As usual, he had his way and got the better part of the deal. I am not sure if Mrs Lee realized her husband's political ambitions when she agreed to marry him. If she did, I have to thank her for the sacrifice made.

LKY was a very risky man to marry. During his time, politics was a very dangerous career. If he had lost to the communists, he could have lost his freedom and be thrown in jail. Even if he won, he still faced the constant risk of assassination. It is also uncertain whether the political opponents would fix the family after fixing the man. The risk of becoming a single mother burdened with the responsibilities of bringing up the children alone in treacherous conditions is not low. On top of that, a politician's wife has to give up her social privacy. Which woman, after careful consideration, would want to marry such a man? It is no exaggeration when LKY said that he would have been a different man had he married a different woman. In fact, the country might have been a different country had he married a different woman. Thank you, Mrs Lee for the courage and sacrifice to marry LKY. It was a pity that Mrs Lee kept a low profile to avoid out-staging her husband. There are few collections of her speeches and writings. We are not able to benefit from her wisdom.

Mr Lee's rational approach to life is a trait worth emulated by Singaporeans. A rational person will not have bad habits like visiting the casino (with the odds always against you, why play to lose?), smoking (why spend on expensive cigarettes to harm yourself and family?) and womanizing (why risk losing your beloved family and a substantial portion of your financial assets for a moment's pleasure?)

Rationality is one trait I would encourage my sons to cultivate, especially in their choice of wives. If they marry the wrong woman, I will lose them and the family will be ruined.

  • A loving husband
Before marriage, cold calculations were made in his choice of wife. After marriage, LKY loved and took care of his wife come what may. Read the eulogies for Mrs Lee and appreciate how LKY took personal care of his wife after she had a stroke. He did not take the easy way out and leave this burdensome task to the nurses and maids. He really loved the woman he married.

It is amazing how a man who has been taken care of in almost his entire lifetime by women (first his mother, then his wife) reversed role to take care of his wife at the age of 80!! Even more amazing was that the quality of care given was so good that Mrs Lee preferred her husband's care to that of the doctors' (as mentioned in one of Dr Lee Wei Ling's letters). Her granddaughter thought that the late grandmother was secretly happy to be taken care of. In her final days, LKY would read her favorite poems at night. He talked to her but she cannot talk back. It was very sad. He persevered to her last days.

As a husband, Mr Lee Kuan Yew has set a very high bar for men to follow. He puts to shame the men who cheated on their wives for prettier, younger women. He puts to shame people like me who may be too selfish to render the same degree of care to my wife should she meet with the same fate as Mrs Lee. 

If Singaporean men were to use him as a role model husband, our society would be strengthened.

Latest update: Lee Kuan Yew died on 23 March 2015. Before he died, he left a note to his children.
For reasons of sentiment, I would like part of my ashes to be mixed up with Mama’s, and both her ashes and mine put side by side in the columbarium. We were joined in life and I would like our ashes to be joined after this life.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fairness to all - Singaporeans and Foreigners

The massive influx of foreigners into Singapore in recent years has become the hottest issue in the coming General Election. The anti-foreigner hate comments on internet forums have alarmed even a pro-Singaporean reader like me (true blue native Singaporean who has completed 2.5 years of NS).

Foreigners make up 36% of the Singapore population. This figure excludes the group of foreigners who converted to become new citizens. It does Singaporeans no good to be anti so large a group within the country. The economic force the foreigners wield is much greater than the figure 36.4% suggests. Based on my working experience, foreigners probably make up close to or even more than 50% of the Singapore working population. The citizens group includes a significant number of non-working people like the old retirees and young ones who have not started working. Since most foreigners come here primarily to work, it is quite possible that foreigners make up more than 50% of our workforce. Let us be practical. Given their large numbers, we have to learn to live with them. While it is sad to live in a country that requires its locals to adapt to foreigners, if hard reality requires one to do so, then we have to do so.

