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Opinion

Opinion

Opinion: Singapore shuns U.S.-style entitlements

December 14, 2012

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— 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.

Comments

Armstrong 1 year, 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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tange 1 year, 4 months ago

Yeah, but isn't Singapore Iran's route to the sea?

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average 1 year, 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.

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rockchalk1977 1 year, 4 months ago

America's safety net has become a very comfortable hammock for millions of people. There is no shame associated with taking government "relief" like in the old days. With a $16.3 trillion national debt, we are flat out broke and simply can't afford it. http://www.usdebtclock.org/ your share is $142K so get to work.

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Liberty275 1 year, 4 months ago

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

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Agnostick 1 year, 4 months ago

Cal Thomas writes in the above piece:

"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."

Is it just me... or is he advocating for a minimum wage? Would he advocate for this same kind of "equitable treatment" in the United States of America?

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jayhawklawrence 1 year, 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.

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voevoda 1 year, 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."

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beatrice 1 year, 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.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 4 months ago

A Few Thoughts On 'Entitlement' by GEOFF NUNBERG

http://www.npr.org/2012/08/14/158756957/with-ryans-ascent-a-few-thoughts-on-entitlement

"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.

snip

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.

snip

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."

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disappointed_regressive 1 year, 4 months ago

The current administration sold slightly over half of the US population a bill of goods. Scratch that. Obama and his closest advisors like Jeffery "Communism Works" Immelt didn't really have to sell anything. They convinced 99%'rs that being rich is a bad thing. When's the last time a poor guy on unemployment or welfare hired you?

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Getaroom 1 year, 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.

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repaste 1 year, 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.

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notaubermime 1 year, 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.

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Cait McKnelly 1 year, 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.

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FalseFlag 1 year, 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.

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