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Valar Qringaomis

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Friday, August 22, 2003

The Jobs of War

As mentioned earlier, the posting above article has sparked off a vigorous debate on the S Econs list (mostly on non-economic issues, most of which the authors valiantly try to disguise as economic ones). Some points I have extricated from the interminable posts (ignoring the [admittedly few] patently absurd and brainless ones), and coupled with a few thoughts of my own and an ending by the irrepressible Chinx. Many of the social points I have excised as I have deat with many of them before and want to sleep soon.

On Mercenaries

Recent economic and business history has shown that outsourcing is often a way to both improve the quality and reduce the cost of a service or product. Indeed, the SAF has recognised this - Singapore Technologies provides much logistical and other support to the SAF, military research is not done in-house but instead by DSTA , and SFI provides the food. In the wider context of Singapore, we see CISCO being entrusted with important jobs - even though they are a private company, and Gurkhas are hired for the most important of protective jobs (eg protecting the Prime Minister and President), the last of which makes one wonder why Singaporean soldiers are not good enough to protect the highest powers in the land.

A refrain, oft-heard in a bid to quash the revolutionary - hence both heretical and preposterous - idea of hiring mercenaries, is that mercenaries are loyal only to money, and that they may defect to the higher paying side at any time, hence depriving the nation of security. However, corporations are profit-maximising, so it might be expected, following this logic, that they would charge as high a price, and offer as shoddy a product, as possible. However, this is not so, for the same reason that mercenaries do not switch employers in the heat of battle - branding. Just as companies do not produce defective products for fear of never being able to sell anything again due to customer dissatisfaction, no mercenary group worth their salt would defect, or it'd most likely never be hired again. In any case, seeing the state and attitude of many NSFs and reservists, it is not all that clear that in times of war, they would not defect, surrender or otherwise pack less than their intended punch.

Someone pointed out that since mercenaries fight for the highest bidder, "the side they are fighting for may not be the side that is 'morally correct'". However, when is war waged by sovereign states based on grounds of morality? Saddam Hussein's troops, most of them conscripts, invaded Kuwait in 1990, a clear case of a morally "incorrect" action (if one is wont to argue this way) - just because an army is financed by, and fights on behalf of a nation or state does not make its actions "morally correct". Another raised the issue of controlling mercenaries, which may not feel bound by the rules of International Conflict and military discipline, but then reputable and professional mercenaries adhere to these - more so than disgruntled conscripts who barely know what they are doing, at any rate. More practical considerations are that a small, besieged nation may not be able to outbid its neighbours, and that large mercenary armies do not exist, at least not in this region.

Hence, due to these and other practical considerations, I do not think that a wholy mercenary-based armed forces would be feasible, so perhaps Singapore could use mercenaries to support and supplement a core group of regulars. On reflection, though, since money is the main thing used to entice people to sign on, are the regulars not already mercenaries?

On the Economics of Slavery

A few people pointed out that one cannot really measure the value of defence, and of how society (read: the Government) values it and makes its cost-benefit analysis calculations. That may be true, but no one denies than defence is essential for a country. What we are trying to do is to find a more economically efficient (and hopefully equitable) way of providing it.

NS causes a misallocation of resources, as people who can otherwise contribute mightily to the economy are made - *forced* - to waste their time lingering in clerical positions. Besides, the Slave Pittance does not even begin to compensate individuals for their opportunity costs, let alone their contributions to the nation - the Powers That Be prefer to cut costs and instead dole out non-pecuniary benefits like "honour", "glory" and "the satisfaction one gains from fulfilling one's duty". However, to keep the current gross number of NSFs and to pay them fairly would bankrupt the government. The solution, I feel, is not to keep the Slave Pittance as it is, but to cut redundant jobs instead of doing what is known in economic parlance as "featherbedding" (here, enslaving people for the sake of it even though you have sufficient labour already, and many cannot contribute greatly to the defence of Singapore anyway).

Conscription may or may not be cost-effective - on the one hand, you have unmotivated, incompetent and angry troops, but on the other hand they are dirt cheap, at least in terms of pay. Their ineffectiveness mean that their numbers are deceptive, but then you do not need cannon fodder to be very effective, and they can just overwhelm the enemy with weight of numbers. Personally, I think that cutting the number of Slave Soldiers and making them better motivated through various means, among them pay (as someone once said - "You pay me peanuts, you get a monkey"), would result in a more effective army (and much less misery among the populace at large - but then policy makers do not have to worry about this form of social discontent, since it is not vented in the form of social upheaval or political change, thanks to the unique circumstances of Singaporean society and politics which I will not go into at present). It is always comfortable to revel in the inertia of the current system, as to change things would require too much effort. "The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking" - Galbraith.

