How Stiglitz weakens change in S’pore; From an outsider’s standpoint, the “model” Singapore pitch is perhaps meant as praise. People who care about Singapore should reject this cheap thrill.

How Stiglitz weakens change in S’pore

Mr Joseph Stiglitz’s commentary, “Singapore’s lessons for an unequal America” (March 20), does disservice to both Singaporeans and Americans.



Mr Joseph Stiglitz’s commentary, “Singapore’s lessons for an unequal America” (March 20), does disservice to both Singaporeans and Americans. Graduate student Kirsten Han points out in news publication Quartz that Singapore’s Gini coefficient is the second-highest among developed countries; that exploitable migrant labour has allowed employers to suppress wages; that workers’ rights to collective action are curtailed. Mr Stiglitz mistakes these realities and overlooks the cost of inequality on social well-being here. More importantly, because he is a Nobel economist, a position of legitimacy, his claim that Singapore is a model for dealing with inequality diminishes Singaporeans’ calls on the state to reform the welfare regime, address inequalities and ensure social inclusion. In praising, for example, the Central Provident Fund (CPF) system for compelling individuals to save, he affirms the Singapore state’s claim that individuals should ultimately be responsible for themselves. As various civil society members have pointed out in recent years, this individualised view of solutions leaves many needs unresolved and generates inequalities across groups. The healthcare system, heavily dependent on individuals’ “responsibility” in ensuring lifelong employment and hence on their CPF savings, disadvantages those who are unable to have continuous, full employment. As the CPF is tied to an individual’s income, wage differentials translate into unequal access. The Association of Women for Action and Research has been particularly concerned that women doing unpaid domestic and care labour have greater difficulty accessing this basic need. Like Mr Stiglitz, various civil society groups, scholars and citizens are interested in drawing comparative lessons from cases. We have come to different conclusions about “the Singaporean model”. We have pointed out differences from the Nordic countries, in principles and outcomes. For example, the Singapore model is premised on women being responsible for fertility decisions and child support; men have limited rights to be carers. In education, while Singaporean children do test well, this has come about at significant cost for certain classes of parents; that enrichment and tuition centres are thriving signals the large private investments going into education. In considering reform, Americans would be better served by looking at social policies in Scandinavia that generate greater equality across class or gender, as various scholars do in books such as Gender Equality: Transforming Family Divisions of Labor.

From an outsider’s standpoint, the “model” Singapore pitch is perhaps meant as praise. Given that Singaporeans often read about chewing gum and caning as if these define our nation, reading a positive piece can evoke some feel-good sentiments. Yet, the failings of the piece are harmful. People who care about Singapore should reject this cheap thrill. Americans who care about reform in their case should not be thrown off by the use of a case that is closer to theirs than to genuinely desirable alternatives. Given ongoing debates regarding the future we want, and given that tensions in world views exist between state and society and within society, the rush to declare Singapore as a coherent, stable model for others undermines the very project to reform.


Teo You Yenn is a board member at the Association of Women for Action and Research, assistant professor in sociology at the Nanyang Technological University and author of the book, Neoliberal morality in Singapore: How Family Policies Make State and Society.

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Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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