Sunday, August 1, 2010

Singapore working and researching ... the US profiting and unemployed!

Dear Colleagues

I have just read a short story about research in Singapore story. The URL is: The text is at the end of my observations!

The research commitment is not huge in absolute terms, but relative to the size of the Singapore, this initiative is significant. The idea that Singapore is going to be at the leading edge of an important new wave of technology is nothing new ... it has served Singapore well in the past and is likely to do so again.

As I read the piece I was struck by the dysfunction of the US economy with different important parts of the economy working in their separate silos, all struggling for their piece of a declining pie.

The for profit corporate world headed by a valueless banking sector has figured out how to get to the top of the profit rankings ... essentially by reaching into every corporate, governmental and individual pocket they can find. Banks gain, and everyone else gets poorer!

The for profit manufacturing sector in the US economy makes its profit by outsourcing as much as possible to low wage locations around the world.

The government ... federal, state and local levels ... is faced with reduced revenues on top of a struggling economy which translates into lower service levels and higher unemployment. Government policy initiatives from the Executive branch are held hostage by a Congress that in turn is held hostage by a terribly uninformed electorate and a lot of soundbite ideologies.

Great science and sensible initiatives are sidelined by way too much law and regulation, most of which is designed to benefit entrenched interests.

In the past sixty odd years Singapore has gone from being very poor with what looked like no future to being prosperous and moving forward strongly into the 21st century future ... while the USA has gone from being very rich with all sorts of possibilities to being poor and indebted and a future in the 21st century that is ... if things keep going as they have been since 2000 ... not at all promising.

Efforts by the Obama administration to change gear and start doing things that need to get done are moving very slowly. Why? On the one hand very powerful corporate leaders are making good profits by doing things that are good for corporate profit, but not as good for society ... and stockmarkets are sending the signal that profit is good and we like it! Another group is opposed to deficit spending and having a deficit and having a government debt. For some reason this same group does not seem to mind making profit from international trade and outsourcing that results in a deficit in the national current account that has the country going broke ... and this same group will also accept that a corporate entity needs to invest in order to have future revenue and profit growth. But having the government help with investment, for some reason ... is a bad idea ... not to mention the area of R&D where having the government involved is bad, but yet history shows that government funding has been engaged in all sorts of R&D success in the past.

In almost everything that is important, whether it is electricity, or transportation, or highways, or manufacturing. or construction, or almost everything ... the US has lost its leadership position. The way profit accounting is done and the way stockmarket values success, then the wrong decisions are going to get made ... and the US troubles are not going to get solved but get worse.

There needs to be some thoughtful innovation so that the huge unmet needs of the US economy ... deferred maintenance, inadequate infrastructure, insufficient education, unaffordable healthcare, services for a growing senior population, etc ... are satisfied by putting the huge pool of some 15 million unemployed US workers back to work. The brains that thought up banking and financial derivatives would be much better used figuring out how to match the country's unused human capital against the nation's needs so that (1) the country has a future and (2) our quality of life is improved.

I live in New York. There is something wrong when all sorts of people cannot find work ... and the New York subway system is not being kept clean ... not to mention important maintenance being deferred.

There is something wrong when unemployment stays at record high levels while corporate profits are going up and up and up ... or is this in fact another bubble being born. Once upon a time financial numbers were understandable and reasonably reliable ... but I think those days are gone. Now the numbers are used to spin a message ... making a nonsense of the metrics.

Part of what is wrong is that government revenues are not being matched with government responsibilities ... and a big part of government revenues is the tax revenue. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) more than anything else is to pay the right amount of taxes so that government is able to do its job. Corporate strategy to lower taxes ... without taking into consideration corporate responsibilities should be considered wrong ... not matter how "legal"!

This little story from Singapore reminds me that good governance is possible. The US economic crisis is not over by a long shot, and the economic elite in the US seems determined to keep hold of its share of the power and profit pie while the pie as a whole gets smaller and smaller. If we extrapolate present behavior, there will not be many people with power and profit that are American any more! What a sad state of affairs!

Way better metrics are needed to sort all of this out ... with value and quality of life as important as the profit metric!

Peter Burgess
Singapore keen on smart grid leadership with new research hub
Wednesday, 21 July 2010 21:54
By Honey Garcia
Singapore wants to be a “living laboratory” for global new energy technologies.
Singapore is eyeing to become the Southeast Asian leader in smart grid as the island nation embarks on building the region’s first experimental smart grid research center to the tune of 38 million Singaporean dollars ($27.63 million).

Singapore’s lead government agency for science, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, led the Experimental Power Grid Centre’s groundbreaking in Jurong Island on Friday. The facility will be operational by 2011.

Housing 15 scientists and researchers once completed, the center will do research on smart grids and how they can accommodate renewable energy. Vehicle-to-grid systems and better energy management will also be studied.

Power technology company Meiden Singapore will lead a consortium to build the center. Possible supporters include Rolls Royce, Vestas Wind Systems A/S, SP Power Grid and CEI Contract Manufacturing.

Singapore wants to be a “living laboratory” for global new energy technologies, including the smart grid which some analysts predict will become a $187 billion industry by 2015.

“Smart grid research and development is critical to transforming Singapore into a smart energy economy and [the center] is an important enabling infrastructure that will bring us a step closer to realizing an intelligent national energy grid,” said Lim Chuan Poh, chairman of the government science agency.

“A reliable grid is a key competitive advantage in attracting investments from around the world,” said Rave Menon, secretary at the Trade and Industry Ministry, citing Singapore’s grid system which has an average electricity interruption of less than one minute annually.

“But we too need to invest in research and development to further upgrade and improve our grid system, to meet the new demands on our grid,” he added.

Mr. Menon said the future grid must allow be capable of accommodating intermittent renewable energy power sources, such as solar energy, which are not predictable enough to be used in most existing power systems.

Consumers also demand more information and control of their energy use. These demands will necessitate new technologies and system-level solutions.

“We hope to anchor more companies to further shape the research and development agenda and to translate research into useful applications,” said Mr. Lim.

Collaboration between the center and the science agency could also leverage ongoing studies on biofuels and solid oxide fuel cells.

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