All Things Not Equal
By Toh Hsien Min
The usual pattern for me when it comes round to that time of the quarter again is to put the issue together using the material that the various editors have assembled, and then after that sitting down and tapping out a few hundred words of editorial. It's a mode of writing to deadline that the journalists reading this piece are no doubt scoffing at, for it doesn't come around often enough for me to get terribly good at it, and it usually means that I reach out for whatever is closest at mind. At this time, one of the things closest to mind is the sadness that I feel now when I go to Britain, a country that has come the closest to feeling like a second home for me, but I'm not sure I would enjoy very much writing about the crisis of leadership that has led to Britain struggling to climb out of the great financial crisis even without the strictures of the euro to hold them back. Aside from, possibly, the Cornish pasty tax, which is to be levelled on all foods sold above ambient temperature regardless of whether they came from a proper takeaway or from supermarkets and bakeries. Leaving aside the impracticalities of the tax - with no definition of ambient temperature it is conceivable that whether food is subject to value-added tax depends on the season, or whether you have bought something fresh out of the oven or the same product an hour later, or else if you then purchased the pasty at room temperature and then used heating facilities provided by the shop to warm it up you could get around the tax - the main beef about the tax has been that it hits the working class population. Why should there be VAT on Cornish pasties but not on caviar?, as the organiser of a protest march asked. In a stunning PR gaffe that puts our own Prime Minister's mee siam mai hum moment in the shade, David Cameron was caught on camera saying in response to a reporter's question that he'd enjoyed a pasty from a shop at Leeds station… that closed a few years ago.
I suppose one reason not to mind is that there is little direct impact to me, other than through an aspect of work that I should probably not write about because I'm not sure I could be as nice and measured about it as, say, Peter Sands, or else through the much greater purchasing power of the Singdollar compared to the pound of even two years ago. It's astounding that I could buy something from a shop in the UK that has an online presence and have it airfreighted 7,000 miles to me VAT-free, and at a cost that is cheaper than buying it directly inside the UK. But, notwithstanding that I'm making a hash of getting away from the topic, the squeak in the bubble and squeak is that we're simply not good enough at our decision making. The problem is that ceteris paribus almost never occurs in real life. We do not observe in a vacuum, and when we act it influences what we observe, often in ways that we cannot understand when we intervene. Even if George Osborne did think that his pasty tax was about restoring fairness - I'm not going to speculate, although there are some lovely parodic Twitter feeds out there - it's clearly the case that all things else are not equal and if you don't allow for that your decisions will become Cornish pasty moments. It's something the various public servants I'm in contact with would do well to remember.
This issue of QLRS has been further away from all things else equal as recent issues have been. Without much co-ordination between us, Kai Chai and I seem to have gone down the path of featuring mostly new writers in our selections. In poetry, we've had only one contributor who could be said to have had a regular record of publication in the past; instead, the likes of Juliet Chia, Corey Kupfer, Diana Rahim, Christopher T. George and Denver Ejem Torres are new to us and striking out in their own directions. In prose, Kai Chai has picked three promising new writers, Daryl Yam, Samantha Toh and Jon Gresham. There are a couple of essays, respectively looking outward and inward, and a piece of criticism on Chris Mooney-Singh, while the Proust Questionnaire seeks out Boey Kim Cheng following his recent stopover in Singapore. Let us know whether you think the issue amounts to value-added text.QLRS Vol. 11 No. 2 Apr 2012