If you want to err on the side of caution and get an overly-large army, you might as well go all the way, get Weapons of Mass Destruction and rely on the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction to safeguard Singapore - it'll be cheaper, at any rate. Or as another suggested, "do we even need a military at its present size to defend singapore in the first place. the saf would have you believe that, but thats a really dodgy source of info pertaining to this. all we really need is enough missile launchers and missiles to inundate any pesky neighbour's capital. seriously, destroy the leadership, you win the war."

NB: Better educated people are withheld from the job market for 6 months longer than less educated people. This is another glaring example of economic inefficiency.

On Gender and NS

Some women complain about the NS advantage of males, that they get higher salaries and fast promotions. On paper, this is justified as being compensation for the 2 - 2 1/2 years that they have lost, but in reality, many or most companies (outside of the government) do not have this NS pay differential, and for those that do, it is merely a euphemism for the underlying gender wage differential that exists in most jobs. In any case, it is doubtful whether the "NS differential" adequately compensates males for the opportunity cost of having wasted 2 years of their lives.

On NS being a merit good

"I like to think of defence as not only a public good but a merit good. Just as the governments in many countries make education compulsory (at least until P6 or equivalent), national service is good for us!"

Yeah right. Cursory reading of past entries, and listening to other disgruntled members of the Chain Gang should be sufficient to disabuse anyone of this notion. Anyhow, it is "a tax of 2 and a half years on Singaporean males that is channelled into a public good. Males bear the brunt of the burden, and get some of the benefit - hardly what I would term an optimal outcome." Further, this tax is applied only to male citizens, and not to female citizens, first generation PRs or "Foreign Talent" *cough* - who receive most, or arguably all, of its benefits as well.

To quote my excellent, enthusiastic, effete and erstwhile partner in education Chinx: "Most people who do say National Service is good for us tend to be the people who do not have to suffer through it. Or have yet to. "

"And one does get paid in NS too, not mentioning the free lodging and free food"

Sounds like prison, albeit with higher pay.

"Would each individual value the benefits accrued from National Service more than the benefits of not having gone through army? Congrats to those whose aims in life happen to involve joining the army, but for every such person, there could be many who do not. Perhaps the fact that we are not being allowed to decide for ourselves which path we should take is what irks the economist in us. "

On Regulars and NS

Since I am lazy, getting weary and do not wish to waste the efforts of the great Chinx, I shall quote him here:

"I wish I had your confidence in regulars.

The Army is renowned for not turning away any applicants from its doors, as well as a veritable diamond-crusted rice bowl. Do you think a policy like that is likely to attract smart, energetic people bursting with patriotic pride, or people who can't find a job anywhere else, especially considering today's tight job market?

In fact, this hesistancy in turning away applicants and firing regulars only exacerbates the inefficiencies caused by NS - for one thing, you're giving some regulars a FAR too high salary compared to what they could get outside, and for another, promotion in the army is based more on seniority than on performance, which means you could very possibly have an incompetent Lieutenant Colonel leading a team of crack troops into a suicide battle. To phrase it in an economic sense - you're paying the regulars far above their opp costs, and having a bad manager run a firm of talented individuals. "

Furthermore, promotion for regulars is largely based on seniority rather than performance, so the incompetent ones are hardly separated from the better ones. Performance will hence be affected since the incentives are not quite pegged to it. Essentially, "the army's pretty darn similar to a command economy. Everyone's got a job to do thats been allocated by the management, not determined by the market. Passing orders works faster then introducing laws.. the phenomenon of 'feather bedding', lack of incentives to work hard, improve etc etc.".

The Gospel of He Who MUST Not Be Named

The abovementioned advances his pet theory, that NS is a tool of social engineering leading to both social and political stability - it breeds low level resentment and acts as a convenient target of grumbling, distracting the male populace from other issues, while at the same time leaving them with a subconscious feeling of helplessness against the power of the system.

When I mentioned that girls do not go through NS, he retorted (in person, no less!) that "girls don't start revolutions",

I have yet to conclusively evaluate the merits of his theory, but I must say that there is some modicum of truth in it.

On Social Cohesion

"I don't think that National Service can guarantee that Singapore will not "fragmenting from internal conflict". First, are the problems in "the Philippines, Indonesia, most of Africa, and in earlier years Eastern Europe" due to economic inequality or poverty? I cannot remember the exact statistics but the United States does seem to have a serious case of inequality too, as would most countries that believe in the market as it is inherent in the system that there will be inequalities (perhaps this can be another topic for discussion at some other time).

Second, is the driving force of these coups pent-up violence, or a lack of National Service? I am not sure if introducing National Service would have prevented either internal conflict or inequality/poverty for that matter. If anything, if the idea of having "disgruntled military men" is scary, I wonder how I should react to having half the Singaporean population having military training."


