Thursday, 21 August 2008

More on National Day Rally 2008

So in response to some comments on my previous post, here are my thoughts on the National Day Rally speech:

- I did not expect much in the way of additional assistance to be announced, and I was proved right.

- PM rightly acknowledged the economic difficulties. I think fundamentally, the widening income gap is a challenge facing economies the world over, and it is a difficult problem that requires a long-term solution. Retraining, re-skilling and skilling-up workers is a big part of that solution. However, that cannot be all of the solution -- because some simply don't or can't work, others can't (for whatever reason) retrain or re-skill or skill-up, still others need help while they are retraining or re-skilling or skilling-up, and yet others have retrained or re-skilled or skilled-up but to little or no avail. So I believe more immediate, direct assistance is necessary. That has not really been forthcoming. Workfare is an important step in that direction -- but in its efforts to avoid gaming of the system and also because this is a new scheme that is being tried out, I fear that Workfare as currently implemented may fall short.

- Re Anonymous Craven's query on whether I agree that the government has not done enough of a PR job -- well, I don't think that there has been insufficient PR. Anybody who can recall the MSM coverage 6 months back will realise that the MSM -- in particular the Straits Times -- was going to town and back and then to town again, with what a huge hongbao budget this was. And I am not so sure that people do not see the link between their increased strains and the indirect assistance given. Ultimately, people must be feeling worse-off on a "net-net" basis, which is why they are complaining.

- I think it is untenable to say that the assistance received by people is more than the increased expenditure due to inflation. Firstly, the numbers provided are abstract, and represent at best the average (if not the maximum). There will be many, many households who receive less than the numbers thrown up. Furthermore, it is legitimate for people to expect their standard of living to improve over time -- so if on a "net-net" basis, after accounting for assistance, there is little or no improvement, they will of course feel strained and unhappy. This is especially so, when the Government had until recent months kept telling people that the economy was doing well -- all thanks to the Government.

- on the baby stuff, I think the measures announced are welcome but inadequate. They represent incremental steps in the right direction, when our continued inability to lift TFR meaningfully implies that more radical surgery and more innovative measures are required. The repeated comparisons with Sweden in the run-up to the Rally would only have raised expectations, so in a way, they set people up for disappointment. I think there are some things that the Government cannot do (e.g. the repeated calls by singles for the Government to help them meet people, e.g. to make it easier for them to use dating agencies, are just a little bit too much for me), but there remain a lot of things that the Government can do, which it has not done.

- on the Internet liberalisation, I think they represent positive progress. But it is incremental and not fundamental. There is no paradigm shift. So even though we inch a little further up, we still fall very far short of what I believe the ideal position to be. What was more interesting and significant to me, was the way that PM chose to phrase things -- that there are valid concerns, but they are not good reasons to outright ban party political films and films during Parliamentary elections. While some may say (and haveahacks has said) that the Government has no choice, I still regard that explicit acknowledgment as significant. Because don't forget, PM could very well have said that we will retain those bans for their symbolism -- much as we have done with the 100 porn sites blacklist and Section 377A.

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