Friday, April 29, 2005

Living with a casino 

Apparently, some Singaporeans are not only willing to have a casino in Singapore, they want to live right next to one.

Residential projects near integrated resorts attract keen buyers
Property developers reported keen buyer interest in the two weeks after the government’s decision to go ahead with two integrated resort projects. This is for both residential properties near the two sites earmarked for the resorts.

City Developments, which is developing The Sail at Marina Bay, projected increases in property prices of as much as 10 to 15 percent...

Meanwhile, Keppel Land reported heightened interest in its Caribbean at Keppel Bay project which faces Sentosa Island. It said potential buyers were pleased with the idea of having an integrated resort, just a stone’s throw away from their waterfront homes. ERA, one of the marketing agents for Caribbean, said more than 20 deals were clinched, after news of the resort project at Sentosa...
I wonder whether these residents will get discounts into the casino/integrated resort.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

British not interested in educating Singaporeans 

Charlene Huang, an undergraduate thesis student of Brad DeLong, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, doesn’t have flattering things to say about Britain’s colonial legacy in Singapore as far as education is concerned.

An excerpt from her draft:

A comparison of primary enrollment ratios in 1960 and the Barro-Lee data on the stock of human capital in 1960 clearly illustrates [that] although Singapore and Korea both have about 100% primary enrollment in 1960, the percentage of the adults over 25 years of age in 1960 who completed primary school was 26.2% for Korea, but only 5.6% for Singapore. It seems that Singapore’s British colonizers were not as interested in educating the masses, as was Lee Kuan Yew’s government.
They did leave behind a nice port, though.

Racism and eugenics 

Andy Ho has a commentary in The Straits Times today criticising racism. It is a response to a reader who seems to be justifying “racial purity”.

Ho objected strongly to the concept of racial purity. He warned of the prejudices and injustices that accompanied such notions in the past, including the Holocaust in Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Ho’s unease about racial purity is perfectly understandable. However, when he moves on to eugenics, he becomes confusing.

Ho says: “Through the mid-1920s, virtually all members of the UK and US scientific communities supported eugenics or scientific racism.” Why “eugenics or scientific racism”? Why not “eugenics, or more specifically, scientific racism”? The way it is actually written could be interpreted to mean that eugenics is all about racism, and that eugenics is solely used to achieve racial purity, that one necessarily leads to the other.

Indeed, further in the article, he seems to say a similar thing about the study of genomics: “Today, widely hyped advances in genomics are promoting a resurgent interest in the issues of inheritability and, thus, race.” Again, why “and, thus, race” and not “and, particularly, race”?

In reality, genomics is not just about race, and eugenics is not used solely to achieve racial purity. As Ho himself defines it, the goal of eugenics is “to improve the human species through reproductive selection”. This improvement is not necessarily limited to traits relating to race. In fact, Ho himself cites a programme involving the mentally ill and criminally insane. The Wikipedia entry on eugenics mentions some modern uses of eugenics in controlling genetic diseases such as thalassemia.

Is Ho aware of these? If he is, why does he write about eugenics in such an imprecise — and potentially misleading — manner?

At the very end of his article, Ho says: “There is no such thing as humane, sensitive, or sensible eugenics.” Now, I can’t tell exactly what he means by that. Or is that precisely the point?

Reclamation dispute between Singapore and Malaysia resolved 

It looks like the long drawn-out dispute over Singapore’s land reclamation in the Johor Straits is coming to an end.

Singapore and Malaysia resolve land reclamation dispute
Diplomats and politicians from both sides of the Causeway have hailed the resolution of a land reclamation dispute as a historic agreement — a win-win solution for Singapore and Malaysia. Representatives from both sides signed a Settlement Agreement at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday. The agreement was inked by Ambassador-at-Large Professor Tommy Koh from Singapore and Mr Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak, Secretary General of the Malaysian Foreign Ministry. It is a model of how future disputes between the neighbours can be settled through arbitration and dialogue — such as the dispute over Pedra Branca.