In my line of work as an engineer, I had no choice as a minority but to adapt to the ways of my foreign colleagues. In fact, it was a matter of survival because several of my bosses (and my bosses' bosses) are foreigners. Whose bread I eat, his song I sing.

I can get along with almost all of them except the exceptional few who have an irritating habit of comparing my country with theirs (one of the fastest growing economies in the world) in a bad light. It was a lesson in humility. I have reminded myself not to do the same thing in my interaction with foreigners who come from a more backward country.

Issues of unfairness must be resolved before the social tensions between native Singaporeans and the others (Foreigners, Permanent Residents and New Citizens) can be eased. Social integration programmes cannot work effectively as long as these issues are simmering underneath. These are issues that anger even fair-minded, reasonable Singaporeans. What more for the more emotional, irrational group of Singaporeans who mainly lost out due to the influx of foreigners.

The issues that cause fair-minded, reasonable Singaporeans to feel indignant are National Service, free education and allowance to foreigners in our universities, highly subsidized education to foreigners and not enough differentiation in terms of benefits between PRs and citizens. The worst are policies that put Singaporeans at a disadvantage against the foreigners.

Instead of simply complaining, I would like to make some suggestions.

There is no level playing ground in the job market between native Singaporeans burdened with conscription liabilities and foreigners who are not. No employer like to have their worker go missing in action for a few weeks (max 40 days) every year even for a good reason like duty to the country . Although this is not a serious problem in large companies or the civil service, it can cause major disruptions in small companies of 5 to 10 people. It is very hard to find temporary replacements for small companies. There are other potential liabilities like the unfit Singaporean who has to leave work early regularly to attend remedial training. Let us be honest with ourselves. If you were an entrepreneur just starting out a new business, given all things being equal, would you prefer to hire a Singaporean or foreigner?

It is not fair to have foreigners benefit from the umbrella protection native Singaporeans provide while at the same time enjoy an advantage in the job market from the very sacrifice Singaporeans made to benefit all. To be fair, there has to be some sharing of the cost of National Security.

I propose to have higher taxes imposed on those who did not do NS but benefited from those who did.

If higher taxes, then what form of taxes? To be fair to the foreigners, higher income taxes should not be the target because they also contribute to the country's economy when they work here. Higher taxes should be imposed when they become property owners because it is then that they benefit from the security NSmen provide. The higher taxes must be meaningful enough to make an impact.

The higher property tax revenue collected can be used to compensate employers who have to put up with the inconveniences of NS liabilities. When workers take leave from work on reservist duties, companies should be compensated the salary of the worker + an extra X amount to compensate for the inconveniences caused. The smaller the company, the larger the X amount because of the greater inconvenience. This partially transfers the cost of NS liabilities from native Singaporeans to those who enjoyed the security provided by us. This will result in lesser discrimination in the job market against native Singaporeans.

I hope the government to at least consider the proposed taxes because of the following reasons;
  • Political benefits to ruling party in an election year
In an election year, it makes political sense to right an unfairness to the native citizens who carry a large number of votes by taxing foreigners with no votes. While new citizens may not like the higher taxes, they are still smaller in numbers compared to the natives. Besides, I do think reasonable new citizens would not object vehemently to pay the protection money.

  • Easy to sell to foreigners, PRs and new citizens
The higher taxes are much easier to sell to the new citizens, PRs, foreigners than to persuade native Singaporeans to bear with the status quo. Historically, foreign mercenaries are hired to risk their lives to fight wars to protect the assets of the locals. Singapore has created an unprecedented case in history by doing the opposite. The locals are expected to risk their lives in the event of war to protect the assets of a significant portion of foreigners (mercenaries who come here to make money) or new citizens in the population. For a sacrifice as great as risking one's lives, one would expect to get paid handsomely. Hence, asking for protection money is not unreasonable.

