It’s that time of the year, and Singapore’s Budget 2021 was duly delivered yesterday 16 Feb 2021. I’ve been getting myself better acquainted with economics and law recently. Those are two disciplines I’ve never been intimate with, having focused on warfighting for much of my natural life. That’s a big regret for me, but it’s never too late to start, as they say, and I’ve never had a retirement mindset, so diving in has been very refreshing for me.
The thing that came to my mind was that if you tax something, you get less of it and if you subsidize something, you get more of it. That sounds obvious until you look around and understand that it’s more obvious than you realize. For one thing, if a nation needs more and more taxes on more and more stuff, that is akin to a military unit having more and more of its personnel being formally disciplined, including courts-martial. It’s an indication of poor leadership. The answer, of course, is NOT to increase the number of “offences” being dealt with administratively, or by what is known as “informal discipline”. The answer is to demonstrate what you mean and dish out punishments and rewards as you have laid out. More than that, it’s being a living, breathing example of what your people admire and want to become themselves. Hopefully, a goodly number of them will. If not, at least one. From the Channel News Asia website, part of the Budget states that, “Singapore will extend GST to imported low-value goods with effect from Jan 1, 2023.” Tariffs again? What raised my eyebrows was the following reason why: “This will help to ensure a level playing field for local businesses to compete with overseas counterparts, especially as e-commerce sales grow, said Mr Heng (Finance Minister).” Businesses rise and fall, just like nations. They don’t last forever, and every generation has to have people to rise up and serve their own generation or the nation will die out. Businesses which succeed will not succeed all the time, and businesses which fail need not stay dead if the respective people who started those businesses decide not to die, business-wise. Perhaps we need to re-examine our tax structures. Including hidden taxes. We do so, of course, and perhaps we need to continue to do so more rigorously.
Subsidizing something gets you more of that behaviour, which is a manifestation of mindset. Several years ago, I said, to anyone who would listen, that government subsidies tend to breed a dependency mindset in our people. I am not saying that government should not give financial aid when it is due, but that perhaps this could be done with more private sector participation. Civil servants all over the world have proven over and over that they have little incentive to go beyond checking their tick-boxes of to-do items in order to please their Appraising Officers or equivalent, and my countrymen are no exception. “Jobs support” by way of training programmes will do very little to upgrade mindsets and ensure nimbleness of posture in our people. Skills can be learnt relatively easily. Doing a set of very simple things and doing them well over and over again, in concert with teams and higher level organizations, will enable us to succeed in any endeavour. Relearning and absorbing new ways of doing things to achieve higher orders of effectiveness, including efficiency (those two are NOT the same!), are a function of good character. Yes, there is such a thing as the separation of character and competence, but give me character anytime over competence. The one with good character will tend to gain the competence, and the one with competence can do but will not necessarily do what he can. So, as the Budget dishes out subsidies, we need to put them to good use and not simply indulge ourselves in our fantasies which will pop when the money runs out.
It’s a great Budget. Stop complaining and put it to good use.