PM Lee Hsien Loong, on the purpose of life

“The purpose of life is not assurance and security, the purpose of life is to use that security in order to go and achieve something new and different, and do better than the people who came before you.

“I mean, that’s why you go to business school. Because you think you can do better, and you can do the business better… and actually it’s not just that you will make more money in the business, but you believe that you will come up with a service or a product or an idea which will change the world.

“That’s what you dream of.” – Lee Hsien Loong [source]

The problem with “6 in 10 Singaporeans think media regulations are balanced”

EDIT: I overgeneralized and misrepresented the out-group earlier by saying “they said they don’t care”. Technically, they didn’t say they care. Minor but significant distinction. It makes the whole thing a little bit murkier.

Here’s the article you’re most likely to encounter:
6 in 10 Singapore residents find film and arts content regulations ‘appropriate’: Reach

First, let’s dig up the actual press release. Straits Times isn’t the most reliable of sources. Google for Reach Singapore, and you land on their site. To their credit, the press release is right there (which I suppose is how/where the Straits Times got their information?)

Here’s a pdf of the press release. Here’s what popped out to me:

1: A significant group of the people polled don’t really care about the regulations.

[1] 33% of people didn’t say that the regulations didn’t matter to them, so I think can make some reasonable assumptions about how they might’ve voted. It’s pretty unlikely that they’d think “I don’t care about X regulation, but I think it’s too harsh.”

Frankly, if a person says that X regulation doesn’t matter to them, I wouldn’t be giving much (or any!) weight to their opinion. The information is useful, “Oh, roughly 33% of Singaporeans don’t really care about regulations”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have anything meaningful to say about media policy. Quite the opposite, I think.

2: The people who actually care about the problem felt that the regulations were restrictive.

[2] “Respondents who were frequent patrons of film and arts performances and who also saw the issue as an important one, were more likely to feel that current regulations were somewhat restrictive.”

This reminds me of the NLB saga, where the people who were most eager to pulp the books used the worst grammar, while authors and book lovers responded with tremendous emotion.

So we have a conclusion that implies everything is okay:

In summary, the study found that the majority of respondents felt that current film and arts regulations are balanced.

My question to you is, does the majority necessarily have a thoughtful, constructive perspective about media regulations?

6 in 10 Singaporeans think media regulations are okay, but 3-5 of them don’t really care! Meanwhile, the artists, filmmakers, playwrights, etc. are the ones who suffer. Or are unfortunately underrepresented, at least.

“As values and norms evolve with time, the challenge will be to gradually calibrate film and arts regulation in a manner that the majority in society finds to be balanced.”

Not all opinions are equal. My worry is that when we try to appease the crowd, we do so at the cost of our best and brightest talents. And we can’t afford to do that.

EDIT: On hindsight and after some discussion with friends, I think the most conclusive thing we can really say about the study is that it’s difficult if not impossible to draw any real conclusions from such a study. Everybody will just continue with however they felt about things prior.

List of Singaporean Angus Ross Winners

I was bored and I saw the latest Angus Ross winner in the news so I thought I’d look to see how the older ones are doing. Couldn’t find a list anywhere, so I thought I’d put one together.

I’m taking a “move fast and break things” approach to this, because I do this for fun and I don’t have a lot of time. So here’s a quick sketch. Help me correct any mistakes/misinformation in the comments, and I’ll edit the post when I have time.

1987: Chionh Sze Chyi Mavis


Hwa Chong -> Oxford Law -> Chief Prosecutor AGC Economic Crimes and Governance Division. [source]

Fun fact: Mavis Chionh was the chief prosecutor for the City Harvest case. [Today]

It’s pretty nice to know that the chief prosecutor at AGC had a literature background.

“She is also a member of the Competition Commission of Singapore and has served on the board of the Dover Park Hospice.

She says: “I still read, though not as much as I would like to. Most of the time during the week, what I read is work- related.

On weekends, I try to decompress with a good novel, mostly Scandinavian crime fiction like the works of Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbro and Jussi Adler-Olsen.

Right now, I’m reading a rather strange but compelling novel by British author Jessie Burton titled The Miniaturist.

Literature is often a study of the complex and the unquantifiable – human emotions and aspirations, in particular. I think we need that balance and insight.

We want ultimately to build not just better machines or taller buildings but also a more sensitive and intelligent community, one with the ability to empathise and to dream.”

1988-1992: ? I can’t find any information. I found something about a “Clare de Souza from VJC” winning it in 1992, but it also said that she was the “first” winner, which is clearly untrue… so I don’t know. Let me know if you have anything.