  • Make money and please voters
Higher taxes for a targeted group would be preferable than giving NSmen money gifts  The cost of money gifts from the government will be paid by all taxpayers which include NSmen. To make matters worse, giving away money can lead to further unhappiness if the distribution of the money gifts is perceived to be unfair. Indeed, the older generation of NSmen who obviously had a harder time than the younger generation had good reasons to grumble on receiving lesser or NO money at all in the recently announced hongbao package. More importantly, giving away money diminishes our money reserves while taxing the right people raises our reserve cushion. If both approaches achieves the desired result of fairness to all, the approach which makes money would be much more preferred.

  • Vital to national security to have enough soldiers with high morale
While the influx of foreigners can grow GDP, no country can rely on them to fight wars. Foreigners come here to make money and extract maximum benefits from the host country. Once they smell trouble, they will be the first to leave the host country. If our soldiers feel that their very sacrifice to defend the country put them at a disadvantage in their own country, the perceived unfairness will lead to low morale. Soldiers with low morale cannot win battles. Read the Moral Law in Sun Tzu's Art of War.

Singaporeans have heard anecdotal stories about their friends or friends' friends emigrating out of the country. Based on personal experience, I think the numbers are quite significant. One often cited reason is the unfair burden that NS imposed on the native Singaporean citizens. By correcting this unfairness, we can at least stem the tide and retain enough soldiers for the defense of the country.

  • Current low taxes give us leeway to raise more
Singapore is known for having a low-tax regime. The attractive low tax rates currently give us room to raise taxes on the foreigners without driving them away.

  • Ease social tensions
All issues of unfairness must be resolved before the communities can start accepting one another. This is vital for social integration of the foreigners to be effective.

Monday, March 29, 2010

An analysis into the wealth of City Harvest Church

Update: I have updated this analysis with a new article in the aftermath of the Pastor's arrest. 

Although I am aware that City Harvest is one of the richest churches in Singapore, I am still shocked that it is rich enough to pay SGD310 million for a stake in Suntec City. Nevertheless, an entity which is able to amass such wealth is certainly worth studying. I was determined to understand the secrets to the church's wealth. 

I apologize upfront if the points raised give offense to loyal followers of City Harvest Church. Please regard this article as a business analysis of the factors that contribute to the wealth of City Harvest Church, not as an insinuation that the Church got rich through questionable means. The fact is that CHC is very rich and this makes for a fascinating academic exercise to examine its sources of wealth. Just treat it as a business case study. I have tried my best to stick to the facts. Please correct me if there are factual mistakes. However, if there are differences in opinions, please disagree with courtesy.

1. Clever packaging of Sunday services
The income of a church is dependent on the tithes collected (10% of income from church-members). Therefore, the earning power of a church is highly dependent on its ability to retain its existing church members and attract new ones. The larger the church membership, the greater its earnings. 

I watched a sample of CHC weekend service on its website.  Compared to the boring Sunday classes I attended as a kid, CHC church service was most refreshing (Watch "The 10 Laws Of The Harvest"). The beginning part resembles a rock concert with good singing and enthusiastic audience. It is an entertaining way to enjoy your Sunday mornings. Going to church becomes a weekly event to look forward to rather than a chore to attend to. 

With church services so well packaged for its customers, its customer retention rate and new customer acquisition figures should look good.

2. Extra revenue in the form of advertisements, sales of CDs
This church is unlike the other churches I know. It generates extra revenue through advertisements during its Sunday service(watch the videos). It sells audio CDs on its website. There is an online shopping cart for convenience to those who want to buy online. 

3. Efficient collection of tithes
Church-members can pay their tithe online via credit card, eNets or even Giro!! Once members started donating using Giro, the earnings quality of the church improves. Donation collected via Giro tend to be more stable.

With a globalised economy, people travel round the world a lot and may miss Sunday services. In the past, the churches will lose income when these members fail to turn up to pay their tithe. Now, with online payment, they can continue collecting the tithe even when the church-member is working overseas for an extended period of time. With Giro, the church can continue collecting tithes for a few more months even when the member leaves the church as people have a habit of forgetting what they pay on Giro.

