How Politics and Finances Are Intertwined [Chills 47 with Walid from Teh Tarik Podcast]
You can listen more from Walid at his podcast here.
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Reggie: Hey coconuts. I know politics can be a little bit of a dirty idea for many. But the reality is, many of these things affects our lives. Trade policies, manpower policies, taxes, rebates, HDB, CPF, Medisave, all of these things are policies and they are all embedded within the idea of politics. As much as you want to believe that you’re an amazing player and you can swim in any field, the reality is if you don’t understand policies, you don’t understand what’s going on. It’s very hard for you to really play this game to another level. I’m not saying you gotta be a politician or an activist, but to be a little bit more politically aware and to understand what is going on, I believe will inch you to the next level.
So today we’re going to spend a little bit of effort as to what is going on, how do you look at these things, understand a little bit better and hopefully I’ll level you up to the next level.
Expand Full Transcript
Welcome to another Chills with TFC session. In this series, we hope to bring on interesting, relevant people to help us learn better from various perspectives. Life is not always about learning from people that you already agree with. Perspectives shape a rounder thinker. I’m Reggie, your chief financial coconut and today’s podcast is an extension of our Instagram live with a great friend previously. At the end, there’ll be extra questions, there’ll be a different flow format at the end. So all the questions that people are asking us through a live session. This guy today that’s coming on the show is someone that I think is probably one of the best professors out there.
He has a depth of knowledge, but he doesn’t bore you with jargons and try to make you feel like, oh my God, I don’t know this man. Like I’m so far away. So this guy, amazing dude, runs a great podcast. You should check out his podcast. He goes around interviewing a lot of politicians and he’s one of the biggest political voices out there in Singapore today.
Let me welcome you to Walid, professor at NTU’s Pol(Political) Science and of course the host of Teh Tarik with Walid. Today, I want to spend more time talking to you or having a discussion with you about why young adults should be more political or at least how most of us under-appreciating it, because I think the current narrative has made politics very dirty.
It makes people feel like, "yeah, you political then are you anti-nationalist" or what have you. Generally, I can tell even in our community, a lot of people just want to invest and make money and do their thing and they’ll be like, ah, let’s just leave politics to the big guys.
We shouldn’t be part of it. I’m having you onto really dispel this thing. So I want to hear your view. Why should we be political or should be more political?
Walid: Firstly, thanks for having me on. It’s a pleasure and honor, and I think that there is a saying that goes, "you may not care about politics, but politics damn sure cares about you."
Everything that we do or every single thing in our life is political. The price of bread is political. Inflation is related to what goes on in the political sphere. Political decisions made internationally and even locally. You cannot run away from that and can you really think of something that is not political?
Even marriage. Not my marriage, but the definition of marriage.
What should be married, whether it should be between a man and a woman or whether you should allow gay marriage. All of these are political decisions. There is nothing or very very few things that are free from politics. If you are a football fan now, you would know that the EPL(English Premier League) clubs have decided to take a knee for the upcoming season. That is a political decision, a political protest.
So even in sports where people generally think is not political. But sports has always actually been quite political. There is essentially nothing that is not in the political realm. Or directly or indirectly, everything is political. Where Lee Kuan Yew had this very famous line he mentioned in either 1987 or 1988 national day rally if I remember correctly. But he said something to this effect.
He said we would not have made the progress that we have made if we did not decide, we as in the PAP(People’s Action Party), did not decide where you live, how you live, where you speak, whether you can spit and so on. Basically down to the very, very fine details. All of these are political decisions. Now, if everything in our life is directly or indirectly associated with politics, it only makes sense for us to have some knowledge of the political. Being political, first of all, doesn’t mean being anti-Singapore. That’s nothing to do with it. You can be, there are some political people that are anti-Singapore, but most people are not. Being political also is different from being partisan. Being partisan means you support a party, whether it’s the PAP or the opposition or any of the opposition parties.
That’s not what I mean when I say we should be political. Being political means actively caring and thinking and taking the time to know about political developments. Because whether you like it, even where you live in and who your neighbor is, those are results of political decisions.
Reggie: Who your neighbour is.
Walid: Because of the ethnic integration policy, right? And it’s amazing if you really think about it, how politics permeates every single aspect of our lives. But there are many people, not some… how you started out this podcast. That’s one of the most important questions to us in Singapore.
Why is it that people are not political? Or they see being political as a dirty word? Mostly I think it’s because they associate being political with being partisan. Again, even if you were a partisan, I don’t think there’s anything wrong as long as you know why you’re doing that. But that’s not what I’m calling for. I’m saying we just should be more aware of political developments.
Reggie: Yes. And I think on our own, on my platform, on our platform, we talk a lot about investing. We talk about all this stuff and I honestly think I’m just teaching people or at least we are trying to educate people on how to swim.
But the reality is you can actually change the parameters of the pool.That is where politics come in. So can you… I don’t know if this would help our audience to understand, but I do think the origins of anything matters. Maybe you could help walk us through a little bit of how politics became so dirty. This vibe of oh why you’re so political.
Walid: I think there are a few factors here. One is how politics manifests itself in many other countries, not necessarily Singapore, but to a lesser extent yes, singapore as well, but in many other countries. Because ultimately, the primary manifestation, not the only manifestation, the primary manifestation of politics is the struggle for power and the struggle for elected office. In some countries, it results in assassination attempts. In some countries there are manufactured riots. In some countries, people are [indiscernible]. We can see this in our neighboring countries. People, party [indiscernible] and they buy elections and so on.
There are always negative connotations to this. Even in Singapore you see, for instance, people who entered the opposition. I’ve seen this before, somebody in front of my eyes saying, oh, I support that opposition politician and then within a couple of sentences, I say, oh, I don’t want to be pictured with that because my employers may not like it.
So it’s just in your mind. You’re self-censoring in your mind. But you have this impression partly unfairly because you’ve seen what has happened to opposition members in the past, even though that’s in the distant past. There’s still some memories, institutional memories probably.
That is how people come to this conclusion. But we must understand that even though I say the primary manifestation of politics is in the struggle for power, this is not the only manifestation. In every other aspect, including personal finance, political decisions affect how we can invest, where we can invest and so on.
