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The NUS Economist

March 2010

Volume I, Issue I

An official publication of the NUS Economics Society

Analysing Obamacare

The Greek Financial Crisis

Interview with Prof essor Lee Soo Ann

The Oscar Report

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Credits Journalists

Editorial Staff Editor-in-Chief - Suhas Bhat, Year 3, Economics Current Affairs Editor - Nahim Bin Zahur, Year 3, Economics Chief Layout Designer - Manoj Harjani Financial News Editor - Wang Xinmin, Year 1, Economics

Suhas Bhat Wang Xinmin Nahim Bin Zahur Hanley Moothen Wei Yong Cheok Aidas Masilunas Saumya Aggarwal

Photo credits Main image - Obama with healthcare symbol backround [cover page] Lee Soo Ann profile picture [cover page]

Avatar bags Two Golden Globes [cover page] Greek flag [cover page] Associated Press

Obama speaks at a rally [contents] Counting Euros [contents]

Academy award figurines [contents] Uncle Sam wants you [pg 2]

Obama & reform advert poster [pg 3]

Senators in session [pg 4]

Baby immunized [pg 5] Obama signing bill [pg 6]

Senator reading bill [pg 6]

Greek Prime Minister [pg 8]

Kathryn Bigelow and the producers of the Hurt Locker [pg 13] Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart [pg 13] Sandra Bullock in the Blind Side [pg 13]

Scene from the Hurt Locker [pg 14]

1 Euro coin [pg 9]

Greek farmers protest [pg 10]

Professor Lee Soo Ann [pg 11] courtesy of Lee Soo Ann

Old Kent Ridge Residences [pg 12]

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Contents What’s ailing the healthcare reform bill in the US? page 3 We look into the much debated health care reform package in the US The importance of choosing modules wisely Column

page 7

The Greek Financial Crisis page 8 A fresh new turn of events in the crisis saga Interview with page 11 Prof. Lee Soo Ann EC3371 Development Economics Lecturer Who won the Oscars? page 13 A typically riveting and dramatic night unfolded

See page 2 for details on how to join this publication

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Letter from the editor It took us a whole semester and a half to get here. We started at the beginning of the year but things never work out as planned, especially if you’re trying to create something entirely new. A whole new framework needed to be created and much training and practise had to be undertaken such that we had the confidence to to produce these few pages on your computer screens. We are definitely creating something totally new. There is currently no publication on campus that focuses on current affairs, economic analysis and financial news. It is strange that in a university numbering in size of more than 25, 000 students, there has not yet been a concerted effort by students of any department to create such a specialized publication. Other universities have not been as shy as a number of famous student-run publications have been created where creativity has been fostered and students have had the opportunity to express themselves , learn more and apply the knowledge that they gain in university. There is a main campus magazine out there but it isn’t a perfect substitute as they aim their articles towards the general NUS student. So a publication comprising of good writers focusing on niche topics is currently lacking and hopefully this publication will fill that void and produce something that would be worth your while to take your time out and read.

apply them to real-life, dynamic and complex situations.

You will also find this magazine to be a medium representing the voice of the average student in the Economics department. That comes assuredly so as we belong to the the Economics Society of NUS. The NUS Economics Society has been working very hard for a number of years in order to be of service to the Economics undergraduate community. In this manner, they have organized social events, talks, seminars, bazaars, exam solution sales and much more. This publication is just a continuation of this altruistic purpose.

We also hope to be a bridge between the students and the faculty so that both parties better understand one another and build long-lasting bonds of friendship. We hope that professors and faculty members will assist us in this publication and guide us such that we become interesting sources of information about economics beyond lecture notes and course books.