4. 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold returns on your church donations
This is where the genius of CHC lies and the secret to its superior earning power. In fact, I have yet to encounter any public-listed company on SGX, HKSE, NYSE, Nasdaq that demonstrates better potential. 

The pastor preaches that God will give 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold returns on your tithe. But, you have to be generous in your donations first so that you will receive in harvest proportions. I guess that is the origin of the name City Harvest. Please watch the video "The 10 Laws Of The Harvest" yourself in its entirety and interpret for yourself. 

It is a message that cleverly uses an astute understanding of human nature to maximize profits. If I were a CHC member, I will be tempted to increase my tithe as much as possible. Not mincing my words, I am doing it out of pure greed. I do not think I will be alone. It is perfectly fine if members of CHC strongly disagree and thinks that I am not representative for most of them. After all, I can only speak for myself.

5. Quality of customers
With the 100-fold return message, the kind of church members attracted will be most conducive to profit-making. Money-minded people will be attracted to the church. These money-minded people tend to be ambitious and have a great desire to make lots of money. Millionaire minds have a higher chance to become rich. Hence, the quality of customers that CHC attracts are of the highest quality. The richer the church-member, the higher is the church's tithe per member.

Customer quality will be enhanced through the passage of time due to survivor bias. Suppose out of this pool of Millionaire-Mind Christians, 50% become satisfactorily rich and the remaining 50% still unsatisfactorily middle-class. The 50% who got rich will donate even more because they think their source of wealth comes from their donations. It is most unlikely they will cut back on their tithes  because they will be afraid God will punish them by cutting back the returns. If they are not afraid, the church will be there to warn them not to do so. The remaining 50% who did not get rich will be disillusioned and probably leave the church. The loss is of little significance to the church. These people are not rich and their tithes will not amount to much. 

Many Christians will be disgusted with the concept of using tithes to get rich. These people will probably leave the church after attending a few Sunday services. Again, the loss is of little significance to CHC. These people will not be highly profitable to the church even if they are rich because they are not going to tithe as much as the others who believe their tithes is the way to wealth. 

To the credit of the Pastor, I think he has devised a wonderful process of filtering out non-profitable customers and sucking in the lucrative ones. There is only so much physical space that a church can have to service its church-members. To maximize profits, the church has to ensure that each unit of space is used for servicing lucrative customers. 

6. Kill off competition

CHC has tremendous economic moat that kills off competition. In the video "The 10 Laws of The Harvest", the Pastor cited Law #5 "Your Seed must be planted in Good Ground" which is an effective weapon in killing off his competition - the smaller churches. Many Christians feel that they ought to donate to the needy, smaller churches rather than rich mega-churches like CHC. The Pastor's argument is that you do not get good returns like 100-fold in the small churches. You have to donate to mega-churches to maximize returns on your tithe because they have a track record (rich church members). In other words, the seed is not planted in good ground when you donate to the small churches. In his own words, "I don't always give to the neediest but to the ground that will give the greatest yield". To illustrate his point, he used an analogy on weak banks and strong banks. You do not deposit your money in a weak bank because it desperately needs fresh funds to survive. You deposit your money in a strong bank which invests your money wisely and yields good returns.

The church has an iron-grip on its members who believe its message. As illustrated previously, its customer base is of the highest quality. This is its track record. Existing church-members will definitely not move to another smaller, needier church with poorer track record. 
It has a very strong economic moat as it is very hard for its competitors to get its customers to switch over.

7. Providing a place where the rich can network

As the Pastor said, his church provides a good ground on which you can grow your riches. Rightly so, indeed. For property agents or insurance agents trying to hit their sales quota, City Harvest Church will be an ideal place to hunt for lucrative clients. This church concentrates several rich and money-minded people into a single location. The church offers a unique advantage to sell things. In a religious setting, people tend less to be on their guard and can be more easily persuaded to part with their money. 

Businessmen also like to network in places where there are rich and powerful people who will come in handy in future. The Pastor has done a good job in gathering such people in his church and it makes good sense to make use of this advantage by joining the church.