"on the entire idea of a social leveller, again, i find this idea completely repugnant. what you're basically saying is that we should, through compulsory NS, disadvantage the talented and educated so that the untalented or uneducated stand a chance. first off, this is a Pareto loss - it's a race to the bottom. you're making the rich worse off, not making the poor better off. that fails John Rawl's test of social justice.

furthermore, if, as so many appear to believe, the poor will be the majority of the people doing voluntary NS, then they will be the primary beneficiaries of higher pay for NS men. similarly, the rich will be the ones foregoing the NS income _and_ paying the higher (progressive) taxes. voluntary NS means a transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor. so if your problem is social equity, then paying people to do voluntary NS actually helps in that department. and it does so in a fair manner that helps the poor, rather than the current unfair manner that harms the rich without helping anyone."


Responding to some ("... people like us who are bored and can't STAND idiots who don't know what the BLOODY FNARK THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT with regards to Neverending Slavery will execute them publicily (sic)"), though not posting the below on the list, Chinx puts it best, as he has always had a more dramatic flair than me:

"It is at times like this I appreciate the knowledge that there is very little any one of you can do to touch me for what I say on this mailing list now that I am no longer a student of RJ. Because it allows me to say exactly what I feel without fear of repercussion, and what I want to say now is this.

You, sir, are an idiot.

Continuing to argue the merits of my case will be rather akin to trying to punch a hole in the wall - serving no purpose but to cause me pain and anguish, the thickness of the wall stopping all attempts at breaking through, and only incur the wrath of my neighbours who think I'm making noise just for attention.

Suffice it to say that as, ironically, of all people, Shengwu and the others sympathetic to my viewpoint have eloquently stated our case. You, on the other hand, have put forth nothing but childishy naive and simplistc arguements.

If this is the kind of S Econs students we're getting nowadays, it's no wonder RJ is in the spotlight of negative press so much nowadays."
I'm trying to decide whether this year's birthday was more painful than last year's.

This year, I had a 8km route march in the morning, and when I got back my head was pounding, my feet burnt with each step and I was so exhausted I went to concuss.

Last year, on the other hand, I was charging hills outfield and riding around in an APC.

I just reserved my flight. Hopefully the SAF won't throw any monkey wrenches into my plans this time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The Jobs of War
Stephen Fidler and Thomas Catn
Financial Times
August 11, 2003

An excellent article on outsourcing defence, the posting of which on the RJC S Economics Mailing List has sparked a lively debate, of which I shall comment on in a future (probably next) post.

Monday, August 18, 2003

"Regimentation and discipline is extremely useful as a form of employment for CSMs and RSMs" (with apologies to Galbraith)

I can't believe it's been 16 months since I last consumed a day of home MC.

People like to say that there's no point getting 1 day ATTN C when you're already in camp if you do not stay-out, but then these people still book out for nights off, so I don't understand the inconsistency.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

When I walked into the Medical Centre after lunch on Monday, it was full of recruits. The sickbay was totally filled - 10 recruits were on beds, 4 on stretchers and 3 sitting down, and half were on drips (probably more were prescribed drips, but they didn't have enough drip stands). In all, I filed about 100 dockets and got 32 medical appointments to make that day. I wonder how long they'll be traumatised before we are swarmed again. Probably not before -we- get over our own trauma.

Ever since I put up signs on the Docu Room door urging it to be kept shut, it's been left open more. I swear people are leaving it open on purpose.

Our "Poor, suffering Local Third Sergeant" Tan Ban Xiong daily makes himself useful. While I was struggling to prepare 19 X-ray appointments, the self proclaimed "Master of Office" (sand Frontpage and Access) hit upothe idea of printing the envelopes, instead of stamping them and then writing on them. So not only is it faster, it is more legible. By acts such as these, he has shown that he richly deserves his (local) promotion!

HQ Company, 42SAR seems to be getting more and more regimental and generally a less pleasant place to live in. I dread my return, especially since I won't have much leave to clear after my planned visit to my sister and brother in law next month. Even though I am attached out, they are trying to stretch their evil tentacles across the Time-Space Continuum and grab onto me - last I heard, they were trying to get me to do 5BX at 5:25am daily, as well as RT on alternate days. If that dreadful scenario comes to pass, the benefits of being attached out will be lessened (and I won't even have the extra $50 as a sop to comfort me). Maybe, as a desperate ploy, I should try to cut my attachment short, and so pull them down for the Best Unit Competition.

The purpose of enforcing Regimentation and Discipline (R&D) is supposed to be that it makes people better soldiers. Oddly enough, R&D seems to apply less the higher someone's rank is (so much for being an example), but I digress. Now, a source in 41SAR, 42's brother unit, told me that they are as slack (or slacker than) 42/HQ used to be when I first came. They don't march, don't eat breakfast and wake up at 7am. Still, they are placed higher than 42SAR in the Best Unit Competition, and it seems their results for ATEC (the unit's final exam) are going to be quite good. Seems that R&D does absolutely nothing to improve a unit's performance or fighting ability, and just breeds resently and pent up anger, frustrating people and making them worse soldiers.

