Trending July 2017

In this issue: What’s happening in Singapore’s stores and shopping centres, what some countries are doing to test the concept of a universal basic income, and a primer to what futures units do in the Public Service.
trending (2)

New ways of retail

Where have all the shopkeepers gone? In 2016, a provision shop opened in Hougang with no shopkeeper. Instead, the owner’s self-service cash register took payments while CCTVs watched over the goods. Elsewhere, vending machines have also sprouted up as shopkeeper stand-ins, selling everything from hot meals to books and vitamin supplements. There’s even a “vending machine” for luxury supercars. Autobahn Motors’ 15-storey showroom at Jalan Bukit Merah can house 60 high-end cars, maximising the use of land and creating a building façade like no other. Where stores still have shopkeepers, their work is changing. Self-payment machines with cashless options and iCash machines that collect notes and coins cut the need for humans to tally up money at the end of the day. The iCash system at Cheers and NTUC FairPrice outlets saves cashiers about 30 minutes daily. As for Orchard Road’s missing shoppers, will malls become event spaces and parcel-collection sites for online shoppers? Time, and perhaps tech, will tell.


Will basic income work?

Universal basic income is the concept of providing a guaranteed wage to cover a basic standard of living. Governments, economists and other players are studying its pros and cons with several experiments around the world.


finlandThe social security system could discourage the unemployed from seeking work as even minimal earnings may reduce the benefits they get. To boost employment, the government is giving 2,000 unemployed citizens a basic monthly income of €560 (about S$860) instead of the usual benefits. The budget: €20 million (S$31 million) over a two-year pilot period. Interestingly, the recipients will continue getting paid even if they find a job during the pilot period.


canadaA trial for a guaranteed minimum income happened as early as the 1970s. The five-year project, called “Mincome”, was meant to test whether providing a basic income to some people in the Manitoba province would discourage them from working. Years after the experiment ended, economists studied the data and found that it did not reduce workplace participation; also, hospitalisation rates fell and more teenagers remained in school during that time.

The US

usIt’s not only governments that are interested. Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk has said that a basic income will be necessary as automation and robots make jobs redundant. A California-based start-up accelerator, Y Combinator, is doing a pilot to provide 100 families in Oakland with up to US$2,000 monthly. The amount varies according to family size. The intent is to explore alternatives to social safety nets, as part of a longer five-year study.


indiaThe finance ministry’s 2016- 2017 Economic Survey of India includes a proposal for a guaranteed minimum wage for everyone in the country. The report suggests that a more direct basic income could reduce the loss of social welfare funds to corruption. Two pilot schemes in the Madhya Pradesh state in 2011 saw an increase in work and labour, but with shifts from wage labour to self-employment, as many used the small income to invest in their own land cultivation or businesses.


switzerlandIn a 2016 referendum, Swiss citizens rejected a proposal to provide its citizens and long-term residents a basic income, regardless of wealth or employment status. More than 77% voted against the proposal, which suggested providing a monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs (about S$3,500) to each adult and 625 Swiss francs (S$890) to each child.

The Netherlands

netherlandsFrom January 2017, the city of Utrecht along with several municipalities are running a two-year pilot with 250 citizens on government benefits, divided into six groups. One control group will continue to receive benefits only. The other five get a guaranteed monthly income of €960 (about S$1,500), with some groups receiving more for offering volunteer services. The aim is to test how people respond to different basic income programmes, and compare what works with the current welfare system.


Foresight vs Futures

A quick primer on the differences between the two.

Know the difference between two common terms used by the futures community.


What is the futures community?

Across the Public Service are futures units that look at emerging trends and technology, their possible future impact on Singapore, and how we can prepare for them. Examples of futures units are the Centre for Strategic Futures (CSF), under Strategy Group, Prime Minister’s Office, and the Futures Group in the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

But what does futures mean?

It is a concept that there are possible alternative futures that might happen, and there is a need to consider them. To do so, the CSF and other futures units do foresight work using a variety of foresight tools and methods.

What are foresight tools?

Foresight is simply the ability to consider and plan for the future. It is useful for any sector, such as in business and public policy. The CSF has its own foresight toolkit, which include tools and techniques like sense-making and scenario planning.

For more information, go to:



Filter bubble: An Internet phenomenon where algorithms determine what you see based on your online behaviour or preferences, to the extent that you only see ideas and information that do not challenge your beliefs or broaden your perspective. Examples are personalised search engine results and social media recommendations. The term was coined by Eli Pariser in his book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You.

DSBJ: Don’t say bo jio. A mixed English and Hokkien phrase often used after sharing an open invitation or intention to go somewhere. Bo jio means to not invite (someone) along.



Manager, STB

Bar Stories: This pub is one of my favourite places to chill out. It serves seafood dishes from local fish farm Ah Hua Kelong, along with drinks customised to your mood and tastes. I always go for the bar seats so I get to see the bartenders work their magic.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: I enjoy his contemporary way of fusing classical and instrumental music. Almost every creation tells a deeper tale. My favourite piece by him is “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”.



Assistant Manager, MCI

Open Farm Community: A lovely restaurant nestled in Dempsey that prides itself on its unique farm-to-table experience. Great for Sunday brunch with family and friends. Try the Braised Oxtail Strozzapreti – it’s my favourite!

Charlie Lim: One of Singapore’s finest indie musicians, known for his own brand of pop/soul/rock and lyrics as smooth as poetry.

    Aug 2, 2017
    Brenda Lim
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