Monday, April 30, 2012

Time to rethink COE system?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Merdeka Square closed ahead of protest

The authorities are making clear their intention to keep all and sundry off the field where the Malaysian flag was first hoisted on Independence Day in August 1957.

Lessons on smoking from the nanny state

IT IS mandatory for all cigarettes sold here to have grisly warning images as well as textual health warnings on the box.
In place since July 2004, the current policy requires health warnings to cover 50 per cent of the front and 50 per cent of the back of all boxes.
As many points of sale display whole cartons as well, from next March these health warnings will have to appear on carton packaging as well.
Such a regulatory approach to correcting risky lifestyles may have been criticised by the liberal West as nannying. But it is now being adopted widely in many Western democracies, dressed up in new clothes called 'nudging' instead.
The term comes from the 2008 bestseller Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, a popular book by University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein.
The authors recount what cognitive neuroscience, social psychology and behavioural economics can teach regulators in trying to get people to behave better. The approach, typified by tobacco control policies, is 'permit but discourage'.
Though targeted at lay people, the book's agenda was huge - to move liberal democracies down the paternalistic path. The authors call theirs a 'libertarian paternalism' - libertarian in that people remain free to do what they like, but paternalistic in trying 'to influence people's behaviour... to make their lives longer, healthier and better'.
The idea is to structure the environment in such a way that people are subtly influenced or 'nudged' towards making certain decisions that policymakers have decided are 'better' for them and for society. This may be done by making the preferred choice cognitively easier to perceive. All this can be achieved without imposing a particular outcome on anyone, so nobody's individual liberty is infringed upon.
With the election of President Barack Obama, 'nudging' moved from book page to policy dossier. In January 2009, President Obama appointed Professor Sunstein as the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The Office of Management and Budget was then ordered to 'clarify the role of the behavioural sciences in formulating regulatory policy'.
The US will now adopt warning images on cigarette packaging from this September. These are much tamer than those seen here, but are in stark contrast to the current US practice of including only bland textual health warnings on the box.
In May 2010, when Britain's Conservative-led coalition government walked into 10 Downing Street, it consulted with Professor Thaler, after which a seven-person 'Behavioural Insight Team' was put together in the Prime Minister's Cabinet Office to look at behavioural research and help to craft policies that nudge individuals into making better lifestyle choices.
Britain has had text-only warnings on 30 per cent of the front and 40 per cent of the back of cigarette packs since 2002. Last week, it began consultation over plain unbranded packaging for cigarettes, with just a health warning on them.
Also last week, a global test case began in Australia's highest court, where the world's Big Four tobacco firms went to block a new law as unconstitutional.
From December, that law requires all cigarette packs to come in olive green only, with stark photos and text health warnings. No brand logos are allowed. Only company names in a small, standardised font will be permitted. A decision before December is likely.
Last week, New Zealand announced that it was also introducing similar unbranded cigarette packaging, modelled on the Australian statute.
In the old days, the discipline of regulation assumed that people were rational, so policies were designed around the idea that people would rationally avoid risky behaviour that came with punishment, such as more expensive smokes.
In this 'New Governance' - new for the West but really old hat in pragmatic Singapore - people are not assumed to behave rationally. Instead, they are thought to be conditioned by cues in their environment, especially when their self-autonomy is impaired by addictive substances.
Those addicted to tobacco or heroin, say, are neither fully lacking in autonomy nor completely unimpaired in their autonomy. Instead, their autonomy is impaired without being completely nullified.
By engaging their emotions, using gruesome cues to dramatise risk, for instance, such autonomy-impaired individuals can be nudged into seeing more clearly whether continuing to smoke is worthwhile.
The aim is not to make smokers weigh their options rationally. Thus, the idea is not to dissuade certain behaviours using media campaigns to disseminate information - 'Smoking Kills', for instance.
Instead, the context in which all smoking choices are made is altered with gory imagery of its harrowing consequences.
This paternalism clearly manipulates the emotions, even if it were deployed in the public's long-term interests. Yet, it seems increasingly accepted in Western democracies, at least for lifestyle risks, especially with an autonomy-impairing product like tobacco.
The nanny state might be tempted to say 'I told you so', but could more charitably just note that the Emperor has borrowed clothes, which do seem to fit.

Affiliations matter more than achievement

IF YOU asked me about my working life, I would tell you that I've worked at the Financial Times for a quarter of a century. If pressed further, I might reveal (depending on who was asking) that long ago I worked briefly for JPMorgan. I might also add that I went to Oxford university.

