Yes, after a long hiatus I’m finally back. Contrary to popular beliefs that I’ve given up on my ideals or that I’ve been arrested by ISD, both didn’t happen (much to the disappointment of some). The reason for the long break from posting any article was that I’ve been really busy with work and could only write this article because I took leave today. For the past months, it was quite a personal struggle to get grips over my career and my future. I was brought down to reality on how brutally realistic the working life is compared to our own utopia of morals, philosophy and politics. Yes, this sentence doesn’t make much sense to you at the moment. Hopefully, I explain it better later on.
I’m in the corporate banking line, a line which is unforgiving and sanitized of feelings. If there is one thing I learned is that loyalty doesn’t pay. Move to a bank, achieve your monetary objectives, and after three to five years, move on the other banks. Why 3-5 years time? This is because you will have enough credibility, experience and accumulate enough clienteles to sell out to other banks. Your value is the highest within this number of years. This is how the game is being played and you are expected to observe this. No one will pay you extra for doing the otherwise.
In the political science of this “world”, is that the people will plan and work with a short term horizon since they may not be here to solve the problems that might pop out only in 3-5 years time. As such, people might just focus all their efforts, rightly or wrongly, on the short term goals to achieve their targets, key performance indicators or similar. There are ethical and unethical people who will do all that they could and to sweep the problems under the carpet for enough time before they leave the bank. You can only hope that you’ve got the right man, with the right morals for the job. But in truth, it might just be a 60-40 issue that for every 10 people you hired, 6 are likely to aim for short term goals. Or you might just believe that man are born good but corrupted by society.
If you are thinking that Thrasymachus has sudden changed his blog from politics to a “daily lives – oh, another xiaxue blog”, you are wrong. Something which I have not commented on was the debate on Ministers’ pay raise. I was “off-the-market” and late in the delivery of this article as I was busy (see above, yes, a circular argument). As such, let me relate the reality of totally realistic and practical world of banking to the unreal expectation and philosophy on what a Minister should be paid.
Paying for a Philosophy King
Maybe for those who have read Plato’s Republic will understand why I’ve sub-titled this “Paying for a Philosophy King”. As Plato quoted Socrates in the book, “Until philosophers are king, or kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoners natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils, -no, nor the human race, as I believe, -and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.”
In short, we all know what the ideal ruler should be, kind, intelligent, incorruptible, loving, wise, philosophical, embraces justice and equality and so on and so forth. We all want those qualities in a Singapore Minister, just that we don’t want to pay them. How Singaporean - wanting the best but at the cheapest cost, or if possible, free!
How much do you think England is willing to pay to have Lee Kwan Yew as their Prime Minister when he was aged 60? Probably, less than David Beckham but definitely more than Sven Goran Eriksson. How much do you think China is willing to pay to have Goh Chok Tong to be their Central Bank Chairman? Definitely much more than the amount of money spent on investigating on central bank corruptions. Or do you want to pay just USD300k to a Vice-President who cooks up a story to invade an oil-rich country, only to award all oil-related contracts to the his former company that stills pay him USD1m every year until his death?
The price of all the qualities you want in a politician and Minister is hard to quantify. Yes, a politician and a Minister should not serve not because of money but because of their passion to serve the people. Most people treat this as the central argument of the whole Minister’s pay debate. But this is not the crux of the issue. The issue is sustainability. Can the system, select the leaders among Singaporeans, who has the right morals and qualities without competition from the real world? I don’t think so.
You want a Minister whom has the trust of the nation and that his integrity to serve Singapore, not for a short term of 5 years, but beyond his terms and for decades. One who is forward looking, whose policies benefit not just his electoral results but the nation’s competitive future. You wouldn’t want a corporate banking-like Minister who thinks only on short term basis just to win votes and make him look good. If you think that a Minister’s role is just to attend events and cut ribbons, then that it is really naïve of you. It is really a 24/7 job, thinking and planning. There is more behind the scenes that the media doesn’t tell. Increasing the pay for the Ministers is also to up the stakes that a Minister can’t fail in his task. If we remain short-sighted, the future Ministers will too.
Not many nations will you find the governments lowing taxes to below 20% and yet having a budget surplus. We have that. We are a small nation but even a far-off country like Egypt, our name looms large. Many things that we attributed it to “Singapore” are really the works of a couple of great men who we sometimes fail to appreciate. Until we have a bad government, we may never realize how good our present one is. Without going into all the things each Minister had mentioned about the pay debate, I will only ask of you to consider the differences between reality and ideals. It is easy for an opposition to oppose the hike, but it is even easier to fail to appreciate our current government. I’ve seen a department taking a nose-dive for the worse within 6 months just by changing a single leader and the impact of a crap Minister will just extrapolates this to a greater extent in a Ministry. As such, I urge you to think objectively and be more far-sighted in your judgment.
On a side note, no, I’ve not sold my soul to the finance world. I’ve never given up and never will. I am still dreaming of my own utopia. You should too.