Archive for July 2006

Singapore’s Transport Market Distortions

28 July, 2006

The Capitalist Infidel has been watching as people around Singapore whine about transport price hikes again. This annual exercise has been carried out for years and nothing useful has come out of it. This is mainly because Singaporeans are barking up the wrong tree. The hikes come because the market is distorted, not because of the belligerence of the companies involved.

The Capitalist Infidel would like to remind the people of Singapore that private companies exist for the sake of making a profit. They have a duty to their shareholders to maximise profit. That means increasing prices and lowering costs. In free market, they should be allowed to set whatever prices they wish. The market then decides whether they are willing to pay for it or if they will look for substitutes. Therefore, what they are doing, as profit seeking companies is correct.

However, Singapore’s market for Transport has been warped by government demands for the purchase of a Certificate Of Entitlement(COE) for the ownership of private cars. Private cars are the only reasonable substitute available for the consumers. All other forms of motorised transportation, the only means of travelling to work by most commuters here are controlled by two companies, both of which serve different areas of Singapore.

The COE was first introduced to control the number of cars on the road to reduce congestion. But we now have electronic tolls in the form of Electronic Road Pricing (ERP). Therefore, we have a new tool to deal with congestion on the roads. With COE, whoever paid for it could drive as much as they wanted anywhere they wanted without incurring extra costs. With ERP, we can control the traffic by having people pay toll, so that they have incentives for using alternate roads and are in fact paying for any negative externalities they cost.

And of course if there was still congestion, prices could be raised or we could allow it to sort itself out. After all, there is only that much money people are willing to pay to sit in a traffic jam and people should be allowed to do so if they so choose. The unhindered buses on bus only lanes and trains in the Mass Rapid Tranist (MRT) system will only look more attractive to the people sitting in jams then.

The Capitalist Infidel supports the idea of public transportation because it reduces pollution and congestion but using COE not the way to go about it. COE does not discourage people from driving cars they already own. ERP does. And it is not the cars sitting in garages that cause problems, it is those on the road.

The Capitalist Infidel suggests that COE be scrapped and that the use of ERP be increased. This will let Singaporeans make better choices and no longer be price takers of public transport companies. It will allow Singaporeans a choice between having a car and paying to enter congested areas or taking public transport to avoid such charges and congestion.

Public Transport should still be subsidised, but in such a way that it helps them reduce costs and therefore prices so that they can attract customers. The way it should have been in the first place. Not what it is like now, when the prices of substitutes are increased which ends up in unfair prices from public transport companies, because they can.

This article is also posted on Honest Opinion


Racial What?

26 July, 2006

The Capitalist Infidel has been really tired of how Singapore keeps trying to force the concept of racial harmony down the throats of its people. The Capitalist Infidel is also tired of how brainwashed Singaporeans take such concepts in a textbook manner and repeat old war stories, which is the approach the administration here takes towards everything.

The administration here seems to think that they can brainwash everyone into their thinking and honestly speaking, they have good reason to. But racial harmony is not a set of rules you learn, or print behind every textbook to drill into the heads of schoolchildren. By forcing people into such matters, the administration could well be making things worse. And in any case, The Capitalist Infidel cannot accept such hypocritical practices.

All this is not because The Capitalist Infidel does not support the idea of different races living together but the fact that the direction of all this is wrong. Being a Liberal, The Capitalist Infidel firmly believes in embracing, or at least accepting differences between people. But forcing ideas into people is wrong and counterproductive.

Racial Harmony Day, an event in Singapore that is supposed to celebrate our differences is an excellent example of this. To be honest, The Capitalist Infidel does not really care about the race, religion or nationality of the people he interacts with every day and is effectively colour blind. There are many more people, Singaporeans included, just like that. Racial Harmony Day changes all that. It highlights the differences between us. It makes us remember that we are different. For what? The Capitalist Infidel feels that it is good enough we are all human. There is a reason we do not have Gender Harmony Day, such events point out differences that do not need to be pointed out and will end up polarising the different sides.

