Monday, April 23, 2007

A Danish reply says: Today, I received an interesting comment from a reader all the way from Denmark. Here is his well-researched and insightful response, reproduced in full.

"I read with interest Mentor Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s remark in Singapore’s Parliament that Denmark, Finland and Switzerland can afford mediocrity in the remuneration of their ministers.

I shall restrict my observations to Denmark and Finland.

These 2 Nordic countries reward their leaders, in both the private and public sectors, somewhat less handsomely than Singapore. Despite this, I would suggest that both countries’ governments are by no means mediocre, and neither have they evinced any indication of being able to afford it.

Finland has managed to weather the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, a market for 20% of its exports, in no small part due to its successful transformation from a resource-based to a knowledge-based economy. Its leading multinational, Nokia, is the market leader in the mobile telecommunications industry, with a global market share of 36% in the manufacture of mobile phones (Q42006) and revenues of €41.121 billion (2006). While most of the credit for this success story can be attributed to the Finnish private sector, Finland’s government had a significant role to play in creating the optimal framework for the flourishing of the technology sector. From the mid 1960s onwards, there were special efforts to expand higher education, with a law on higher education passed in 1966, the result being that Finns are some of the most well-educated people in the world.

The Finnish government was also instrumental in pushing for the promotion of GSM as the European mobile telephony standard, based on the Nordic countries’ experience of NMT, an earlier, pan-Nordic standard. The early adoption of GSM in Finland provided the platform for Nokia’s global breakthrough. Decades before the global liberalization of telecommunications markets in the 1990s, Finland’s telecoms market had already been liberalized, and thus had possibly the world’s most competitive market for telecom operators and equipment makers. Credit for this is in no small part due to the role of the Finnish government. Finland devotes a higher percentage of its GNP to research and development than most countries, and the role of the government has been critical, especially in the early 90s, where public-funded research increased despite recession.

In the case of Denmark, the government made the decision in the 1970s to intensify research into renewable energy. Important research was carried out at Risoe, the government research centre, into wind energy. It took political courage to subsidize feeder tariffs for wind turbine-produced electricity. That decision has paid off handsomely. Today, Danish-based companies have a global market share of ca. 50% in the manufacture of wind turbines, an industry with global annual growth rates of 30%, and estimated revenues of €10 billion (2006, est.). Indeed Denmark’s Vestas has recently set up engineering and research facilities in Singapore.

In more general terms, I would submit that both countries’ systems and governments are not mediocre, and are like Singapore’s, acutely aware of not being able to afford it. Rather than Europe being there to catch Finland and Denmark should they falter, both countries have been net contributors to the European Union budget since their accession. Mediocrity is not a hallmark of either society either. In the last 30 years, both countries, despite their small populations, have produced individuals who have won Olympic gold medals, Oscars and Nobel Prizes. They have produced New Economy pioneers, for example Finland’s Linus Torvalds, the creater of Linux (an open-source operating system and competitor to Microsoft’s Windows) and Denmark’s Janus Friis, co-founder of Skype (a peer-to-peer telephony application).

In conclusion, both countries’ positions as globally competitive economies and high-achieving societies have been attained against the backdrop of low corruption levels, and high levels of trust between citizens and government, and seemingly despite high taxes and comprehensive welfare states. This has not required stratospheric levels of remuneration of government leaders and officials.

Mr. Gregory GlenHolstebro, Denmark"

My comments:

I realize that there is often a need to remind ourselves how much we have achieved in a short time span and that things could have been worse. (On the other hand, it could also have been better).

Praises are usually accorded by others and if offered we should accept them with grace and humility.

What I tell my children to always avoid is self-praise. What is worse than self-praise is the elevation of self by denigrating and belittling others. Even worse ( lagi worse ) than this is the mocking and ridiculing others on less than “fair” basis ( there are other words that come to mind but since I do not have lawyers on retainer contract I better avoid them) in order to put one self on a pedestal. (Talking about Singapore)

Mr. Glen gives us a different perspective from those we read and hear day in and out and in and out and…

My next phone will be a Nokia and I will eat Danish pastry tomorrow. Very nice.


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

PS: I forgot to get mr.biao's permission., can I use your letter for my post?


Anonymous said...

Sure, there is someone in your other post who is doing a lot of self praise. Of course, what an irony for you to say that. :)

Anonymous said...

Patriot said:
For those who have travelled and worked overseas, it is quite obvious that every country has its share of problems. There are countries that are better off and there are those who are much worse than Singapore, having to face difficulties both man-made and natural.
The problem with our rulers is that they are prone to GROSSLY magnify our problems as if it is the most difficult country in the world to RULE. They take credit for the success of its diligent citizens and when they fail, blame it on global events, the heavens, and everyone else.


Anonymous said...

Nokia make some of the best phones around. But my next phone won't be a Nokia even though i owned two of them. Why? After sales service and support in S'pore is horrible. That's the problem when they start to outsource that part of their business.

Gerald said...

Thanks for sharing this Doc. I agree that the Nordic countries really have something special going for them. I still can't figure out what it is. High taxation, welfare do they maintain their competitive edge? Perhaps my paradigm is wrong, shaped by what I've been indoctrinated by the Singapore Govt. I hope our Govt can continue to learn (the good stuff) from the Nordic countries and not be let pride inhibit us from learning from others.

However they have at least a couple of things going for them - they have very homogeneous populations. No need to worry about racial and religous conflict. And they don't have hostile neighbours constantly threatening to cut off water supply, sand supply, etc. They are a stone's throw from the 2nd largest economy in the world (Europe). And lastly they have strategic depth (for defense) due to their large land area (yes, even Denmark).

I'm glad to hear Vestas has finally set up their R&D facility in Singapore. It took quite a bit of pursuing by EDB and MFA (which most people are not aware of). We don't have any wind power to speak of, but this really shows how companies see S'pore as a gateway to the Asian markets.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Gerald,
other small countries with great achievements include Norway/NZ/Israel.

All these incl Denmark have small populations,and govts that swings like pendulums ( ie from right wing to left wing to centrist) but their nations survive and even thrive from year to year.

The people are tough, patriotic and so long as they have brains their nation survives. Sg will survive and don't let the MIW put silly ideas into us that without the MIW, we will sink into the deep blue sea etc etc.

Then we will no longer be held hostage by people who say that they need 2.4m/ year. If you want 2.4m, you go and earn it yourself, like Gates or the Danish/Finnish inventors of Skype/Nokia.