I truly believe that economics is a beautiful discipline helping one understand the fundamental underpinnings of the world today in a manner not found elsewhere. At the same time, it isn’t an exact science allowing for conjecture, opinion and debate. As such, I am sure that there are a great number of you who have learnt to see the world in unique ways and we hope that this publication The name ‘the NUS Economist’ was also decided on will allow you to channel your thoughts and ideas. this basis as it succintly describe the goals that we have set out for ourselves - to provide a consistent, We hope that if you are interested, that you will join regular publication containing specialized content our team and help us improve this small project such with in-depth analysis and commentary with the NUS that it becomes a long-term, prestigious publication. Economics undergraduate being the targeted reader. There is no reason why we cannot be a source of pride for the department and only with diligence and In order to avoid unrealistic expectations, we make perseverance can we achieve this. Due to cost concerns, it clear, however, that we cannot promise stellar we are currently confined to publishing this magazine quality or the calibre of mainstream publications. But through an online source but hopefully with enough you can expect that a team of writers will work very improvment, we hope that we will officially be able hard every month in order to provide you reading to launch in the near future as a print publication. material that will update you on the events that transpired and those that are coming such that you We will need your support and your following. The are better informed about the world that we live in. simplest way that you can do that is by reading all that has been written here. We hope that it will be to your liking and Through this publication, you will hopefully also be able that you will look forward to the second issue next month. to better understand the principles of economics that Till then, we bid you goodbye. you learn during your studies as we will endeavour to Suhas Bhat (Editor-in-Chief)


The NUS Economist is looking for talented writers, photographers, designers, editors and anyone interested in making a contribution.

Send us an email at


What’s ailing the healthcare reform bill in the US? The debate about the bill has transformed itself into a political slugfest that poses testing questions for US democracy. Nahim


hen Barack Obama became US president in November 2008, providing universal healthcare was among his very top priorities. Yet more than a year later, healthcare reform in the US is seemingly as elusive as ever. Why is that the case? Answering this question requires more than just analyzing the debate about healthcare reformsit requires us to probe right into the heart of American democracy. At the heart of the debate is a US healthcare system that is a curious mish-mash of the private and public. Healthcare is generally funded privately, with individuals obtaining health insurance through their employers or using private insurance schemes. At the same time, though, the federal government sponsors two schemes which together cover approximately 25% of the population- Medicare, which covers those who are 65

years or above, and Medicaid, which covers disadvantaged groups in the population such as low-income parents, children and the disabled. The result is a healthcare system that, compared to other developed countries, performs poorly on many counts.



the US is ranked a lowly 41st in the world for lowest infant mortality rate, and 46th for highest total life expectancy. In terms of YPLL (Years of Potential Life Lost), a measure of the number of years of life lost due to preventable and premature death, the US ranks 3rd lowest (for males) and 5th lowest (for females) among all OECD countries. Furthermore, the mixture of high healthcare costs and a (mostly) private system of insurance has meant that 46.3 million people, or 15.3% of the US population, had no health insurance at all in 2008, while a significant portion of the insured population is estimated to be underinsured.

On the one hand the US healthcare system is among the costliest in the world - a whopping 16% of the GDP is spent on healthcare, 2nd only to Timor Leste among UN member nations, and the per capita spending on healthcare in 2006 was $6,719 (in PPP terms), which is significantly higher than any other country. Added to that is the fact that health care costs are increasing every year, especially The present government has because an ageing population means identified three areas of concern in increased spending on Medicare. the US healthcare system. First up is the lack of universal coverage. The On the other hand, the high spending fact that so many people are without has not translated into a more health insurance is undesirable by effective healthcare system or better itself; but this is further worsened by healthcare outcomes. For instance, the recognition that the uninsured


end up having to pay for healthcare anyway, and at a significantly higher cost since those without insurance typically do not seek treatment at an early stage when costs are lower.

businesses, while limits have been placed on the ability of insurers to increase their premiums, with the view of making health insurance more affordable and thus increase insurance coverage. Those who can afford insurance but choose not to purchase insurance have to pay a tax, so as to prevent cost-shifting (i.e. where the insured pay for the health costs of the uninsured). Coupled with these is a “grandfather� policy, where people who wish to keep their existing insurance plans get to do so but with new consumer protections added in - for instance, exclusions due to pre-existing conditions have been prohibited.