1993: Evelyn Goh Chui Ling


Hwa Chong -> Geography at Oxford -> Masters in Environment&Development at Cambridge -> Masters in International Relations at Oxford ->PhD -> NTU Institute of Defence & Strategic Studies -> International Relations at Oxford -> Royal Holloway at UOL -> ANU

“ST. Aug 11- Lionel Cheng Tim-Ee, 19; Evelyn Goh Chui Ling, 18 and Karen Lam Jr-Earn, 19 were awarded this year’s President’s Scholarships. Lionel was from the National Junior College,  Evelyn and Karen were both humanities scholars at Hwa Chong.

ECA leadership was what won them their awards–apart from the regular excellence in academics. Lionel, who is now studying medicine at NUS had presided over the student’s council and sat on the committees of some seven clubs. Evelyn, who will read geography at Jesus College Oxford had won the 1993 Angus Ross prize for literature, and was a school swimmer and squash player. Karen, who co-hosts the SBC programme Vibes was a leader of various performance groups while in school.” – [source]

“I was trained initially as a geographer at the undergraduate level in Oxford, going on to complete an M.Phil. in Environment & Development at Cambridge in 1997. After that, I studied International Relations at Nuffield College, Oxford, earning an M.Phil. before completing my D.Phil. in 2001.” [source]

1994: Emma Yong


RJC -> English Literature, UCL -> Post-grad Musical Theatre at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London.

Emma seems to be the only Angus Ross winner who went on to pursue a career/life in the arts. She passed away at the far-too-young age of 36, suffering from stomach cancer. RIP, Emma.



1995: Iza Riana Hussin


RI -> Harvard (Social Studies, Middle Eastern Studies) on a PSC scholarship -> PhD at University of Washington -> Assistant prof of Political Science at UChicago. [source]


Fun facts: First Malay student to win it! Her dad is Hussin Mutalib, who’s a associate prof at NUS FASS.

1996: ?

1997: Aaron Maniam?

I’m not 100% sure I got the right person here. The only evidence I have is a Straits Times article that I’d have to go to NLB to check on microfilm:


Aaron has a very illustrious career, but I’m not going to post it here until I have confirmation/verification that he did indeed win the prize.

1998: Ng Li Sa

CHIJ -> Hwa Chong. Can’t get much more info after that. If my guess is right, she’s some sort of market analyst. I think she went to Taylor’s College in Malaysia [source] and then got involved in the Ministry of Transport, doing Maritime Security stuff… [source]

1999: Non-Singaporean (dunno who)
2000: ?

2001: Peggy Pao-Keerthi Pei Yu

took the 2001 examination when she was a student in Raffles Junior College. – See more at:

2003: Li Shengwu

RI -> PPE Oxford -> PhD Econs Stanford. [source] Research includes “Dynamic Matching on Stochastic Networks” and “Experimental Investigation of the Demand for Information”. Wah. Also if you look for him on YouTube, you’ll see that he’s a firebrand debater.

Fun Fact: Shengwu is the eldest son of Lee Hsien Yang, which makes him Lee Kuan Yew’s grandson.

2004: Candice Wan Shu Ting

SAJC -> Economics at Osaka University -> Japan & Korea desk at EDB. She got some flak for admitting that she didn’t read many novels.


2005: ?

2006: Liew Shang Zhao

RI -> PPE Oxford, planned to do a 2nd degree in Law (not sure if he did)

Fun fact: Shang Zhao was from Kuching, Sarawak and came to study in Singapore on an ASEAN Scholarship.

2007: Amanda Chong


Hwa Chong -> Cambridge Law -> Harvard Law -> State Counsel, AGC

I’m a big fan of Amanda’s writing. She also won the commonwealth essay competition for What The Modern Woman Wants.

2008: Aaron Chee

RI  -> PSC Foreign Service Scholarship -> Economics & Management at Oxford

2009: Lin Ruizi


Hwa Chong -> NUS Law

2010: Sophie Chew


VJC -> UoL, SOAS Law

2011: Nandini Jayanthinathan & Darren Wan


Nadini: NJC -> NUS Life Sciences
Darren: RI -> UChicago (I don’t know what exactly)

2012: Darrel Chang

Hwa Chong -> still in NS, I think?

2013: Claire Yang


Hwa Chong -> NUS Law

2015: Two weeks ago, former Hwa Chong Institution student Raymond Scott Lee clinched the Angus Ross Prize, given to the best-performing non-British candidate in the A-Level English literature examination.