The rich will attract more rich and the gathering moss snowballs to provide an ever-rising pool of donation to the church. 

8. Preach what people like to hear. 

As a teenager, I was discouraged when I read Bible verses like Matthew 19:23-24 "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." and Matthew 6:24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

It seems like if I become rich, I will be condemned to hell. 

In the video "Rich God? Poor God?", the Pastor preaches that it is absolutely ok to be rich. Some prophets of God were very rich. (Abraham, David, Solomon)

There is nothing more musical to a money-minded person than to hear that God is on your side in your pursuit of money. The church-members who are more money-minded will love this and donate even more.

9. God pays for the returns, not the church. 

The church collects the money, but God pays for the returns. The church does not need to pay a single cent for the 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold returns on the donations.
This is as good as you do the work for me, but not only do I not pay you, I shall also collect your salary. You toil and sweat, but I shall eat your bread. God must surely be a miracle worker and people will pay handsomely for his service. I cannot think of a more advantageous economic position to be in to be able to collect money rendered by a miracle worker.

10. Social pressure to conform in church settings and ease of influence

If everyone around you donates, it is hard not to. When everyone else makes sacrifice, the one who does not will look like an outcast. There is tremendous pressure to conform in such a herd setting. 

11. Tremendous future earning power

Take a look at the congregation and you will notice the large number of young people. The income growth of young people is the fastest in the population. In the Pastor's words, "You may be poor today, but you will not be poor all your life". That is a long-term business plan in cultivating its customers.

Therefore, if CHC can be viewed as a growth stock, its prospects are very bright as its young customers will accelerate its earnings. 

12. Stable earnings in times of depression

Besides being a growth stock, CHC can also be viewed as a defensive and safe stock. People pray hardest when they fall in hard times. Strangely, some people have an urge to tithe when they are in financial troubles. 

In fact, in the video (The 10 Laws Of The Harvest), a couple came on stage. They talked about the dire straits they were in when they started out. Things change when God challenged them to GIVE themselves out of poverty (exact words from the speaker). Despite not having any money, they still pledged $250 to the building fund. In his own words again, "we often emptied our savings to give to the House of God knowing that this will be the answer to our financial problems". Hence, not only will the church earnings be stable in times of depression, it may even grow.

13. Using Prosperity as a theme to appeal to customers

The Pastor preaches Prosperity Gospel which revolves around money. His business genius lies in choosing this theme for his church. Money has universal appeal. Everyone worships money regardless of race, culture, age, gender, sexual orientation. In one fell swoop, he has enlarged his market to cover the entire world. It is much easier to convert people to your belief by dangling money and promising great prosperity. After all, who does not love money?

By enlarging his potential market catchment with a greater chance of increasing membership, more donations will flow in.

14. Tax benefits as church is registered as a charity

This creates a huge, unfair advantage compared to all other businesses. This is what landed CHC in controversy. Enough has been said.

If one day the Pastor switches to become a businessman, I will definitely consider investing in the company that he heads and founds.

If City Harvest Church is listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange, I will certainly buy it. It will be one stock that I am confident of hitting a return of 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold returns.

PS: People tend not to question critically when it comes to religion. A charming smooth talker can easily sway minds with his interpretation of the Bible. In the final analysis, Faith is about simply believing. You cannot approach it scientifically because there is no way to test religious theories using the scientific method. We will only know the real truth when judgment day comes. 

The danger is that there is no accountability on the part of the preacher on whether his teachings are true or not. Even he himself cannot be sure that his interpretations is 100% correct. Given human nature, the interpretations will tend to be self-serving. In fact, it is not only dangerous to the students but to the teacher as well. People will believe their own lies if it yields tempting benefits. That was how Wall Street drank its own Kool-Aid.

