Archive for October, 2008

And back.

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

It’s been a good couple of months since I last wrote, and who knows why, given that I’ve had a very relaxed couple of weeks lately.  Almost a month, in fact.  In summary, since the last time I wrote:

– I visited the Dins of 2008 on tour in Bangkok, but was away again in Lagos when they got to Singapore around National Day
– My Nigeria project wrapped up in late August
– I went on vacation with the Dins to Mexico and LA where Tour ended.  That was a lot of fun.
– I’ve been put on a few little things at work, a little wrap up here, a little client development there… then I got assigned to a project that got put on hold

So now I’m holding steady, and happy for that, too.

American politics…  yeesh.  Listening to the public debates for the 2008 presidential elections makes me feel like the whole process is all fluff and no substance.  Sure, there are talking points, catch-phrases and carefully rehearsed evasions.  But how can any voter be expected to educate themselves based on a 90 minute debate?  Even a three hour debate seems insufficient.  Can it be surprising that the American “media elite” often takes a mocking stance towards their Government (at all levels, from Federal on down)?

In contrast to the media circus that constitutes the public-facing side of American Democracy, it seems perfectly reasonable and logical to prefer a quieter, more efficient form of democracy (e.g., the Singapore system).  We would like choices, our opinions to be heard and heeded, our decisions to be embraced.  Sure everyone would like a lot of things, but someone has to figure out how to best balance out conflicting desires within constraints.  And no, the free market is not always best, because the “free market” is itself nothing of the sort.  It’s a social construct, with rules and rulers, unequal access and information assymetries, powers and social responsibilities just like the rest of our social world.  It’s a mirror image of the rest of society, so trying to pretend it’s somehow different or exempt from the constraints of the real world is silly, and dangerous.  The free market is not fairer or more neutral, or more meritocratic or more efficient, rational or adaptive than government.  It just depends on how you define “fair” or “efficient” or any of those other measures, and just as importantly, which government is being compared to what market at what point in time.  For most intents purposes, the free market is a form of government: it’s a way of ordering society, securing contracts and property, allocating resources. 

The current massive collapse in confidence in the American financial system, now spilling over to Europe as well, makes it easy to point out the potential pitfalls of a lack of regulation in the market (with both presidential candidates promising more regulation to come) when trillions of dollars of wealth and debt were essentially figments of the system’s imagination – “synthetic” products and mortgages and derivatives thereof.  The natural reaction is to swing back towards more regulation, or more “government” (government bailouts, handouts, nationalisations, state assurances, guarantees, capital injections).  But the age-old swings in opinion between regulation and deregulation is illustrative of a more fundamental tension between democracy as mob-rule (carte blanche, laissez-faire, caveat emptor)  and democracy as technocracy (expert-rule, faith in the system, specialised division of labour).  Note that technocracy is not incompatible with democracy – the ideal system is one where every or at least most members of society are educated experts (the US, with it’s two-thirds high school dropout rate, can hardly be said to qualify under most reasonable analysis), but even barring that ideal it’s a question of degree: how much decision-making is handed over to experts and dedicated specialists rather than being made by referendum, petition or lowest common denominator.  Furthermore, a true technocracy is a network of experts whose influence is bounded by the breadth of their expertise, which provides the necessary checks and balances – the economists have to debate the social workers and environmental scientists, the historians and lawyers, with conflicts mediated justly by the judges acting within the constraints of that society (precedence, Constitution, values, law). 

I recognise that in some ways it is a question of values – the American ideal essentially means that the voice of a relevant expert is considered equal to a barely sober, barely literate, unemployed 18-year old high school drop-out.  For me, I see that history has demonstrated that greater acceptance of democracy-as-technocracy–where thoughtful, studied expertise is the foundation of negotiation and decision-making–can lead to the sort of smooth efficiency and faster, greater achievement associated with Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan these past few decades.

That’s all.

I’ve recently heard the term “outstation” being overused, and as with most overused words, used inaccurately.  Firstly, a simple definition look-up indicates that “outstation” is a noun, not a verb (as in the common Singapore usage: “He is currently/will be outstation”).  Secondly, outstation is traditionally used to indicate remoteness and inaccessibility in a post or location.  Neither Bali nor New York are outstations.  Thirdly, and bafflingly, outstation is quite cumbersome and multisyllabic, compared to “abroad”, “away”, “not here” and other perfectly good (and more accurate) substitutes. 

In conclusion: No, I will not be outstation from tomorrow.  I will be away in Bali till Sunday for my annual office retreat.

See you later 🙂