Thursday 24 November 2011

ANFSD: Fascism Bites Everyone In The Pocket (Among Other Places)

Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, for it represents the fusion of State and corporate power.

— B. Mussolini

If you've lived in the USSR, former Soviet republics, or much of south Asia (including Singapore), you're quite familiar with the concept of "exclusive distributors", which the Free World seems to have thrown on the ash-heap of history at roughly the same time as leaded petrol. For those who've never had the displeasure, it works just like it sounds: one appointed business entity is the only way for subjects of a particular country to lawfully access the products or services of a particular (foreign) company. In places like Singapore which follow a State-capitalism model, that exclusive agent customarily has strong ties to either the Government or to entities acting as agents of the Government (sovereign-wealth funds, public officials who also run nominally-private-sector companies, and so on). This rarely, if ever, is a boon for the consumer.

Case in point: today, I wanted to buy a good fan, a Vornado Compact 530, comparable to the Vornado fans I owned when in the States.

Naturally, I can't buy a fan from the Vornado Website, though it gives me plenty of information about the thing. A little search engine-fu tells me that Home-Fix are the exclusive distributor for Vornado in Singapore.

Naturally, I can't order anything, or even get any product information, from Home-Fix's site. I could, however, get the phone number(!) for their nearest store, and called to enquire about availability and pricing.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: Can you tell me if you have Vornado fans?
Clerk: Yes, we do. Which one are you looking for?
Me: The "Compact 630".
Clerk: Yes, we have that one, in white and black.
Me: How much is it?
Clerk: S$170.
Me: $170?!? So your rate on the US dollar is about three Singapore dollars, then? The list price on the Vornado Website is US $49.99!
Clerk: (as to a very small, very slow child) Oh, that's the online price. It's bound to be cheaper.
Me: Well, I've done some checking on various US, European and Australian stores; the walk-in retail price is right about the same.
Clerk: Well, our price is S$170.
Me: Well, thank you for your time.

Not to be terribly unfair to either Home-Fix or the clerk; that's the way the system operates here, and any company that didn't jack their prices up to whatever the marks will pay isn't doing things The Singapore Way. It's not as though it's actually people's own money; they're just holding it until those who pull the levers of State decide they want it back2.

So, ragging at Home-Fix or any of the many, many other businesses whose prices have no apparent correlation to corresponding prices elsewhere won't accomplish anything. If, as was let slip during the Singapore Presidential "election" this year, the Government's sovereign-wealth funds and people connected to High Places really do control 2/3 or more of the domestic Singapore economy, then complaining about any individual companies is rather like the man who's been attacked by a chainsaw-wielding madman who then worries about all the blood on his shirt. Fix the real problems, and the small ones will right themselves.

Incidentally, this also illustrates why I support the Occupy movement. If Americans want to see what another decade or two of economic and political polarisation between the top 400 families and the rest of the country will look like, Singapore is a good first-order approximation. And some sixty percent of Singaporeans apparently either couldn't be bothered to think differently, or were too afraid to.

Sigh. I still need to find a reliable, efficient fan.


1. According to the current conversion, 170 Singapore dollars (S$170) is approximately US$130.19,, or some 260 percent of the list price. In a free society, that would be called "gouging"; here in Singapore it's called "buying a foreign product". Remember, no foreign companies really operate here. When you walk into a McDonald's or Starbucks or Citibank in Singapore, you're walking into a local, almost invariably Government-linked, franchise or local representative. The quality and experience difference can be, charitably, stark. (Return)

2. Known in the US as the "thug defense", after a Los Angeles mugger who used that line of "reasoning" as the basis for an attempted pro se defence in court. He was, of course, unsuccessful. (Return)

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