Reggie: Fair. So then when we look at it from that light, how can we participate then? As an average individual. If I am sold to the idea that, okay, politics affect my personal finance and I should be a little bit more political, how can I participate if I don’t want to be an activist? Because I think a lot of people do associate as oh, you want to participate? Then, you either be an activist or you join the opposition because if you are with the main narrative already, you don’t really need to do much. You know what I’m saying?
Walid: First of all, the most important thing for me, the second I would say is voting. The most important thing is just keep up to date as much as possible with day to day developments.
Now I understand this is a lot to us for an average individual, average citizen, and it may not be possible for you to follow every single political development, but at least the major ones, that are covered in the newspapers. The major ones, we should keep up to speed with that. In the past couple of weeks, there has been a lot of discussion on race and then the concomitant institutions.
Like the GRC, the ethnic integration policy, whether these are relevant. We have seen in the past year, a very vibrant discussion on the minimum wage, such that the chairman of MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore) himself is going out and basically almost endorsing the idea to the extent that it has never been endorsed before.
That’s a financial thing. And because that would affect all other things, the tax rates and so on. At the very least, the first thing we must do is we must keep up to date with the major developments. That’s the first thing, the second thing, voting. Do not underestimate the power of the vote.
Because a lot of times, from my experience, I think Singaporeans do not understand the power of their vote. They think, oh, what’s the point, it’s only one vote. But if you add up all of those votes, it amounts to something. The third thing is just individual action on a daily basis or on a regular basis.
This includes writing to your MPs (Members of Parliament) about something. Writing to your MPs, doesn’t just have to be about constituency issues. Oh, the NTUC is far, there’s no ATM near my house. Those, you can write to your MP about that as well.
Reggie: My bus break down all the time.,.
Walid: I got a parking fine, which I just got last week.
I’m not going to write to my MP. You should not just be writing. You can write to your MP about that, but it can also be about national issues. A lot of times, there’s a defeatist mindset. What can I do? Chances are, probably your emails would not change things on national issues.
Chances are, if you email them, probably it won’t change anything. But if you don’t email them, you’ll definitely not change anything. I’ll take small probability over zero probability. Also, when you give them feedback and they see that this comes from a lot of people, then they think, oh, actually, this is something a lot of people think about.
But if you never tell them, even though there are many others who think like you, they would never know what to act on. Ultimately MPs, and there’s also a problem. I guess is Asians generally, we are very polite to senior people in authority, which is a good thing. Even my students, they are generally very polite and respectful.
The downside to that is probably that may inhibit them from disagreeing with me in class probably. Just out of respect for authority or something.
Reggie: Shout out to Megan.
Walid: Megan roasted me man.
Reggie: Anyway this is an insider joke.
Walid: Megan is excellent.
Reggie: For all of you listening who don’t know this joke, you should listen to Walid’s platform, Teh Tarik with Walid and then the joke will suffice.
Walid: Yeah. She’s good. I think we have that problem sometimes. I’ve seen this also again with my own eyes. There are many people who criticize their MPs but when their MPs come they never resist criticism because it’s uncomfortable. You don’t want to criticize a person.
Generally that’s human nature. So half the time, things you say online to a person you’d never say to that person in real life. The criticisms… because we want to be polite to people. If we don’t do that, if we don’t email and when they come, we don’t articulate our concerns about national issues or constituency issues, they would never know. Then who should you blame? If you don’t raise and they don’t know, who should you blame? So I would say, yes there’s a power imbalance, of course, but we do as much as possible in our power, in our hands. We have ultimately… and this is something I really wanted to emphasize, which is no dictator or no authoritarian, no matter how dictatorial or how authoritarian, so no political party, no politician, no matter how authoritarian or dictatorial is ever fully insulated from public pressure. It’s only to the extent.
In authoritarian countries, you are more insulated. In liberal democracies, you’re less insulated from public pressure. So they still have to respond to public pressure. Think about the worst of dictators or the most dictatorial, like the Mubarak regime in Egypt that time and single party countries. There is still a possibility of revolution if people are really really unhappy and it has happened before. By the way, Singapore is not a dictatorship, even though there are some people who describe it as that, that would be an unfair characterization. This podcast is not sponsored by the PAP okay. But in the name of intellectual honesty, we have to be honest and it’s not, it’s not a liberal democracy for sure. Anybody who says that is also not being honest. It’s somewhere in between, some people say it’s an illiberal democracy. Some people say it’s competitive authoritarian.
Whatever term you call it, the space is limited, but there’s still space. Elections are not really fair. We are not completely fair, but they are quite free and they are not fraudulent. That is the most important thing, which is why our work really matters. And not even that. Even marketing companies, they monitor public sentiments online. Do you really think our government and governments in the world do not monitor public. Of course they do. In fact it will be a dereliction of duty if they didn’t. That’s my point. My point is whatever you post also cumulatively it adds to something.
All of these actions or acts of activism where we may not call ourselves activists, but all of these are acts that we can do in our daily lives. I always feel that you can make a difficult point without being a difficult person. I don’t always live up to that adage. I didn’t always live up to it, but I think you can do that.
A lot of times you’re afraid. Okay. Sometimes…
Reggie: Okay, wait, wait.
I think the part about, you can always raise difficult points without being a difficult person. Recently I thought about it and I’m like, really? Do we want to hold a counterpoint to the main narrative to such a high standard.
Walid: No, we don’t have to.
Reggie: Yeah, exactly. The kind of social dissent or people are so angry about certain things and why can’t they just put an Instagram post and tag the ministry or all that kind of stuff rather than… It feels like if you are unhappy with certain things, I honestly think people are broadly happy with certain things and very unhappy with other things and it’s a different permutation for everyone. Whoever that really hates it probably already left. So everyone that’s still around like something and don’t like some stuff.
Reggie: But do we really need to, as an average individual be so informed that we put out a very good argument against it and so to be respected of our views,
Walid: No, so you’re right.