Singapore will pay Malaysian fishermen nearly 370,000 ringgit for losses resulting from the settlement works... The experts found that Singapore’s reclamation works would not cause any serious impact and of the 57 impacts identitifed, 40 were classified as slight. Almost all the impact was the result of current patterns or wave action caused by the reclamations. So they concluded that if these changes were reduced, most impacts would either be reduced or disappear. Singapore has agreed to modify the final design of the shoreline at Pulau Tekong, and will pay for protection works at the Tanjung Belungkor Jetty in Johor. And Malaysia will pay for works at Pularek Jetty.

Singapore’s Chief Negotiator Tommy Koh said: “Both Malaysia and Singapore have won. We have won because we have been able to find an amicable solution that accommodates the essential interests of the two countries, and we have done it in the spirit of friendship and goodwill. So the happy headlines I want to see is that both Malaysia and Singapore have won.”...
I think Tommy Koh basically got the “happy headlines”. But Malaysia got the money — 370,000 ringgit — and at least some of the changes it demanded in Singapore’s reclamation works.

Look past the inevitable spin from both sides and arrive at your own conclusions.

The Straits Times has more:

Reclamation row is resolved

Reclamation works: Experts found no major impact on environment

And on the Malaysian side:

M’sia, S’pore Resolve Land Reclamation Dispute

Spat with Singapore settled

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Caustic soda neutralised 

I guess this is the story of the day as far as the Singapore blogosphere is concerned.

Unfortunately in recent days, the price of maintaining the content which used to be accessible at this URL has become too high for the author to afford. AcidFlask thanks readers for their past support and regrets the inconvenience caused.
And yes, I agree with Huichieh Loy: It is a sad day for the Singapore blogosphere. Hopefully caustic soda will re-appear in another form — Blogger, perhaps?

Monday, April 25, 2005

“Infantilism”, corporate culture and the Singapore blogosphere 

Steven McDermott continues with his investigation of “infantilism” in Singapore.

Corporate Culture Revisited
... I am exploring... The idea that if Eric Ellis’ claim is correct, that Singapore is run like a large corporation...

“The system functions like a big corporation, designed to maximise profit. The Government maintains an upbeat information department, frequently holding press briefings lauding economic achievements but rarely or publicly discusses substantive matters of policy and politics.” by Eric Ellis

...and coupled with the following article and references to ‘infantilism’ being the result, then is this the case in Singapore? Are Singaporean bloggers willing to accept the label and argue that they have in some way accepted the corporate culture, or do they reject the label but behave childishly? It’s an idea, that’s all...
McDermott then quotes from a management article on corporate culture and how the hierarchical organisational structure is becoming obsolete and being replaced by collaborative, self-managed teams where employees contribute towards shaping corporate values rather than having them imposed from the top.

The quoted article provides a good summary of current management thinking on how corporate cultures can be shaped. However, in my opinion, it has more relevance to the way that the Singapore government is trying to engender an inclusive culture. To go from the article to the conclusion that Singapore bloggers tend to have “infantile” concerns because of an authoritarian government requires much more work, which I presume McDermott will follow up with.

Personally, though, I am more interested in looking at the issue from another angle: Why is there a lack of serious blogs in Singapore? No, this is not exactly the same question as: Why are Singapore blogs so “infantile”? While the prevalence of so-called “infantile” blogs may crowd out serious blogs, I think the lack of the latter is an issue in its own right.

In particular, I think that blogs written by experts on their areas of expertise are especially valuable, because they form the anchors around which other serious blogs can congregate, just as blogs also tend to congregate around mainstream media. However, Gilbert Koh has given one reason why we can’t expect much from one potentially important source: government officers; they can only blog about “infantile” concerns, and maybe poetry (I presume Koh did not officially write poetry for the government).

In the meantime, the lack of such expertise among blogs means that the mainstream media can usually ignore the Singapore blogosphere with little consequence, as they routinely do — see “Blogs as intellectual platforms” and “The Mainstream Media does not get blogs”.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Blogs and business 

Rob at BusinessPundit points to this BusinessWeek article on blogs and business.

