Sideshow Bob and U.S. Foreign Policy

My previous comment on January 29, 2011 at 4:06 am, while waiting for Sideshow Bob’s (I mean, outgoing White House press secretary Robert Gibbs) press conference on the Egypt street protests.

Waiting to see how the spin-doctors at Washington are scrambling now to put together a new spin on the Egypt issue and their fictional myth (oops, I mean narrative) of the Washington Consensus, Democracy and Human Rights.

The world is watching…

And of Robert Gibbs’s press conference?
Twas truly a comedic performance. Talk about equivocation, tap-dancing, and ignoring the elephant in the room.

No reporter could pin Bob down, he bobbed and weaved and wriggled his way out of every question like a slippery eel.
The funniest moment of the press conference came when a very primly-dressed and vested Indian gentleman, tiring of Gibb’s tap-dancing, finally pointed to the elephant in the room and framed his question on the direction of U.S. foreign policy, by rhetorically listing China’s number one status in various areas…
An absolutely banal question, yet absolutely incisive, revealing and hilarious! And Gibb’s apoplectic reaction — priceless…

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Some have commented elsewhere:
Egypt – a new pyramid scheme?

“much as i hate to admit it, the sluggishness and peculiar molasses-reactions of our Administration might instead be based on better Intel than has been shared thus far, and is to be explained by the caution advised by our ears and eyes on the ground that predict a rather worse outcome than the roseate sentiments of the moment.”

http://www.dailyspeculations.com/wordpress/?p=5853

I ask only: “rather worse outcome”, for who … ?

President Obama, say the ‘D-Word’

US appears to shy away from talk about democracy in Middle East, despite historic anti-government rallies in ally Egypt.

It’s incredible, really. The president of the United States can’t bring himself to talk about democracy in the Middle East. He can dance around it, use euphemisms, throw out words like “freedom” and “tolerance” and “non-violent” and especially “reform,” but he can’t say the one word that really matters: democracy.

How did this happen? After all, in his famous 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world, Obama spoke the word loudly and clearly – at least once.

“The fourth issue that I will address is democracy,” he declared, before explaining that while the United States won’t impose its own system, it was committed to governments that “reflect the will of the people… I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”

“No matter where it takes hold,” the president concluded, “government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power.”

Simply rhetoric?

Of course, this was just rhetoric, however lofty, reflecting a moment when no one was rebelling against the undemocratic governments of our allies – at least not openly and in a manner that demanded international media coverage.

Now it’s for real.

And “democracy” is scarcely to be heard on the lips of the president or his most senior officials.

In fact, newly released WikiLeaks cables show that from the moment it assumed power, the Obama administration specifically toned down public criticism of Mubarak. The US ambassador to Egypt advised secretary of state Hillary Clinton to avoid even the mention of former presidential candidate Ayman Nour, jailed and abused for years after running against Mubarak in part on America’s encouragement.

Not surprisingly, when the protests began, Clinton declared that Egypt was “stable” and an important US ally, sending a strong signal that the US would not support the protesters if they tried to topple the regime. Indeed, Clinton has repeatedly described Mubarak as a family friend. Perhaps Ms Clinton should choose her friends more wisely.

Similarly, president Obama has refused to take a strong stand in support of the burgeoning pro-democracy movement and has been no more discriminating in his public characterisation of American support for its Egyptian “ally”. Mubarak continued through yesterday to be praised as a crucial partner of the US. Most important, there has been absolutely no call for real democracy.

Rather, only “reform” has been suggested to the Egyptian government so that, in Obama’s words, “people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate grievances”.

“I’ve always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on reform – political reform, economic reform – is absolutely critical for the long-term well-being of Egypt,” advised the president, although vice-president Joe Biden has refused to refer to Mubarak as a dictator, leading one to wonder how bad a leader must be to deserve the title.

Even worse, the president and his senior aides have repeatedly sought to equate the protesters and the government as somehow equally pitted parties in the growing conflict, urging both sides to “show restraint”. This equation has been repeated many times by other American officials.

This trick, tried and tested in the US discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is equally nonsensical here. These are not two movements in a contest for political power. Rather, it is a huge state, with a massive security and police apparatus that is supported by the world’s major superpower to the tune of billions of dollars a year, against a largely young, disenfranchised and politically powerless population which has suffered brutally at its hands for decades.