In theory, you shouldn’t be, and anybody can just… Sometimes it’s done purposely, sometimes unintentionally. People, oh the tone is not… I really don’t like that. The tone police, tone policing, go to the substance of what you say. However, why did I say that you can raise? Because you don’t want people to use that as a distraction.
For those who can articulate dissent or unhappiness in an elegant manner, they should do that as much as possible. At the same time, we shouldn’t dismiss those who are unable to do that by saying this person is rude or anything, because a lot of times that’s the distraction. Look at the substance.
Is there meat? In order to prevent our points from being used, not being used, being ignored on the basis of tone. So just for those who can, they should. I think your audience probably would be those who have a certain level of ability and probably can articulate things in a particular manner.
I wouldn’t expect this from my parents’ generation or what. My parents, my dad, he was always, from young, super political. Now, the concepts, he didn’t articulate them in concept, but he was smarter than I was, than I am and he was able to really understand.
Reggie: Really? He’s smarter than you are?
Walid: Oh for sure, a hundred percent. I have no doubt about that.
He wasn’t educated. He’s illiterate, but I think he’s’s much smarter than I am. He’s able to articulate and understand all those things. I wouldn’t expect somebody like him to be able. He’s illiterate, so he cannot write a post anyway. He passed on recently in February. But when he was alive, I wouldn’t expect him to be able to write that. I don’t have that expectation of him.
I probably have that expectation of you. Even then, if you’re angry on a bad day, I will never judge you for writing something inelegantly. As in, I wouldn’t dismiss the point completely. I’m just saying that the nature of people, especially people who have power, they tend to be more defensive. It’s just natural.
You are more defensive of what you have created. So in order for them to not… their defensiveness not to be triggered immediately. Let their defensiveness be triggered by the substance rather than by the tone.
Reggie: Okay. Fair. Which is why you are very supportive of some of the NMP (Nominated Member of Parliament) speeches, right?
We can talk about that later. I want to walk through some of the points that you’ve said and let’s start with point number three about individual action. You want to email your member of parliament, not for ticket fines, not for small little things, but, even on a bigger scale stuff, national stuff.
What are your thoughts on being a little bit more organized in this? Like organized tagging, or organized emails or organized open letters and trying to create viral content for the MPS to see? Essentially the whole idea of pooling together, rather than just individual stuff.
Walid: Definitely I think people in other countries have done it. I’m not against it for sure. I think it’s another legitimate tool. I even see many younger people do that. I’ve seen a couple of open letters where they give a template and then you can say… not a couple, maybe four or five, just in this past six, seven months alone.
And these are people my students’ age, 23, 24 ish. I do see that on the environment. I even saw one on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I think I saw one probably on the nurses and hijab. I think I’ve seen a few that younger people are doing this because obviously they recognize that this… and also, it’s much easier to have a template rather than for you to write. Sometimes the thing that makes people turned off is they want to do it, but they’re just too lazy. That could be a legitimate one as well. Although, you must also realize that if you get, as an MP, if you get a letter that is the same letter just signed by a hundred different names, a hundred emails you get. So by the same letter versus 60 or 70 letters, so slightly fewer, but all worded differently.
I think the letter probably would have more impact. The first one you’ll see oh this one maybe just people jumping on the bandwagon or the second one oh people are really passionate about it.
Reggie: Fair. I think these days, there are a lot of ways to go about whether is it tagging or petition.
I think online petition is becoming… in the past how the government wants to bulldose Dover forest, they can just do it. But petitions changed the narrative and all.
Walid: People must never be defeated and say, what’s the point of this. There is always a point.
Reggie: Great. I think for all of you listening, you definitely want to, if you’re passionate about certain things, you must engage it, engage in it.
There are a lot of low hanging fruits that you don’t need to be very sophisticated. Tag your MPs, tag your ministries, sign petitions and what have you. Those are good points. And about voting. So voting, free and fair elections, it’s that thing right?
Then you said that we are not free and fair.
Walid: We are quite free, but we are not really fair.
Reggie: I just want to put you in a spotlight. I think PJ Thum did a lot of questions, a lot of content in this also, and he put up his position of why he thinks that, this is not, like it’s not fair and what have you.
But some people will label him a little bit, on the far. I want to hear your perspective on that.
Walid: I did listen to his series and I think it’s a good series. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he said, and on this part, I think this is my disagreement with him. I do not think you can say that voting in Singapore, the voting results do not accurately depict public sentiment because I think they do. People say, oh, there’s a lot of barriers. Yes, and I also acknowledge that.
I acknowledge that, for instance, I think the redrawing of boundaries, that’s something that I don’t think should happen as often as it does. The size of the GRCs (Group Representation Constituencies) I’ve been on record saying that it should be reduced or maximum of two. I think there are some things that we can… We can have the electoral commission to be not under the prime minister’s office, to be independent.
So there are many things that we can do and these are the things that prevent me from saying that it’s a fair election, but it’s relatively free. There’s no… it’s very free I think. There’s no corruption, there’s no fraudulent, there’s very little money in politics. Our elections, even the opposition say it’s clean. Voting is secret, even though many people think it’s not, and that’s a myth that needs to be busted.
So everything, all of that make the results credible and if people are unhappy, they have voted against the PAP in the past. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot say, and this is if I had PJ on, I know PJ and I have respect for what he does, but doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything he says and if I had PJ here, I would tell him you cannot have it both ways. You cannot say 2020 or 2011 showed that the people wanted change. but then 2015 is not reflective of public sentiment. Or 1997 or 2001, you cannot say that, right? Because people have a choice.
Ultimately, no one puts a gun to their head. Now you can say, oh, they’re afraid of… whatever it is, being afraid of something is also like being afraid of losing a job for instance, that’s a legitimate concern. That’s a legitimate thing to consider when you are voting.
I think the results, the election results ultimately reflect the pulse of the nation, where they are at. And right now the pulse of the nation is where we want the PAP in charge, but we want a slightly reformed PAP. We want more checks and balances. Now, is it always going to be like that? No. The PAP is…
People always assume that the PAP support is on a downward trajectory. You cannot put it past them that if they rectify certain things, they can win more public support. But at the end of the day, I do not think the results are not valuable. I think they definitely reflect where we are at.
