Archives for category: Everything under the sun

We’ve made it through another week!

September’s almost over which means we’ll be heading into 4Q soon.

books on bookshelves

Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

 

The Housing Bubble Burst All Over Reality TV (The New York Times)

This is interesting because what we see on television reflects what’s going on with the world. This article shows how HGTV’s programmes (which I happened to watch a lot of while it was still on Starhub) changed as the housing bubble inflated and then popped.

The same could be said of how many crypto-related seminars and talks were being promoted last year as compared to this year. Lately, what I’ve been seeing is a lot of ads on Stock Trading which is probably a reflection of the U.S markets doing so well since last year.

 

Growth and well-being: policy should not be based on GDP alone (Microeconomic Insights)

Very economics-heavy post on the relationship between GDP per capita and ‘Welfare’. ‘Welfare’, in the article, encompasses many factors such as inequality, leisure, and consumption.

Singapore gets a few mentions in the article. From the mentions, it seems that Singapore’s growth model has remained the same since the 90s — lots of growth through investment and this comes at the expenses of leisure and consumption.

 

Paul Krugman’s latest opinion piece spells out what everyone’s been feeling about the markets — most of us can’t see any particular sector blowing up to the point of crippling the world economy.

Krugman also shows us why it’s important to study history because the recession of the early 90s was one that didn’t have a proximate cause but rather, it had many small causes.

I also like how Krugman cites Minsky as a source for his hypothesis. Minksy was overlooked by almost everyone until the Global Financial Crisis hit. I tend to agree with Krugman’s views. The world today is awash in cash that is flowing towards moonshots and we know that most moonshots don’t work out.

In other words, much of the money going into all the fancy new ventures won’t pay off. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem that people are using borrowed money to bet on moonshots. Much of the moonshots are funded by people who have money to lose. The question right now is whether the money that they can lose is due to a booming stock market and economy? And if so, then what happens when the economy starts to slow down?

Hold on, hand tight, and stay around for the ride.

 

The Psychology of Playing the Lottery (A Wealth of Common Sense)

An excellent piece by Ben Carlson that explains why poor people make poor choices. From the Bloomberg piece cited in the article, it shows that poor people spend more on the lottery than rich people. Gambling is a big thing in Singapore but I’m not sure if there are statistics that show whether poorer people spend more on the lottery than the rich in Singapore.

The good news, cited in Carlson’s article, is that someone’s set up a lottery to help poor people save more. Saving money in the account leads to a participation in a lottery. Unfortunately, the return on savings in almost zero for those that don’t get the huge payoff but I suppose it’s better than having them spend money on something that is statistically going to return less than zero in the long-run.

Maybe this will be the new model for Singapore Pools?

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bowl chairs cooking cuisine

Just another lunch conversation

 

I met with a good friend for lunch and it’s always great to meet with him because the conversations and discussions that we have cut across the economy, investing and general business sentiment.

He’s not trained in business nor economics but I suspect he has a better sense of the economy than many of the economists sitting in their cubicles at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. After all, how many number-crunching economists go down to the ground to see how different industries are faring?

Why?

Simply because he meets with various business people across a wide range of industries and how other’s business is going, to a certain extent, will affect the amount of business that he does as well.

In his work, he also interviews people for positions and from his observation, the employment situation isn’t as rosy as it used to be. Interviewees are asking for less pay which is probably a result of prolonged unemployment. Of course, that could be a feature of the industry he is in but once again, it’s good anecdotal evidence to add to the headlines that we read about.

Higher unemployment rate, more retrenchments in Q2: MOM (full story here)

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s labour market saw higher unemployment and more retrenchments in the second quarter of 2018, although there was also employment growth and more job vacancies available, according to Ministry of Manpower (MOM) figures released on Thursday (Sep 13).

Observations around town

In meeting him, I also had a chance to take the MRT to town and I was surprised that the trains were fairly crowded for a time that wouldn’t be considered peak hour. It was also fairly crowded at the basement level of ION Orchard although the crowds were notably absent at Wisma Atria.