Thus a perverse cycle is at work- the high healthcare costs drive people away from seeking health insurance, but this drives up healthcare costs even further! The second area of concern is the high health care costs in the US. In particular, Medicare is particularly costly, with 16% of the federal budget spent on it. Finally, a significant amount of fraud and waste exists within the system, mostly because of the complexity of the system which requires private and public insurers to interact with The reform bill tackles the problem hospitals, doctors and patients. of fraud and waste with a slew of regulations. The majority of these The healthcare reform bill proposed regulations are designed to cut down by Obama separately addresses on excessive billing by healthcare each of these areas of concern. To providers through increased address lack of coverage, tax credit oversight and stronger sanctions for insurance premiums have been for fraud. Finally, policies to contain increased for individuals and small costs include imposing an excise

tax on high-cost insurance plans (to persuade insurers to offer lowercost plans), and increasing fees from brand-name pharmaceuticals. In addition, there are policies to reform Medicare; for instance, Medicare beneficiaries currently have the option of receiving their benefits through private health insurance plans, but Medicare typically overpays private insurers by 14%. The reform bill tackles this by linking Medicare payments to private insurers to local fee-for-service costs.

How should we assess the proposed reform bill? In terms of equity and fairness, the reform bill scores well. There are numerous policies that try to make health insurance more affordable and accessible to consumers, which should increase the number of people with effective access to health care. In addition the policies designed to contain fraud and waste shift the balance of power from healthcare

President Barack Obama speaks to a joint session of Congress regarding health care reform


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providers and insurers to the consumers by preventing excessive billing. The compulsory tax paid by those who choose not to purchase insurance increases the perceived fairness of the system. The reforms also perform well on efficiency considerations, though here the verdict is less clear. The antifraud measures should, by and large, increase the efficiency of the system, since they address the fundamental problem of information asymmetry in the healthcare market- typically doctors, hospitals and health insurers are much better informed than the consumers and thus well placed to take advantage of them by, for instance, billing excessively or recommending more healthcare utilization than is necessary. The increased incentives for individuals to purchase health insurance address another potential source of inefficiency- the fact that individuals tend to underestimate the amount of healthcare they


require in the future, and thus The proposed healthcare reform purchase no or too little insurance. bill has become caught in a political limbo, with the Democrats staunchly Nevertheless there are some supporting it and the Republicans question marks as far as efficiency equally staunch in opposing it. is concerned - the increased regulations could potentially Surprisingly, though, little of the drive up healthcare costs due to current debate on the reform bill the cost of complying with them. has to do with the provisions in the bill itself. There has been some The biggest problem with the debate on what is not in the planreform bill is its cost. At present Republicans, for instance, want to the whole bundle of proposals is see tort reform included in the bill projected to cost the US around so as to deal with growing medical $950 billion, which runs counter malpractice suits which is one to one of the main objectives of the factor behind rising healthcare reform bill- reduction of healthcare costs. But the essentials of the plancosts. This hefty expenditure will increasing coverage and reducing only be fully justified if enough fraud- have not been opposed. cost-savings are made in the long- To explain why the reform bill is run due to Medicare reform and anti-fraud measures, and it is not at all clear whether that will be the case. And if that is not the case, then the US has to assess whether the equity and efficiency benefits from the proposal justify the increase in healthcare expenditure and the inevitable resulting increase in the budget deficit.

“The biggest problem with the reform bill is its cost�

yet to be passed, then, we have to look at the political implications of the passage of the reform bill.

If a healthcare reform bill of such a massive scale is passed, regardless of its actual provisions, it will represent a major victory for Obama and the Democrats and boost Democrat chances in the next elections. Conversely, if the bill is not passed, the Republicans will have the chance to surge ahead in the fight for political power. All these considerations are particularly crucial given the upcoming midterm elections in November. This explains why the death of Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy in August 2009 was so critical in stalling the passage of the healthcare bill. Before Kennedy’s death, the Democrats held a 60-40 majority in the Senate, which is sufficient for easy passage of bills. After Kennedy died, his seat in the Senate was taken

called the filibuster. The filibuster allows a Senator to speak for as long as he/she wants on a particular topic unless at least three-fifths of the Senators vote to end the debate- hence the significance of the magical 60-40 majority. Thus the Republican strategy is simply to use the filibuster to delay and eventually cripple the healthcare bill.