See also the magazine’s own blog.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

It’s only a joke 

Every now and then, Steven McDermott writes something that attracts the ire of Singapore bloggers. He’s done it again with the post “The Infantile Blogosphere”. Incidentally, I’m irate too, since he calls me “very old” — or “very mature” — or something like that.

But this post is not directly about McDermott’s post. Rather, it’s about the idea of using satire or humour in general to discuss issues about Singapore, as suggested by some.

In my opinion, satire is one good way to express one’s views on current affairs or government policies, especially the latter. As Anthony points out, a tongue-in-cheek approach helps keep the writer out of trouble without necessarily detracting from the underlying message. I think it also helps in getting the attention of readers who might otherwise not bother to read about weighty issues. Gilbert Koh shows very well how it can be done.

However, Singapore bloggers often use satire as disguised rants. Some of the implied criticisms don’t seem well thought-out, but because they are expressed in the form of a satire, readers are unlikely to point them out — the rejoinder “it’s only a joke” is too powerful — and the writers and other readers are poorer for it.

This makes satire not a good substitute for serious discussion.

So if McDermott is complaining that there is not enough serious discussion about political issues in Singapore, he has my sympathy. As for what people want to blog about, I trust that he would be among the first to agree that freedom of expression is something to be respected.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Reactions to the casino decision 

Huichieh at From a Singapore Angle is compiling the reactions of bloggers on the casino/integrated resort decision.

Call for entries--Web Symposium: Blogosphere reactions to the Casino/Integrated Resort decision 2005
Nowadays, it’s hard to find someone in Singapore without an opinion about the proposed Casino/Integrated Resort. Even those who are really without an opinion find themselves oblidged to say that they don’t have an opinion, as if the contrary is the default.

In the interest of furthering discussion on this issue of the day, From A Singapore Angle is organising a Web Symposium and inviting all interested bloggers to submit entries that will be collated together (roughly in a manner analogous to this, but voluntarily). By having many points of view gathered together under one list, the hope is that the netizens’s search for information and informed opinions will be facilitated.

Entries published both during the pre-decision debate and after the decision was announced in parliament are welcomed.
And some entries are already in — see here.

Meanwhile, The Christian Science Monitor has its own reaction to the decision in a report entitled “In search of buzz, Asia bets on gambling”.

Dazzled by the prospect of soaring tax revenues and an influx of free-spending tourists, Asian governments are starting to drop their bans against casino gambling.

Singapore became the latest country to join the race for Asia’s gamblers when it announced Monday that it would license two resort casinos in the wealthy city-state. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament that it had to keep up with the trend. “We cannot stand still. The whole region is on the move. If we don’t change, where will we be in 20 years?”

Spying an opportunity, Thailand, Taiwan, and Japan may follow suit. Even India and Indonesia have floated the idea of Vegas-style casinos to draw tourists and create jobs. For many, the ultimate prize is China, where would-be gamblers, faced with a ban at home, travel far and wide to bet their newfound riches...
The Singapore government clearly recognises the opportunity. But so does everybody else. Note the following concluding paragraphs from the Monitor report.

But the claim that casinos can revitalize tourist industries shouldn’t be taken at face value, says Ms. [Jan] McMillen, [director of the Center for Gambling Research at the Australian National University, in Canberra] who has studied Australia’s experience. Its first casino opened on the island of Tasmania in 1973 and proved a success that other areas replicated, ending the novelty factor. The result was a short-term boom in tax revenues that bottomed out, leaving a rash of gambling addicts and a social backlash. A similar trend emerged in New Zealand, which also found minimal impact on tourism.

Both countries have since backpedaled. “It’s fascinating to look at the rest of the world and wonder if they’ve learned from our experience,” says McMillen.
Some things have changed since the 1970s. For example, there’s a new market in China. Other things have not — the human being’s gambling instinct and the effect of competition.