I haven’t been to Wisma for some time and at Wisma, I saw a “That CD Shop”. Last I remember, they used to sell music CDs and had quite a few branches in Singapore. Of course, their focus on more niche areas like jazz music. What’s interesting about their store at Wisma is that they focus on selling vinyl records and it’s housed together with a place called “Wonderland Savour”. From the displays of macarons and cakes that front the store, “Wonderland Savour” appears to be a place for desserts.

I’m not sure how successful the place is but it’s a clear sign that shopping mall tenants are moving away from retail businesses and moving towards businesses that provide a unique experience. Unfortunately, the experience nowadays seems to involve some sort of Food &Beverage.

Also, on the first level of Wisma, what used to be “The Coffee Club” has now become a “Fun Toast” outlet. I thought it was interesting that a place that used to sell high-end coffee has now made way for a place selling local kopi and food.

Revelations

I remember reading an interview that the local paper did with a prominent local economist where the economist said that he likes to go observe how prices have changed at his local noodle stall when looking at inflation and in that spirit, I think he’s right.

In a recent interview, Minister for Finance, Heng Swee Keat mentioned about how he could easily observe how bad the global economy was doing by looking out the window of his office and observing the activity going on at the port at Keppel Road.

Unfortunately, how many people can translate those signals into giving them more insight into how the economy is doing? I think very few people do that well today and if you’re able to do so, you’ll gain a skill that very people have.

 

Final Thoughts

If you have any signals that you see in the economy today, do share them in the comments below.

 

Cindy Ng, a social worker, has written a nice commentary featuring some stories of the people she helps. In her commentary, you get a sense that even social workers feel that the schemes they help administer are like band-aids for something much more serious.

In order to qualify for many of the financial aid schemes, those receiving help need to show that they, in some way, have tried or are trying to stand on their own two feet as well. And quite often, they have to show it within a certain timeframe.

It’s quite a common refrain in Singapore that “welfare is a dirty world”. It’s so dirty that we have the term “workfare” which I would take to mean that one has to “work for the welfare”. No work, no welfare.

 

jobPovertyVacay

A scene from Fresh Off the Boat encapsulates how Singapore thinks about welfare

 

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork

It’s the same even in the education sector. We have students who constantly need financial aid or bursaries and because the Singapore Public Service is the paradigm of being free from corruption, we make students reapply for the aid every single year in order to ensure that they still qualify for it. I’ve personally heard of students who either forgot to apply for it the following year or found it easier to go find some form of part-time work than to deal with all the hassle of application.

I would imagine that many of the students that qualify for financial aid qualify for other forms of assistance. Unfortunately, it seems that for every assistance rendered, the person receiving aid needs to go through an entire process of filling out paperwork in order to apply for it.

If I were a social worker, I’m pretty sure I would have got sick of all the paperwork that they have to help their clients fill up. Filling in forms, collecting copies of the necessary identification or documents in order to prove that they qualify, then submitting the documents and following up on the documents.

For the needy, just imagine the uncertainty that you have to go through while waiting for the funds to come. For one, it might not be approved. Two, there is the question of how long it might take. In the meantime, there are bills to pay and mouths to feed.

Universal Basic Income

Maybe it’s the recent influence of reading Rutger Berman’s “Utopia for Realists” but I wonder why can’t we just give the needy cash? Give it to them with no conditions attached and see how it goes from there.

For one, the amount of manpower saved on paperwork would be savings. Two, the government is already prepared to distribute the amount of money for those that qualify so why not just distribute it to those that are needy.

For example, we know that only the very needy qualify for one or two-room rental flats. In that case, why bother having them fill application forms in order to get bursaries for their kids’ education. Once they qualify for a rental flat, just give them a certain amount of money at the same time.

Some will argue that the poor can’t be trusted to make the right decisions. It’s as in Cindy Ng’s commentary. But saying that without doing a trial or evidence is just bad science. There have been some positive experiences in Kenya so might it not work on our shores?

