Opinion: Singapore shuns U.S.-style entitlements

December 14, 2012


— While the U.S. unemployment rate “dropped” to 7.7 percent last month — a figure even The Washington Post acknowledged was due “in large part because the labor force fell by 350,000” — here in this modern and prosperous city-state of slightly more than 5 million people, unemployment is practically nonexistent.

A taxi driver tells me, “Everyone here works.” With unemployment at an astonishingly low 1.9 percent, he is nearly right.

In part, this is due to a work ethic that seems to be in the genes here. But there is something else at work that should astound Washington politicians struggling with expensive “entitlement” programs and with those who receive them.

The Economist wrote about it in a 2010 article. What contributes to Singapore’s prosperity and a vibrant economy that includes a stable currency and a rising stock market, it said, is this: “The state’s attitude can be simply put: Being poor here is your own fault. Citizens are obliged to save for the future, rely on their families and not expect any handouts from the government unless they hit rock bottom.”

As a parent, this is my favorite part of the article: “The emphasis on family extends into old age: Retired parents can sue children who fail to support them. In government circles, ‘welfare’ remains a dirty word...”

Things may be starting to change, at least in other parts of Asia. In September, The Economist revisited the subject of entitlements: “Thanks to years of spectacular growth, more people have been pulled from abject poverty in modern Asia than at any time in history. But as they become more affluent, the region’s citizens want more from their governments. Across the continent, pressure is growing for public pensions, national health insurance, unemployment benefits and other hallmarks of social protection. As a result, the world’s most vibrant economies are shifting gears, away from simply building wealth towards building a welfare state.”

The magazine says government leaders in parts of Asia want to learn from the mistakes that backers of entitlements have made in the United States and the United Kingdom. What they should remember is that once the idea of entitlements catches on, it must inevitably replace the work ethic for significant numbers of the population. The threat of an empty stomach is a great motivator for an otherwise able-bodied person, but for many a guaranteed check and other benefits undermines that ethic and encourages dependency on government.

Consider America’s 99 weeks of unemployment benefits and the nearly 47 million people receiving food stamps. Even a suggestion that such benefits be cut prompts demonstrations, TV commercials from activists and political damage (recall Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remark). Reliance on government can — and often does — damage self-reliance. It is a reliance on self as a first resource and government as a last resort that not only improves individual lives, but national life.

Singapore appears to be a holdout in this Asian entitlement revolution. And why shouldn’t it? As The Economist reports, “government spending is only a fifth of GDP but schools and hospitals are among the best in the world.”

Why would so many other Asian governments flirt with entitlement programs when economic growth has brought prosperity to so many who have never known it? Why not focus on more growth and a broadening of prosperity to even more?

Unfortunately, Singapore has at least one black mark. Its Ministry of Manpower estimates that it has more than 200,000 foreign maids. Yet it has no minimum wage policy. Many maids make as little as S$420 (US$337) to S$450 (US$360) a month. They should be treated better. And, starting Jan. 1, perhaps they will be. Beginning then, all new maid contracts will have to offer at least S$450 (US$360) and one day off a week. To treat these workers any less equitably would be a stain on the entire country.

That said, Asian nations should not be looking to the West’s dubious entitlement programs; rather they should follow Singapore’s example, which leads to independence from government and personal empowerment.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


FalseFlag 5 years, 4 months ago

All of my pals from the area, laugh at America and the way they baby their people.

They think is is inhumane the way America government treats its people with economic entitlements for doing absolutely nothing..

I have to laugh at the way the 47% think Obama is there savior. lol...what do they think? They are not going to be 47%'rs when he is done with them? lol...Obama is using you 47%'rs to get what he wants...47% Americans are clueless to their fate.

Alyosha 5 years, 4 months ago

The comment above repeats the phrase "the 47%" as if it had objective, agreed upon meaning, when in reality it refers to nothing objective at all.