In any case, The Capitalist Infidel has reason to believe that the administration’s drive to achieve racial harmony is less than totally altruistic. The Capitalist Infidel has always been told about how we are surrounded by Muslim neighbours and are always in danger from their attacks. That doesn’t look like what say they want us to think. Add the well known fact that Singapore’s Armour (we don’t have tanks, just the miniature versions of it) divisions have no Muslims, and suddenly, a different picture emerges.

There is in fact a test case for whether Singapore truly believes that we should celebrate our differences and not doing it for more sinister reasons. The Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to bear arms, among other things, making them unable to serve in the armed forces, which all Singaporean menare forced to do. This has resulted in them being thrown in Detention Barracks, the military prison, all for their beliefs. It is not as if they could not be allowed to serve in the Civil Defence, the administration just seems to want to punish those whose views are different from it. The Racial Harmony drive is a sham!

And things like that do not happen just in the armed forces. After the September 11th attacks, Singapore started having people check the bags of people entering the Mass Rapid Transit(MRT), Singapore’s version of the subway. I was once approached by one of the guards who apologised while she was going through my bag, telling me that they had to check the bags of non-Malays sometimes so that the Malays will not get upset over it. While I appreciated the fact that people had their bags checked for security in times like that, I was appalled by such statements. I saw just how easy it was to walk right past them with a bomb(which really wasn’t hard anyway, the checks were random and few people got checked). Not just that. Racism could rear its ugly head so easily in Singapore, land of propaganda.

This shows how important it is to get the fundamentals right. We need to teach our children the importance and the significance of Liberty. That we need to accept each other’s differences and embrace the fact that we are all human. Liberty is what holds a country up in the end. Not propaganda.

Constructive Rogues

25 July, 2006

Scientific American has recently posted an article on How Rogue Captains Built The First Global Market. The article detailed how some captains of the ships ignored orders from England to trade in established markets and return straight to England and instead exploring new locations and trading there for their own profit.

Instead of hurting the companies that they represented, they, to quote Scientific American, “enabled the East India Company to completely dominate East Asian trade by 1760, they also paved the way for the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism by illicitly creating the first modern competitive market.” They were able to find alternatives to the established markets and receive goods at better prices and in fact enlarged the market and therefore allowed market forces, rather than cartels to control prices.

This is one of the best examples of how less control helps you gain more rather than less. It’s counter intuitive, it’s hard, but it works. In any case, even if you do not let go, people will find a way to get around your control. And you would most probably like the results.

Digital Rights Management

22 July, 2006

The Capitalist Infidel has been looking at what the record companies have been doing in their fight against piracy and is totally disgusted. The Capitalist Infidel has no idea how any industry can try to woo customers by abusing them. The Capitalist Infidel is not talking about their actions against innocent schoolchildren downloading songs off the internet. He is talking about Digital Rights Management(DRM). In fact, it is so bad that Consumerist actually has a whole section devoted to it.

For those of you who are too lazy to read the Wikipedia link, DRM basically makes it hard for you to copy and transfer song files around. This is supposed to make it hard for people to distribute songs online.

Of course things do not always go to plan. First and foremost, DRM is a passive defensive mechanism, meaning that hackers will be able to break it sooner or later. In fact, the Wikipedia article I linked to earlier links to software that removes DRM. The only people DRM restricts are the legitimate consumers who pay for the music and do not have the freedom to back it up or share with their (first degree) friends.

The consumers would have been lucky to get off that easily though. DRM also exposes your computer to hackers. Remember when people avoided pirated CDs because of the risk that some of them contained viruses that could damage your computer? Well the RIAA decided that they could not afford to fall behind their competition and decided to bring in the extras to you. RIAA needs a better marketing department.

And if you listen to your songs on an MP3 player, this article shows that DRM actually shortens battery life. Not that the record companies will be apologetic about this. They feel that transferring songs to your MP3 player does not constitute fair use of your digital rights. This of course makes the Capitalist Infidel wonder what companies like Sony, which, with BMG, produce CDs, expect you to put in their MP3 players, like the Sony Walkman.