 

Final Thoughts

I honestly don’t think Universal Basic Income will ever be tried in Singapore. Not from the government at least. The main hurdle is a political one. The government must always seem to be a steward of public monies and giving monies out freely is something that goes against everything the Singapore government has stood for.

This post is also more of a rant because (a) I hate paperwork, (b) paperwork is a waste of resources, and (c) I think the institutional help in Singapore is seriously lacking.

The idea is a very interesting one and I’m keeping tabs on how various experiments around the world will turn out. Perhaps one day, we can spare our social workers the ridiculous burden of filling out forms in order to secure aid for their clients.

It’s another week! Markets were generally weaker this week and for the STI, we reached a PE10 earnings yield of 8% (intraday, at least) which is making me salivate a little. I managed to pick up Rutger Berman’s “Utopia for Realists” (see the general idea in his TED talk) and Dr Pippa Malmgren’s “Signals”. Both have been fascinating reads.

 

books on bookshelves

Read, read and read some more.

 

 

Soaring bankruptcy rates signal a ‘coming storm of broke elderly,’ study finds (abc News)

This is in the U.S. but we should expect similar economic forces to come our way as the boomer generation starts to retire.

However, PAP is as PAP does. Expect healthcare spending to increase and that no elderly folk will be left behind due to medical bills. It’s not good for politics to appear uncaring, especially to the first post-independence generation of the country.

Of course, the next generation must be prepared to shoulder the burden of greater taxes on healthcare spending. Either that or the folks at Temasek and GIC better work much harder.

 

GLCs and patronage: Understanding Mahathir’s position on HSR and ECRL  (TODAY)

It should be no secret for those who have been following Malaysian politics but I suspect that for many other people, they fail to see the connection between personas and the intricate links between them and various businesses.

Of course, it also helps Mahathir to have Singapore be a distraction for his own political purposes. To those that see Mahathir leading Pakatan to victory over BN as a good thing, I’m afraid they may have counted their chickens before they’ve hatched.

To the Singaporeans that wish for the same…lmao. It’s practically like how a big enough majority in the U.S. voted Trump in because they felt Hilary Clinton was more of the old order. The problem is that Trump’s not necessarily going to do a good job.

In some ways, I fear the opposition in Singapore is fairly inadequate to operate on the bigger stage. Despite what Low Thia Kiang said in 2017, my opinion is that there is currently no alternative to the PAP.

 

How to retire in your 30s with S$1.37 million in the bank (TODAY)

Ok, enough of the political links. I’m pretty surprised that a local paper chose to publish an article like this. It’s a U.S. story but it looks like the local FIRE movement may gain some more traction with this.

I’m pretty excited to see if more and more stories of Singaporeans retiring early will start surfacing. After all, Singapore is one of the most expensive places in the world to live in so we have that handicap against us.

However, if retiring rich and early is doable in a place like Singapore, then it can be anywhere else in the world. The math behind this is simple and well-documented so it’s a matter of picking your target and executing well.

The biggest thing I’m looking forward to when I quit my job is doing the things that matter most to one’s well-being. I would bake more bread, cook more, maybe try growing my own food, work out more and sharing the message that there’s more to life than doing mundane things.

Don’t get me wrong. At least my job isn’t a bullshit job but more than a few aspects of it is definitely bullshit which is done in order to satisfy auditors and to help senior management cover their asses when things go wrong. And you can’t blame them because all it takes is one person to make a mistake (real or perceived) and senior management gets questioned about their processes. And senior management, like the rest of us, have (bigger?) mortgages to pay and mouths to feed. It’s much simpler to make everyone do some bullshit work than risk their five-figure pay.

abandoned broken cabinets demolished

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I read LIFT’s post on bullying (full link here) and he makes some very pertinent points that many people confuse bullying with racism. Bullying can arise for a variety of reasons and saying that it’s due to racism is mostly due to racism misses a lot of things. For one, it misses the point that it could be due to other factors such as gender, sexual orientation or socio-economic status.

Next, it also assumes that there’s no silver lining in being bullied. Now, this is going to be controversial but let me explain further.