Reggie: For all of you that somehow don’t know, 2011, 2020 is when they lost one GRC each, and 2015 is when Lee Kuan Yew died.
Walid: Yeah. It’s one plus one.
Reggie: Yeah. So 2015 is when Lee Kuan Yew died and they won a lot of votes. I think that’s a little bit of context based on what Walid has put out.
Okay. Fair. I can broadly agree with your points that it reflects sentiments and people should take their vote seriously and they should take their vote in a… I think I definitely heard you say that you shouldn’t already have someone to vote in mind already. Your vote must always be fought for. The politicians must always fight for your vote. Can you walk us through your
thoughts about this?
Walid: I actually said this in episode two of Teh Tarik. Wow, you have really listened to…
Reggie: I really listen and I know you stand with Nicole Seah. I know all that. I’m a listener!
Walid: It’s true. I think the moment you pledge your vote to a party unconditionally, you become irrelevant. You become irrelevant because then what’s the point of the… why would the party go out of its way to listen to you? They know that they’ve gotten your vote. So I always say this, you can be fans of political parties and politicians, but you must never be sycophants of political parties and politicians and you must never be sycophants of anybody actually. You should, you can be fans, but you must always say that my vote is always up for grabs. I’m leaning here, but I am willing to be persuaded. Only then, your vote will be taken seriously.
Honestly, I’m telling you in Singapore, problem in my estimate. This estimate is based on the 2011 presidential elections because the presidential elections, if you remember, I’m sure you do, Reggie. There were four candidates, right? One Tony Tan and he represented PAP basically in the minds of the voters.
One was Tan Jee Say. He represented the opposition in the minds of the voters and Tan Cheng Bock represents, at that point in time, he’s somewhere… he’s not establishment, but not opposition also. So a middle-ground opposition or something like that. Tan Kin Lian, honestly, I don’t know where to put him in.
I don’t know how he got 5%, close to 5% other than he has many friends and family members. But let’s use the other three. The ones who voted for Tony Tan, we can safely say these are hardcore PAP fans, hardcore PAP supporters. The ones who voted for Tan Jee Say, we can safely say hardcore opposition supporters.
So if the sky is blue, it’s the PAP’s fault and also the other one, no matter what PAP [indiscernible]. Those people, I presume that the PAP is not too worried about that 25%, because no matter what they do, they can never get that 25%. It is this, the Tan Cheng Bock voter in 2011, that all parties are going for. That middle ground. The 33% that vote for the PAP, the PAP knows that they… They will still have to take care of them, but they really go after, all the parties go after this middle ground. So the moment we pledge support to a party unconditionally, I think that is not a wise thing to do.
So I would never say, oh, I will always vote for this person. I would never even say that about Nicole Seah.
Reggie: I just stand with her doesn’t mean I vote for her.
Walid: I will work for her under any circumstance. Because I think my relevance as an individual, one of the main things why I’m relevant is because of my vote. And if I feel like, if parties feel like they do not need to fight for my vote anymore, then there goes my relevance.
Reggie: Okay. Fair. What are your thoughts on money in politics? In the sense of not like big money in politics where you have… I think a lot of people talk about how we’re comparing with the US or the US is a very different system from where we are, but I do think that for individuals like myself and most of the people out there that has a little bit of extra cash… you’re not living, mouth to mouth or month to month.
You have more money, you can invest, you can do all these things. You are supporting charity. Why aren’t we putting money with NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) or putting money with thinktanks or putting money with even opposition parties and all that. What are your thoughts on putting your money where you believe, and then supporting all these causes and what have you?
Walid: Yeah, you can. There’s nothing stopping you.
For me personally, I always do not want any formal affiliation with any political parties. That’s just me, because I think I’m a political analyst. So the moment I’m associated with any political party formerly, then I think there goes my credibility. I think people will not take me seriously.
I don’t know how many people take me seriously now, but even less so. So I think I personally wouldn’t do that, but I think if you feel strongly, not just opposition, even the PAP, right? You can, yes. You can support them. You can buy stuff, whatever it is, you can talk to your MP and there are many programmes within the within the constituencies.
Both opposition and PAP wards where they help low-income for instance, and you can… You can and you should donate to those causes also. Because these are very targeted, and because these people have the resources to know, basically they’ll know where the low income are in their constituencies and they have certain programs.
You can ask your MPs how you can support them. But more so than money, Reggie, one of the most difficult things is to contribute time, and you know this as a working adult. If you are comfortable or slightly comfortable, it’s much easier to part with your money than with your time.
I think the ultimate test, if you can contribute, for a working adult… for an undergrad, the ultimate test is whether you can contribute money, but for a working adult the ultimate test is whether you can contribute time.
Reggie: But I would say people should not underestimate the power of the money. In a sense of, a lot of people tell me like, oh, you talk so much about it, why don’t you guys volunteer? I’m like, dude, I can record a piece of content and I will influence 10,000 people compared to, going and volunteering for an hour.
Walid: I think this is time. This is giving time for a political cause.
I’m not saying you go underground and do that. That’s one way of doing it, but I’m not… I consider my podcast series as a public service. I don’t get any money from it. In fact, I spent a little bit for Spotify and to pay someone who volunteered to do the poster. But I just paid her a nominal amount anyways.
I don’t get anything from it. I don’t even get like 1 million views or anything. For me, I just considered that as giving my time for a particular cause, which is to increase political awareness and you are doing the same as well. This is public service in a way. I think there are many ways that we can think about our time and of course, money as well, which I do not deny and there are many different… and again, go back to our earlier definition of being political.
There are many different NGOs that we can contribute to and we can consider those as political acts.
Reggie: So does that then mean that you… so that’s the touchy part, right? Does that mean that we support money in politics? I know it’s a bit blanket in that sense, or this must be very nuanced.
Walid: Yes. It has to be, everything has to be nuanced. Somebody once told me, the true mark of a scholar is nuance. But at the same time, we must learn, sometimes nuance is used as an excuse for people not to take stance. That’s irritating also. But it has to be nuanced.