It’ll be interesting to see which trumps which.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Singapore blogosphere getting organised 

A few Singapore bloggers are taking steps to organise the Singapore blogosphere.

Afterthoughts on a recent blogospheric event and a modest proposal — Huichieh Loy

Put your blog on the map! — AcidFlask

Singapore Bloglocator anyone? — Wandie

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Singapore to have two casinos 

The Singapore government has revealed its decision and given the nod for not one but two casinos, and within a day, Lzydata of Singapore Ink has revealed his diligence by writing not one but two posts on the decision.

Casino decision

Today’s political analysis

Monday, April 18, 2005

Racist comments by scholar provokes witch hunt 

The event of the past week in the Singapore blogosphere must be the racist comments by a PSC scholar that was given prominence mainly through a post by Han at Wannabe Lawyer and has now made its way into the mainstream media. AcidFlask and Huichieh provide summaries of the discussions throughout cyberspace.

My own thoughts on the incident:

The racist views expressed by the scholar on his blog are repugnant. There is little argument over that. But at the moment, they are merely expressions of his thoughts. As some of the more thoughtful bloggers have pointed out, the reaction against him seems excessive, being tantamount to a witch hunt, with the people involved acting like a lynch mob.

I think there is some justification in considering the reaction excessive. People should be punished for their actions, not for their thoughts. Han put it well: The emphasis should have been on vigilance, not vigilantism.

Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to draw the line between mere expression of one’s thoughts and incitement, especially over an issue that is coloured by strong emotions, as issues involving race and religion tend to be. And when coupled with the bloodlust that naturally exists in many people, the reaction by many isn’t too surprising.

And as an aside, AcidFlask is correct in using this incident to highlight the power of blogdom. The pen is mightier than the sword. So, potentially, is the blog.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Blogs as intellectual platforms — Part 2 

Lzydata picks up my earlier post on Koh Buck Song’s ST article and comments:

... [N]ot once did Koh mention blogs... Indeed that is disappointing, especially when one considers that [the] Review pages [in The Straits Times] are going to have a harder time getting “fame [reaching] from Haiti to Holland” when they have to be paid for, & their mother publication treats its readers so shabbily. Koh’s idea is not bad, & I look forward to the time when we find that periodical, or maybe constellation of blogs, that lives up to the description.
Huichieh adds his own comments on the issue, particularly on the viability of blogs as a medium for intellectual discussion:

The fly in the ointment, as far as I can tell, is that while there seems to be a lot of talent in the Singapore blogosphere, a large part of it is not directed toward expression of the intellectual sort at all, if impressions mean anything. Secondly, a constellation of good bloggers still won’t be quite the same as a good publication (think “edited”) in presented a focus (or name) that readers can easily point to (as opposed to a more diffused, “hit and miss affair” that is often the case with blogs).

Singapore Commentator mentioned the “intellectually vibrant blogging community in the United States”--yes, there are some very impressive blogs in the US, but they at best complement or supplement the major perodicals (the list under “magazines” in Arts and Letters Daily is indicative), not rival them. In many cases, the blogs comment on the commentaries offered in the perodicals. It does help, though, that many blog writers are also writers and contributers for the perodicals...

I was thinking through the points listed by Koh and wondering if there is enough talent and gung-ho among the Singapore bloggers to make a small start. At the height of the ST paid subscription uproar (that’s like so long ago in blogosphere time), Trowa Evans of The Police State made an interesting suggestion concerning an online magazine. But we’ll need people (editors, web people) who can commit full time, or at least quite a bit of time, to the enterprise--while most bloggers blog as a hobby.
All good points that I agree with, but I would add two points.

One is that many, if not most, of the reputable print periodicals in the United States are legacy publications that acquired their reputations and readerships before the widespread use of the Internet. A new periodical started from scratch as Koh suggested would, I suspect, merit slightly different considerations, a point that would surely not have been lost on Koh as he talks about “commercial viability” at the end of his article.