Do you mean the roughly 47% who voted for Mitt Romney?

jonas_opines 5 years, 4 months ago

"All of my pals from the area, laugh at America and the way they baby their people."

Riiiiiight. Sample size of, what, one? Trying to give you credit, here.

Cait McKnelly 5 years, 4 months ago

The zombie above seems to think that keeping people in slavery is just peachy keen while his friends laugh at and make fun of the US for having more humanity than to treat it's people that way.
The choice of Singapore for Cal's article was a bit of fancy footwork. Singapore isn't even a country and there is no real comparison to the US. It's a city-state that operates as a tax haven for millionaires from other countries (mainly China) and has the highest concentration of millionaires anywhere in the world (1 in 6. Virtually every family on the island has at least one millionaire.) Notice that the article talks about FOREIGN maids because there is literally no one on the island to do domestic work. In recent years there have been a number of human trafficking scandals regarding Singapore; not sex slaves, but actual domestic slaves, mainly from the Philippines, brought in with false promises and then held in virtual captivity.
It says much to me, zombie, that it's what you want for this country.

FalseFlag 5 years, 4 months ago

lol....you types crack me up...thanks...you are mind readers...lol...and you and yours use the 47%'rs emotions as your slaves....again....thanks for the laugh.

Alyosha 5 years, 4 months ago

The comment above likely refers to the 47% who voted for Mitt Romney, since that's the only definition of "47%" that has objective meaning.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 4 months ago

+1 for your explanation of domestic slavery in Singapore...

notaubermime 5 years, 4 months ago

It's not just the fact that 30% of Singapore's workforce are foreign workers (many of whom are not paid well), it is also the case that Singapore relies on cheap labor and goods from the surrounding areas in Malaysia. Works well for Singaporans, but not exactly something that is applicable to the US.

repaste 5 years, 4 months ago

"Unfortunately, Singapore has at least one black mark. Its Ministry of Manpower estimates that it has more than 200,000 foreign maids. Yet it has no minimum wage policy. Many maids make as little as S$420 (US$337) to S$450 (US$360) a month. They should be treated better. And, starting Jan. 1, perhaps they will be. Beginning then, all new maid contracts will have to offer at least S$450 (US$360) and one day off a week. To treat these workers any less equitably would be a stain on the entire country." I think Cal is on holiday, wrote this on his phone while watching a movie.

Getaroom 5 years, 4 months ago

Entitlements for the Rich and the Corporations who own this country, you know all those folks who are the fantasy job creators, are banking on holding onto their entitlements.

The reason we have this article is because Cal needed to make a quick buck stumping for his rich friends and Dolf needed to fill space in the paper. It's simply typical Republican blather and nothing more.

Terry Sexton 5 years, 4 months ago

That's just silly talk. You don't work for Menard's, do you?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 4 months ago

A Few Thoughts On 'Entitlement' by GEOFF NUNBERG


"Entitlement" originally had two separate meanings, which entered the language along very different paths. One sense of the word was an obscure political legalism until the advent of the Great Society programs that some economists called "uncontrollables." Technically, entitlements are just programs that provide benefits that aren't subject to budgetary discretion. But the word also implied that the recipients had a moral right to the benefits. As LBJ said in justifying Medicare: "By God, you can't treat Grandma this way. She's entitled to it."

The negative connotations of the word arose in another, very distant corner of the language, when psychologists began to use a different notion of entitlement as a diagnostic for narcissism. Both of those words entered everyday usage in the late 1970s, with a big boost from Christopher Lasch's 1979 best-seller The Culture of Narcissism, an indictment of the pathological self-absorption of American life. By the early '80s, you no longer had to preface "sense of entitlement" with "unwarranted" or "bloated." That was implicit in the word "entitlement" itself, which had become the epithet of choice whenever you wanted to scold a group like the baby boomers for their superficiality and selfishness.