I Was A Bully

In primary school, there was a classmate that I bullied. I don’t even remember how or why it started but it probably began with us just horsing around. Eventually (and don’t ask me how) it evolved into almost the whole class getting involved in it.

The bullying was mostly physical. We chased him down every recess time and when we got him into a corner, we would have a mass of bodies crush him against the wall. In our 11-year-old minds, it was horsing around. It never got to the point where there were punches or kicks thrown but still, imagine being chased down by 30 or so kids every recess almost every school day.

There were more silly things done to the point that his father called me up and warned me not to bully him again. I think that was the point when I realised that perhaps I had taken things a little too far.

Funny enough, the story ends on a good note because, in secondary school, we ended up in the same class and ended up being close friends. Till today, I consider him one of my best friends.

What’s the Upside to All This?

I’m not proud that I used to bully someone and I guess I’m lucky that my friend was resilient enough to withstand all the shit we put him through and not develop some mental illness or end up killing himself.

As for me, I think that being someone that treated someone unfairly in the past makes me more sensitive about when other people are being treated unfairly. And because I used to give other people shit, I don’t really have qualms about being difficult to people that deserve it. Too many people in Singapore grow up toeing the line and when people give them shit, they just suck it up until a point where they can’t take it anymore.

As for the bullied, if you’re like my friend, you end up developing a huge sense of self and you typically don’t let people step over you. Of course, it takes some sense to know when you need to step up for yourself because people are taking advantage of you and when you’re actually trying to take advantage of others.

My friend’s father also taught both of us that dialogue is the way to resolve any conflict. He was firm with me and yet also acknowledged that his son was at some fault for fighting back. In that way, I was lucky that I learned all this when I was only 11.

How many primary schoolers have the chance to learn lessons like these?

 

Final Thoughts

Bullying is not something society should condone but at the same time, let’s acknowledge that these things exist. The existence of these issues is a chance for dialogue and not tit-for-tat behaviour.

If you see someone being bullied, please stand up for them.

We’re into September! We don’t have seasons here in Singapore but September is always a special month for personal reasons.

Hope your week’s been good!

books on bookshelves

Read! Read! And read some more!

 

Why 35 to 50 Year Old Singaporeans Should Value Financial Peace More (Plus 6 Tips to Achieve More Financial Peace) (Investment Moats)

Fresh from the oven, Kyith over at Investment Moats has a piece that I think will resonate with many Singaporeans. It talks about how Singaporeans in their late 30s to 40s tend to find themselves in a precarious position if they get laid off in the private sector.

To be honest, it’s difficult for me to imagine the kind of uncertainty about job security that people in the private sector face. Job security in the public sector is such that I have colleagues who have stay with the organisation for 30-odd years. Those that choose to leave normally do so because greener pastures lie elsewhere.

With that sort of job security in the public sector, it’s very easy to plan for investments and the growth in net worth tends to be fairly predictable over time. Any of my colleagues that fail to retire wealthier than the average Singaporean must have either had some sort of huge burden due to medical costs or due to profligate spending*. Once again, this is the beauty of accounting for human capital in your investment plan.

 

Nose breathing in yoga may calm the mind by slowing brainwaves (NewScientist)

Full article hidden behind a paywall but first two paras provides the gist of it:

Take a deep breath. In some forms of yoga and meditation, people are supposed to breathe in slowly through their nose. Now we may know why it’s helpful: nerves inside the nose start firing in a similar slow rhythm, prompting parts of the brain to do the same.

And in a test, people who did yoga with slow nasal breathing seemed to enter a deeper meditative state than when they did so breathing at the same rate through their mouths.

No secret here but breathing through your nose supposedly has many other benefits. A book that’s been cited quite often on the supposed benefits of this is “The Oxygen Advantage” by Patrick McKeown. I haven’t read the book but I’ve been trying to consciously breathe in through my nose whenever I can.

What’s Your Type? The Myers-Briggs Test and the Rise of the Personality Quiz (The Ringer)

A review of the book that looks at the history of the Myers-Briggs test and how the test is mostly useless in terms of determining one’s personality.