Money in politics as we understand it in America, it’s very different because money in politics, you have lobby groups, you have people basically buying politicians. That doesn’t happen in Singapore, thankfully because we have regulations against it. We have limitations to how much we can spend and so on.
It’s quite an American problem. Of course, Malaysia has its own sets of problems with money in politics as well. That problem will solve itself based on the laws that parties are allowed to spend on certain… on elections, how much is it per voter. I don’t think we have to worry about that in Singapore.
Reggie: Okay. Fair. Cool stuff. For all of you listening, if you believe in a certain cause, you have something that you want to go for, do the action, support, put your money where you believe in. I think all those things are great causes and I think so far we have definitely established that small little things can go a long way and don’t just be on the sidelines and keep complaining and complaining. Do something, do something about it. Talking about keeping up with the facts, keeping up with the news, keeping up with the updates, I’m backtracking the three points that you’ve put up. How do we keep up? The reality is media is always biased, right?
There’s always a certain viewpoint, certain perspective, how content is being laid out, why is it cut here. Can you help us understand how do we consume political media in a savvy fashion?
Walid: I think for those who have the time… I’ll give a few different answers. For those who have the time, read from as many sources as possible. You’re going to read The Online Citizen for instance. Then you follow, you read Straits Times as well and then you balance it. Straits Times, Mothership, and then The Online Citizen. You shouldn’t just consume one of these. Some are more pro-establishment, some are more anti-establishment. Read from a varied amount of sources and then you’ll get… you have to make your conclusions nonetheless. There is no such thing as no bias. Everybody, you have a bias, I have a bias, it’s just about how we can overcome those biases to the extent possible. You can follow my podcast. That’s another way to…
Reggie: Not so shameless plug.
Walid: Not shameless at all!
There are people who do that. Do you know this guy Joel? Joel Lim. He has Instagram. He hasn’t been doing… he does Instagram live, hasn’t been doing episodes recently, but he does some good stuff as well. You mentioned just now, PJ, Thum has a series.
He has this…
Reggie: It’s quite a machine going on.
Walid: His one is professional.
Reggie: Pro level, not volunteer level.
Walid: You can listen to him. So you follow people from different… you follow Bertha Hanson, you follow the ministers, you follow the opposition, and then you read what they have to say as well. Ultimately, this is the difficult part. You cannot have a good understanding without putting in the work also.
And really, if we really think about it, it’s not even that much. It is work, but it’s not that much work. How many times, how much time do we spend mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram? How much time do we do that? And we play silly games on our phones. I have this particular game now on my phone that I am a bit addicted to, and it’s a silly, stupid game and I know that intellectually, but it still takes time. So if we can do all of that, why can’t we do things? Set aside maybe 10, 15, 20 minutes a day and just think about… to read stuff that would make us think about things that would matter to us.
Reggie: By reading all these things, it’s good to read broad and all that, but how do I then come to a position on things?
Because I think sometimes, it’s a problem with intellectuals or probably a lot of people in the thinking economy. You’re okay, yeah. I agree with this point, it’s a liberal problem. So yeah. Everybody has a point, so what’s my point? So where do I stand?
Walid: Yeah. I would always say, when people say, oh, there are no right or wrong answers, no, there are right and wrong answers.
Reggie: Based on your moral structure right?
Walid: Exactly. And also for some issues, maybe yes. It depends, the answer is more personal, but for some issues there are just facts, there are wrong answers. So we can never say that… we can never say, oh, there are no right or wrong answers. Again, you’re right that sometimes people are on our side or this is a cop out or because we don’t want to hurt feelings.
Yes, reading widely is the first step and ultimately, what I would say is my philosophy in life is always to take everything skeptically, in a skeptical manner. Whatever people say, you take it in a skeptical manner, especially if it comes from politicians. Unless I have established a personal relationship with a person, and I know your integrity and credibility 100%. This is for non-politicians. For politicians, it doesn’t matter whether they are white, blue, red, whatever it is. I will always behave in a very skeptical manner. My first instinct is to doubt. But I do not, I do not or I try as far as possible not to be cynical sometimes I feel. So I’ll be skeptical.
I am skeptical, but I wouldn’t be cynical where my first instinct is to disbelieve. My first instinct is to doubt, not disbelieve and the moment we become cynical, it’s a very… it’s more pernicious than we think because there’s a tendency to become hopeless. Or then we say, what is the point if we disbelieve everything. Oh, what’s the point of doing this? But if you are in doubt I think it keeps you on your toes if you’re doubtful. Keeps you on your toes and the thirst for seeking the truth is there. But then it needs to be acted on. Ultimately you have to come to a judgment call. So let’s take a hot button issue which would be relevant to your audience, the minimum wage. The arguments for and against, at least the basic arguments we must understand. The minimum wage is a market distortion. No getting around it. If you look at classical economics and most economists, especially in the past, would say that is market distortion.
You lose employment because people have less resources to employ people and so on. Firms have… and then the counterargument is, oh, but that’s in theory. In practice, it has been done in certain countries and it improved productivity and so on. Ultimately you have to listen to both sides or multiple sides sometimes and from independent people, not just from the political parties. Then you have to come to a conclusion based on your value system. What do you value the most? I’ll give you another example. There is a trade off sometimes between multi-racialism and meritocracy. Both are core principles in Singapore.
So the GRC, you cannot pretend as if there is no violation of meritocracy because it’s a quota and quotas by definition, there is a violation of meritocracy. Now, for those who are pro or against GRC, you have to admit that. Then the question is… because I think that’s factual. Then the question is what matters more? Ultimate meritocracy, where you get the very best, or you get very very good people, maybe not the best that you could get, very very good people enough, but you have racial representation because there is value. You have to come to that conclusion. Only you can come to it yourself based on your personal beliefs and values, but then you also need to think about why you believe this thing.
Why is this value important to you?
Reggie: I also want to add that it’s not mutually exclusive. You can have minority representation that is also very, very high quality. It’s not a given.
Walid: Oh no, no, it’s not. It’s not, I’m just saying that by definition quotas… the fact that you had to have quotas already tells us something. Because if what you said is true, then you don’t need quotas and you’ll get the minorities there anyway. At the very least, we have to admit that quotas would… there is a possibility of merit being compromised.
