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The Cost of Living in a Scaredy Cat Society – Quality vs Quantity

Posted by intellisg on June 9, 2007

I AM not a big fan of fear, for one it stops me dead on my tracks, my heart rate goes up, my stomach curls up into a tennis ball and my tongue turns all hairy crabby. We all know that stomach churning feeling only too well. Don’t we?

That’s the reason why so many of us plan and design our lives to keep fear in check. We pay our taxes on time to avoid fines. We regularly sign up for health checks, just in case our helix goes bonkers. We circle the parking lot at least 3 times to seek out those pesky coupon aunties. But it doesn’t really go away does it? FEAR.

Even in the seemingly safety of our hermetically sealed imaginary secret garden, FEAR, the serpent lurks reminding us all, how open and vulnerable we are: we should worry about our health the bird flu pandemic it’s just around the corner. We should mull no end about our jobs, its being hacked away incessantly by out sourcers. The economy is growing, but most of the new jobs generated are low paying and/or part-time offering few, if any, benefits. Even blogging these days is under siege! I am of course referring to the recent threat that is currently facing from a time share company that has suddenly decided to take an interest in what’s regularly posted in blogosphere.

What’s the cost of living in FEAR?

It may sound trite but “Fear is your friend!”, survivalist often say. Well anyone who says that has either never found himself in a cage with a hungry lion or is so naïve, they probably have never been chased by an out of control Volkswagen Toureg driven by a pint sized auntie wearing bi-focals. Go ahead be my guest, try not to ride on the pavement – see how lean and flat you will end up – I dare you! Or has fear got the better of you?

Our growing sense of fear is pithy summary of our age. Its enough for me to ask: how did we end up like that? Are we worrying unnecessarily? Well if we were to peruse the economic indicators, we have never had it so good before. For one we are richer, safer and healthier than ever before. By any sensible, rational yardstick, we should be luxuriating in our extraordinary fortune. Yet there is just enough residue of fear lurking around the corner isn’t there?

What lies at the root of this mania and paranoia? There are a number of possible explanations. The first is undoubted due to the changing face of the business environment in Singapore and around the world. Fear is endemic these days in the vast majority of the developed countries where things are not as clear cut as they once was. The age of boom & bust and witnessing our hopes turning into mud or our watching helplessly as our stock portfolio melts away has had a sobering toll on our sense and sensibilities. Gone are the days when we expect past performance to be an indication of future expectations! For one we are less trusting of organizations and even less faith these days, is placed on leaders. After all most of us know those levers to power are connected to nothing. Not even if they regularly tell us they are the best that money can buy. It just doesn’t cut it these days. Most of us have lived through the debacle of Enron, Arthur Anderson, NKF and Shin Corp, know only too well, the valence between the best people, best decisions do not necessarily lead to best performance. It’s at best an illusion that has everything to do with our imagination rather than reality.

The other reason that has scoured much of our confidence is job insecurity. Despite the good times, we have all seen it before – hordes of people who have to down size or retune their lifestyles because they can no longer command the salaries they used too. Its tough these days in the age of globalization to feel really secure and assured, none of the macro-economic arguments cut much ice with the people thrown out of work. They never have and never will – people don’t want to believe they have an expiry date to their usefulness and no amount of retraining or re-education is going to augment that limitation. Those who are at the point in time dislocated by the forces of competition have a right to feel life in modernity is nothing less than destructive and feral and though much of the job of policy of makers is to explain, they simply need to buy into the idea of going one step further to understand much of the fear that exist today can only be relieved by making the losses bearable.

This naturally throws out the question: what needs to be done to effectively dismantle the climate of fear? What steps are required towards re-engineering systems and processes which can either augment or serve to mitigate the losses of globalization to make the losses more bearable?

Many things can be done, but let me just focus on one area that needs to be seriously considered as a matter of strategic importance. It may not address the entirety of the whole, but it serves to highlight one modus that will be effective towards deconstructing fear. One area that can be improved is by seriously re-examining the whole issue of job quality rather focusing on quantity. So far too much emphasize has been placed on the former and the results are tragic. It means we typically produce Frankestein results like having Uncles and Aunties who are in their golden years working as battery chickens in the golden arches. I don’t know about you, but that to me is just seems really dumb! Policy makers regularly extol the number of jobs that will be generated by this or that investment, but if you really take the trouble to notice, none of them regularly give much regard to the considering either the quality or whether there is a match between skills and capabilities. This in my view is symptomatic of a larger problem: poor management of human resources?