The Democrats do have the option of using an obscure procedure called budget reconciliation to pass the bill, which requires a simple majority in the Senate rather than a 60-40 majority. But budget reconciliation is unpopular and may be damaging to the Democrats, since resorting to reconciliation carries with it the charge of up by Republican Scott Brown. With engaging in partisan politics. the majority now reduced to 59-41, the Republicans now had the option All of this has faintly disturbing of indefinitely delaying the passage implications for the quality of of any bill- including the health democracy and governance in the reform bill- through a procedure US. If the healthcare bill was being held up because of a vigorous debate on its merits and demerits, there would be nothing wrong with that. But when the healthcare bill is being held up due to partisan politics and obscure political devices such as the filibuster, it is clear that something is not right in the political system.

With additional reporting by Hanley Moothen

A member of Congress reads President Barack Obama’s health care plan during the president’s speech on health care to a joint session of Congress.


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The importance of choosing modules wisely Suhas Bhat Column The CAP is not fair. Not exactly breaking news, I’m sure as I hear that sentiment pronounced so often. But have you ever thought why? We choose modules that will make us doctors, engineers, economists, psychologists etc. We also choose modules that enhance our educational providing us breadth of knowledge and a diversity of perspectives – GEMs, Breadth, UEMs and the SS modules do this. Now while it is mainly down to your performance in your examinations for the 25 Economics modules that determines your CAP, the extra non-core modules play a very important role. Your choices on what to study helps you get that extra edge over others. There are two ways people do this. Either you take easy modules or, and this is the smarter choice, you take up modules that provide value-added services – MA1102R, Linear Algebra, Finance modules in Business etc. It matters more for Economics because we borrow a lot from other fields. So if you learn these other modules then, like an investment forcing you to sacrifice current income for future returns, you end up doing better in the higher Economics modules.

and not worry about irrelevant factors such as the proportion of non-Economics students in a given module? Learn this now - you don’t really have as much of a free choice as you think you do (of course, this only matters if you wish to, as economists would say, maximize your CAP subject to your degree requirements constraint).

Amongst students that choose “easy mods” on one end and others that choose “complementary mods” on the other, you will be somewhere in the middle and (having not really planned thoroughly) will not do as well as those that fall under the ‘tails’. And this small minority (it has to be small if it’s a standard bell curve) are the ones that have that extra 0.2 score that helps them jump over the border of any class divisions (4.0 being the division between 2nd Upper and 2nd Lower, for example) and have a safety cushion should they not perform as expected in any Economics module.

Of course, much of this is conjecture. You’d have to pull out the academic performance of past Economics students and do a statistical analysis (which I doubt can be done due to privacy concerns) to find what seems to be a consistently dominant strategy over Not everyone knows this, though, and hence the fairness the years but my experience and observations of concern. Many Economics students suffer from a weak fellow undergraduates does seem to indicate this. mathematical foundations. This is unfortunate but expected as there is no Maths A Levels requirement for So it’s very important to consult seniors so that you Economics in NUS (“The Economics major programme know what lies in store ahead for you. As we draw to is open to all matriculated students of the Faculty the close of the academic year, take the time out to of Arts and Social Sciences regardless of their pre- plan ahead and to learn from other people’s mistakes. university background”) despite the heavy reliance And don’t be fooled into thinking that your non-core on mathematical principles in the economics field. modules don’t matter. At the same time, don’t be as competitive as the rational man and remember that It is indeed admirable that the department has taken this there might be others who could need a helping hand! stance nevertheless, the bombardment of symbols and equations may become too much for some students and The Economics department, in a pleasant turn of thus those that run the extra mile and do mathematical events, is also realizing that many students don’t courses do end up benefitting for all the pain and toil really know enough Maths and hence is going to that they undergo. On the other hand, those students offer Mathematical Economics as a level-2000 from other faculties that do not have this problem module from next year. Unfortunately, many of end up scoring very highly in Economics modules my Year 3 friends don’t stand to benefit from this. introducing a positive bias for the average score. But in a department that is the 2nd best in Asia, EC1101E is far from the complete picture on what to But doesn’t this go against the very idea of “intellectual expect for the 3-4 years that you’ll study Economics. broadening” (GEM website)? Isn’t the CAP supposed to Suhas Bhat wishes he could go back in time and give be a fair system such that you are rated for your efforts himself a few handy pointers!


