Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Serf-apore


I've been introduced to the term Serf back in 2010 when I was in Haiti.

Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted in some countries until the mid-19th century.

Serfs who occupied a plot of land were required to work for the Lord of the Manor who owned that land, and in return were entitled to protection, justice and the right to exploit certain fields within the manor to maintain their own subsistence. Serfs were often required not only to work on the lord's fields, but also his mines, forests and roads. The manor formed the basic unit of feudal society and the Lord of the Manor and his serfs were bound legally, economically, and socially. Serfs formed the lowest social class of feudal society.

Toussaint had introduced a system call fermage and managed to significantly rebuild the sugar trade. After Dessalines, Henry Christophe would have even greater success with this system, but eventually the plantation system died out within the first decade of independence. Under fermage the land belonged to the government. It would be leased out to managers and worked by workers who were obligated to remain on the land in much the same way that serfs were in Europe. The workers, while bound to the land, did receive 25% of the value of the crops to divide amoung themselves, and housing, food, clothing and basic care. However, their lives were vigorously regulated and discipline was strict. While the old slave whip was gone, discipline did use the cocomacaque stick. Haitians were Serf-like free people unlike slaves when the French was in power. 

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So Serfdom is a form of modified slavery. The serfs can occupy the land to work for a lord, in return, they get enough for subsistence and some protection.

Looking now at Singapore, it does feel like a modified serfdom -- Serf-apore. Many people work to pay into a Central Provident Fund CPF system. Basically, you pay into this system, but cannot really use this fund. It is not like a 401k, as you cannot use it anyway you like. Also, you still get taxed your salary even though you contribute CPF which is not tax deductable.

Next, housing is pretty much unaffordable. No matter how you look at it, public housing in Toa Payoh, the HDB flat that I live in costs S$800,000. It is a 5 room flat that is about 1,200 sq ft. Lets say my average salary is $3,000 a month, it costs 22 times my annual salary to live there. So buying the public housing is sort of impossible.

Not only that, public housing as the name suggests, is actually a 99 year lease. So you don't really own it, but rather, a very long term rental of the air space.

Lets not even talk about cars.



Instead, lets look at public transportation. Oh wait, its privatized... So, the government pays for the infrastructure and private companies run it to get record profits year after year. Not much external competition, and bidding is not open to all.

Energy, is also privatized. Healthcare is privatized, even security. Yes -- Security. The Singapore customs seems to employ security guards to man our borders. Is it cost effective to hire directly or go through a private company, you decide.

So the cost of many things are very high. Singapore is the most densely populated country and salaries are in fact not very high with inflation through the roof.

It is not hard to get into Serf-apore. A condition by which you have to work to pay for a public housing you do not own, pay into CPF which is used to build HDB which they sell to you at a profit. If you own a car, you pay a more than any other county in the world, and at the end of the day, you own nothing much and you have to work and work just to get by.

Its not slavery as you are free to leave the country if you can. But anyway, you will not starve. The lord of the land simply wants you to beg. Through means testing, you may be able to get subsidies if you are a good Serf-aporean and jump through hoops and fill up forms as requested. If you indeed beg, the subsidies can make the seemingly unaffordable medical services sort of affordable again. You may even be able to afford public housing -- far far away from the city, requiring you to either have a car or spend hours on over crowded public transportation to get to work.

Think of Serf-aporeans like pets. Even when ill treated, everytime there are treats given, in the form of resilience packages taken out from the reserves the Serf-aporeans build, all is forgotten and Serf-aporeans continue on with life. Complains are made, committees are formed to look into the complains, and somehow things did not change but the complains are "heard". Years later, the same complains resurface again, and the lord declares an action plan with no definite start date because the situation is "complex" and the cycle happens over and over again.

This is the modified modified slavery I call Serf-apore.

-- Iron Bowl 

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