But it's only when critics get to the role of government that the two meanings of "entitlement" start to seep into each other. On the one hand, the psychological sense of the word colors its governmental meaning. When people fulminate about the cost of government entitlements these days, there's often the implicit modifier "unearned" lurking in the background. And that in turn makes it easier to think of those programs as the cause of a wider social malaise — that they create what critics call a "culture of dependency" or a class of "takers," which are basically ways of referring to what the Victorians called the undeserving poor.


But to make that linguistic fusion work, you have to bend the meanings of the words to fit. When people rail about the cost of government entitlements, they're thinking of social benefit programs like Medicare, not the price supports or the tax breaks that some economists call hidden entitlements. And what people call the culture of entitlement is elastic enough to include both the high school senior who's been told he has a right to get into Harvard and the out-of-work plumber who isn't bothering to look for a job because he knows his unemployment check is in the mail. But it rarely stretches to include the hedge-fund manager who makes a life model of Ayn Rand's Howard Roark, who is the most conspicuous monster of entitlement in all of modern American literature."

beatrice 5 years, 4 months ago

Cal's opinion is that America is such a great nation ... we should try harder to be more like other countries. Brilliant. Had a liberal made claims we should be more like another nation, conservatives would start yelling about "freedom" fries or some such nonsense.

Yes, I know it is wrong, but I do take pleasure in knowing how miserable many conservatives are right now. Speaking of miserable conservatives, anyone seen Armstrong or Snap lately? If they happen to show up, please let them know that Romney lost bigtime. Thanks.

FalseFlag 5 years, 4 months ago

Work ethic....work ethic....work ethic....you may remember that ethic, no?

That is where you create energy to do something.

voevoda 5 years, 4 months ago

Maybe Cal Thomas ought to consider whether the aspects of Singapore society that he admires are the result of policies that every American should abhor. According to Human Rights Watch:

"Election returns brought no changes to Singapore’s reliance on the Internal Security Act to hold, without charge or judicial review,those suspected of subversion, espionage, and terrorism. Laws requiring mandatory death sentences, judicial caning, and criminalization of male same-sex relations remain in force. Government authorities still curtail rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. They deny legitimacy to associations of ten or more, if they deem the groups “prejudicial to public peace, welfare or good order. ” The government requires police permits for five or more people planning a public event, and it uses contempt of court, criminal and civil defamation, and sedition charges to rein in critics."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 4 months ago

In other words, the ultimate "nanny state," but instead of a fair and benevolent nanny, it's a cruel and violent one. So I can see why a worshipper of a very angry god such as Cal would like a place like Singapore (as long as he's one of the nasty nannies.)

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 4 months ago

If Cal Thomas wants to write stuff like this I hope he continues. It is very revealing because of how completely stupid it is.

Cait McKnelly 5 years, 4 months ago

Even more revealing are the people who agree with it.

voevoda 5 years, 4 months ago

If Cal Thomas is advocating this sort of minimum rate of pay, it's slave wages. If maids work 6 days per week, that's 48 hours per week (minimally--probably more), or 208 hours per month. At $360 per month, maids would be making $1.73 an hour. In Cal Thomas' view, $1.73 per hour constitutes "equitable" treatment? Maybe he and everyone who agrees with him, should work for that wage and see how they like it.

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

It is nice that Singapore decided to pass a law that allowed maids to have a mandatory day off starting in 2013 (Happy New Year!). And they have made the fines bigger on employers who have a maid fall to her death because they forced her to clean the windows in their high rise apartment.

I'm sure Cal sees that as fair and equitable treatment.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 4 months ago

He went there to pick a fight, and succeeded. What a guy.

Liberty275 5 years, 4 months ago

Were the people in the tent the union thugs cut the support ropes on picking a fight? Also, since when is a reporter pickinga fight by asking questions?

What a guy? What a bunch of thugs is more like it. But you keep on apologizing for them.