Consider this: would a senior citizen fair better working as a receptionist in a library compared to a 23 year old? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out someone didn’t do their job very well when it comes to scoping and assigning job roles or maximizing opportunities for the emerging class of older workers.

In this instance, the omission can be expressed in the following terms: no one has bothered to examine whether older workers are better suited to jobs that can leverage on their life skills? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the public sector conduct an independent study to determine the practicality of delineating certain categories of jobs to seniors and the displaced to soften the reality of global competition? Or to re-scope existing jobs to take into account of the growing trend of part-time workers as the population ages? – it doesn’t take a person with an IQ of 170 to realize this should be seriously considered as a matter of strategic priority if the demographic time bomb is to be effectively defused. Instead of leaving the hiring process to the hit and miss realm of the free market – that of course means someone would really have to earn their salary for a change instead of taking out their wind out monkey to produces that tried and tested swan gurgling tune, “we should leave it to the free market to decide. We cannot interfere with market forces.” You don’t need to think laterally to realize, that sort of logic has as much currency as sipping polonium to improve your complexion. That would only make sense if the free market can do a good job of regulating itself ethically or it operates without the regard with maximizing resources. It’s nothing short of seconding the appointment of count Dracula as the CEO of the national blood reserves -which only guarantees deficits no matter how you cut it!

Perhaps if policy makers paid closer attention details to these factors and stopped ranting only about numbers and statistics and really get their hands dirty by scraping the next level of quality instead of quantity – that would allay much of fear that continues to persist these days. As I mentioned this is only one illustration of how the matrix of fear in our age can be effectively de-constructed. This is not exhaustive model, but it serves to highlight how with a bit of ingenuity, imagination and commitment it is possible for policy makers to take a pro-actively role to improve not only the economic standard living of most Singaporean, but also to provision a means to address their deep seated fears.

Policy makers need to appreciate the cost of living in fear is huge. Some thing deep inside us dies whenever we succumb to fear real or imagined. Our children don’t dare to dream beyond the narrow path of the tried and tested yellow bricked road for fear only falling off the edge, and so are incarcerated to only the unimaginative sameness. The economy hemorrhages because of a lack of entrepreneurialism. And manager and professionals pay the price for their own paranoia, hanging on to unsatisfactory for fear of the unknown, toeing the corporate line rather than cutting their own path for fear of rejection – because they are too preoccupied with trying to fear conventionally. The result: nothing imaginative ever gets produced and we are nearer to the goal of craving out sustainable competitive advantage.

As F. Roosevelt once proclaimed, the only thing to fear is fear itself. These words have never rung truer today than ever before. It’s time to stop fearing.

(By Harphoon & Astroboy – Socio/ political – EP 9928229- 2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007).


7 Responses to “The Cost of Living in a Scaredy Cat Society – Quality vs Quantity”

  1. […] to demand political reforms and act like dignified citizens like we claimed to be. We see the alarming consequence of being arrested for ‘inciting violence’ or ‘illegal assembly’ […]

  2. chronicler said

    AB & Harphoon.

    Two possibilities:

    (1) nokia communicators r lousy to type on

    (2) You ppl are trying to compete with darkness to see who will get the bad spelling price.

    Pls take the trouble to spell check next time!

  3. chronicler said

    price = prize. See it is very contagious baad speeling that is.

  4. Elosha said

    Interesting post. I believe you have hit the nail on the head in terms of the potential economic and social costs of living in fear entails.


  5. policewoman said

    Great! Puts it all nicely together, problem, issues, causation and suggested solutions.

  6. In Fear of FEER? said

    The culture of fear has been fully developed systematically over more than 40 years. Now, a new nation called the Nation of the Kiasu has been born, and widely known in the Asean region. Who created the climate of fear that led to the culture of fear?

  7. […] to demand political reforms and act like dignified citizens like we claimed to be. We see the alarming consequence of being arrested for ‘inciting violence’ or ‘illegal assembly’ […]

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