The focus on reform is also a highly coded reference, as across the developing world when Western leaders have urged “reform” it has usually signified the liberalisation of economies to allow for greater penetration by Western corporations, control of local resources, and concentration of wealth, rather than the kind of political democratisation and redistribution of wealth that are key demands of protesters across the region.

[…]

US state department spokesman PJ Crowley perfectly summed up the sustainability of the Obama administration’s position. In some of the most direct and unrelenting questioning of a US official I have ever witnessed, News Hour anchor Shihab al-Rattansi repeatedly pushed Crowley to own up to the hypocrisy and absurdity of the administration’s position of offering mild criticism of Mubarak while continuing to ply him with billions of dollars in aid and political support.

When pressed about how the US-backed security services are beating and torturing and even killing protesters, and whether it wasn’t time for the US to consider discontinuing aid, Crowley responded that “we don’t see this as an either or [a minute later, he said “zero sum”] proposition. Egypt is a friend of the US, is an anchor of stability and helping us pursue peace in the Middle East”.

Each part of this statement is manifestly false; the fact that in the midst of intensifying protests senior officials feel they can spin the events away from openly calling for a real democratic transition now reveals either incredible ignorance, arrogance, or both.

[…]

Mark LeVine is a professor of history at UC Irvine and senior visiting researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden.

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/01/201112811331582261.html

Libraries and Museums on Fire

Egyptians make a human chain to help protect the Cairo museum during anti-government protests

Rahim Hamada called the BBC from Cairo: “Civilians are surrounding the museum of Cairo in [Tahrir] Square and protecting it from looting. All the police have left the square, I think, to try and create disorder, but the civilians are taking control and organising traffic. They are also protecting property from looters and thieves, and taking back stolen goods, which are being placed in the yard of the museum for safety. We want this protest to be peaceful.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/9380534.stm

Oh God, please…

Don’t let what happened to the ancient Babylonian treasures during the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, happen here in Egypt.

Iraqi Treasures Return, but Questions Remain

While Iraqi officials celebrated the repatriation of what they called invaluable relics — “the return of Iraq’s heritage to our house,” as the state minister of tourism and antiquities, Qahtan al-Jibouri, put it — the fate of those previously returned raised questions about the country’s readiness to preserve and protect its own treasures.

Appearing at a ceremony displaying the artifacts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie, pointedly said a previous shipment of antiquities had been returned to Iraq last year aboard an American military aircraft authorized by Gen. David H. Petraeus, only to end up missing.

“They went to the prime minister’s office, and that was the last time they were seen,” said Mr. Sumaidaie, who has worked fervently with American law enforcement officials in recent years to track down loot that had found its way into the United States.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/08/world/middleeast/08iraq.html

Babylonian treasures damaged by coalition troops

The ancient city of Babylon has suffered extensive archaeological damage during the US-led occupation of Iraq, warns a report issued by the British Museum on Saturday.

The report states that prehistoric brickwork has been crushed beneath military vehicles, precious stonework used to fill sandbags and important historical sites damaged by newly dug trenches.

“This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain,” says John Curtis, keeper of the department of ancient near east at the British Museum in London, UK, and author of the report. “The damage caused by the military camp is a further blow for the cultural heritage of Iraq.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6888-babylonian-treasures-damaged-by-coalition-troops.html

The Fate of Iraq’s Treasures

Iraq has had – shall we say – a colourful recent history. Wars with Iran, Kuwait, the US and the US again; insurrections, intifadas, genocide and rebellion have left a land which, while rich in natural resources, is one of the most shattered civilizations on the planet. Most would blame Saddam Hussein and his egotistical bigotry for Iraq’s current plight; others point the finger at the remnants of the Cold War, which left Iraq fighting an impossible proxy conflict with their Iranian neighbours – arming Saddam’s bloodthirsty Ba’athists in the process. Yet whatever your stance on the country’s twisted fate and economic desperation, there can be no doubting its wealth of history, heritage and millions of treasures, which unlock the secrets of the cradle of civilization. So what are Iraq’s Mesopotamian showpieces, and how have they been looked after by their modern descendents?

http://heritage-key.com/world/fate-iraqs-treasures

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Books on Fire_The Destruction of Libraries throughout History

Author Lucien X. Polastron depicts the worst nightmares of bibliophiles in his erudite and always captivating look at Books on Fire: The Destruction of Libraries throughout History. If one glances at Appendix 3, “A Selective Chronology,” alone, one sees that we often do not learn from history, and that is why history often repeats itself, in the loss of untold amounts of knowledge due to the destruction of libraries and the books contained within them. Libraries meet their ends due to fires, floods, rampaging barbarian hordes, mold and insects, thievery, and possibly, in the near future, to the technology of the Internet and projects such as Project Gutenberg and American Memory.