While I respect the Pastor for his business savvy, I cannot agree with his interpretations of the Bible. I pray for good health, peace and harmony for my family. Money-minded as I am, I am not comfortable with commercializing my relationship with God by asking for money. The Christian God that I know from my own reading of the Bible is not 财神爷. Of course, if God wants to drop money from heaven on me, I will be more than happy to embrace it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Keeping men from temptation

Through the ages all over the world regardless of race and religion, the phenomenon of wealthy men  keeping mistresses is so common that it has almost come to be accepted as a social norm.

Concerning the Jack Neo sex scandal, one of our MPs caused a furore with the following quote "Actually, a man who has good career development would find such scenarios unavoidable,” 
He later clarified that he was misquoted out of context by the media. The statement, while politically incorrect, contains a touch of realism. Much as I love my wife, I really cannot guarantee that I can stay faithful if a devilish stunning seductress were to throw herself onto my lap. However, if my present financial condition persists, I am confident of staying faithful. I am not successful enough to find such scenarios unavoidable. Hmm ... should I be sad or be glad?

It is a pity to have able men who can do a lot of social good be destroyed by sex scandals. I would like to make some suggestions to solve this problem. Don't take them too seriously, though.

  • Fine the mistress 

When men become rich, they start to think they are entitled to more. They start keeping mistresses like pets. Some even abuse their power and ask for sexual favors from their female employees. One way to keep these men from temptation is to make them so repulsive that no women would want to be near them regardless of how much money they offer. One effective way to do this is to fine the mistress. With such a law, there is no incentive for women to sell themselves to men whom they do not love. The opposite is true. It is in their interests to avoid such men. Make the fine so heavy that it will bankrupt the mistresses.

Some will cry "Unfair!! Why punish the victim?!!" The pragmatic approach to solving social problems is to place effectiveness over fairness. If someone can suggest a fairer but equally effective solution, I will be all ears.

Women who seduce to get rich will be out of business. It does not make sense for these gold-diggers to dig a hole in their own pockets. This policy will put a stop to all such gold-diggers. 

  • The fine is to be proportional to the man's wealth

If the fine is too little, the rich man can simply help the mistress pay the fine. The fine should be proportional to the man's wealth and substantial enough to deter him. More importantly, it should be large enough to bankrupt the mistress. In this way, the affair will not even have a chance to start because the mistress will not even want to think about it.

Even with such a law in place, adultery will still happen. Adultery has high social costs. By putting a fine to it, part of the social costs can be recovered in the form of government revenue which can be spent on social programs.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

An analysis on Singapore's Tigerwoods episode

Jack Neo's sexual escapades have engulfed the nation for more than 1 week (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). I am not here to judge him morally. Although I have never had a mistress, it is not because I am more morally upright but because my line of work devoids me of such opportunities. I am not rich, not attractive and there are few women in my industry.

Here is my hindsight analysis on the actions of the characters on this week's hottest script - the mistakes they made and how they could have handled it better.

Jack Neo

  • He held a supposedly "tell-all" press conference which ended up antagonizing the press. The so-called "tell-all" conference lasted only 3 minutes. He wasted the reporters' time and he shouted at them. Never antagonize the press if you have skeletons in the closet. Irritated reported will simply dig harder to uncover more skeletons out of the closet to get even. This was the same mistake made by TT Durai. If Durai had not the arrogance to put himself against SPH, he could have continued collecting his $600k annual salary. His past misdeeds would have still gone unnoticed and he will still be nationally revered like Jack Neo before this incident. If you are a public figure, always make friends with the press. Keep your cool no matter how angry they make you.
  • I do not know what Jack Neo exactly said to his good friend, Minister George Yeo, on the phone. After the phone call, BG Yeo called upon fellow Singaporeans to rally around Jack Neo and his family. Maybe Jack Neo painted a much better picture than the ugly truth. Hence, our esteemed Minister readily believed his friend, lent his stature to support someone unworthy and made a fool of himself.  When I make a mistake at work, I tell my boss the whole truth and take the blame fairly due to me. The worst thing is to ask your boss to support you and then hide facts from him. You risk embarrassing your boss who sticks his neck for you. In BG Yeo, Jack Neo has lost a good and powerful friend. 
  • Jack Neo should not have gotten his wife to speak out at the press conference. As he said himself in the conference, the mistake was his alone and his wife was uncomfortable dealing with the press. Then, why did he have to drag his wife along? When Tigerwoods made his public apology, the wife was in the audience. This is rightly so because men who cheat on their wives should apologize to their wives first and foremost, not the public. By dragging his wife in to accompany him in the apology, the public gets the impression that he is making use of her to gain sympathy from the press to discourage them from digging more skeletons out. On careful observation of the press conference video, one cannot help but suspect that the fainting was staged. When Jack Neo stood up to get ready to leave, the way he held his wife looked as if he already expected the wife to faint. 
Irene Kng (the wife)