I found this interesting not because of the test itself but that the education system is paying lots of money to hire consultants that base their training on some version of this personality test.

If it’s all so bogus, then what the hell are we paying them good money for?

 

Show me the incentives and I will show you the outcome (The Reformed Broker)

Josh Brown has a post that builds on how perverse incentives leads to perverse outcomes. There’s an example buried in the post about how a financial advisor in the U.S. ‘churned’ a client’s account to generate commissions (presumably also under the pressure to meet the sales quota) but the post is mostly about how Mao led a country towards the largest man-made famine in modern history. I have “Mao’s Great Famine” on my reading list after I’m done with “Utopia for Realists”.

I have more to say about financial advisors here in Singapore but that’s something for another time.

 

Notes:

*Profligate spending doesn’t just mean buying bigger houses or cars than they can afford. It could also mean the unnecessary spending on things kids’ tuitions, enrichment classes and so on. IMHO, those things are really unnecessary.

architecture asia bay bridge

Singapore

Singapore’s become quite well-known in recent months for a variety of reasons. First, we hosted the Trump-Kim summit in June. Now, we have our island represented in a major Hollywood film that is breaking barriers by casting an Asian leading cast; Something absent since the days of “The Joy Luck Club”.

This post isn’t about the movie.

Rather, this post is about how having more money than 90% (or is it 95% or 99%?) of the population doesn’t bring one peace and happiness. In a sense, life imitates art or in the case of Crazy Rich Asians, I guess Kevin Kwan really did paint a very real portrait of #richpeopleproblems.

Exhibit A: Audrey Tay

Daughter of The Hour Glass founders pleads guilty to taking drugs, driving offence (read the full article here)

SINGAPORE: The daughter of the founders of a luxury watch group pleaded guilty on Monday (Aug 27) to taking drugs, as well as to causing a car crash that uprooted a divider in 2015.

Audrey Tay May Li, the 45-year-old daughter of the founders of The Hour Glass, admitted to three drug charges and one charge of driving without due care or attention. Five other charges will be taken into consideration for sentencing.

ChannelNewAsia

The sad thing isn’t about how she consumed drugs but when CNA’s original post was shared on Facebook, her mother left comments in the post and you can tell that this family has been through a lot of drama.

Exhibit B: Shi Ka Yee

Ferrari driver, 73, pleads guilty to obstructing Orchard Road (read the full article here)

SINGAPORE: Ferrari driver Shi Ka Yee, who has been in and out of court for various charges including assaulting another driver, pleaded guilty on Monday (Jul 16) to obstructing Orchard Road with her car two years ago.

ChannelNewsAsia

If you search for this lady’s name, you’ll find that she’s been embroiled in quite a number of disputes that end up in the Courts. Rumours floating around the forums also link her to a former politician and her listed address is in one of the premier neighbourhoods in Singapore. But her behaviour’s probably one of a person who’s lonely and calling for attention. It just screams “Look at me! Don’t ignore me, please!”.

Money Can’t Buy You Everything

Both Audrey Tay’s and Shi’s case show that even with an obscene amount of money, happiness and peace can elude you if you believe that money can solve everything. Sometimes, as a wise bear once said, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best something.”

Sometimes, there is really nothing to be done. Working harder to make more money to buy things that you don’t need doesn’t bring you extra happiness. Once you’ve gone beyond a certain level of material comfort, more isn’t always better.

In both those cases, what’s probably necessary is a paradigm shift. A realisation that happiness comes through one’s own view of the world and that view is probably better served by surrounding yourself with friends and family that genuinely love you for the person you are and not the favours you can do for them.

If you find yourself hanging on to something that’s no good for you, the natural thing to do is move on.

Ben Carlson has a great post that shows what returns for emerging markets are like after a 20% decline. You can read his full post here.

Actually, his post shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s sufficiently well-grounded in fundamental investing. Investing is a discipline. You buy when things are cheap and sell/reduce buying when things get expensive.

