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7: Logical Thinking? January 20, 2010

Posted by The Truth in Im Allgemeinen, What Were They Thinking?!.
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According to PAP logic, we’re casting foreigners as villians. And we shouldn’t do that, says our Law Minister.

But isn’t law something which goes by logic? Then why is it that he is giving us such illogical statements? Many netizens (like Lucky Tan etc.) don’t see the logic…so let’s see what is not logical in what the States Times and what our Minister said…

So, first, the report:

MIDWAY through a 11/2-hour dialogue with Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Sunday, 58-year-old Wee Kai Fatt stood up and gave voice to the claims of many coffee shop pundits here.

The senior engineer complained about the foreigner-fuelled population boom, saying he was shocked when he heard there were five million people living in Singapore.

This influx of foreigners, he added, had caused HDB home prices to rocket.

Taking it all in, Mr Shanmugam took pains to clarify what he said were several misconceptions in Mr Wee’s statement.

The Law Minister’s key message: Do not cast foreigners as the villains driving up the prices of HDB flats.

Speaking at the end of his three-hour visit to Yew Tee constituency in Hong Kah GRC, he said: ‘The first misconception is that somehow there are five million people and that is putting pressure on all of us. It doesn’t.’

Firstly, i would like to ask what pains Mr Shanmugam took to clarify these “misconceptions.” Is it trying to use his Man in White logic to convince someone with ordinary logic? For example, Man in White logic often tells us that we SHOULD accept what is happening, i.e. welcome foreigners with open arms, be cheaper, better, faster, etc. Or maybe that the influx of foreigners has absolutely no role in pushing home prices up, when this obviously flies in the face of basic supply-and-demand. More demand, less supply, means that prices increase. (Of course, I’m not an economist, but that’s not what this is about now. This is about what the layperson thinks, not about what the economist says.)

Logic doesn’t operate on “should”, it operates on “is”.

Then why are HDB prices rising? MIW logic would probably say that it is a sign that our economy is picking up again and use it to tell us that we have MORE GOOD YEARS ahead of us. But that is not the case, well, not in reality at least (see, for example, this). Which is why i sometimes suspect that the Men in White live in another dimension, since sometimes their interpretation of happenings is so different from ours. Again, interpretation is also something which is not strictly logical. If it was strictly logical, the interpretation of how things are would convince anyone. But no one is convinced.

There’s also the argument from an unfounded premiss, e.g.: “The first misconception is that somehow there are five million people and that is putting pressure on all of us. It doesn’t.” How does Mr. Shanmugam know that it is a misconception? Does have have contrary proof? Can he explain his position? Or is he just relying on his status as Law Minister (“as a minister, i know what’s going on and you don’t?”) Relying on superior status to make what you say more valid is another sign of bad logic, or of an illogical argument trying to be logical. Authority tends to make people argue illogically.

The second unfounded argument is based on using statistics to make a statement appear empricially sound:

Of the five million, 3.2 million are citizens and roughly 500,000 are permanent residents (PRs). The remaining 1.3 million are here on temporary work permits and they ‘impose no burden’ on the public housing system.

What does it mean that “the remaining 1.3 million are here on temporary work permits and they ‘impose no burden’ on the public housing system”? It is probably a weak attempt at explaining away the problem. Just feed them some numbers and they’ll bite, hook, line and sinker. Are you sure, for example, that all of these 1.3 million people are staying in workers’ accomodations? Or maybe they are all Malaysians? Statistics which don’t exactly explain why they are solutions to the problem shouldn’t exactly be used.

Lastly, there is argument based on an assumption:

‘Let me pose a question back to you – ‘What do you think is the solution if we can’t get Singaporeans who all speak English? Then we have to get foreigners. Where do you think we can get them from, and can we educate all of them in English?’ Therefore, if you are given a choice, either there is someone there to serve you, which is Singapore’s style, or like in many Western countries, you do self-service. I suspect…most Singaporeans will say ‘OK, never mind, even if he can’t speak English, I will prefer that to a self-service situation’.

Is the assumption true? I would prefer self-service, actually. I don’t see the point in ballooning our population by 1.3 million people, so that they will have to come and serve us.  Actually, it’s also a veiled threat – “want less people? Then get ready to serve yourselves.” Another false assumption – are we so scared of serving ourselves? Don’t we do that at McDonald’s?

What was he thinking?

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