There’s a strong possibility at the very least we have to admit. Of course, you’ll get the odd Tharman here and there, who’s head and shoulders above everybody else. You’ll get SM (Senior Minister) Tharman here and there and I’m not even saying the people, the minorities in our GRCs are bad. I’m not saying that. They are very good.
Most of our candidates are really good. They are top-notch. I’m just saying that when you have quotas, that is a possibility and people who are for the GRCs like myself, have to admit that this is a drawback. There is no perfection this side of heaven.
Reggie: Is there even heaven? That’s a whole different discussion.
Walid: There’s no perfection this side of heaven, right? Every public policy will have its flaws. The question is whether the benefits overcome the costs and the benefits and the costs, how you assign the benefits and costs are based on your individual values.
Reggie: Fair. I also want to say that I’m not the biggest fan of meritocracy as an idea.
But we can elaborate that another time, in another podcast. It is a fundamentally slavery concept where there are elites and there are everyone else that are building a system and deciding what is merit.
Walid: Wow! I see the socialist in you!
Reggie: Putting out my position, I’m not against the investing in the people and finding the best talent to rule the country. It’s very aristocratic.
It’s fine, I think that’s beautiful. But to run the whole country on a merit idea where a bunch of people decide what is good and what is not, this is a whole different discussion another time. Slight banter for that, but I want to talk a little bit about political interests because like what you pointed out, a lot of our politicians are top-notch and I do agree.
I think they have… educationally, they are very good. In fact, I think they are too good. They don’t really represent everybody on the ground. That’s a different discussion another time, but they are very good. They know what they’re doing. They’re very smart and I don’t think that they are corrupt or what have you.
But I do think that a lot of average Singaporeans don’t recognize their political interests as a politician. Can you help us understand a little bit? We shouldn’t be blindsided by this. Politicians, they are not technocrats, they are not people that are just doing the job, but they actually have political interests. How do I understand that?
Walid: Absolutely. This is the other thing about about us, right? Why do we, why have we… and partly it’s the PAP’s fault for politicians in general saying, oh, okay…. first of all just to sidetrack, I’ve never ever met a politician who says I’ve always wanted to be a politician.
If I ever meet somebody like that, I would respect that person so much. Politics is not something you stumble into that you suddenly [indiscernible]. Every politician I’ve met that I’ve talked to, oh, this is by accident. Don’t give me this false humility."It’s just by accident." You don’t accidentally become a politician, right?
You must want it to some extent. You were convinced maybe. You were initially reluctant, but you still wanted it. Because nobody can force you ultimately. You still want it. Now, what’s my point? My point is, in any other institution or job, you would admit that every person has their own personal interest and then they have their institutional interests. I think politicians, not only they do have interests, I don’t know why we think politicians always do not have individual interests, because they do, and they should have individual interests. Politicians should want to be re-elected. That’s their ultimate individual interest and there’s elite interests, there’s politician interest, there’s mass interests. The challenge for us is to ensure that elite interests and mass interests intersect as much as possible. One of the ways to ensure that is through elections and to make elections as free and as fair as possible.
When people say, oh, they’re just doing this to be re-elected, good! I want them to do this to be re-elected. That personal interest serves the public interest in the long run. If they don’t care about re-election, what’s stopping them from doing anything? So they do have personal interests and this is the other thing.
People should not pretend as if they do not have. Both politicians should not pretend that and the public also should not expect them not to have personal interests. It doesn’t make sense. If they don’t have personal interests, they will be doing this for free and I don’t want them to do it for free.
I don’t expect them to do it for free. I wouldn’t do it for free. I wouldn’t have that unnecessary burden or expectation, but partly it’s because they have portrayed themselves as such. That’s why the public has that expectation of…
Reggie: Everybody comes from a humble background.
Walid: Humble.. I’m humble, this person is humble.
Reggie: At first, first two politicians, oh yeah quite cool they’re recruiting from different places after that become everybody humble.
Walid: People see through this. People, they desire authenticity. You can never know a hundred percent whether a person is authentic. But we make judgment calls. We make judgment calls on a daily basis, whether a person is authentic. So people do make judgment calls about whether a politician is authentic and sometimes it’s just so obvious that they’re not.
Reggie: Fair. So totally get that. In the light of what we are trying to do, where there are all these things from like GST hike, minimum wage discussion, or even the whole like MOM (Ministry of Manpower) different laws and [indiscernible] everything. Everything links back to personal finance and it’s very important. I think we’ve established so far that this exists and this is important. So for people that are listening, other than doing the lower hanging fruit, tagging your ministry, donating money, going for NGOs, are there things that are a little bit more effective or can ignite bigger change? Like maybe getting the NMP to table a motion, or some of these kinds of stuff that is unique to our institution? Because we don’t want to just compare to other institutions and say, oh, they are better, but no, we are not here to critique the political institution, but we’re talking about how to maneuver. Are there more strategic methods that average individuals like ourselves can do?
Walid: As you know, Reggie, I am quite a fan of the NMP
I think NMPs are uniquely positioned to do something. Even though it’s an undemocratic institution, I think it can actually bolster democracy.
Reggie: It’s a political innovation. I know.
Walid: It is, yes. I think doing it through the NMPs is an extremely important one. However, I want to go back to a larger point first before I zoom back in.
There is a saying that goes that power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and never will. If there’s no demand, there’s not going to be supply. So if you go to an NMP, you go to an NMP by yourself, then the NMP says, "okay, if this is one person’s interest, why should I bring it up?" The NMP may still bring it up because the NMP is not bounded by re-election. But the people who are trying to change the law, the other elected MPs, they are thinking how many people actually think it.
So if there is no demand, there will not be supply. There must be enough demand. That’s why like-minded people… first of all, I think social media has changed the game because it shows that there are other people who think this and then I contact them and let’s see whether we can write to the NMPs. We can even go down to the MPS (Meeth-The-People Sessions) for those who have the bandwidth for that. You can do more than just tagging them on, even though the tagging part if enough people do it, is important. As in it can be quite effective.