I wrote about having a plan back in July although I didn’t really go into any details about my plan. Right now, the STI is down roughly 10% and, as of last month’s close, the PE10 is 13.43x — not expensive but nowhere near a level that screams “bargain!”.

What A Plan Looks Like

black point and shot camera near macbook pro

Fail to plan and you plan to fail, said some wise person

Broadly, I think anyone’s investment plan needs to cover a few areas:

  1. Objectives
  2. Asset Allocation
  3. Criteria for Rebalancing

1. Objectives

This is probably the most important area as it determines what assets one should be invested in. If one has a longer time horizon (for example, 5 years or more), then one can safely allocate a higher proportion to equities.

Personally, I don’t believe in the traditional financial advisors’ perspective of accumulation and deccumulation. This would basically mean saving and investing lots while you’re young and working and then drawing down on that accumulated sum until the day you die. Of course, they also consider what the amount of bequest in the drawdown.

My personal plan is to accumulate and let this sum snowball to infinity. Of course, at some point, I will start to draw on the sum for my expenses but that amount should be minimal relative to the accumulated sum and the rate of return on that sum. That way, the sum will be able to grow infinitely.

As an example, if my portfolio is $100,000, then my expenses will be no more than 3% of the portfolio. I’m quite confident that the portfolio should grow at a rate more than 3% p.a. which means that I should not have to worry about inflation or ever running out of money.

The main concern with that objective is dealing with a fall in portfolio value. I’m still working this out but off the top of my head, I think basing the 3% withdrawal on a smoothed value of the portfolio and the asset allocation plan should work well enough. For example, if the portfolio value over the last three years has been: $100,000, $110,000 and $80,000, then the withdrawal of 3% will be based on a portfolio value of $96,666. This should allow for excess withdrawals if the portfolio runs up too much and should mitigate drawing too little for expenses when portfolio values crash.

2. Asset Allocation

Which brings me to area 2.

Having too little in stocks will kill returns while having too much will probably cause liquidity problems. For those with long time horizons, I suspect anything more than an 80/20 stock/bond portfolio is too little in stocks.

The stock portion can be further sub-divided into local equities, foreign equities and something like REITs. Remember that correlations tend to move to one when markets crash so don’t worry about trying to own 100 different stocks. It’s futile. As long as you have the major bases covered, like not being all in banking or oil & gas stocks, you’ll be fine.

For the “bond” portion, it can be subdivided among bonds of different maturities and segments (like treasuries or corporate). I would even have a portion of it in cash. This is the buffer when your portfolio tanks due to market crashes.

Whatever you end up with, please make sure that the bulk of your portfolio isn’t made up of non-productive assets like gold or worse still, cryptocurrency. You can have gold coins if you think you’ll ever need to escape your country in a boat and start over anew in some other country but if that’s what most of your wealth is in, then you might as well buy a doomsday shelter.

3. Rebalancing

Area 3 is important because this is where you prevent yourself from buying when things get too expensive and selling when things get cheap. It’s only human to feel like giving up when you see the market crashing and buying when you see everyone else getting outsized returns.

I firmly believe that you need certain rules to prevent yourself from doing harm to yourself. A simple rule could be that you buy into the market only when the market’s dividend yield is above x%. Or you only buy into the market when the current price is below its 200-day moving average. Or, you’ll only buy when the PE10 is below 15x.

Of course, the problem with all these criteria is that they will all be quite arbitrary and not all of it will give you the same signal at the same time. For example, if you were looking to invest in the S&P 500 and your criteria was buying only if the PE10 is below 15x, you would have stayed out of the market for many, many years. You would have avoided the dot-com bubble and the Global Financial Crisis but you would also have missed the run-up in the markets and it’s associated return for many, many years. I don’t think anyone can live with a criteria that doesn’t flash for years and not question the validity of the criteria.

Personally, I would have 3 or 4 criteria and divide the amount of excess “gunpowder” I have into 3 or 4 portions. When it’s time to rebalance your portfolio, each fulfilled criteria would allow me to invest one portion back into the target asset class.