The other point is that blogging helps keep intellectuals on their toes. Even with a dominant print periodical, blogging — as Huichieh says of the US situation — can “complement or supplement the major perodicals” — and contribute towards a truly vibrant intellectual community. But this is true only if enough people — people like Koh Buck Song — pay attention to it.

Loan sharks 

It seems that the Ministry of Home Affairs has told the police to get tough on loan sharks.

At an annual Police Workplan Seminar yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng was reported by The Straits Times to have said that the police “are about to get tough” with loan sharks and have been told to “critically review” loan shark syndicates.

The Straits Times report also quoted Subhas Anandan, the president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers, as saying that the law should go after borrowers too.

“Without demand, loan sharks cannot exist. By borrowing from them, people are abetting the loan sharks in committing the offence. There’re some real opportunists who take advantage of loan sharks by borrowing and not paying, forcing the loan sharks to get back at them. Then they call the police,” he said.

He also had another idea: “Liberalise the industry, so they have a legal way of earning.”
If borrowers commit a crime, the police may be justified in going after them. Otherwise, Subhas Anandan’s suggestion cuts rather close to victim-blaming.

On his suggestion to liberalise the industry, we have to be careful here. Lending — indeed, finance as a whole — has long been a tightly-regulated industry, and for good reasons. Imprudent borrowing and lending can lead to serious negative social and economic consequences. And people are also often not good at handling money matters. There is also a good reason why the casino proposal is so controversial.

If we want to help loan sharks go legitimate, by all means, but there is no reason they must continue lending money. There are other ways to earn a living.

Creating more job opportunities in the economy is one obvious approach. Of course, this is easier said than done. In addition, the people involved in loan shark activities often don’t fit in well in large organisations. So another approach would be to make it easy for them to start their own businesses.

These measures, of course, are all already part of the government agenda, and I have blogged on them frequently before. We just need to build on them.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Blogs as intellectual platforms 

Do people in Singapore really understand the potential of blogs?

Koh Buck Song commented in The Straits Times today:

A recent forum raised the question of whether Singapore qualifies as a great global city. The conclusion was mostly mixed, but the consensus seems that it is not, and that there is still room for improvement... For me, the most obvious shortfall is in software. The country’s “brain” is big, but it focuses on only some things and has few places to express itself.

Crucially, Singapore is lacking in one major area — it has no intellectual periodical to speak of, let alone one that makes an impact outside these shores. The model I have in mind is a print forum for intellectual trends and world affairs. To take an example from the United States, it would be something like the New Yorker magazine and Foreign Affairs journal rolled into one...

Currently, about the only platform in this country that offers an expression of Singaporean intellectual life on a regular basis can be found in the Review pages of this newspaper...
Significantly, blogging was not mentioned as an avenue for expressing intellectual views.

Most bloggers would be aware that there is an intellectually vibrant blogging community in the United States. The Singapore blogosphere is currently not quite at the same level (although more blogs by expert bloggers like this would surely help). But the situation, in my opinion, largely mirrors Singapore society as a whole.

Notwithstanding this handicap, I think that for Singapore, the Internet in general — and blogging in particular — is a viable alternative as an avenue for airing intellectual opinions. After all, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew himself has endorsed it.

Koh’s article, however, shows that blogs still get little respect from the mainstream media. Perhaps some people in Singapore think a blog is just a toy in cyberspace.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Wannabe teachers to get short stint in school before NIE training 

The Straits Times reports today that the Ministry of Education has ruled that graduates who want to be teachers will have to do a four-week stint in a school before starting training at the National Institute of Education (NIE).

The newspaper said that “principals who have seen new teachers quit welcomed the move. It means those who feel they are not suited for teaching can opt out before they sign a three-year bond and start training”.

The sidebar cited the case of an NIE graduate who, after working 10 weeks at a school, found that she could not handle her students, paid off her bond and resigned. It cited Prof Allan Luke, dean of the NIE’s Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice, as saying that there was no “magical” aptitude test to spot potential teachers.