Polastron traces the history of this subject in an informative way, never reducing or limiting the importance of the loss of so much knowledge merely to dates and numbers of volumes lost, as a less talented author might. Instead, he makes the tale of the losses palpable and engrossing by writing about the people behind the construction of various libraries, the people who owned private collections and libraries, and the people behind the demise of them, putting faces to the accounts he relates.

[…]

How to explain the horror that a bibliophile feels upon reading Books on Fire ? Milton equates the censorship and destruction of books to murder, and that’s probably similar to what many book lovers feel. The destruction is so senseless, so soul-destroying. Gone forever are countless illuminated texts, one-of-a-kind editions, scientific works that, because of their loss, set back the progress of mankind and increased the darkness and length of the Dark Ages.

http://www.curledup.com/bookfire.htm

Coetzee: Summertime

Coetzee’s slew of literary prizes were awarded mainly for his fictional works from the time of his mature-creative years from the 1980s (when he was in his forties) right up to the present, an unbroken line of some thirty years.
Impressive.
Especially when he did not even turn up to accept most of them.

While I enjoy reading Coetzee’s fiction tremendously, I feel that his true brilliance is to be found in his non-fictional writings. It is his literary essays on linguistic styles and essence, reviews and introductions of other writers, where his mastery of creative prose, off-centered insights and his intense laconic wit (undoubtedly sharp and incisive, yet confoundedly also carefully dulled) really come to the fore.

Still, Coetzee’s fictions remain awfully compelling, especially in his invention and reinvention of the recurring theme and techniques used across most of his books, which some have labelled as uniquely-Coetzee, the ‘anti-autobiographical’ style, or which Coetzee calls ‘autre-biography’:

In an interview with David Attwell in 2002, Coetzee asserted that “all autobiography is autre-biography”, or the biography of an other. “Genre definitions”, he said, “– at least those definitions employed by ordinary readers – are quite crude. What if the writer wants to trouble the boundaries of the genre? Does the autobiographical pact between writer and reader – the pact that says that, at the very least, the reader will be told no outright, deliberate lies – trump the disquiet one may feel about the quite crude definition of lying that many readers may hold?”

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article6827190.ece

Which brings me to his latest book, Summertime.

After his earlier works, Boyhood and Youth, which marked his formative years, Summertime speaks of that decade and season where Coetzee’s life and work, seemingly barren and unproductive, was really lying in fallow and growing towards the forthcoming season of creative abundance and fecundity.

An online review of Summertime:

The book begins in a style resembling Boyhood and Youth. Brief scenes from the life of Coetzee, now a thirtysomething in 1970s apartheid South Africa, are narrated in crisp third-person prose. Coetzee, we learn, is a down-and-out, unemployed and living with his elderly father, disgusted by apartheid but stuck in a rut of inaction verging on paralysis. But each scene stops abruptly, clearly unfinished, and after 15 pages the narrative stops altogether. What’s going on? Here emerges the book’s central conceit: Coetzee has died, leaving behind notebooks of assorted scraps. A would-be biographer, seeking to reconstruct “the story” of Coetzee’s life, interviews a number of people who knew Coetzee at that time, and transcripts of these (fictional) interviews occupy most of the book’s remainder.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Summertime-J-M-Coetzee/dp/1846553180

And a more studied review here:

J. M. Coetzee, a Disembodied Man

Great men in the winter of their lives often treat the writing of their memoirs as a kind of victory lap, but whatever J. M. Coetzee is after in this third volume of his genre-bending auto­biography, it is not self-­congratulation. The first two volumes, unadornedly titled “Boyhood” and “Youth” (and, in contrast to this one, labeled nonfiction), were marked by Coetzee’s decision to write about himself in the third person. In “Summertime” he takes this schism one bracing step farther, by imagining himself already dead. The book is nominally a kind of rough-draft effort by Coetzee’s own biographer, an Englishman named Vincent, to build the case — through transcribed interviews with lovers and colleagues and other figures mentioned by Coetzee in his “posthumously” opened notebooks — for the years 1971-77 as an especially formative period in the late author’s life, “a period,” as Vincent would have it, “when he was still finding his feet as a writer.”