The mistress was shocked by the calm reaction of the wife to her husband's cheating. Instead of making a din, her immediate reaction was to sit alongside Jack Neo in negotiations with the mistress to settle the issue. She behaved more like a businesswoman than a wife. She works for her husband as the finance manager of J-Team. Being a mother and wife as well as an employee, she had a duty to protect the husband's business which supports the family. On this score, she has done her duty well and deserves our respect.

If the business fails, both mother and father will lose their jobs. Because of the clean, wholesome image that Jack Neo has created through his movies, the scandal will certainly lose him fans. Like Tigerwoods, he has already lost some advertising income.

It is her choice to stand by her man and the public respects that. However, what cost her public support was her remarks that suggests that she was resigned to the fate that men cheat on their wives. It almost looks like she finds it acceptable and normal to have a cheating husband. Firstly, the remarks hurt the many indignant, highly educated women who divorced their cheating husbands. Secondly, they harm the interests of every married woman because this kind of attitude encourages men to fool around more. (What's the big deal, if I am exposed, society will readily forgive me). Thirdly, if such a man is not caught and the wife behaves like it is "ok", there will be more victims(123) along the way.

Before the scandal, Jack Neo brings in the money for the family. After the scandal, his income stream will inevitably be hit. Being less dependent on the husband, there is lesser incentive for the wife to stand by her man. In fact, the incentive to divorce the man is greater now. There is no need to spend on private investigators to dig up evidence for court. The press has already done a good job on that. Since cash flow is going to dry up, it is tempting to grab whatever assets is available now before it is spent or hidden away.

Jack Neo had better start treating his wife with more respect from now on.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Suggestions on tuning the free scholarships to foreigners

The article that enraged several Singaporeans did not enrage me. Since my university days, I have already known that the government has been providing free tertiary education plus monthly allowance to PRC/Indian/Asean scholars. This has been going on for more than a decade.

America attained its greatness partly because of its ability to attract the finest minds of the human race from anywhere. Emulating this immigration policy makes good sense. But, if this is done in a way that puts the locals at an unfair advantage, it will backfire on the country and its political leaders as well.

I got worried about Singapore's future when a new colleague who just graduated from NUS this year told me that almost all of his coursemates have migration on their minds. My kids are still young, so my stakes are high.

One of the issues that made graduates like him so demoralized as a Singaporean is the way free education + allowance was given out to foreign scholars in the local universities. It is easy to understand why the Singaporean students felt discriminated in their own land. They saw this before their very eyes during their school days. The rantings on internet forums have expressed them all and I do not wish to repeat it here. I would prefer to provide some ideas for improvement rather than complaints against the government.

Attracting foreign students is a good policy. The problem lies with its execution. Some suggestions that I make;

  •  Avoid attracting students from countries with brighter prospects than Singapore

We already know what happened. 1 job application in Shanghai attracted more than 70 applicants from PRC scholars sponsored by Singaporean tax payers. I don't blame the PRC scholars. It is what the average person will do. We all work for money, don't we?
It is the same reason why SMEs do not provide training to their employees. Why train them if they will hop to the MNCs eventually? You spend money to train them only if you are confident of retaining them.

  • Look to economically-backward countries with a ready pool of talent.