For example, after letting my dividends and savings accumulate in the portfolio, I have $30,000 to invest in stocks. If I have 3 criteria, I would invest $10,000 for each met criteria in stocks according to the proportions decided in my asset allocation.

Parting Thoughts

The CFA Level 3 syllabus has a fantastic and comprehensive section on investment plans which I remember studying for and honestly, this is much, much simpler than what they taught in the CFA syllabus. However, I think what I’ve outlined is much easier to follow and will get you the results  you need.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

ground group growth hands

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

ChannelNewsAsia has a great article on a young Singaporean who’s working at a youth shelter in a remote part of Thailand. The shelter is run by an organisation called Radion International which the article describes as follows:

Founded in Singapore, the Christian organisation’s activities in the 17,000-strong village of Khek Noi, where it has had a field office for 11 years, include shelters for underprivileged children and programmes combating drug abuse and domestic violence.

Daryl, the young man featured in the article, was moved to work at the organisation full-time after his stint as an intern where a young boy asked him the following:

“If you had just 20 baht (S$0.82), would you use it to buy a bowl of noodles – it should keep you full for a few hours – or would you spend it on a bag of glue that would keep you full for days?”

Poverty and Bad Choices

I’ve written about it before but there is this pervasive mindset in Singapore is that poor people are poor because they make bad choices. The extreme example cited above shows us that sometimes, people make bad choices because their alternatives are worse. How do you think about the future when you don’t know if you’ll make it past today?

In wealthier societies such as Singapore, these same things can present themselves. Take food for example. I’ve often remarked to people that fast-food is an amazing business model because, in developing countries, they are aspirational goods, whereas, in developed countries, they become staples for the less well-off.

In developed countries, if you’re less well-off, fast-food chains often become one of the cheapest things you can eat without having to cook. Unfortunately, the food at these places is far from the healthiest option. Combine that with diminished willpower spent on dealing with other hardship and it’s not hard to see how poorer people end up with problems like obesity which add to the burden of dealing with other problems.

Unfortunately, other people often see obesity in poor people as a consequence of bad choices. The narrative often becomes,

“They wouldn’t have to spend money on health problems if they didn’t eat so much fast-food. If only they weren’t so lazy, they could have saved more money if they cooked at home.”

What people don’t realise is that the narrative could easily be:

“I work two jobs and I’m so tired. I need to get something cheap and quick. My day sucks so bad and I’m not even sure how to pay off the housing loan for this month. I need something that tastes good to remind me that life isn’t all bad.”

But Would I Have Done What Daryl Did?

As much as I admire the guy and the work he’s doing, my honest answer is no. It’s his personal choice but the guy is sacrificing the prime working years of his life to fulfill what is essentially a passion project. I hope that his parents don’t have to depend on him in the future and fortunately, he appears to be single. What happens though, when he meets someone and decides to start a family? That said, I hope the feature helps his organisation receive more help.

Personally, I think there’s a time and place for everything and I would wait until I’ve made sure that my family is set and I won’t be a burden to future generations before I start helping others. Basically, if I can’t even take care of myself and my family, then who am I to start taking care of others? But that’s me.

If you feel like helping them out, you can check out their website here.*  Ok, that’s it from me. Let me know what you all think in the comments below.

Notes:

I have no links to Radion International, just putting their volunteer page in the link above because I watched the entire episode in the CNA link and it seems like they’re doing some good work.

 

Goh_Chok_Tong

ESM Goh. In his 70s and still grabbing headlines.

I write about personal finance and investing matters because I think that the common person in Singapore really needs to have a certain level of knowledge on how to organise their financial affairs. It’s also for my own learning purposes because it’s good to reflect on what I read and solicit the wisdom of the internet for views that may be contrary to my own. But I digress.

Being able to organise one’s financial affairs is important especially if you make somewhere above or around the average salary in Singapore but it seems like even the rich are not immune from the problem of not having enough money.