The Greek Financial Crisis

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou: Spending cuts – not “Greek” to me


he idyllic mediterranean setting does not invoke a sense of impending chaos. Yet, that is exactly what the crisis could mean for the European Union. As part of the European Union (EU), a default could have severe impacts on the Euro, the common currency of the EU. Furthermore, rulings on the possible bailout of Greece would set precedence for other heavily indebted member states.

The Greek government has responded to the harsh rebukes by the EU and the fears of jittery investors by introducing austerity measures and reducing its spending. but it hasn’t done this tactfully sparking a public outcry. The unfolding Greek drama is significant because an improper resolution of the crisis could trigger yet another global financial crisis, potentially resulting in a collapse of the world economy, which has yet to recover from the strains of the previous crisis.

The Greek financial crisis was caused primarily by its large government debt and deficit, a result of years of profligacy, low interest rates (hence cheap lending) and a lack of financial reform. The global financial crisis of 2007-2010 had battered Greece and exposed debt levels and deficits (which had been masked by earlier governments) that exceeded limits set by the euro zone. Greece’s national debt, at €300 billion (S$572 billion), is larger than its gross domestic product (GDP); while its budget deficit is 12.7 percent of its GDP - more than four times the euro zone’s 3% limit.

As a result of its large debts, Greece’s credit rating has been downgraded to the lowest in the euro zone. This would put further strain on Greece to pay its bills as interest rates on existing debts rise. The Greek government, under Prime Minister George Papandreou, has already implemented harsh and unpopular

While the world is still mending the fragile cracks in the global economy caused by the 2007 financial crisis, Greece, a member of the European Union, may default on its debt causing much turmoil in global financial markets. Wang Xinmiin

spending cuts. The government, which has to raise $75 billion to close its fiscal gap, earlier announced a three-year austerity plan to reduce the deficit to 2% of output by 2013. The plan includes cuts in civil servants’ salaries and pension freezes and increases in taxes, such as the sales tax (VAT) from 19% to 21% and taxes on luxury goods. Despite these measures, Euopean financial markets are still volatile as rumours abound that Greece is on the brink of a default and would need a bailout from the EU or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or may even get kicked out of the E.U. The effects of the Greek financial crisis have been felt most acutely by Greek society. Massive strikes by the public sector have disrupted key services; workers nationwide staged a one-day strike, closing airports, government offices, courts and schools while farmers have ridden


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their tractors along Greece’s highways the treaty governing the European to protest plans to cut subsidies. Union includes a “no bail-out” clause that forbids countries from taking Some have commented that, like on the debts of others, the E.U and a Trojan horse, Greece, with its European Central Bank (ECB) do not mountainous debts, entered the have clear rules on this issue. This E.U only to unleash its problems means that member nations have onto the Eurozone. The Greek to devise their own bailout plans. crisis has rattled global financial Europe’s dominant markets, and that these markets are While betting on a debt default reflects economy, Germany, is proposing badly on the euro’s credibility. a “firewall” to prevent Greece’s crisis from spreading, no concrete have been made. Should Europe resort to rescue proposals packages by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Over fears of the possibility of the euro’s reputation would suffer another global financial crisis caused further blows, which could lead to a substantial fall against other major Financial uncertainties currencies. Indeed, over the past may cripple the two months, the euro has fallen by almost 7% against the dollar. economies of Portugal,

With the threat of potential detrimental impacts on the Euro following Greece’s problems, it is no surprise that dominant members of the Eurozone want Greece’s problems resolved quickly. While


Moreover, a default would also affect banks holding indebted countries’ bonds, which would add further strain to the global banking system. This in turn raises the possibility of further bailouts of banks by governments - a situation which taxpayers are loathe to consider.

