Sunday, August 13, 2006


Heavenly Sword posted his views of the nation being likened to three metaphors – a person, a place and a club. On the issue of Singaporeans leaving, he mentioned that a country ‘loses’ only if the person who left is ‘professionally skilled and talented’.

Perhaps because of my background, I would interpret this term in the broadest sense to mean 'Everyone'.

To me, a kway teow man is as talented as an IT engineer, or a doctor, or a lawyer.And even the handicapped would be considered talented for they bring joy, bonding and happiness to those around them.

I hold the view that a country should not 'evaluate' its citizens based only on the 'level' of skills they have.
An individual brings a package of offerings to his world.
Economic value-add is only one of these components.

Perhaps because of the emphasis on the primacy of economics, we tend to ignore the social value-add of our people.

To me, this is an important aspect of creating a sense of belonging beyond the dollars and cents.

I have appended my rather long comment to Heavenly Sword’s post below:
Hi, Master Heavenly Sword,
I would suggest that 'loss' is function of both the quality of the people leaving and the quantity of the people leaving.
For example, if the top kway teow man leaves Singapore for Perth.
This would be a loss for Singapore and a gain to the Singaporeans (and others) living in Perth. This would fit the case of 'loss' you had mentioned because someone talented (in whatever 'profession') has left us.
On the other hand, suppose we are left with only a handful of kway teow men and none of them fries good kway teow. If any one of them leaves, it would still be a loss because we now have one fewer person to serve Singapore's kway teow needs. So, a not-so-highly-skilled person can also cause a 'loss' to Singapore because he is a 'scarce' resource.
Even if one is not part of a scarce resource now, if enough of them leave, the remaining becomes 'scarce'.And I would go to the extent of suggesting that even if one is not a scarce resource, eg a low-skilled worker, his departure can still bring ‘loss’ to a country.
This is because no man is an island.
A child brings joy and happiness to his parents, in spite of his zero economic value-add in much the same way a low-skilled worker brings joy to his parents and family.
When such a person leaves, taking the laughter and happy moments that his/her parents would have enjoyed had he/she remained, has the country ‘lost’ anything?
To the extent that the total level of ‘happiness’ has come down, I would say yes.
Happiness is not as easily quantifiable as GDP per capita.
But, since management gurus consistently tell managers that a ‘happy’ workforce is a productive workforce, happiness probably has a knock-on effect on economic activity.
Even if there isn’t, happiness itself is something that all pursue and what all governments aspire to help its people achieve.
As such, I think that it does not matter whether one is 'professionally skilled and talented' or otherwise.
Any departure causes a country to ‘lose’ something, whether this be ‘economic capital’ losses or ‘social capital’ losses, or both.
Of course, one can question the size of these losses.
While any departure causes losses, is the loss from one segment 'more significant' than that from another?
Perhaps because of the primacy of economics, it is easy to be more concerned over the departure of the top-earners, which are often the ‘professionally skilled and talented’.
But I fear that in doing so, a country risks deepening the fault lines between its haves and have-nots and causing more losses all round.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:26 pm  

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