But the concept that we must understand is there must be demand. We cannot just expect there to be change without people asking for it. You don’t expect kindness. Kindness has to be extracted and you cannot blame them. If you do not demand, how would they know that actually there is appetite for this?
Then if there’s demand and then they don’t change that is a separate matter. But at the very least you must demand for it and I think you can go to the NMPS. But before that, I think you must understand that, or you must know that, oh, there is a sizable amount or enough people for this to become a political issue.
That’s one way of thinking about it. The other way, if you think this issue is important, but it’s not, people do not think it’s important and then you do even more heavy lifting. The first one is easy. That issue is important and you think other people and you know other people think it’s important.
You go to the NMP or you go to your own MP and you ask them to talk about it in parliament or in whatever way. The other way is only you think it’s important, but most people do not. But you do some heavy lifting. Okay. Then I’ll write about it. I’ll talk about it. I’ll try to change hearts and minds and I’ll try to make people think this is important and see my point of view. Now that’s a higher level because it takes much more sacrifice and time and effort. But people have done it. People have done it, have tried to convince others and one of the ways… books, academic books rarely change people’s minds. Because nobody reads books.
Reggie: Maybe Teo You Yenn’s book.
Walid: That’s the example I wanted to say. That book has changed the landscape in Singapore. Politicians had to react to it and people have started becoming aware of it. Now everybody talks about inequality. Four years ago, it wasn’t really.
Other people did talk about it individually, but very rarely you saw this type of national discourse until the government also had to react to it. So that’s an example of a person saying, okay, this is important enough, I’m going to go out of my way to do that. Now, books, podcasts, you have an even wider platform, then You Yenn had.
You can potentially affect more minds and change more hearts and minds.
Reggie: Yeah. So please tell Teo You Yenn to come to our platform. I emailed her, she said no. She said, no! I’m very disappointed. I’ve read the book end to end. I told a lot of people about the book, and one of our core beliefs is we want to help the community recognize that there are a lot of social policies that can be changed so that we can change the game.
Walid: I am also a fan boy of You Yenn. You asked me to choose between You Yenn and Nicole Seah ,it’s very difficult, I think You Yenn edges it slightly. In her defense, she has a lot of invitations, even my show. I want to have her on just by herself. I had her on with Cherian, Donald before. So she’s still thinking. I think she still needs some time to…
Reggie: Yes. But you should tag her for us. Yes, great, good stuff. I think we have done a lot of discussion today all the way from why you should be political, the local landscape, what you can do from voting, keeping up with the news, doing individual actions, all the way to even tethering on the grounds of activism and joining, different initiatives and all that.
I think we have went through a lot that I think our listeners and average Singaporeans can actually do something about it. Do you have any last things you want to add on this note?
Walid: All right. So what I wanted to say is sometimes hope is the only thing that a human being has.
You lose hope, you lose everything, you lose the impetus for change. We do not just have to take down. My philosophy is those who are privileged like you and I, privileged to some extent, we must always do more for other people. And to do more, invariably, you have to be a bit more political. Now, even if you don’t think that, just out of self-preservation., just out of personal selfish interests, it’s still useful to be more political. Not less political. Not partisan, more political. We must always strive to be more political, more politically aware, more politically astute, more politically critical and more politically involved in the various ways I’ve mentioned.
I know some people, they do not want to volunteer with a party like myself, and that’s perfectly fine as well. There are many other ways to be political and do not belittle your own efforts. You will always get people who say, oh, what’s the point. What’s the point of doing this? We should ignore those kinds of criticisms, but of course you must also be wary of cheerleaders who, oh, you’re doing this great.
So we must always just bring ourselves down. We’re not that great. You must always find that balance.
Reggie: That’s good. Appreciate your time. I think that’s awesome. We will end here for the podcast and so it’s amazing. I love it.
Walid: Thanks for having me on.
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Someone asks, what are your thoughts on reserve presidency?
Walid: Yeah, I’m not a fan. So I’m a fan of the GRC because I think there is value in having a minority MPs. But going back to what I said earlier, there is a cost.
The cost, and there are multiple costs. One is there may be a compromise on merit, although that is not too big of a cost because we do have good candidates. The other cost is there may be a credibility problem with the minority MPs. They may see this minority MP, oh you’re piggybacking on the Chinese candidate.
So there is a cost to the credibility of candidates, but I think overall it’s worth it now for the reserve presidency. There is that cost, that credibility and there is no significant benefit. We do not need a minority president. If a minority wins, a minority wins, but even if there is no minority president, we don’t lose anything because it’s a ceremonial position.
So I am not a fan of the reserve presidency.
Reggie: But it also cost the PAP some votes.
Walid: I think so and I think it also, unfortunately I think cost president Halimah, some credibility.
Reggie: Oh, not some, I think a lot.
I know, I hear from my friends that she is very popular in her area and she’s done a lot.
Walid: Not just [indiscernible] Popular, in NTUC, she was consistently one of the highest, if not the highest voted member and she was very popular. And now, to what end. As in, if she had just contested in an open election and if she had won, she would be so much more credible. So I think it’s, unfortunately it was a disservice to her as well.
So I’m not a fan of the results.
Reggie: She’s a sacrifice, a little sad, but yes. I also want to ask a little bit about being opportunistic. I think there’s a little bit discussion here and there about being opportunistic. In my view, I’m pretty supportive of being opportunistic in a sense of it’s very hard to drive media narratives.
It’s very hard to drive attention, especially in a time when attention is being fought by all these things. So if something happens and you actually share the cause, the belief, of this particular thing, what’s wrong with being opportunistic of this situation to rally and talk about it and bring it into the realms of the public?
Walid: Are you talking about the Sarah incident or? So Sarah was labelled as an opportunist by few people. Or at least they hinted at it. Although I’m not talking about NMP Joshua because he clarified his stance. So not him, but other people have made an accusation about Sarah.
And what I would say is, first of all, people living in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones. Politicians are the last people who should be calling others opportunistic. When there’s a Singaporean sportsman, sportswoman who win, suddenly they post about that. What’s that? That’s opportunitism!.