Others believe that the public finances basically remain a national responsibility and do not fall under the governance of the EU. Furthermore, a bailout of Greece would also open the floodgates for other member states to demand bailouts should they fall into heavy Italy, Ireland, Grece debt, thus weakening the resolves of and Spain, collectively other nations to contain the crisis. It may also be politically unfeasible known as the PIIGS. as there would be widespread by a default by Greece, there has been dissent and unhappiness among much speculation and debate over voters in the other EU states. whether Greece should be bailed out. Voices from both camps are equally As default remains taboo, some insistent and valid, a reflection of have suggested that Greece arrange the complexity of the situation. a bridging loan from another eurozone country in good credit, such Those who support a bailout argue as Germany. However, this may that if Greece fell into bankruptcy, also be politically impractical as there would be a domino effect voters in the donor country would where the financial mess would be angered if their savings were spread to other indebted members used to rescue the spendthrift of the EU, namely Portugal, Spain, consumers of another country. Italy and Ireland, triggering a far larger crisis. For instance, Joseph It is also complicated to negotiate Stiglitz, a Nobel economics laureate, the terms and conditions for is among those who recommend the loan offered as there may a bailout on grounds that a public be a loss of Greek sovereignty. offer of assistance is needed to drive away the speculators now attacking While some have suggested involving the euro. Default is considered the IMF in bailing Greece out, taboo due to the fear of contagion, European officials do not support because if Greece were allowed to this as turning to the IMF for aid sink, the cost of borrowing for other would be a humiliation for Europe,

The Euro facing its most serious threat yet Furthermore, with the downgrading of Greek debt, yields on government bonds have shot up. There are also fears of a domino effect, where financial uncertainties will spread and cripple the economies of the EU’s other weaker members, such as Portugal, Italy, the Republic of Ireland and Spain, which together with Greece are collectively known as the PIIGS.

indebted euro members would rise dramatically. This would make it even more difficult for them to repay their debts and a lot of debts are owed in the post-crisis environment.

Farmers parking tractors on national highways in order to protest against the government’s austerity measures. The largesse of the government and the country’s banking system is proving to be very costly for the relatively innocent and poorer income classes.

which is supposed to be robust exists a wide economic disparity enough to mend its problems. between these economies. This makes it difficult to work In the long term, economic growth toward a common fiscal target would be a key problem for Greece, as an integrated union. Indeed, as it lacks both the physical and some have argued that had Greece human infrastructure needed to maintained its own currency, its make itself more competitive. troubles would have surfaced The current crisis means that earlier. A north-south divide has growth is likely to be sluggish in been described in the euro area. the future. This thus raises further The North, as typified by Germany, questions and uncertainties on the uses savings and exports as growth possibility of providing loans to drivers while countries in the South, Greece, which it now needs. This such as the PIIGS, rely heavily on problem is further compounded consumer spending and have weak by the aging population and public finances. This disparity may decline that the working-age cause other problems in the EU population in Greece, as well as in future, as the weak southern Europe, would face in future. states are likely to hamper the growth of other stronger states. While the EU would probably not allow Greece or the others to For now, Greece is likely to continue default or the euro zone to collapse, remain in the euro. In the future, the Greek crisis has exposed a key however, the EU may have to devise weakness of the euro – that while plans to manage such financial nations in the Eurozone share troubles by its weaker states. a common currency, their fiscal The tasks of putting Greece’s goals are not well-aligned as there finances in order and containing the

crisis seem almost Herculean. Yet it is of paramount importance that these are achieved as the potential negative spillover effects on the EU, the euro, and subsequently the world economy, are considerably large. Given the interconnectivity of member states within the EU, the significance of Europe in the world economy and the tendency for financial crises to erupt into larger economic crises, Greece needs to reign in its spending and restructure its economy. However, the Greeks are certainly not pleased with the Spartan future ahead, as seen by the ongoing strikes and protests against the government’s austerity measures. Nonetheless, the culmination of this Greek drama would have significant impacts on the global economy, and it remains to be seen whether it would play out as a classic Greek tragedy.


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Interview: Lee Soo Ann A

s Part of the goal of being a bridge between the students and the department, we hope to interview one professor every month so that you find out more about the men and women that teach you for many hours every week. For this issue, we approached Lee Soo Ann, the lecturer for EC3371: Development Economics. Dr Lee Soo Ann is a Senior Fellow (Part-Time) in the Department of Economics at the National University of Singapore. He is currently a lecturer for Development Economics (EC3371) and Global Dimensions of the Singapore Economy (EC2373). At 70-years-old, he still swims four times a week and in this candid interview, we learn about his personal life, his long career and the hopes that he has for the students of tomorrow.