Oddly, since morning 5BX was instituted for RT personnel in 42, SOC RT has disappeared. Maybe the Powers That Be think that somehow, doing pushups helps you in SOC. The logic behind that is really warped.

I wonder what freaky material the SAF No 4 Uniform is made of. It's 50% Cotton and 50% Nylon, supposedly, but somehow it does not behave like either of those fabrics - even if it is less wet than, and sunned more than normal clothing, it smells more.

After the clerks wash the toilet, they spray Jasmine 3-in-1 air freshener ("with aromatherapy essential oils"). What dedication!

Perhaps the irritating of the current crop of popular Chinese Pop songs is by Jay Chou. What drew me to (or rather, repulsed me from) it was this woman in the background shrieking continually in vibrato, and Latin chanting at various points in the song. On asking some people, I found out that it was about some guy who loses his faith in Catholicism but still believes in God. Songs nowadays are getting really weird.

In a trailer for "First Touch", we see a pregnant Malay woman who is told by the doctor that if she has her child, she could go blind. She then refuses to abort the child, saying that "children are a blessing from God. If I abort the child, what sort of mother would I be?" (Looks like not all blessings are good). We then hear "Amazing Grace" (for a Muslim?) played in the background. Well done, Medicorp.

"True Love" is a game popular at present among some medics and drivers. At first, I thought it was a normal Japanese Dating Sim. But then, the Japanese are never normal, are they? One day someone excitedly told me that he had unlocked a new girl in the game - he brought a cat home, had some item, and the cat turned into a girl and had sex with him. Bah.

Channel 8 is holding auditions for some Supermodel contest, and the age range for entrants is 14-21. They're getting younger and younger these days.

I wonder what the fuss is about bar-top dancing, with many bars holding and contests to mark its legalisation. Listening to some passionate souls, you'd think Prohibition had just ended.

US soldiers in Iraq are airing their grievances over the Internet, and some even identify themselves. I wonder if anything has/will happen(ed) to them. I'm sure that there, as here, soldiers are warned against this kind of thing. Soldiers are supposed to seek redress through official channels, but when the highest level of appeal is Dubya, the very one who threw you into this war, I don't think the official channels are going to get you very far.

Why North Korea is so obsessed about getting a Non-Aggression Pact with the USA signed is puzzling. We all know that George Bush is not exactly scrupulous about honouring his treaty commitments, and neither is Kim Jong Il. Definitions are also hard to agree upon - Pyongyang is always going to try antics like racing patrol craft across the 38th Parallel, and then claim that it was a mistake, or that it was allowed for under the Pact. I suspect they know the pact will never be signed, so they're just stalling.


Recent research shows that people believe that Yun Nam is the most effective hair care centre and there are 8 times more Singaporeans who believe that Yun Nam is more poplular than its competitors (popular) (So their advertising campaign is good. So?)

[Me: 'Bob' is a very common name] So is 'cesspit'.

[On my scribbling on my weekly piece of paper] This is like the Islamic writing in the Koran

He needs his beauty sleep. [Me: It doesn't seem to be doing much good] *laughter* [Ban Xiong: One of these days, I'll smother you with my pillow] [Me: Who, me or Melvin?] [Ban Xiong: Both]

[On his rare cookhouse breakfast, including a Tau Sar Delight] Breakfast today was fucked up. How come the curry puff was sweet?

[On shitting on a squat toilet without a pipe] I must use water and my left hand. [Me: And the water comes from the toilet bowl?]

[On my filing 100 dockets] You finished filing all the dockets? [Me: Yeah, man. I finished them all last night] I'm so proud of you

[On not booking out to eat on a night off day] I want to save money. [Me: Then why do you always go to the canteen?] Shut up [Ed: Said person probably ended up eating instant noodles in the bunk, instead of cookhouse food].

[Email on being away] **** will overlook [Company Name] for this period of time (oversee)

[On me] He will go and hunt him, like he hunted the secondary school girls at NCC cover... He will step in front of the secondary school boy or girl and ask, "Excuse me..." (haunt, haunted, would)

[To me] There was this guy, when I was attached to AMS [Army Medical Services]. He went round taking pictures of secondary school girls zaogeng... He talks like you.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of seeing He Who Must Not Be Named.

He seemed incredibly interested at what I would report of the meeting and pleaded with me not to describe how immensely gratified I was to be able to finally glimpse his elusive visage, so I will not gush about how wonderful it was to light his cigarette for him and cough profusely when he breathed the cigarette smoke in my face.

Anyhow, the only thing I will say is that I find his companion remarkably like my sister in being pedantic :)

My 5 month old on-and-off cough seems to have worsened. I think I hear the air wheezing in my lungs.
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