Singaporean students lack drive because our culture sucks it out of them

The Education Minister is concerned about the number of employers who have said that Singaporean students lack drive and the confidence to venture out of their comfort zone.

When he asked what personal qualities are necessary to succeed, many of them said: Drive. ‘They said, ‘We think this is going to be critical (but) we are not seeing enough of this’,’ said Mr Heng, who was surprised at the number of CEOs who mentioned it. ‘I said, how can that be? Our students work very hard,’ he added. He had a long discussion with them, which did not throw up any solutions.

Students are unwilling to leave their comfort zones and try something new, says Heng. In Europe, when the CEO told workers he wanted to try them out in a new role with different responsibilities, the staff asked, what sort of training will I get, how will you help me succeed, what will I do, and so on.” But when the CEO approached Singaporeans, he was ‘shocked’ by the response: “What if I fail? Do I still have a job? Is there a support system, and do I get retrenchment benefits?” – Lack of drive in Singaporean students a worry

This is upsetting. We’ve spent the past 30 years breeding Singaporeans to be head-nodding wage-slaves, only to find that there are billions of other people out there who will do the same jobs for far less.

Singaporean students lack drive because our culture sucks it right out of them.

  • From day one, we tell our kids what they can or cannot think, what sort of dreams they ought to have.
  • We discourage them from studying what they’re passionate about if it’s not easy to score in.
  • We impose on them an obsession with grades, grades, grades. Anything you do outside of school is all about the CCA points.
  • We censor our valedictorians when they have something authentic and sincere to say.
  • Our teachers are forced to spend all their time (and then some!) covering the syllabus, which leaves them with scarce opportunity to set their kids’ hearts and minds on fire, to inspire and provoke them.

Of course we’re afraid of failure and leaving our comfort zones– it’s the Singaporean way! (Never mind that our founding fathers essentially stared failure in the face and said NOT TODAY.)

A big part of being Singaporean entails being a mindless drone, having no opinion. (“But what about the dissident netizens?” Oh, they’re narcissists who hide behind their pseudonyms and use heterodoxy as a poor substitute for genuine thought.)

We were bred by the system to be unquestioning, obedient wage-slaves to our lords and masters. We will bend over and let you fuck us in the ass if you promise to take care of us. We don’t have enough arts and culture. We hardly support our local bands and football teams.

Not all Singaporeans are afraid of leaving our comfort zones- many have already packed up and left.

They are no longer interested our uninspiring be-a-wage-slave culture. It’s the Singaporeans that are left behind that are meek and risk-averse. Awesome.

How much money must we spend, how many dreams must we crush, how much must we oppress each other, only for our Minister to go “How can that be? Our students work very hard!”. Well, NEWSFLASH: North Koreans also work very hard. African children in the diamond mines also work very hard. It doesn’t mean shit, okay?

Heng’s long discussion with the CEOs did not throw up any solutions. Let’s turn to some literature.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Our teachers need to be given the freedom to share their passion and joy with students. Parents need to do that for their kids, too. We need parents to stop going to schools demanding that we stuff their kids brains with knowledge as if it were a commodity, and teach people to think for themselves- REALLY think for themselves, and have opinions, and fight for them. We need broad, bottom-up cultural change. And that has to come from all of us standing up together and choosing, together, that that’s what we want.

The title of the Straits Times article reads “Lack of drive in Singaporeans students a worry.” That’s really nice of the journalist, or the editors. I would have phrased it differently. The truth is, it’s not surprising that our students lack drive. We’re all responsible for it. Bastards, all of us. Every child is born with curiosity and inquisitiveness. Fear of failure is taught, and frankly, that’s what we teach our kids every day.

You want to know why Singaporean kids have no drive, put yourselves in their shoes lah. What is there to be driven about?

The question now is- how are we going to move forward? How are we going to transcend our obsolete cultural mindsets?

Updated on May 14th, 2014.

MG Chan Chun Sing subtly undermines the legitimacy of PAP superdominance

Acting Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Chan Chun Sing speaking at a dialogue session at Jurong Spring Community Club.

Channel News Asia: Pay not a primary factor for PAP team: Chan Chun Sing

“I don’t think anyone of them comes here for the money. They come here to provide a better life for the next generation… One of the reasons why I stepped forward was because I know I’m joining a team of people that are not here for the money.”

That’s great.

He added that the key is to find the right balance.

He said: “Money should not be the one (factor) to attract them in. On the other hand, money should also not be the bugbear to deter them.

