Digging behind the The Heart Truths

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Digging behind the The Heart Truths

The Skinny

Roy Ngerng of The Heart Truths has been on a publishing tear of late. His posts carry eye-catching headlings and are packed with graphs. Examples of recent headlines include:

  • PM Lee: Every School Is A Good School? Really? (This Will Disgust You)
  • Top 8 SHOCKING Facts About The Singapore CPF
  • 26% Of Singaporeans Live Below Poverty Line In Singapore

I think it is necessary that more Singaporeans look closely at issues, and discourse is good. But discourse cannot be a one-way street, so I thought I’d dip in a little into what Roy’s been writing about.

The Fat

I liked Roy’s posts back when he started The Heart Truths in 2012. He asked good questions and went in to find answers. His recent posts have taken a much harder edge; his headlines are catchy, almost to the point of coming across as desperately seeking attention. But maybe that’s the only way these days to get people to read what you put out there —

 I know I stopped reading The Heart Truths after my initial interest, and only the recent headlines piqued my interest again.

Thing is, what got my attention is how the posts are written to come across as authoritative and researched, with charts and all, but contain more questionable (I really wanted to use the word “rubbish”, but let’s pull up a little) assumptions.

The sources provided via hyperlinks don’t indicate where he gets his inference from; they normally link to entire thick reports and not specific pages within them, making it very tedious to fact check.

There are so many flawed assumptions in every single (albeit really long) post that it’s hard to point them all out. Let’s take one post as an example: Top 8 SHOCKING Facts About The Singapore CPF. I’m just going to run this by common-sense and a little bit of general knowledge, rather than thoroughly research the veracity of this post. I’m pretty much just following some of the links to external sources provided in the post. Most of the “facts” in the post revolve around the first fact listed: basically that CPF interest rates aren’t as high as they were in the 70’s.

I’m just going to poke around Fact #3.

FACT #3: You are paying up to a 12.5% tax on your CPF.

The post states that because Temasek Holdings earns between 6.5% and 16% returns from its investments, people are in fact “paying an implicit tax of 12.5%”. The assumption is that all investment returns ought to be paid directly to the people. The investments of government reserves (of which CPF is but a part, not the whole) are handled by MAS, GIC and Temasek.

My understanding of the different roles: MAS handles our foreign reserves, mainly to hedge against possible currency attacks from foreign banks or speculators.

Of the three, MAS is the most conservative in its investments. GIC takes a moderate risk/return stance while Temasek plays the high-stakes. Probably explains why Temasek’s losses makes the news — it’s part and parcel of their role.

Let’s return to the assumption that all investment returns needs to be returned directly to the people. Note that I say “directly”. I agree on principle that all returns of taxpayer monies and contributions should return to the people in some form, meaning no private party should stand to benefit or skim off the savings of our people or our contributions to our collective welfare.

But whether all of the returns should be put in the hands of individuals, leaving the government with nothing but money collected via tax, is an extremely short-sighted and flawed proposal.

It leaves the government with little choice but to impose heavy taxes. I’d much rather healthy investment offset the income tax burden on individuals, and the returns be spent on the building of infrastructure or social schemes.

What I really take issue with is the way the post phrases it, that readers are paying an implicit tax, which is utter rubbish given that it chooses to look at the rewards but not the risk. I agree that the CPF schemes needs scrutiny, but not ludicrous statements.

If you look at the general arguments presented in almost all the posts on the blog, a general narrative designed to stir negative sentiment arises: you are oppressed by a government that has given you one of the worst environments in the world to live in, and life without this government would be paradise.

This narrative is utter rubbish. There are many things Singapore needs to work on, but I’m not junking everything we have as an utter failure. Our forebears have worked hard for us to be where we are, and skewing everything negatively to gain political points is spitting in the face of their sacrifice.

Reference :
1.    Singapore Budget 2014: Initiatives Relating to CPF

2. How can I use my CPF money? What are the myths and facts surrounding our CPF savings?



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