Enter ESM Goh Chok Tong

Apparently, during a grassroots event, ESM Goh said this (full transcript) during a Q&A with a resident:

To anyone of us here, $1 million is a lot of money. So where do you want to get your Ministers from? From people who earn only $500,000 a year, whose capacity is $500,000 a year? So (when) I look for Ministers, anybody who wants to be paid more than half a million, I won’t take him. You are going to end up with very very mediocre people, who can’t even earn a million dollars outside to be our Minister. Think about that. Is it good for you, or is it worse for us in the end?

My first problem with this response is how he equates earnings ability to general ability. We’ve already seen from the financial crisis that asset prices can be artificially inflated and therefore, people who can earn astronomical sums in one year may not necessarily earn this amount due to their abilities.

The second problem is how it equates the ability to be a high-income earner with the ability to lead. Granted, ESM Goh later clarified (see below) that a high current income is not the only criteria but I find it disheartening to know that high income has to be a necessary criterion in the first place. After all, I fail to see how high income as a surgeon or a lawyer translates into the ability to lead an organisation like a ministry. After all, a surgeon or a lawyer’s work does not really require one to manage large numbers of people.

The second problem leads to the third which is how ESM’s argument would automatically exclude people from sectors that don’t pay well. These people would be discounted from his radar when searching for ministerial candidates.* But I don’t see why people who head non-profits or non-governmental organisations can’t be in charge of ministries. In fact, having people from different backgrounds probably bode well for any government as it ensures that all stakeholders’ interests are accounted for.

Rich People Problems – when millions a year may not be enough

But the kicker of his whole response is how he basically used Edwin Tong as an example and I think the example basically backfired.

I am telling you the Ministers are not paid enough, and down the road, we are going to get a problem with getting people to join the government, because civil servants now earn more than Ministers. Are you aware of that? And where do we get our future office holders from? From the private sector? I have tried for the last election. Two of them, earning $5 million per month, $10 million per month (sic – ESM meant per year). To be a Minister for $1 million? No, no, my family is not happy with (unclear). Those approached say money is not the issue. But if you earn $5 million, $10 million, and you pay at least $1 million, many people would come, but not from the private sector. But maybe some you can get. Edwin Tong, he is a Senior Counsel, he earns more than $2 million. PM asked him to be a Minister of State – one quarter (salary). He came to see me. He said, at this stage of his life, he has got a house, he has got a mother-in-law to support, a father-in-law to support, his own parents and so on, what should he do?

With this example, ESM Goh basically gave everyone the impression that Edwin Tong has problems getting by on less than S$2m a year. Now, if someone who earns S$2m a year has to worry about a mortgage and how to support his family, what does it mean for the rest of us? If you were the common person, would you trust such a guy to understand your problems?

The funny part is also how Edwin Tong had to approach ESM Goh for advice on this. Does this mean a middle-aged guy who really wants to be a politician had to ask a senior politician why he should be in politics rather than discussing it with his family? It gives me the impression that Edwin Tong might worry more about his wallet rather than his role as a politician.

I pity Edwin Tong. ESM Goh could have easily said that Edwin Tong was conflicted between his passion and duty for public service versus him wanting to give his family the highest standard of living that he could.

Of course, I don’t mean that Edwin Tong isn’t in politics in the spirit of public service but unfortunately, that’s exactly the perception that ESM Goh’s comments have given — that of a guy who had to be reminded by a senior that his service was more important than his wallet.

Damage Control

You would think that ESM Goh would have learned to be more tactful on the topic of money ever since his wife said that “$500,000 is peanuts” during the National Kidney Foundation debacle but it looks like to him, these sums are still nuts in the grand scheme of things.

Of course, he then clarified that the government doesn’t use earnings ability as a starting point for their search.

“Salaries is not our starting point in looking for Ministers. Character, motivation, commitment, selflessness, practical abilities, competence and proven performance are the main attributes we look for…”

But I think the damage has been done.

 

Notes:

*By the way, I’m curious. Do ESM’s Goh’s remarks mean that our former army generals were all paid multi-million dollar salaries in the SAF? Anyway, it seems that many of the ministers are former public servants (particularly the SAF) so it’s not like paying ministers well is helping the government get a lot more candidates from other sectors.