Books, Uncategorized

Libertarian family values?


Those interested in the institution of the family and LGBT rights should read this excellent book by Steve Horwitz called “Hayek’s Modern Family”. Horwitz shows that the institution of the family is a product of cultural evolution. With this basic insight, he shows that BOTH conservatives as well as liberals miss something in their analysis.

Conservatives see the “traditional family” as under attack by liberal norms, but don’t realise that this model of the family isn’t as traditional as they suggest. The family and institution of marriage has changed over time, and this means that they are simply romanticising one slice of time.

Liberals on the other hand, don’t realise that the diversity of family forms that they embrace, actually are a result of changing economic conditions that preceded them. It was actually capitalism and the wealth that “freed the family from a concern with material survival and have opened the space for it as the site of our deepest nonmaterial aspirations.”

Read more on this at Reason Magazine here

Singapore, Uncategorized

The Pragmatic Case for LGBT Inclusion

Singaporeans, being socially conservative, seem to be rather averse to liberal ideas which champion tolerance and gay rights. These ideas are deemed foreign to an Asian context, and to Singapore as well. This may explain why LGBT inclusion lacks traction locally, as compared to many other nations today, where even the legality of gay marriage is being increasingly accepted.

However, the case for LGBT inclusion need not necessarily be grounded on the language of liberalism (though that should suffice), but may also be made on pragmatic grounds. I argue that if Singaporeans want to maintain our strong record of economic growth, pursuing LGBT inclusion may be a practical necessity we cannot avoid.

The late Lee Kuan Yew himself was famously pragmatic, and enacted policies that were not cast in ideological stone. This has long been a principle of the PAP government, and has translated into policies meticulously calculated to bring tangible socio-economic benefits to Singaporeans. In the Singaporean consensus, the logic of pragmatism reigns supreme.

On this basis, one should note the widespread benefits to businesses should they embrace LGBT inclusion. According to a recent study, “Out in the World, Securing LGBT Rights in a Global Marketplace“, by the Center for Talent Innovation, productivity and innovation in workplaces suffer when LGBT employees do not feel comfortable being open about their orientation. Accordingly, businesses benefit in three ways when they embrace LGBT rights: inclusion improves their employer branding and thus attract and retain the best talent, a diverse workforce can help capture more consumer segments, including the ‘pink dollar’, and an inclusive organisation culture breeds innovation. Perhaps this is what Singapore needs to boost its sagging productivity numbers and low levels of innovation.

This has implications on a national level too. A cross-national study by Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics demonstrated that societies which embraced diversity, including towards LGBT individuals, tend perform better economically. Specifically, “more tolerant countries attract more FDI, obtain better ratings, and exhibit more entrepreneurship.” This should not come as a surprise: people more readily create and innovate when they know their unique differences are celebrated.

Another study involving American cities, by Richard Florida of George Mason University and Gary Gates of the Urban Institute highlighted that a higher presence of homosexuals were correlated with a greater presence of high-tech industries and economic growth, since inclusive cities facilitate the formation of a “creative class“.

These studies are not meant to prove that homosexuality leads to creativity, but it underscores the important point that diversity pays off.

LGBT inclusion is not just a matter of liberalism. It drives economic growth and social progress, the kind that pragmatic, pro-growth and pro-business Singaporeans have always long strived for.


Singapore, Uncategorized

Singapore should understand liberalism, and embrace it

I refer to the letter titled “Singapore should not fall prey to demands to be liberal” written by Mr Tam Wai Jia on 25th February 2016. 

 Using Madonna’s upcoming concert as an example, Mr Tam argued that Singapore should resist calls for liberalism because this would mean giving in to “public indecency” and “blasphemy”. Such a result would apparently upset the delicate social balance and destroy Singapore’s exceptionalism. 

 While Mr Tam’s commitment to his values is admirable, he misunderstands the nature of liberalism and its implications, should it be embraced in Singapore. Singaporeans should actually take this chance to better understand what liberalism is really about, and embrace it. 

Liberalism as a political philosophy, does not entail a commitment to any substantive set of moral values, but is rather, a minimal conception that simply demands individuals respect the free choice of others.  Simply put, embracing liberalism does not mean endorsing a particular way of life, but it means that we refrain from coercively suppressing, by law, how others pursue their version of the ‘good life’. According Madonna the right to parade an adulterated cross does not imply endorsing her beliefs. 

Should Mr Tam or any Singaporean feel uncomfortable at Madonna’s concert, or what they deem as indecent or blasphemous, there’s nothing stopping them from simply disassociating themselves. As a matter of fact, it is only in a liberal society will the rights of conservatives like Mr Tam be strongly protected, where he will be left free to disassociate himself from events or groups he deems unconscionable. Ironically, Mr Tam, for his railings against the “demands to be liberal”, will derive many benefits from a liberal system since religious minorities will be protected from majoritarian pressures to conform. 

A truly multi-racial or multi-religious society is one that embraces a diversity of values, where no singular set of “values” necessarily holds a privileged status. “Local mores”, in Mr Tam’s words, are not monolithic, and should not be. Our public space should be open to contestation.

Singaporeans are famously pragmatic, and rightly so. We have come so far, after all. If we really want Singapore to remain exceptional, the only sustainable approach would be to “let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thought contend”. This harnesses the collective energies of Singaporeans, and is the spark of innovation, creativity and progress. 

So lets welcome the loud, the irreverent and the downright controversial. Doing so also reveals the degree to which we hold fast to the notion of multi-culturalism and openness. This is how we remain committed to the belief that while we are all different, we are still equally valuable.