The Flipside

Why you cannot put a price on National Service

A Singapore military personnel takes photograph of a couple sitting in a light strike vehicle displayed along Orchard Road walkway which is part part of a show to commemorate 40 years of National Service in Singapore, 12 April 2007. (AFP photo)A Singapore military personnel takes photograph of a couple sitting in a light strike vehicle displayed along Orchard …

In "The FlipSide", local blogger Belmont Lay lets loose on local politics, culture and society. To be taken with a pinch of salt and parental permission is advised. In this post, he talks about the ill-conceived idea of a National Service tax.

Bishan GRC PAP MP Hri Kumar Nair has proposed that all permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners pay a National Service tax as part of their nation-building duties.

My first impression of such a move is that it's a bad idea. Dwelling on it some more -- for about five minutes -- convinces me that it's an even worse idea.

Here's why.

1. Cost of 'unresolved tensions'

First and foremost, there are some things in life that you simply cannot put a price on. For example, unresolved sexual frustration.

Boys in NS typically feel their virginity getting stronger and stronger with each passing day. For two years.

That is because nothing puts a girl off more than an NS boy with a bad crew cut and uneven tan. And who looks really desperate.

What is the cost of such unresolved tensions? No one but the people who have gone through NS will understand this pain. Which cuts deep into your soul.

You cannot imagine how many NSFs are willing to give up a limb just to get out of that situation.

2. Dubious accounting methods

Next, as price is objective and value is subjective, we'll undoubtedly run into another set of problems.

Sure, you can plot a graph, draw up some fancy tables and say the NS tax is pegged to the varying salary allowances of the respective vocations.

But we know this wouldn't work either. This is because some vocations are much, much more physical than others even though they only vary by a few hundred dollars.

Look, a combat naval diver or commando definitely has a higher allowance compared to a HQ clerk who gets to go home everyday.

But the amount of physical effort the elite forces put in is so much greater.

So how much should you charge for a push up then? Or each time an NSF runs and touches the tree and comes back?

How much does each area cleaning and stand-by-bed cost? 72-km road march? 5-day outfield training plus passing motion without white paper?

How do you put a price on any of that? And what about those who are not combat fit but can still take IPPT -- offer half price tax?

So what are we talking about? Staggered rates?

3. Potential dangers of NS

Next, we also need to consider the dangers of serving NS.

People do die or become maimed from serving their country and preparing for the potential outbreak of war.

You cannot, in comparison, pay a tax to the extent you die or lose a limb. The reality between these two scenarios are so very different.

It will be political suicide to try to square this circle.

4. NS is for peace time and war

Lastly, always remember what National Service is for: it is a duty but it is not only good for peace time.

NS is about training to be prepared in the event world affairs turn sour and countries face-off. This is where the downside is unlimited.

Locals have a duty to their country and people. They will stay and soldier on.

So, what good is the tax money from PRs and foreigners when what we sorely need are men for war?

Conclusion? To put a price on NS is to devalue the contributions of all those who have suffered and will continue to suffer through it.

The experience is invaluable. It is effectively priceless. And not to mention, rather dull.

And this is simply not about opportunity costs.

Because spending time locked up in camp waiting to book out is one thing. Spending time in camp day after day doing soul-destroying pointless tasks is quite another.

NS is spirit-breaking, mind-altering constant pain in the buttocks.

Till this very day, even when I yawn, it is most probably due to NS-induced boredom.

And no amount of money you give me now can effectively make that feeling go away.

Belmont Lay is the editor of New Nation. He was a combat naval diver.

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