Liberty275 5 years, 4 months ago

Next time you post a link, you should read it first. Evidently you didn't make it here:

”But Crowder didn’t say he never pushed anyone. He said to Hannity, “You have the unedited tape.”

About the News Hounds:

Like many projects, this one started out as something else. In early 2004, eight middle-aged citizens from different backgrounds and locations around the USA teamed up via MoveOn.org

Liberty275 5 years, 4 months ago

Lets talk about abortion on demand, marriage equality immigration and prohibition. I'm to your left on all those subjects. So you know of any republicans that supports abortion on demand until the day of the birth, allowing any consenting adults to marry, literally opening the border with Mexico and ending the utter stupidity of prohibition version 2 now.

Next thread that comes up involving any of those and we'll see just how "liberal" you are, KansasLiberal.

chootspa 5 years, 4 months ago

You get any group of people who are getting screwed by unpopular legislation being rammed through in a lame duck session with a judicial trick to keep it from a public referendum vote, and you're going to get a few hot heads. Would you like us to show you a bunch of libertarians acting like irrational and sometimes violent ninnies at a protest? Bet we can find some footage that doesn't even require misleading edits.

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

"Meanwhile, media reports have poked holes in the original, edited video Crowder posted online after he was punched. The New York Times reported “a look at the video broadcast on the Sean Hannity show appears to show quite clearly that [Crowder] left out an important section of the footage when he put together his edit.”

The unedited footage shows “the man who punched Mr. Crowder being knocked to the ground seconds before and then getting up and taking a swing at the comedian,” the Times reported."


Crowder must not be too upset about it as he hasn't filed a police report and has, instead, challenged the puncher to a MMA style fight.

"A spokesperson for conservative group Americans For Prosperity told TPM on Thursday the tent’s collapse this week during protests outside the state capitol may have been instigated not by union protesters — some of whom were “helping us” after the tent collapse, she said — but rather by “radical anarchists” wearing Guy Fawkes masks and coming from the Occupy movement." http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/12/afp-tent-guy-fawkes.php

Even the AFP folks don't completely believe it was union "thugs" who felled the tent and say that there were union protesters who were helping them out of the collapsing tent. And they haven't filed a police report yet either.


Liberty275 5 years, 4 months ago

Tell you what, Agnostic. I posted a video that plainly shows a union member punch a news reporter in the face. I say that happened, and I provided a video. You and some of your friends say the reporter pushed the protester. I won't bother comparing being pushed with being hit in the jaw with a fist. The difference is obvious.

So, since you say the reporter pushed the union protester, how about you provide a video showing that? Think you can manage that? I think the video you provide with a time of the incident will be more effective than a link to wikipedia.

As for my pimp suit, I left it in my Brougham.

chootspa 5 years, 4 months ago

At about 1:34 on the O'Reilly tape, that's about as good as you're going to get. It's clear the guy was knocked down, and the being knocked down part is what started the punching spree, although the dude was plenty pissed already. Who knocked him down? Can't say. Camera swerves very conveniently right at that moment. But it might be one of the reasons Crowder doesn't want to talk to the police about the incident.

Cait McKnelly 5 years, 4 months ago

And herrrrrre's the bait and switch! When all else fails, bring up a totally off topic subject and ATTACK!

average 5 years, 4 months ago

As noted above, roughly a third of Singapore's workforce are 'guest workers', who have to pay taxes but get no benefits when they are booted off the island at 50. That does help the 'dependency ratio' quite a bit.

Oh, yeah, and they have a compulsory national insurance system, and what doctors are allowed to charge for any procedure are strictly regulated.

But, yeah. Sounds like laissez-faire paradise for Republicans if you've never actually, you know, been there.

Armstrong 5 years, 4 months ago

"Being poor here is your own fault. Citizens are obliged to save for the future, rely on their families and not expect any handouts from the government unless they hit rock bottom.” That about says it all. When will America wake up ?

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