Do we need that plastic bag?

A FEW days ago, I found myself in the curious position of having no plastic bags left in the house, and needing to take out the trash.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bernanke and Krugman in war of words

WASHINGTON: Forget US monetary policy. For the blogosphere, the most entertaining part of the Federal Reserve's meeting this week was the clash between its chairman Ben Bernanke and Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.

'Made in Singapore' inflation

THE inflation monster can be a tough one to slay. Fortunately for Singapore, government policies have worked to contain cost increases for much of the city state's history.

Hot debate over apps for toddlers

PARIS: Twenty-two-month-old George sits on a tiny blue chair, at a baby-sized desk, playing with an adult's iPad - and that's enough to set alarm bells ringing among child development experts.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Nobody can tell you the fair value of Sky Habitat

THE strong buyer demand this month for Sky Habitat, Singapore's most expensive suburban condominium, has created a flutter in the blogosphere. A three-bedroom, 99-year leasehold condo in Bishan for $2 million? Isn't that over the top, even if it claims an 'iconic' design?

The moral case for health insurance for all

The Echo of Chernobyl

26 April is a very sad day in Belarusian history. On 26 April 1986 a disastrous accident took place at a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, just across the border in Ukraine. It became one of the most horrible man-made disasters ever. Belarus suffered from the radioactive fallout more than any other country.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The secret of focus amid distractions

RECENTLY my research team observed nearly 300 middle school, high school and university students studying something important for a mere 15 minutes in their natural environments. We were interested in whether they could maintain focus and, if not, what might be distracting them. Every minute we noted exactly what they were doing, whether they were studying, if they were texting or listening to music or watching television in the background, and if they had a computer screen in front of them and what websites were being visited.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Don't go chasing stock tips

One other important trait they possessed was the ability not to miss the wood for the trees. Good investors go about life with their eyes open.
While others were chasing the latest hot stock tip tossed out by their brokers and analysts, they would be observing consumer habits and making careful notes of any trend that might be evolving.
And rather than taking analyst reports at face value, they would test the assumptions made in the reports with their first-hand experience.
There is another thing that I have noticed about good investors: Most of them do not invest in stocks or financial instruments about which they do not possess a good understanding.

The Corner Store

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Buffett-linked fund presses Goldman to oust director

NEW YORK: In the latest rebuke of eye-popping pay packages on Wall Street, a major institutional investor is taking the rare step of opposing the re-election of a Goldman Sachs board member who approves compensation for many of the bank's top executives.

Many prefer brokers to online trading: Study

ONLINE share trading may be gaining in popularity here but many retail investors still prefer to trade via their brokers despite the higher commissions they have to pay.
That is a key finding from new research showing that about 310,000 investors here traded shares through a remisier last year - about 10 per cent more than the 280,000 who traded online.
The research was done by Australia- based research house Investment Trends.
'While some remisier clients are migrating towards trading online, the size of the remisier market is still larger than the online broking market in Singapore,' the firm said in a statement yesterday.
By Jonathan Kwok

Luxury cars nudging cheaper cars off road

'People should stop buying cars now, then COEs will start to fall,' said the boss of a continental dealership who did not want to be named. 'I sell cars for a living. I should not be saying this, but please, advise people to hold back.'

Friday, April 20, 2012

Not enough sleep?

IT'S after 10pm on a weekday, but the playgrounds can still be packed with young children at play.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

IMF: World sitting on ageing 'time bomb'

FIRST, the good news: We will live longer than we expect. The bad news: We won't be able to afford it.

Shareholders revolt over Citi CEO's pay

NEW YORK: In a stinging rebuke, Citigroup shareholders rebuffed the bank's US$15 million (S$19 million) pay package for its chief executive, Mr Vikram Pandit, marking the first time that big stock owners have united in opposition to outsized compensation on Wall Street.

Framework of research skewed to nurture untruths

Monday, April 16, 2012

COE prices up because economy is doing well, says Lui

COE prices are soaring because the economy is doing well and not because the Government is further slowing the growth in the vehicle population to 0.5 per cent, as that kicks in only in August, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Taiwan's immigration policies under fire

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Go beyond Earth Hour for real results

"Scenes of a Crime" Trailer from New Box on Vimeo.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Bosnia marks 20 years since war

SARAJEVO: Thousands of red chairs stood empty along Sarajevo's main avenue on Friday as Bosnia commemorated the 20th anniversary of the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II.