Professor Lee Soo Ann with his wife and siblings

at the University of Malaya and my Master’s programme in Development Economics from Williams College, Massachusetts SA: Prof, please tell us about in 1960-61. Singapore back then yourself. was a developing country and the program was designed for students I teach as a lecturer and have been from developing countries to study, teaching for many years! I have go back and apply what they learnt. three children, the first two from my first marriage. My wife passed SA: What working experience do away 32 years ago (when I was you have? 38-years-old) and I remarried and have a young daughter with my Aside from being a lecturer, I worked at second wife. I’ve been married to the Ministry of Finance, Development my second wife for 25 years now. Division. Initially, I was not teaching She was a lecturer and we were colleagues in the department. She is an executive coach now, helping mentor businessmen in their 30s and 40s, providing them guidance and counselling. I have 5 grandsons (all boys!) and the oldest is a firstyear student at Jurong Junior College.

Development Economics but courses such as Social Accounting. The Development Economics course only began in the 1970s so it took me some time to become a lecturer in this field.

I left the university in 1990 in order to work on Christianity. I was involved in helping publish Bibles SA: Where did you study? by the Bible Society of Singapore. I was especially interested in how I did my undergraduate studies the Bible is translated and depicted


in other languages around the world. The Chinese translations produced here impact the lives of many citizens around the world, even those in Mainland China. SB: Why Development Economics?

I was conscious of the development potential of Singapore. I had first worked for 6 months at the Ministry of Commerce and that’s where I realized that it was important to learn Economics from a relevant development perspective.

I think Development Economics has gone out of fashion but people realize its importance. Economics has become very specialized but people are now finding it important to have a broader approach. There are a lot of things that can’t be explained by conventional economics and importance has to be placed on the values of countries, the social institutions and the goal of poverty reduction.

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SA: What are your expectations of Economics students? There are new frontiers that should be explored. Behavioral Economics has produced interesting insights. Economics is very methodological, like a set of tools borrowed from Physics and Mathematics to create an equilibrium-based approach. It is important to carry out experiments and not generalize too much. Mathematical analysis tied to a specific group of people or a specific frame of reference will not be too useful in the future. SB: Any message for Econs students? The former location of Kent Ridge Hall (currently Ridge View Residence). Professor Lee Soo Ann was the Master of Hall in 1979. SB: What are your views on helps me to integrate my knowledge Krugman’s work? (A notable of Economics with everyday life. American economist, New York Economics can become quite Times columnist and author, materialistic and theology helps me winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in see things in a more holistic pattern. Economics for his contributions to New Trade Theory and I also enjoy listening to music on New Economic Geography.) my iTouch but I must find out what more I can do with it! I heard you It was heartening to hear that Paul can see photos, surf the internet, Krugman won the Nobel Prize. buy shares and do all kinds of things His work explained international with it. Incredible! Nowadays, all trade not in terms of comparative these gadgets are so impressive. advantage but in ideas of vertical integration and globalization. SA: What are your thoughts on campus life? I would recommend that students read his work and it is difficult I was the Master of Hall at Raffles to explain it without having a Hall in the early 70s and Kent Ridge development perspective. You Hall (the current Old KR residences) must understand how both rich later in the decade. It gave me the and poor countries operate in chance to work with students and tandem and not in isolation in I truly enjoyed it. My residence was order to understand, an idea where the current University Health central to Development Economics. Centre is located. Students from the hall used to come down to the dining SA: What are your hobbies? hall and I used to meet them regularly. Even now, I enjoy meeting students I go swimming 4 times a week and and I always invite them to visit my read the Bible regularly. Theology home during Chinese New Year.


(Takes out a book called the Fajar Generation) Here, I want to show you this. (Points to author) This man, Koh Kay Yew, was an Alumnus of our department and a President’s Scholar. He created the University Socialist Club and was very active in politics until the PAP detained him and dismantled the party. The book is about his generation and other idealistic individuals. Nowadays, I don’t think people are idealistic and I find that disappointing. I am not talking about political activism but just telling students to live out their ideals.

