In a recently published Straits Times op-ed titled Meritocracy and how to manage its downsides, veteran journalist Chua Mui Hoong reopened the evergreen debate on meritocracy in Singapore (Chua’s well-written piece quickly provoked a thoughtful response from NUS Professor Ben Leong).

Why is meritocracy such a big deal in Singapore? Local discussions of meritocracy are rooted in a unique context due to the heavy credit and emphasis the PAP government has historically placed on “merit” for guiding its public policy. There is no shortage of quotes and policy examples to showcase this, but for non-Singaporean readers, I will supply just…

Most conflicts and disagreements about politics and the world boil down to boring, technical differences in tedious methodological details, if you care to dig far enough.

The great economic ideas of the 20th century led to vastly different policy prescriptions for governments to manage the economy because it held at its root different methodological assumptions about how consumers and voters behaved in markets and politics. …

Today is apparently “Social Worker’s Day”, which explains why I’ve been seeing a lot of related memes, posts and articles, some snarky, some celebratory. From a public policy viewpoint, what is the right way to think about social workers and social work in general? The answer is: It depends.

The way mainstream politics thinks of social work can be categorised broadly into two perspectives.

1️⃣ The first is the common view, which celebrates the essential role that social workers in civil society play for assisting the poor, unprivileged and downtrodden. Social workers are seen as virtuous individuals for selflessly serving…

Many carbon tax advocates — such as the Workers Party economist Jamus Lim — tend to hedge their support for the tax hike on a conditional rebate (see here). It stems from the recognition that making energy more expensive will create some negative consequences such as higher consumer prices, job loss etc, so there is a need to compensate the ones whom are hurt by the tax via rebates, tax reductions, etc. We can all at least agree on that.

The problem is that cash rebates to the poor don’t easily compensate the long-term costs of carbon taxes. Carbon taxes…

Image from here

The most recent spat in Singapore’s media sphere involves local environmentalists and NGOs pushing back against the government’s decision to clear a 33-hectare forest for residential housing. As I write this, a viral petition appealing to the state to reverse its decision has garnered an impressive 37,802 signatories.

Students of Singapore’s environmental policy might find these circumstances familiar. In 1993, the very same environmentalist NGO Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) pushed back against the government’s plans to clear forestries in northern Singapore Senoko. That saga too, generated a petition that racked an impressive 25,000 signatories in a pre-Internet era.

The best book I’ve read in 2020 is without a doubt Huang Yasheng’s 2008 “Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics”. I credit Adam Martin for turning me on to it as an assigned paper in a Free Market Institute class that I had the privilege to attend in 2018 but never got around to reading the full book until my co-author Bryan Cheang reminded me of it recently. This is a book on the history of China’s post-communism economic growth. …

An image of a Singapore Armed Forces outfield training

I find much of Singapore’s public policy praiseworthy. I’ve written a book about it. But one big exception are its conscription policies, which is perhaps its most draconian yet rarely talked about.

Jailing people for doing drugs is deplorable. But conscription is far worse. At least with drugs, there is some element of free choice involved. You knew the laws, yet you did it anyway. You should’ve known better. Conscription on the other hand, does not avail you a choice. If activated for war, there is a very real risk of death or at best, permanent injury. …

At a recent Singapore Tech Forum, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong lauded LGBT individuals as “valued members of society”. PM Lee’s comments quickly drew the ire of the local LGBT community across social media (see Kyle Malinda-White’s commentary here) for an obvious reason: the Singapore government’s attitude towards gay and lesbian people has always been one of reluctance. At best, moderated acceptance. As reported in Bloomberg:

“These things shift, but we have to give them time,” Lee said during a question-and-answer session at the Singapore Tech Forum, where he used a keynote address to promote the country to the…


Local environmentalists have a tendency to go overboard in their accusations of the PAP government when it comes to the environment. The image being painted in the popular media of the government is that it has largely neglected environmental preservation at the expense of unbridled economic growth.

Yet, a cursory study of the history of Singapore’s environmental policy and you will find this narrative to be largely without basis. In truth, the government has long committed to environmental efforts since the city-state’s independence. And it has performed relatively well.

The general approach Singapore has taken can be summarised as such:

Football hooligans

Broadly speaking, Singapore’s politics is dominated by two distinct groups of political hooligans.

The PAP IB hooligans

The first are the pro-PAP hooligans, or what is sometimes referred as the “PAP Internet Brigade” in derogatory fashion. These guys believe in an abstract form of Singaporean “exceptionalism”, where the bedrock of this belief is Singapore’s rapid ascendancy along the road to riches from developing to developed status.

They tend to revere Lee Kuan Yew to the point of being a demigod, and gloss over the PAP’s early authoritarian tendencies as “necessary” with very little knowledge of the countries that have descended into dictatorships in the…

Donovan Choy

Classical liberal. I love the Wu-Tang Clan, Spaghetti Westerns and anything Aly & Fila.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store