The fact is, what the record companies are doing is ridiculous. They are abusing their legitimate customers who buy their CDs and potential customers, many of whom download songs or movies to test online before buying them. This is not how you keep your customers.

The Capitalist Infidel sees the of actions the record companies doing more harm to themselves than good. Sabotaging your own products is not the way to gain customers. Such actions will push customers to the pirates, who can provide them with DRM free music and in fact makes them feel that this is justified. After all, why pay more for an inferior product? And paying the evil record companies that introduced DRM just does not seem like the right thing to do.

Finally, most singers earn more from concerts than selling CDs and music sharing increases the number of fans, and therefore concert viewers. Music sharing will not hurt music development. In fact, with the market deciding what they like, it may be even better than record companies deciding what is best for the market.

Do They Know?

18 July, 2006

The Capitalist Infidel has been watching Der Untergang, a film about the downfall of Hitler.  The movie showed how Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, killed her six children and later herself during the final days of the Third Reich. In it she wrote a letter to her surviving son Harald Quandt, provided by Wikipedia, shown translated in italics,

“My beloved son! By now we have been in the Führerbunker for six days already – daddy, your six little siblings and I, for the sake of giving our national socialistic lives the only possible honorable end … You shall know that I stayed here against daddy’s will, and that even on last Sunday the Führer wanted to help me to get out. You know your mother – we have the same blood, for me there was no wavering. Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvelous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and national socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow, and a merciful God will understand me when I will give them the salvation … The children are wonderful … there never is a word of complaint nor crying. The impacts are shaking the bunker. The elder kids cover the younger ones, their presence is a blessing and they are making the Führer smile once in a while. May God help that I have the strength to perform the last and hardest. We only have one goal left: loyalty to the Führer even in death. Harald, my dear son – I want to give you what I learned in life: be loyal! Loyal to yourself, loyal to the people and loyal to your country … Be proud of us and try to keep us in dear memory …”

Magda Goebbels believed so strongly in National Socialism, which most of the civilised world now abhors, that she was willing to kill her children and herself rather than live in a world without it. An article published in Scientific American, The Political Brain, further strengthens this view. Confirmation bias has created rifts so wide that logical thinking is impaired. Maybe the ultra right wingers aren’t as evil as we thought. Misguided, but not necessarily evil.

Why Attractive People have Unattractive Partners

18 July, 2006

The Capitalist Infidel is not the first to notice how attractive people, male or female, tend to have unattractive partners. Of course, not many people have come up with convincing reasons for that. The Capitalist Infidel has decided to take a break from all the heavy articles and attempt to do what others have failed today.

The Capitalist Infidel would like to start off with something fresh. The Capitalist Infidel has found that most attractive people know exactly how many people want them, which, in The Capitalist Infidel’s case, is a heck lot. But I digress, the thing is, the ego of attractive people is tied to the knowledge, or at least the delusion that people want them. They feel power from being desired.  And they know that other attractive people get the same attention and feeling the same power.

Now, people in power rarely want to submit to anyone, even if it is someone with something that they want. In most cases, the attractiveness of both parties do not match. But with both of them being at the top of the pile, the weaker one knows that he can get someone else who is lower down the list and he can have power over. The power here of course stems from the fact that whoever can replace the other more easily can push the stakes higher in a game of emotional chicken. Therefore, with the abundance of choice and the knowledge and experience in the use of such power, few attractive people are willing to give it up just for a partner who might end up competing with them.

The ego also stands in the way of having the relationship started in the first place. Attractive people receive lots of romantic proposals, even for men, although it may be a little more subtle. Fact is, when you are faced with such a spread of choices and people who make you feel so sought after, you don’t want to risk your ego being broken by going someone who has not expressed explicit interest in you. It’s just not worth it.
Attractive people also know what is offered to them and their peers. A trip to the club usually ends up with a long list of suitors. They know the temptations facing their partners and the competition they will be facing. It’s not a pretty sight. They know that however attractive they are, someone else may hit a new button on the right night, and there will be a lot of punters pressing all the buttons they can possibly find. Those who have not experienced this will not be able to grasp the gravity of such situations. It would be great to find an attractive partner immune to this but it’s tough, and with the attention they are getting, they may not want to wait.