Students focus too much on graduating quickly. Learn a foreign language, travel abroad, and learn from other cultures, interact with foreign students. You have so many opportunities and resources that we did not have. The university is so much bigger, you can even take courses from other disciplines. I couldn’t! Exploit all of this and above all, be happy! Interviewed by Saumya Aggarwal & Suhas Bhat

82nd Academy Awards: First Female Director To Win an Oscar for Best Director Katheryn Bigelow (inset), director of the critically acclaimed “The Hurt Locker”, wins Best Director as the movie also notches up the Best Picture award.


Suhas Bhat

t proved to be a disappointing night for James Cameron and his behemothian creation “Avatar” which has become the top grossing movie of all time, 12 years after he helmed “Titanic”, the last movie to have held that title. It was entirely unexpected that his return to direction would be so successful and there were rumors that the Academy of Motion Pictures would give the nod to the movie that has captured the global public imagination. But in a David vs Goliath battle, the awards committee gave it to the underdog, Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker”. Bigelow, Cameron’s exwife, also nabbed the Best Director award in a tale worthy of being scripted in a soap opera drama.

The Academy had been changing its tone in the past few years after realising that its choices were out of sync with that of moviegoers who instead voted with their money for altogether different movies. Being probably the biggest awards


ceremony of the world, it seemed odd that it held an elitist perspective. In an effort to change this, the number of nominations for Best Picture were doubled from 5 to 10 seeing even an animated movie (“Up”) grab a spot.

Nevertheless, it is a relief that, unlike the Golden Globes, the drama about a bomb disposal squad won over Avatar as the CGI-heavy film, despite its stunning visual allure, didn’t really have much going for it. The story was nothing really great (cold-hearted profiteers versus environmentallyconscious natives sums it up) and the acting was sub-standard. The only impressive aspect of the movie was its box office performance which only makes sense because it combined two of the biggest facets of the past decade - mankind’s fascination with technology and pressing environmental concerns - in a visually enticing manner.

It’s a shame, though, that “Invictus “did not win much. The movie about the true story of how Nelson Mandela hoped for a South African victory in the 1995 World Cup in order to unite the fractured nation is a must-watch and Morgan Freeman plays an assured performance as Nelson Mandela.

Jeff Bridges (facing page, middle) of “Crazy Heart” won the Best Actor award beating the likes of George Clooney (playing a likeable downsizing expert in “Up in the Air”) and Morgan Freeman. The best actor award went to him probably because they couldn’t bear rejecting him for the 5th time! Bridges plays Bad Blake, a down-on-the-luck country singer who reignites his musical career after meeting a young journalist. Sandra Bullock (facing page, bottom) won the Best Actress Award in a surprise turn as the favorite till then had been Meryl Streep (playing a celebrity chef in the comedy “Julie and Julia”). The comedy star played a white mom who adopted a black teenager and the trials and tribulations that she went through until the boy eventually became famous as an NFL star. Bullock had won the “Razzie”, the unofficial award for the worst performances in Hollywood the night before (someone must have made a mistake!).

Colonel Hans Landa in the movie. Best Animated Movie went to another Pixar creation “Up” which told the story of an old man trying to fulfil his dead wife’s lifelong dream of visiting a South American waterfall. It remains to be seen if Pixar will be equally as successful in 2010 as it has been in the first decade (having won in 5 out of the 9 years). Last year’s victory for “Slumdog Millionaire” did not really herald anything new as the awards were largely won by Western productions. The Best Foreign Language Film award went to an Argentinean film, “The Secret in their Eyes”.

Overall, the 82nd Academy Awards proved to be an entertaining night (Ben Stiller was in Na’vi attire for the Best Make-Up Award, which went to “Star Trek”) but as we enter the new decade, we can only hope that there will be equally brilliant films on offer (both from a cinematic and entertaining point of view) and that the Oscar Awards continue to The other fan-favorite, Quentin be more inclusive and that Asian Tarantino’s reimagination of the filmmakers also get recognised. Second World War - “Inglourious Basterds”, only managed to secure the Best Supporting Actor award for Christoph Waltz who played the thoroughly detestable


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The NUS Economist  

March Issue