Not much happens to Coetzee, strictly speaking, in those years. Having returned to South Africa from a sojourn in America, he lives in suburban Cape Town with his ailing father — a development especially resonant to readers of “Boyhood,” much of which centered around the lack of attachment, bordering on mutual shame, between father and son. He takes various teaching jobs despite his evident lack of talent for it (academia being, we are told by one of his former colleagues, a profession “full of refugees and misfits”). He rather sentimentally contemplates moving back to, or at any rate near, the ancestral farm his father’s family still owns in the sun-blasted Karoo, even though the exigencies of that life are clearly beyond him. His mother has died; he has a brother, but that brother is “overseas” and, just as in the first two volumes, hardly acknowledged. And, very quietly, he publishes his first book, the bone-dry “Dusklands” — a pair of novellas that offer little hint of the majesty of later novels like “Waiting for the Barbarians” or “Disgrace.” But interestingly, they do (and did, in real life) contain important, offstage characters named Coet­zee. Thus his impulse to metafictionalize himself is perhaps nothing new.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/27/books/review/Dee-t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

What can I say… I like it.

After all, I too, am in the summertime season of my life…
(and the circumstances are so striking…)

Coetzee Channeling Wittgenstein

The reсlusive Coetzee сomes out of his monkish seсlusion to channel Wittgenstein, adding his twist to the ‘public language’ vs ‘private language’ debate.
[Well, they are really talking abt an “imperial language” vs a mother tongue here. But the extension is valid, and you can still see the parallel if you stretch it a little…]

http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2011/01/24/is-imperial-english-really-all-that-bad/

Is Imperial English Really All That Bad?

[…] Nobel laureate John Maxwell Coetzee, argued that the limitations of writing in a language that is not one’s mother tongue did not vanish even once the “imperialist,” or second language, had been fully mastered.

Although Mr. Coetzee has always written in English, he felt there were still areas of the language which he feels are out-of-bounds to him.

“I cannot say I feel at home in English. When I write in English I write in someone else’s language, in someone else’s mother tongue.”

Although Mr. Coetzee is South African of Afrikaner descent, at home he spoke mainly English and was educated in English-speaking institutions. However he doesn’t consider English his own tongue because culturally he feels closer to Afrikaans, a language he speaks and actively translates.

He said he could not always reconcile writing in a tongue he still describes as “alien,” and that was brought to him by “historical circumstances.”

Mr. Coetzee, whose attendance at Jaipur marked a rare public appearance, argued that while a mother tongue lives in a private linguistic sphere, the “imperial language” lives in the public one.

He challenged the view that there is nothing special about a mother tongue, that it was just a tool of communication, and said it was the language of a personal and intimate dimension that English had encroached upon.

Me wonders if the local Ministry of Education is starting to take an enlightened approach to the mother tongue learning debate here as well:
http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_625697.html

The Twain, The Bet, and the Way

Putting up some comments from the previous post here.

[And I actually have a post on Chekhov half-written in the draft folder. Will put that up asap.]

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The Rise of the New Global Elite:
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2011/01/the-rise-of-the-new-global-elite/8343/

It’s true that few of today’s plutocrats were born into the sort of abject poverty that can close off opportunity altogether— a strong early education is pretty much a precondition—but the bulk of their wealth is generally the fruit of hustle and intelligence (with, presumably, some luck thrown in). They are not aristocrats, by and large, but rather economic meritocrats, preoccupied not merely with consuming wealth but with creating it.

The Road to Davos

To grasp the difference between today’s plutocrats and the hereditary elite, who (to use John Stuart Mill’s memorable phrase) “grow rich in their sleep,” one need merely glance at the events that now fill high-end social calendars. The debutante balls and hunts and regattas of yesteryear may not be quite obsolete, but they are headed in that direction. The real community life of the 21st-century plutocracy occurs on the international conference circuit.

The best-known of these events is the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, invitation to which marks an aspiring plutocrat’s arrival on the international scene. The Bilderberg Group, which meets annually at locations in Europe and North America, is more exclusive still—and more secretive—though it is more focused on geopolitics and less on global business and philanthropy. The Boao Forum for Asia, convened on China’s Hainan Island each spring, offers evidence of that nation’s growing economic importance and its understanding of the plutocratic culture. Bill Clinton is pushing hard to win his Clinton Global Initiative a regular place on the circuit. The TED conferences (the acronym stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design”) are an important stop for the digerati; Herb Allen’s* Sun Valley gathering, for the media moguls; and the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival (co-sponsored by this magazine), for the more policy-minded.