All this implies that the less attractive people do not really know what they are getting themselves into or feel that the chance of bumping their children up the genetic pool, if you’d pardon the pun, is worth the risk, which might make evolutionary sense.

Of course there is the good old fashioned idea that people go for personality and that someone you click with may not be on the same attractiveness scale as you. That does exist most of the time, and although The Capitalist Infidel suspects that the power play mentioned earlier might be a factor, he sincerely hopes that that is not the case. Maybe we are much more sophisticated in choosing our mates than we give ourselves credit for after all.

Are You Being Served?

13 July, 2006

The Capitalist Infidel has been reading and hearing about the awful standards of service in Singapore. Luckily for him, his own experiences with lousy service has been pretty limited so what he knows comes mainly from the complaints of others. The Capitalist Infidel feels, however that the quality of service you recieve is firmly within your control.

The most important point is to treat the staff with respect. Be nice. Smile. It sounds like it’s coming out of the customer service manual but remember that whoever is serving you experiences the same range of emotions as you do. Can you imagine being rude to a stranger who’s nice to you? Well, the staff in most shops certainly won’t do that, although many customers do. Just because you are paying doesn’t make them your serfs and remember, if you are in a restaurant, these are the people who will be handling your food.

Have you noticed how foreigners always seem to get better service in Singapore? The Capitalist Infidel has seen how some smiles turn into scowls as a Singaporean customer takes the place of a foreign one. The Capitalist Infidel suspects Singapore is the only country in the world where the citizens actually discriminate against the locals.

This could be due to the fact that Singaporeans have been rude customers since Singaporeans existed or the fact that there is a much higher chance of getting a tip from foreign customers. It doesn’t really matter, there is little we can do about that. If you wish to recieve decent service, do not speak in Singlish. No matter what your friends tell you about how it makes Singaporeans unique and gives them a sense of identity, it is impossible to get any respect with it, even with the punk behind the counter who tells all his friends how it makes Singaporeans unique and gives them a sense of identity.

And of course there is the ridiculous notion that compulsory tipping will help increase service standards. Yes it’s called the Service Charge it is one of the last examples of Communism in the world. Whoever thought of it had no idea what he was doing. The Capitalist Infidel certainly does not understand what possesed the sick and twisted mind of it’s creator. At least Communism was created with noble intentions. Service Charge is just plain stupid.

The name Service Charge implies that you are paying for service, However, this money does not go to whoever is serving you. It goes to the restaurant owner. It is also 10% of whatever food you ordered. The Capitalist Infidel has no idea how anyone decided on that figure.

It doesn’t really matter how many tables the waiter serves, he gets nothing more. It doesn’t matter how good his service is, he won’t get tipped because the customers are told not to, it’s covered in the service charge. The restaurant will take the fruits of his labour. How would you feel in his shoes? Would you feel like giving better service?
However hard he works, he gets nothing. Capitalism and in fact basic economics highlights the importance and power of incentives. That is what the economies of the Western world was based on. That is the power of incentives, the power of the hidden hand.

Of course customers on the recieving end of poor service often feel that the service charge was injustified. How can you be forced to pay for something you did not recieve, and at such an arbitrary price? How often have the restaurants hidden the true cost of food served behind the veil of Service charge?

Guess what, you can do something about it. If the service is bad, tell the restaurant you will not be paying the Service Charge. It’s tried and tested. The Capitalist Infidel did that with Szez at a restaurant on Mt. Faber. The service was horrible and the manager didn’t even dare talk to us.

So the next time you are expecting service, be nice, avoid Singlish and do not eat where you have arguments with the staff before your food is served. Also, feel free to demand that Service Charge be waived, but leave it as a tip for a nice waiter with good service.