There is a rather interesting encouragement going around for us to buy masks for the construction workers, etc, as a sign of our kind hearts and our good will. But the problem is, there are no masks anywhere on this island left for us to buy for them. In a sense, we are faced here with a very old and very classical problem of the well off buying up all the food supplies in the light of a famine and drought, while the poorer people are left to starve.
Herein of course we can see the average middle-class Singaporeans exercising their financial advantage buying up what is at the moment a scarce resource for their own material and health benefit. But it can be argued that the demographic which has swoop up the limited supply of masks do not have the same “need” as the construction workers since presumably most of them would work indoors.
So we come to a tricky “what should” the gahment have done?
They could forcibly seize all supplies of masks in a state of emergency style rationing and then via a central command redistribute the masks as they see fit to the construction workers and other persons they deem it necessary to need it. However, this “central command” and redistribution approach would pose a political, bureaucratic and logistical nightmare. They would spark off a panic that the haze is so severe that the gahment is seizing its supplies and in fear of their lives, that could lead to a mass hysteria. And not forgetting that determining who are the “worthy” ones to receive a mask would itself pose a rather tricky political question, the xenophobes on this island would be crying that we should prioritise the sick and elderly locals over the foreigners, etc. The gahment will be faced with the impossible task of deciding how to carry this out and an even more impossible task of carrying it out, no matter what they decide they will make someone or some group very unhappy indeed.
But since our gahment can’t possibly contemplate such a politically drastic and disastrous move, and thus, we are left with the forces of the market to distribute the masks instead of some benevolent almight central authoritarian structure, which brings us to our next alternative.
Given the fact that the gahment does not and cannot forcibly redistribute the masks according to the Marxian formula of “need”, what else can we do? Seize it from our fellow citizens? Shame them into giving it up to the construction workers? Perhaps the saddest irony is that the whole nexus of our social fabric truly does run through the gahment, and that if the gahment does not manage it, no Singaporean may make any claim upon another Singaporean. The claim to our “Singaporeaness” can be entirely comprehended in the gahment’s action, that outside of the gahment action, no social claim upon us is legitimate or binding.
So to those calling for such acts of charity, let us remember the dictum of the late Iron Lady,
No-one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.
And on that note, here is a suggestion for a Stop Work Order:
Why not we do it this way: The gahment issues a stop work order, the construction workers will still get paid their standard salary, BUT, the construction companies will send the gahment the bill for paying the workers full salary for those days missed because of the Stop Work Order, then the gahment distributes the cost across the nation via our income tax rates.
Personally, I am not actually opposed to this scheme, but I’m just extremely irritated with the self-righteous indignation of those baying against the gahment for not issuing the stop work order. Whatever the health and “moral” merits of such an act, please, it is always easy to be charitable and noble and righteous with OTHER people’s money. Telling construction companies to pay for their worker’s health is not my idea of being morally superior and righteous. If one truly wants to claim the moral high ground, and is genuinely concerned for the worker’s health, then *you* share in the cost of helping them be healthy.
Moral Superiority does not come cheap, it must involve personal cost, but asking others to pay for you to feel righteous is not my idea of taking the moral high ground. I wonder though how many Singaporeans would be as enthusiastic for the Stop Work Order scheme if they knew that they had to pay for them to feel morally superior…