Politicians are the last people who should be talking about others being opportunistic. Secondly, being opportunistic to what end? If you, as you said, if you are opportunistic because there’s a media wave and you are riding on it in order to educate the public, be opportunistic.
If you are doing that to make yourself richer, even personally, if you are not a politician, nothing wrong with that. Yeah. But if you are people in power and you are being opportunistic to enrich yourself instead of the institution then that’s a problem. The term itself doesn’t mean much, it’s used as a red herring.
It’s used as a slur in some way. Because it was used to de-legitimize what Sarah was doing. When, even from my personal conversation with her, even from that live, I never felt that. I felt that she is probably part of what you can consider the woke crowd. I’m not from there, but I can see that five minutes into the conversation, I can see where she’s coming from already. That kind of language. It’s unfortunate that when I saw that, what I saw was somebody who’s genuine. I largely agree with her, I do not entirely agree, but I didn’t doubt her intentions. It’s unfortunate that when somebody saw that and saw oh this is an opportunity, what’s her agenda?
Is she joining the opposition? If we start restricting criticism, we start saying that somebody who criticizes because they want… only because they want to join the opposition, then you are really not creating a society that you say you are, which is a healthy society. We have room for disagreements and different voices.
Reggie: Fair. I agree with that. I sound very agreeable with you. I think we’re quite aligned on this. But I also want to ask about certain, exactly like what you say, the politicians, they pick on the very low hanging fruit. You lose Olympics, okay, I can stand with you. You win I also can stand with you.
This is political opportunitist, right? Take whatever position the public is taking, this is easy. There is an endless discussion about politicians taking easy positions to build their political resource and a political affinity. But it seems like in our political landscape, our politicians are not taking the harder positions.
Things like racism. Recently it’s becoming more and more of a discussion and also things like LGBT. I think within our community it’s quite stupid. We had to do episodes talking about how the LGBT community can use the public housing scheme. I’m like public housing, isn’t it for everybody? But there’s a certain social community that is being priced out because they cannot get married and dah, dah, what have you. What is your take on this? Where politicians are taking the easy stuff, they’re not doing the touchy stuff.
Is it political suicide and all that kind of stuff.
Walid: I will say there’s variation. Sometimes they do take the difficult decisions. The reserve presidency was deeply unpopular. Of course. Is that really that difficult?
Reggie: Is it important?
Walid: Exactly. So there are some times where they make the difficult decisions and initially, when the government was saying, we are going to move to an endemic, I thought that was really courageous, but then they reverted back to the no dining. That’s a separate matter.
But I felt that if they had followed through with the endemic, they would have really shown really courage in a difficult situation. Because people are.. It’s very easy for privileged people to say, oh, let’s have lockdown. Yeah, but a lot of people will suffer.
Reggie: They got a 10,000 square foot house.
Walid: And then no dining in, you know how much it hurts? It hurts the hawkers and the FNB, the Grab drivers, it’s crazy. So I felt if they had done that, then that would have been a truly difficult decision. Section 377A, even the opposition doesn’t take it on. And there is a reason why. That reason is it’s a mistake to think that the PAP is conservative on this.
They are conservative on other matters. But on this, the PAP is not conservative. On this, the PAP is electoral. It’s just that the sense is now it’s even stevens. It seems like both the liberals and conservatives, maybe 60-40, or 65-35. It’s not worth it to take a strong stance in favor of one group from their perspective electorally.
But I can tell you, I am quite confident, the moment the pendulum shifts decisively in favor of the liberals, that’s where the parties will move as well.
Reggie: This is the whole median voter theory kind of thing.
Walid: This one is just electoral. I call this electoral secularism. It’s this particular issue.
So it’s not a strong stance at all. Has the PAP taken difficult decisions? Of course they have. There are difficult decisions that have… the CPF is. If you know, people are complaining about it especially, if I think maybe we are around the same age and our elderly parents, the strictness about the Medisave for instance.
That one is the elderly. A lot of them are really unhappy with that. So there are difficult decisions that they have made as well. I don’t want to say that they do not do that at all. So there’s variation. I think section 377A is the particular one where you can see that they are being electoral about both parties.
And in fact, the others, if you remember even the (Singapore Democatic Party) SDP, which is the most left on this, when Dr. Vijaysingha came out openly, mysteriously after that he left the party. I mean, he wasn’t sacked or anything. But for me, it does seem like it’s related to that. Ultimately, and this is the dilemma for them, which is why sometimes we cannot expect politicians sometimes to be the moral leaders, because ultimately they have to bend the electoral.
Ultimately they have to do that. So it is up to civil society to push what you think is the most moral. So we cannot expect them to be the model leaders all the time.
Reggie: I think the doing content, doing rallies, doing all the stuff that people are doing, I think it’s a call to every individual to be more active in society and take your position and push out things to swing the narrative.
Walid: And also section 377A, it’s not an OB marker. It’s not race, it’s not race where it’s much more touchy. Even then, it’s beginning to open up, the space on race. But section 377A and LGBT issues, there’s a lot of space. There’s a lot of space to be for and against.
So that’s something, even those who are passionate about it, go and champion that. I think going back to the NMPs, I think NMPs are uniquely positioned actually to propose the repeal of section 377A.
Reggie: I think someone tried.
Walid: 2007. I think the mood in 2021 is completely different from 2007, but that person has definitely kickstarted… you’re talking about Siew Kum Hong, right? Definitely he has started this whole… gay, activism has taken on a completely, he has to take a lot of credit for them.
Reggie: Yes. For sure. Good stuff. And I feel very proud that I know a lot of these things. I’m very updated.
We must care about society and all that jazz and exactly like what you said, I think Lawrence Wong recently came out to say that, we have to win votes and that is that is a very clear stance. In the past, it always seems like it’s very technocratic and they are just doing the best that they can, but fundamentally things are changing.
And I think all those stuff are great. So thanks for coming. Thanks for spending time. We need to have Teh Tarik together, for sure. After the lockdown is lifted, but for everyone that is still listening and for everyone that will be listening, definitely check out Walid’s podcast, Teh Tarik with Walid. Take care, guys.
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