Monday, March 12, 2012

2012 Book 2 - Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going

As you probably know, I started the year with this book but I've only completed reading it as of 4.30am this morning. (March 10th) That's almost 70 days and is quite a considerable amount of time by my standards. 

The reason why I took such a long time is simple: This is one of the books where I find myself taking as long as I needed to read, contemplate and re-read again where necessary. Still, I'm not confident to say that I understood it all. 

The first few lines of the Foreword goes like this:
"My abiding concern for Singapore arises from my belief that the younger generation, especially those below 35, had never seen the harsh economic conditions. They therefore do not know the threats we face from neighbouring countries" 
Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore, August 2010.

Firstly, I am pleased to say that I still fit into LKY's definition of younger generation (that is less below 35). :)
I must also admit that (after having completed the first few chapters of the book) I might also have been guilty of living in a "make-believe" world of safety and progress, in which I might have unwittingly started to take for granted. Bottom line: The book tells me that we shouldn't and that every step we have made was a combination of luck, the ability to seize the right opportunity and also consistently making painfully calculated decisions for the future. With that said, between my "make believe" world of safety and the "dark and dangerous" place that LKY have painted out, I believe that the truth might just be somewhere in between. 

Written in a question and answer style, this book is a fairly informative and quite an interesting read. Fresh out of the 2011 election fever, I dare say that some of the unhappiness we have raised can perhaps be addressed by this book in terms of difference in opinion on ideology, a matter of differences in terms of  prioritization (doing first things first) and last but not least, the idea of science or pragmatism (also labelled as elitist thinking by critics). Of which, MM Lee is adamant on his views and have no apologies about. 

I found out for instance, according to Gosta Esping - Andersen's book The Three World of Welfare Capitalism, a society like Singapore is described as a "liberal" welfare state", where welfare benefits are means-tested and social insurance and income transfers are modest. Such states end up with high levels of income inequality because the government only guarantees a minimum level of subsistence and leaves it up to individual effort to make up the rest. This is to be contrasted against countries such as Austria, Italy and France which have a conservative welfare regime, where social benefits preserve class and social status. Scandinavian statues such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark have expensive social democratic welfare regimes, which seek to equalise standards of living to a high level for all. 

All in all, this is the first LKY book that I've picked up and I dare say that it will not be my last. I found myself agreeing to a large part of his reasoning and at one point, considered if I might be guilty of stereotyping and a bigoted "elitist" too. Horror! Haha. I will consider this more. 

Jamie's Rating: 4 out of 5 (Recommended read)

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