This is where it gets a little bit interesting, or fishy…

“(For example,) you go to Peach Garden, you eat the S$10 XO Sauce chye tow kuay (fried carrot cake), you can be quite happy right? Because you are satisfied with the service and so on. On the other hand, you can go to a hawker centre, even if they charge you S$1.50, you might not want to eat it if the quality is not good.”

BAM! Own goal! Once again, my favourite MG Chan Chun Sing has provided a beautiful answer that carries within it the keys to the destruction of the status quo. (You can check out the last time he did this here.)

Okay, you’re thinking. What is Visa talking about? What has he been smoking, and can I have some? Wait, wait- let me explain. Chun Sing’s argument is as follows:

1: People enjoy $10 carrot cake because the quality is good.

2: People don’t like $1.50 carrot cake because the quality is not good. 

The food analogy is particularly brilliant, because EVERY Singaporean knows- the best food isn’t necessarily the most expensive.

In fact, the best food is often holed up somewhere in some ulu coffeeshop, made by some uncle who’s using his grandfather’s secret recipe. The food is made with passion, and love. In comparison, the most expensive food often sucks, because the chefs feel like they’ve “made it”, and don’t need to try anymore.

Of course, not all cheap food is good and not all expensive food is lousy. But the point is, the co-relation is senseless. Good food is good food, regardless of cost. And good civil servants are good civil servants, regardless of pay. In fact, there is substantial scientific evidence that suggests that higher pay equates to worse performance, in anything that involves non-menial tasks.

Sometimes I wonder if MG Chan is secretly doing a grand covert operation. There were many writers and thinkers in the past, for instance, who defended the Church- because the Church was all-powerful, and could destroy your life and livelihood if it wished (why does that sound familiar?).

So what many of them did was pretty genius- they defended the Church, (collecting their pay in the process- why does that sound familiar again?) and attacked science, rationalism, atheism and all of the wonderful things we have today.

But they used weak, flimsy arguments for their defense, and they made themselves look like idiots against the elegant effectiveness of the opposition. The Church wasn’t sure what to think, because they professed support and claimed loyalty.

The philosopher’s intellectual integrity was not compromised- future generations would learn of their wisdom. And they lived happy, comfortable lives. I wonder if MG Chan is doing the same. That would be freaking awesome.

Let me explain. What MG Chan here is doing is something universal rather than local. He’s arguing that pay is not related to quality. You could see that as self-sabotaging, but that’s only if we assume that the PAP’s goal is to maintain the status quo.

Ultimately, what Chun Sing is doing here is that he’s helping Singaporeans see that quality matters, not pay. I described it as an own goal for the PAP. But really, the PAP is large and complex, and no monolith. It’s an own goal for the negative elements of the PAP. And that’s a good thing for everybody- except, of course, the negative elements of the PAP.

So MG Chan is only a moron if he expects his lot to be bettered by trying to defend a sinking ship. He could be a genius who’s thinking much further than anybody else at this point. And here’s the deal- you don’t become Chief of Army through political naivete. He’s very well educated. He might seem silly now- or he might be sowing the seeds for a new future, for Singapore and the PAP.

Personally, I’m quite excited to see how things turn out.

Does racial harmony justify xenophobia in Singapore?

Is xenophobia justified if it promotes racial harmony?

“I am not a racist but I am most certainly a nationalist. In the event of a dispute between a foreigner and a Singaporean, whether he is Chinese, Malay, Indian or Eurasian, I will take the side of the Singaporean 99% of the time.” –

Wow! In a dispute between a Chinese and an Indian, or in a dispute between a foreigner and a Singaporean, personally, 99% of the time I will take the side of the person who is right. (Well, actually, most of the time I won’t be taking sides, because in almost every dispute there is a misunderstanding, and there’s usually some truth to both sides.) Since when did justice become such a subjective concept in Singapore?

If you saw a mixed group of young Singaporean teenagers, Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian- all ganging up and brutally assaulting a Chinese national after a theft or rape, what would you think about it? How would you feel? It’s a hypothetical scenario, but not unimaginable is it?

Xenophobia is not cool. I was deeply bothered whenever Opposition parties used anti-foreigner rhetoric at their rallies. (I would have still voted for them- again, I don’t trust the PAP, and I don’t trust the Opposition- I am not loyal to any party. The only reason I would still vote Opposition is because I don’t trust any sort of super-dominance, by anybody or anything in any circumstance.)

Xenophobia and racism are symptoms of the same disease- they are both fueled by intolerance, suspicion, unenlightened selfishness- none of which we should be encouraging, in my opinion.