You might say that the American plutocracy is experiencing its John Galt moment. Libertarians (and run-of-the-mill high-school nerds) will recall that Galt is the plutocratic hero of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged. Tired of being dragged down by the parasitic, envious, and less talented lower classes, Galt and his fellow capitalists revolted, retreating to “Galt’s Gulch,” a refuge in the Rocky Mountains. There, they passed their days in secluded natural splendor, while the rest of the world, bereft of their genius and hard work, collapsed. (G. K. Chesterton suggested a similar idea, though more gently, in his novel The Man Who Was Thursday: “The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht.”)

This plutocratic fantasy is, of course, just that: no matter how smart and innovative and industrious the super-elite may be, they can’t exist without the wider community. Even setting aside the financial bailouts recently supplied by the governments of the world, the rich need the rest of us as workers, clients, and consumers. Yet, as a metaphor, Galt’s Gulch has an ominous ring at a time when the business elite view themselves increasingly as a global community, distinguished by their unique talents and above such parochial concerns as national identity, or devoting “their” taxes to paying down “our” budget deficit. They may not be isolating themselves geographically, as Rand fantasized. But they appear to be isolating themselves ideologically, which in the end may be of greater consequence.

The lesson of history is that, in the long run, super-elites have two ways to survive: by suppressing dissent or by sharing their wealth. It is obvious which of these would be the better outcome for America, and the world. Let us hope the plutocrats aren’t already too isolated to recognize this. Because, in the end, there can never be a place like Galt’s Gulch.

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Not to value and employ men of superior ability is the way to keep the people from rivalry among themselves;
not to prize articles which are difficult to procure is the way to keep them from becoming thieves;
not to show them what is likely to excite their desires is the way to keep their minds from disorder.

Therefore the sage, in the exercise of his government,
empties their minds, fills their bellies, weakens their ambitions,
and strengthens their bones.

If people lack knowledge and desire
Then they can not act;
If no action is taken
Harmony remains.

–LT

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“For fifteen years I have diligently studied earthly life. True, I saw neither the earth nor the people, but in your books I drank fragrant wine, sang songs, hunted deer and wild boar in the forests, loved women . . . And beautiful women, like clouds ethereal, created by the magic of your poets’ genius, visited me by night and whispered me wonderful tales, which made my head drunken. In your books I climbed the summits of Elbruz and Mont Blanc and saw from thence how the sun rose in the morning, and in the evening overflowed the sky, the ocean and the mountain ridges with a purple gold. I saw from thence how above me lightnings glimmered cleaving the clouds ; I saw green forests, fields, rivers, lakes, cities ; I heard syrens singing, and the playing of the pipes of Pan ; I touched the wings of beautiful devils who came flying to me to speak of God : . . In your books I cast myself into bottomless abysses, worked miracles, burned cities to the ground, preached new religions, conquered whole countries . . .

“Your books have given me wisdom. All that the unresting thought of man has created in the ages is compressed into a small compass in my brain. I know that I am wiser than all of you.

“And I despise your books, despise all worldy blessings and wisdom. Everything is void, frail, visionary and delusive like a mirage. Though you be proud and wise and beautiful, yet will death wipe you from the face of the earth like the mice underground ; and your posterity, your history, and the immortality of your men of genius will be as frozen slag, burnt down together with the terrestrial globe.

“You are mad, and gone the wrong way. You take lie for truth and ugliness for beauty. You would marvel if by certain conditions there should suddenly grow on apple and orange trees, instead of fruit, frogs and lizards, and if roses should begin to breathe the odour of a sweating horse. So do I marvel at you, who have bartered heaven for earth. I do not want to understand you.

–Anton Chekhov, The Bet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bet_(short_story)

http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Bet.shtml
[NB: Not the best translation around, just an easy-to-read format. The Gutenberg’s version is better.]

A Good Year ?

Singapore_countdown2011_fireworks

As the fireworks light up the night sky marking this last day of the year (yet another event celebration with large-scale fireworks; surely we must be suffering some fireworks-display-fatigue by now…), and champagne flows freely in parties big and small across the island, the feel-good factor seems to be all around and the common toast being made appears to be:
Congratulations, what a good year it’s been!