The Malaysian Chinese was such a talent pool. If Malaysia back then had boomed like China now, Singapore would have lost these talents. In Singapore, many of the senior management in public-listed companies and even the civil service hail from Malaysia. Malaysia Boleh!

By attracting talent from countries which are not likely to provide richer opportunities than Singapore, our money gone into nurturing them is not likely to go into waste as they are not likely to go home. The loss is not limited to waste of money. We are actually training potential highly intelligent competitors who can destroy us.  After the dot-com bust, Taiwanese engineers from Silicon Valley return to Taiwan for greener pastures. Those in the industry will know that the US-trained Taiwanese set up world-beating companies that destroyed prominent US-based Silicon valley companies.

Foreign talent can be a double-edged sword. If the host country is not able to provide ample opportunities to grow these talent, they will go to greener pastures and use their talents against the host country (the very country which nurtured them). There is nothing immoral about this. We should not fault them for doing what we would have done ourselves if we were in their shoes.

  • Enforce penalties for breaking the contract
I have heard of PRC graduates of our local universities who return to China without serving their obligation of working in Singapore for 3 years after getting free scholarship in local universities. Authorities should enforce whatever penalties in the contract to punish these contract breakers.

Letting these dishonorable scholars go scot-free is not fair to the past Singaporean bond-breakers who got named and shamed.  Unlike the foreign scholars, the bond-breakers did not break the contract. They honourably compensated the authorities for breaking the bond. Their punishment was getting shamed in public. Nothing happened to the foreign scholars who went home. To correct these double-standards, the authorities should get someone of the likes of Philip Yeo with fire in their belly to enforce the penalties for breaching the contract.

At the very least, we can shame these people by placing their names on the internet. This will also benefit global employers when they do checks before hiring these dishonorable people. This will also punish them by impacting their job prospects.

It is fine if people go for greener pastures but it is not ok when they break contract terms that are fair. It is bad business practice to allow people who screw you go scot-free because it encourages more people to screw you more. I hate the idea of foreigners laughing at how stupid we are for being such a big sucker.

  • Foreign scholars must be real talents, not parasites

The recent case of the Indonesian scholar Widjaja who committed suicide after a bloody fight with his lecturer is a good example. He was known to be an avid computer game player which was suspected to be the cause of his C grades. Taxpayers do not pay scholars to come here to play computer games. Students like Widjaja are not exceptional cases. I have met a couple of them during my university days, though they are still a small minority.

The presence of foreign parasites(even 1 or 2) who get free money from taxpayers is a great demoralizer to Singaporean students. Singaporean students who pay for their own education must be convinced that the foreign scholars are real talents. If they see foreign students with poorer results get free education and allowance while they themselves don't, the locals will think of migration. There must be terrible punishment for foreign scholars who do not perform as expected. Maybe we can get them to make financial compensation for poor academic performance.

Don't make scholarships completely free. Free stuff nurtures parasites. I know this because I have personally encountered lazy foreign scholars during my university days, fortunately their numbers were small. We spend taxpayers money to nurture talent, not parasites. Put some co-payment component into the scholarship.

  • Get foreign scholars to spend time tutoring the weak locals

Make it compulsory for foreign scholars to tutor the weak locals to earn their monthly allowance. If the foreign scholars fall behind in their own grades, they lose their monhtly allowance as they are no longer eligible to teach the weak. They have become the weak!

Another advantage is that this will encourage social integration with the locals. The closer social links these foreigners forge with our country will encourage them to stay put here.

  • Spend more money nurturing local talents

When local talents go for greener pastures by job-hopping from company to company, only the company suffers. The country still gains as these people stay within the country. When foreign talent move out of the country and compete against us, the host country loses big-time.

It is surprising that I even have to put in this suggestion as common sense dictates that we should spend more money on ourselves than on others. The fact is that there is a growing perception among Singaporeans that the government is allocating too much resources on foreigners at the expense of its own people. I think government will take steps to correct this perception as the election nears.