Personally, I would agree that there is no magical aptitude test, and that a short stint on the job may help identify problems early on. Having said that, I think psychometric tests may also help provide some clues as to the suitability of candidates for teaching jobs.

In any case, many teachers and ex-teachers who have complained about the job point to the heavy workloads that they have to bear, often work not directly related to teaching. I doubt that a four-week stint prior to training, or assessing the ability of a teacher to handle his or her students, addresses this part of the problem.

Hopefully, the appointment of vice-principals to take charge of administrative tasks, reportedly to begin in June, will. My question is whether, in the absence of a change in management mindsets or incentive structure, the arrival of these vice-principals will only provide an excuse for the education authorities to find other non-teaching work for teachers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Workers’ Party casino stand doesn’t sit well with Singapore bloggers 

The Workers’ Party (WP) releases its statement on its stand on the casino, but some Singapore bloggers are not impressed.

Wows at Singapore Ink thinks that the statement “is a commendable move” but complains that the WP’s statement lacks “any alternative suggestion as to how we might raise the revenue a casino might bring in, or how we might have an alternative to the casino as part of our new tourism blueprint”. He elaborates on his views further here.

Lzydata, also at Singapore Ink, agrees that the stand is “commendable”, but is somewhat disappointed that it largely echoes the views of religious organisations, the “family” lobby and sceptical Singaporeans, and does not adequately address the potential economic benefits.

Han is scathing in his comments about the WP. He thinks it is an opportunistic bunch of losers. He is “sick and tired of that old ‘family values’ bugbear used to justify every reactionary impulse to control”, whether it is used by the PAP or by the opposition. “If there’s one thing I cannot stand more than a oppressive government, its a stupid opposition.”

Reacting to a reader’s defence of the WP, Han adds fuel to the fire by criticising the WP of “distasteful paternalistic arrogance” — of proposing more interference and meddling in the affairs of people, of possessing socialist and communitarian tendencies.

If these reactions are any indication, it looks like the Worker’s Party has its work cut out for it if it hopes to win the support of Singaporeans.

Having said that, let’s not forget that last year, President George W Bush’s Republican Party got a lot of stick too in the United States before going on to win the election comfortably. And while some people may focus on the so-called “reality” or “truth” — “logic is the final arbiter of truth”, says Han — let’s not forget that elections and politics are ultimately about people.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The New Paper on scholarship bond-breakers 

AcidFlask links to The New Paper’s articles on scholarship bond-breaking (see “Red tape and bond breakers”, “PSC: We have regular feedback sessions” and “Why bond breakers left”). Not surprising since he is featured in the articles.

I’ve already given my views on bond-breaking in an earlier post “Bond-breakers: Shame no more”.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Assistance comes too late for bank robber 

This is most unfortunate, but somehow, knowing the official attitude towards welfare in Singapore, you could see it coming.

State to assist would-be bank robber’s family
HE TRIED to rob a bank and has been condemned to years in jail, but his family members will not be left high and dry. The family of Brian Khoo, who attempted to rob a Maybank branch with a toy gun in November last year, will be assisted while he serves out his four-and-a-half year sentence, which was passed down last Friday...

The family’s plight — their electricity supply had been cut off, their telephone line was disconnected and they had little food when Khoo went jobless for 10 months — became public, when Khoo gave his mitigation plea last week.

For [Minister of Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr Vivian Balakrishnan], the “sorry episode” impressed strongly on him how Singaporeans who need help are not turning to the right channels and to people who are willing to help. Ensuring that everybody knows where to turn to for help will be one of his priorities over the next few years...
Lawyer Siew Kum Hong had warned as much in an opinion piece last month:

Heart of the State
... The Government has long maintained that anything resembling welfarism would mark the start of the end of Singapore. It is the slippery slope leading to a downward spiral from which there is no escape. The best way to solve the problem of unemployment and break the poverty trap is to ensure job availability and to provide education for children in low-income households.

But in this day and age of structural unemployment, I wonder whether such a dogmatic approach is hard-headed or hard-hearted. The harsh reality is that for whatever reason, some Singaporeans are unable to support themselves and some families struggle in circumstances that are entirely unsatisfactory in a society as rich as ours...