While it does seem that Singaporeans are bubbling over with optimism, I wonder if the pervasive feel-good ‘wealth effect’ is truly backed up by the numbers? Some counting may be in order…

To me, trying to produce a measure like Bhutan’s GNH or Gross National Happiness is beyond my comprehension, even if David Cameron has already boldly gone ahead and endorsed a ‘Happiness Index’ for Britain. As some put it, this “pursuit of statistical happiness” may just end up being a futile exercise in fitting data to favourable parameters.
[And in a not-so-ironic twist, when a foreign researcher and writer Dan Buettner drawing from secondary research concluded that Spore is one of the happiest places in the world and the happiest in Asia, the quintessentially Singaporean trait to deny themselves happiness and indulge in “everything also must complain lah” came to the fore, and brickbats at Mr. Buettner were duly flung.
Ouch.
]

So, let’s leave the more esoteric metrics aside and count the numbers that can be counted.

Singapore facts and figures, 2010:
GDP growth: a searing +14.7%
STI Index (the local stock market index): +10.1%
Inflation rate: estimated to come in between 2.5-3.3%
Average wage increase: +3.1%
Unemployment rate: 2.2%

By any measure, these are fantastic numbers.
Optimism and wealth effect justified? Truly a good year then?

Maybe not. Good or bad is always really only relative anyway. It’s how we do against the Joneses (or in this case, the Tans, Alis or Kumars) which really matter.

And looking at the numbers, with average wage increases only just offsetting the high end of inflation estimates, the large majority of Singaporean workers are simply just treading water, with no real increase in nett income.
It is only the top 10 or 15% of high-income earners who has seen wage increases matching or exceeding the +15% in GDP growth (as always). The past year, alas, for the typical worker, has really only benefited him with better job security in the environment of a tightening labour market.

Perhaps its the wealth effect then. The true measure of A Good Year must surely lie in a person’s expanding net worth.
But the average Sporean, with his high savings rate (in cash, cash deposits) is never fully invested in the stock markets, even taking into account his national pension investment funds. And with his stock portfolio in all likelihood highly-diversified into the more anemic markets this year, it is unlikely that the average Sporean’s overall stock porfolio is reporting little more than a squared result this year.

The good cheer may lie within the other single largest asset Mr Singaporean may ever own (or at least partially own, as he pay down his home mortgage) in his life — his residential property. With Spore being the country with the highest home ownership rates in the world at 88.8% (nice number eh), any significant changes in home prices shall be the prime mover of Wealth Effect across the nation.
And indeed, property prices have risen at a nice clip this year, continuing with the even faster increases of the last 3 quarters of 2009, rallying from the crisis low of 1Q2009, to reach new all-time highs:

[Chart shows price increases of 15% for 2010, and about 35% for the whole period from the 1Q2009 low]

Spore_private_residential_property_price_index

[The chart above shows only the price index for Private Property, which reflects less than 20% of the population. The vast majority of the population live in public housing, but even there the price increases are laudable, with 6 straight quarters of period-on-period cumulative growth of ~20%]

So apparently, the average Singaporean, with an appreciating residential home asset and a relatively more secure job, has been more than happy to take his cues from the high-income earners and business owners, and loosen his purse-strings and goes ahead to spend and participate in the brimming wealth effect… Or at least to toast one another about the good year past…

Enjoy it while it lasts…

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The real and largest beneficiaries of this economic upswing are of course the brave, risk-taking, profit-driven business-owners. And rightly so.

Here is a recent piece of news that by all counts should bolster confidence in trade and business activity growth:
Bank lending in November up 14.5% on-year
-Banks gave out 11.4% more loans to businesses on-year in November

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporebusinessnews/view/1102042/1/.html

If the increase in business lending is really for the purpose of meeting increasing business activity, well and good.

But when I hear stories of the largest and most completely vertically-integrated agriculture commodity company announce plans to acquire developmental land for real-estate development in China, I can’t help but wonder:
Besides the obvious charges of overreach and lack of focus, I wonder if that may mean the more than six-fold increase in share price in four years is getting too rich, and together with possibly a forecasted lack of further growth in its dominant market, management is casting about to deploy cash and grabbing for equity returns wherever they can to justify value…
[But the real fear is really of Asian Godfather-type shenanigans in the link-up with the ‘sister’ cross-linked and non-listed(!) companies owned by the Sugar King patriarch…]

Is business activity and trade growth really as robust as it seem?