What do we want for Singapore? I’d personally like us to be a more inclusive society- more grace, tolerance, understanding and communication. I don’t understand how it is somehow okay to treat foreigners which such condescension and fear. Our forefathers were foreigners too! What’s the difference?

Foreigners these days, I am told, don’t care about Singapore. They come here to loot and pillage whatever they can and then happily go back home. Sure, but why? How can we expect them to start caring about Singapore when we treat them like scum? It’s our own despicable behaviour that compels foreigners to behave the way they do- which we then use as an excuse to justify our own xenophobia in the first place. It’s a disgusting feedback loop, and we perpetuate it.

I often find it wasteful that random insulting and “seditious” remarks are treated with such fear, apprehension, disgust and offense. Let’s be clear- they are undesirable for sure, and perhaps potentially dangerous. On this we can all agree. It is the standardized response (as I perceive it) that I have a bone to pick with.

We tend to operate under the assumption that anybody who says or does anything unacceptable must be malicious- that the foreigner was insulting Singaporeans because he’s a despicable, spiteful human being that needs to be punished to be taught a lesson. There is to be no mercy, no compassion- it doesn’t matter if he was being ignorant or irresponsible. Getting the authorities involved, sounding the national alarm- these measures are not just childish (“Cher, Cher, he anyhow say me!”)  but potentially detrimental- because it destroys the opportunity to create a mutually beneficial outcome. 

Let’s extend the classroom analogy.

There’s a boy of another race in your class, and the two of you don’t really get along. One day, you bump into each other by accident- and he starts spewing expletives, insulting you, your mother and the rest of your ancestors and cultural practices. What do you do?

Perhaps you could beat him up. Tell all your friends about what he said- it’s a matter of racial pride, after all. But your teacher wouldn’t have any of that- you’ll all get into trouble. It’s not worth it.

So perhaps you do the “right” thing and you complain to your teacher. Getting your teacher to discipline him might preserve the peace. But it is an uneasy peace, strained and suspicious. You forget, eventually, that the initial conflict was a a bit of an accident. Emotions were running high. But if there was any doubt about how you felt about each other then, there isn’t anymore. You’re now both thoroughly convinced of each other’s malice.

Perhaps the two of you may may temporarily forge an alliance when beating up the new kid in class, or the boys from school down the road. But if you are alone together at the bus stop outside school, you bare your teeth and claws- if not for the teacher, if school wouldn’t intervene, you’d surely rip each other to shreds. At least, that’s what he wants, you think.

Deep down you both hate that you have to keep watching your backs. And you never had to. You could have taken him aside in person and talked it out. The problem started when you forgot that he’s human, just like you. Ali, Raju, Xiao Ming, Zhong Guo Ren. All human beings.

In WW2, the Allied Forces and the Soviets worked together to defeat their common enemy, the Nazis. Without resolving their mutual misunderstandings, they would later turn against each other, fueling the arms race of the Cold War which put humanity on the brink of nuclear war.

In X-Men: First Class (spoilers alert!), the Americans and Soviets put aside their differences to attack their common enemy- the mutants. It would turn out to be a terrible idea- their actions, fueled by fear and xenophobia, would be the tipping point that initiated the war that would otherwise never have had to be. The unnecessary perception of enmity is what creates it. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that doesn’t have to be.

Say no to xenophobia, please. We can resolve our own problems, and build meaningful, lasting and mutually-beneficial relationships along the way. A little more grace, a little more compassion, a little more mercy. We don’t have to depend on the government to learn to be better human beings.  ‘Cher got her own problems to deal with, you know? Sekali she ask for another pay raise! 😛

If victory is the notion of no enemy, then the whole world is a friend.The true warrior is not like a person carrying a sword and looking behind his own shadow, in case somebody is lurking there. That is the setting-sun warrior’s point of view, which is an expression of cowardice.

The true warrior always has a weapon, in any case. Many things in your life function as a weapon, a vehicle of communication that cuts through aggression. It could be anything. If you are wearing a moustache, that could be your weapon. It’s not necessary for the warrior to carry an artificial weapon, like a gun. Cowardly people carry guns because they are so cowardly, so afraid. One doesn’t have to be afraid of touching a weapon, such as a gun, or even using it when necessary, but that doesn’t mean you have to carry one all the time.

The definition of warriorship is fearlessness and gentleness. Those are your weapons. The genuine warrior becomes truly gentle because there is no enemy at all.”

– Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Smile at Fear

Ministerial Pay 2012: The Neglected Truth About Incentives

There is powerful evidence that we have been completely wrong about the effectiveness of financial incentives and extrinsic motivation.

Financial incentives often improve performance. But they can also lead to unethical behavior, fuel turnover and foster envy and discontent. Wharton management professors argue that it is time to cut back on money as a chief motivational force in business. Instead, they say, employers should pay greater attention to intrinsic motivation. That means designing jobs that provide opportunities to make choices, develop skills, do work that matters and build meaningful interpersonal connections.

Knowledge@Wharton: The Problem with Financial Incentives and What to Do About It

Incentives are dangerous, and not just because people game them. They often yield collateral damage. Remember the tale of the Darwin Award winner who strapped a jet engine to his car, dreaming of a joyride for the ages, and then met his sorry end as a human flapjack on the side of a mountain? Incentives are like that jet engine. There’s no question the engine will take you somewhere, fast, but it’s not always clear where. Or what you’re going to mow down on the way. Yet incentives are still the first resort of most managers, perhaps because they all think they’re smart enough to create the perfect carrot.

– Fast Company: Why Incentives are Effective, Irresistible and Almost Certain to Backfire

Extrinsic motivation and financial incentives are culturally dominant in Singapore. Salary benchmark for ministers

The income benchmark for ministers and top civil servants is pegged at 2/3 the median income of all the top 8 earners in these 6 professions: lawyer, accountant, banker, MNC executive, local manufacturer and engineer. These means that we take the 48 top earners (top 8 from 6 groups), sort them according to their income, take the middle guy’s income, and multiply it by 2/3.

Ministers and MPs argue that they deserve to be paid as much as top earners in the private sector, but the point is that everybody in the private sector is also overpaid. This isn’t a matter of preference , philosophy or emotion- this is a scientifically established fact. Increasing pay diminishes performance. And if there’s anything we can all agree on, it’s that we all want the best for Singapore, yes?

“As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance.

But once the tasked called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward let to poorer performance.

– A study by economists from MIT, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Chicago, funded by the US Federal Reserve Bank

“We find that financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”

-Economists from the London School of Economics

The highest performing people in the world are not the most paid.

I have a simple hypothesis- the founding fathers of Singapore, who everybody can agree were the most awesome team of badasses that our country has ever seen- were not motivated by money. (The Pirate Ship analogy works beautifully here.) We need a star team, not a team of stars! Lee Kuan Yew and his team of heroes were intrinsically motivated. They had autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Lee Kuan Yew, whose title is minister mentor, said naysayers like this need a reality check.

“I say you have no sense of proportion; you don’t know what life is about,” he said last month.

“The cure to all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government,” Lee said. “You get that alternative, and you’ll never put Singapore together again.”

He presented himself as an example: “A top lawyer, which I could easily have become, today earns 4 million Singapore dollars. And he doesn’t have to carry this responsibility. All he’s got to do is advise his client. Win or lose, that’s the client’s loss or gain.”

The Straits Times newspaper quoted him as saying his current salary as minister mentor was 2.7 million Singapore dollars.

Money may buy happiness for a government minister, but some Singaporeans suggested that other motivations should also come into play for government service.

“What about other redeeming intangibles such as honor and sense of duty, dedication, passion and commitment, loyalty and service?” asked Hussin Mutalib in the Straits Times’ online forum recently.

Carolyn Lim, a prominent writer, suggested in an essay in The Straits Times that Singapore needed a little more heart to go along with its hard head. “Indeed, a brilliant achiever without the high purpose of service to others would be the worst possible ministerial material,” she wrote.

“To see a potential prime minister as no different from a potential top lawyer, and likely to be enticed by the same stupendous salary, would be to blur the lines between two very different domains.”

The minister mentor brushed aside concerns like that.

“Those are admirable sentiments,” he said. “But we live in a real world.”

The New York Times: Singapore announces 60% pay rise for ministers.

I agree completely with MM Lee Kuan Yew.

We do live in a real world. A real world where it has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that financial incentives decrease productivity for any task that isn’t purely mechanical.

We have to stop trying to entice people with sweeter carrots, and similarly we have to stop threatening them with sharper sticks. This turns off the our best and our brightest Singaporeans.

What they really want is autonomy, mastery, and purpose- all of which our Government, culture and systems generally fail to provide!

What Singapore needs in the 21st century is less compliance and more engagement. Before we all get obsolete.

We live in a real world. So let’s get real, take our fingers out of our ears and start paying attention to the evidence.