There is a variety of financial assistance available to the poor. But when assistance is as highly targeted as it is here, it also becomes extremely fragmented, because each scheme only provides a specific solution to a narrowly defined problem.

When you have a range of problems stemming from the root cause of poverty, you will require a whole host of specific solutions to address each of them. But is it realistic to expect the very poor to hunt down the different schemes available and still have time and energy to work hard? I have never been in that situation, but I can imagine that the desperately poor would find that extremely difficult...
Little wonder that many people are cynical about Singapore’s welfare policy.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Copyright protection 

Following up on my previous post “Cinemas and the Competition Act”, Han at Wannabe Lawyer has an interesting take on the situation.

He points out that competition for cinemas come not only from each other but also from substitute products like CDs, DVDs, rentals etc. Therefore, even if there is cartel-like behaviour involved, competitive conditions still exist in the overall entertainment industry and “Government intervention in this scenario would certainly be unwarranted”.

The last point is probably debatable, since it depends on whether one views these alternatives as good substitutes for the cinema. But his next statement is interesting: “... I would argue that this current state of affairs is a direct result of government intervention in the market”.

What does he mean?

“Copyrights are artificial monopolies created by government statute,” he writes. He implies that by enforcing copyright law and driving out VCD pirates — one of the cinema operators’ competitors — the government has empowered cinemas to raise ticket prices. “Strong copyright ‘protections’ are [a] barrier [to entry for new market players], and should be weakened.”

But what of the rights of the originator of the idea, which copyright is supposed to protect? Han is not too concerned.

“Ideas and expression of ideas are inherently non-rival and non-excludable,” he writes. An idea is non-rival because when someone other than the originator uses it, the originator does not lose the use of his idea. An idea is non-excludable if people cannot be selectively excluded from using it (although some might say that this argues for stronger copyright protection).

However, Huichieh of From a Singapore Angle says that while there is no cost in replicating an idea, there is a cost in generating the idea. That justifies some sort of copyright protection.

Ultimately, I think, it is all about balance. Too little protection and ideas are under-produced, as non-rival, non-excludable goods tend to be. Too much protection and you create monopolies of ideas, an anti-competitive situation that results in ideas being underutilised.

At the moment, intellectual property laws are mainly being driven by businesses and their lawyers, especially those in the United States. As a result, the trend is towards greater protection. Han’s recent post, as well as some of his other posts in his Copyfight category, is helpful in reminding us that there is a downside to this trend.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Cinemas and the Competition Act 

On Monday, three cinema operators announced that they would raise ticket prices from next month. Today, a report in The Straits Times says that such a move would be illegal under the new guidelines to the Competition Act that takes effect next year.

The move by three cinema operators to raise ticket prices in unison is one that could be deemed illegal under a tough new law that takes effect next year. The cinemas’ move could be construed as price-fixing, which the new law frowns upon, said the Competition Commission in response to queries from The Straits Times. This practice is defined by the Competition Act as an agreement which “directly or indirectly fixes purchase or selling prices, or any other trading conditions”...

The nub of the problem is that three cinema operators...agreed to raise prices together. The three, which form the Cinematograph Film Exhibitors Association (CEFA), announced on Monday that they will raise weekday prices of tickets by 50 cents and weekend prices by $1 from next month. It said the hike was to cover the increase in GST and higher utility costs. The three account for 80 per cent of total box office sales here.

The new law takes effect on Jan 1, so the cinema operators’ move is not illegal — yet. But the [Competition Commission] urged the CFEA to “ensure that it complies with the provisions on anti-competitive practices and agreements when they come into force”.
As it often does, The Straits Times manages to get a juicy quote:

The operators, however, are not backing down. The CFEA’s chairman, Mr Shaw Vee King, who is also Shaw’s managing director, said: “We are no cartel. All along, as an association, we have implemented price increases when we felt it was timely.”
And a timely quote, too, for today’s paper.