Thursday, October 13, 2011

J P Morgan discussed Singapore politics with Tan Jee Say

by Tan Jee Say (source)

Many of you who have read my earlier posting "J P Morgan discussed Singapore politics with Tan Jee Say" are curious to know what I said to the J P Morgan Directors. The following query is from John Lee -

{ Hi Jee Say,

So, what did you say to the JP Morgan folks? They are obviously on an "intelligence gathering exercise" on Singapore's future opposition leadership. Big funds are watching us. They want to know whether the current crop of opposition leaders will likely form a non-PAP government in the near future? And if they do, will they do it on the back of populist policies, foregoing sound economics and fiscal policies? This is the slippery road many of us fear Singapore will fall into, if opposition leaders stoke the "entitlement mentality" among the voters (especially the young and naive) in order to gain power. }

And my response below -

Dear John,

Yes they wanted to know what are my political beliefs, where I stand in the political spectrum and why more and more Singaporeans are rooting for the opposition. Below is what I said to to them.

There is now greater acceptance of the opposition because they (we really) are ordinary folks whom the people can identify with; many are in fact part of the establishment, so the standard PAP propaganda against them, or us, doesn't work. We are not out to destroy the system simply because we are part of it and benefit from it; rather we are seen as trying to improve the system and eliminate unfairness and injustices. Yes the media tried to portray me as socialist with leftwing populist policies, but they were obviously off the mark. I reminded the J P Morgan folks that a leftwing socialist believes in public ownership of the means of production but I believe in the free market. In fact, I went even further to explain that I believe in a liberal market economy (LME) rather than a co-ordinated market economy (CME) (these two terms are discussed at length in the book Varieties of Capitalism but basically a CME is a government-directed economy that masquerades itself as free - sounds familiar?).

At the same time, I believe in a social safety net. While many will succeed in a free market economy, many more will not make it; not only do the lower income groups suffer, but the middle class as well because free market economics widens the income gap and inflates prices particularly of assets, so our middle class children cannot afford housing - the rich become very rich, the poor get poorer and the middle get stretched out or squeezed. So the safety net has to be meaningful and cover not just the poor but also the middle class - in education, healthcare, housing and others.

Is this raiding the reserves? Hardly. In fact, the budget has chalked up huge surpluses year after year, in the tens of billions per annum during most of the past decade. So the truth is the other way round - the government has been raiding the people's savings by over-taxing the people more than what is required to enable the government to provide social services to the people.

Does this belief in a meaningful safety net make me a socialist? The world has moved on. Conservatives and parties of the right used to denounce a safety net as socialist welfarism or populism but they no longer do so; they have now unashamedly embraced it, calling it compassionate conservatism (the Republican Party in the US and the Tories now style themselves as such, saying they are compassionate when in the past they would decry those who do not make it as lazy or stupid - the PAP in their hearts of hearts still think so, that they are the talented and hardworking ones who deserve to be paid millions). It is the PAP that is still stuck in the politics of the old, one of the very few ultra rightwing parties still standing. I am certainly left of the PAP (not difficult for anyone to be left of the PAP as the PAP is so far to the right) but I am not leftwing - my belief in a liberal market economy with a social safety net, puts me right in the centre of the political spectrum.

At the end of my explanation, one of the J P Morgan directors, Alun Evans, remarked that my political beliefs are similar to those of former UK prime minister Tony Blair and present prime minister David Cameron. I told them a little secret, that David Cameroon and I shared the same economics tutor Peter Sinclair. I sensed that the J P Morgan folks felt assured with what I said and were happy (look at their smiling faces in the photograph!) that I wasn't some crazy guy out to destroy the system but a sensible middle-of-the road with a big heart for the poor and the middle class. The re-assuring remark from Alun Evans was telling because of his background. At the start of the lunch, he asked me about Eddie Teo and I told him he was doing very well and had kindly granted me a certificate of eligibility to run for President ("the spy chief!", "yes, that's how I know him"). Officially Alun was a diplomat and served in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office but I would not be surprised if his report went up to the SIS as well. He is a CMG (Companion of St Michael and St George), so moves around the establishment circles. Well you can bet who will be interested to hear what he has to say. Yes intelligence gathering exercise indeed! But we have nothing to hide. I mean the opposition has nothing to hide; I can't speak for the PAP though.

Hope the above helps to elucidate.

Kind regards,
Jee Say

J P Morgan Asia Investment Trust is based in London and is listed on the London Stock Exchange. It invests in Asian companies on behalf of its shareholders. Its Board of Directors visits Asia regularly to talk to policy makers, opinion leaders and others in order to update its understanding of the politics, the economy and companies of Asia. On Thursday 6 October 2011, the Board invited me to lunch to get to know me, my ideas and the changing politics in Singapore. The Directors showed keen interest in the underlying reasons for the growing support for opposition parties and the emergence of high quality opposition candidates. They wanted to know if more of these highly qualified individuals will surface in future elections. I told them that we are seeing more and more successful professionals and businessmen coming forth to volunteer their services and expertise in the various parties. The signs are pretty good and "good for Singapore", they nodded in agreement as I shook their hands to thank them for their interest in Singapore and the wonderful lunch they had hosted. (I actually didn't eat much as they kept me talking throughout and I had to fill my stomach elsewhere afterwards.)

At lunch with the Directors of J P Morgan Asia Investment Trust - (Right to Left) Andrew Sykes, James Long (Chairman), James Strachan, TJS, Dr Linda Yueh, Alun Evans and Ronald Gould.

No comments: