When David became Goliath

Just received an op-ed from the New York Times in my email. The story is entitled “Tech Goliaths Act Like Davids,” and the main thrust of the story is that the tech giants like Google, Apple, Facebook, Uber and so on have become the corporate bullies that they once fought against. The story can be found at: [LINK]

If one studies history, one will notice that this isn’t a new story. History is filled with examples of young, vibrant revolutionaries who fought to overthrow an overbearing power and once they had succeeded, they proceeded to behave as the power that they overthrew.

As an ethnic Chinese, I think of Mao, who lead a peasant army to overthrow a corrupt regime that was oppressing the poor. However, once in power, the communist proceeded to enforce an iron grip on power and proved to be as nasty if not more so than the nationalist that they overthrew. There are other examples. In the Middle East, there’s the example of Naser who overthrew a corrupt and repressive monarchy, only to replace it with another form of dictatorship that has stifled progress.

I think of Singapore, the country that has been my home for the last two decades. We’ve been run by the same party since our independence in 1965. While the party has delivered prosperity and done well by the citizens for the most part, they’ve moved a long way, as in a very long way, from the party that was a plucky upstart fighting to rid us from the yoke of colonial rule and later race-based politics of the Malaysian Federation. The part that once wrote a national pledge of “Regardless of Race, Language or Religion,” now stresses the fact that “The population is not ready for a non-Chinese Prime Minister,” and delightfully uses every trick in the book to ensure that it wins more than 60 percent of available seats in parliament (it remains an achievement for our rag-tag opposition to contest let alone win seats).

Why is this the case? The answer is as simple as this fact – power is exceedingly addictive. The people who get power tend not to want to lose it. Young idealist who become revolutionaries to get rid of entrenched powers becoming the very entrenched powers that they overthrew. This remains true in business and politics.

Some systems have found a way to survive this. In America, the political system was designed to limit the damage a bad leader could do. Presidents have to share power with Congress and a Supreme Court and much of the power over citizens is devolved to local governments. Furthermore, Presidents are limited to two terms of four years. Thus, you only put up with an incompetent leader for eight years at the most and no individual has to chance to hang on for years until they get drunk and senile with power.

This system works in America because there’s a reverence to the constitution and laws and there’s a press to keep the powers that be on its toes. In places that don’t have this, there is a real danger that the man in charge can merely change the laws. China is a case in point. Prior to President Xi’s ascension, it was understood that a generation of leaders would step down after a decade. While China didn’t have elections, it had some form of leadership renewal. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case and one cannot assume that President Xi, may enjoy his power a little too much, even at the risk of the wealth that the Chinese people have grown used to.

The same is true in business. The story in dynamic economies is that of plucky start-ups with a bright idea or a new technology taking on and taking market share from established firms. The problem is that once the start-ups become big firms with deep pockets, the game no longer becomes about coming up with new products that delight consumers but about enhancing market share and getting consumers to continue buying what you’ve been selling them. As I was once told, “Big firms don’t innovate, they just buy small firms that do.”

While the dangers of minimal competition for businesses are less obvious than that for political leaders, they are non the less very present. Businesses that become too interested in their market position tend to forget that consumers can find and will find alternatives. I think of Singapore’s media scene, which could not accept competition and kept peddling the myth that Singapore was too small for media competition. The established media powers were so busy defending their turf that they failed to see people moving away from printed newspapers and terrestrial television. They even got the government onto their side in branding online media as “anti-establishment.” There was one small problem. Consumers stopped reading newspapers and the advertisers noticed. Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) has had to diversify into old folks’ homes to keep shareholders happy and more recently had to suffer the indignity of being kicked off the stock exchange index.

Successful big firms are the ones that find a way of growing big but keeping their units running like start up enterprises. Big law firms are trying to do that, working as a big unit in the centre for things like branding and HR policy but getting their respective practices to compete for business like sole proprietorships. In theory this should prevent the groups from becoming immune to market forces.
The other factor for businesses is law. Laws that prevent companies from becoming monopolies should be made stronger.

Let’s go back to tech as an example. Microsoft was once a start-up that had a clear goal of having a desktop on every desk running its software. It became a monopoly and defended it tooth and nail. Unfortunately, Microsoft was late into the internet and thus lost ground to Google. Microsoft has only become a dynamic player under its current CEO, Satya Nadella, who moved it away from defending its old business market.

Limits on power are not just good for consumers or voters. They are actually good for incumbents as it keeps them on their toes and forces people to innovate. The Goliaths of the day should remember that they had their best victories as Davids and trying to crush today’s Davids will only lead to them sharing the fate of Goliath.


Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.




12 Responses to “When David became Goliath”

  • Justice For All:

    ”7 people fined over social gatherings at Robertson Quay during COVID-19 circuit breaker”CNA 25 Jun.”
    ”Facebook user disappointed over Grace Fu’s comments on racism and xenophobia”30 May Independent
    –Will disgraceFu now give a Medal to the guy that help the police bring the case to justice.
    —Or would she continue to call her voters Xenophobic?

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  • uselesstankinl:

    delivered PROSPERITY ?

    HDB, EC, 99 CONDOS ???




    NO JOB, LOW PAY, 12 HRS DAILY, 6/7.

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  • Sojoürner:

    A missing element here is the belief many Americans young or old shares that wealth is a sign of virtue. Whether it’s associated with business excellence, hard work, or high intelligence, wealth is too often taken as a sign of superiority.

    Millionaires, multi-millionaires, Billionaires, multi-billionaires, all of these obscenely wealthy tech individuals consider themselves to be “better” “a cut above”, the average American, the poor and the middle-class, and most consider themselves to be “learned persons” deserving of their wealth, and yes some (very few) did make it the old-fashioned way; they earned it, but the truth is simply this – most of the wealth garnered in recent times, into the coffers of these obscenely wealthy individuals, came from the blood, sweat, and tears, of the poor and the middle-class.

    System that allows a handful of people to install monopolies and through the systematic exploitation of other people accumulate exceptional levels of wealth, is in every sense comparable to aristocracies. An aristocracy is not defined by the fact that a monarch is “appointed”. It is defined by a society where the laws of the country are such that IF you want to.

    Yes, we desperately need a respite from men who live in a reality severely distorted by venality, fabulation, illusions of omnipotence, exaggerated self-esteem, corrupt consciousness, artificial intelligence, megalomania, dominance, acclaim addiction, convenient facts, false courage.

    And yes, a system that allows aristocratic leaders to earn tons of money all while keeping wages inhumanely low and keeping access to education and healthcare away from tens of millions of hard-working ordinary citizens, IS exploiting those citizens, obviously.

    Btw, the party that Tang Li mentioned had never been a ‘David’ but ‘Goliath’ all along. Please re-frame.

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    Today got oe Dai Sang Kong (loud voice male) at Berseh Food Center, Jalan Besar. Fellow must be PAP puppy, contractor in overalls. All these people always talk damn loud in public. Zero class.

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  • opposition dude:

    Well then, since power is intoxicating then one ought to ask Lee Kayu all about it since he was the embodiment of it in Singapore. Gave himself a MM then later SM title and still wanted to hang around in parliament up to his last breath. That’s power to you and sadly it’s also pathetic how a man revered by the older generation for upgrading them from kampungs to HDBs ended his political career.

    He could never trust anyone so he didn’t leave politics, not even his dear son. He spent decades building it all up and was determined to see it through to his dying day which he did. Unfortunately life is such that even if you are Einstein you HAVE to die. And when you are gone forever you can only hope that whoever is in charge doesn’t lose the power that you spent decades to build.

    Quite silly really. For a supposed smart man like he is he never thought he would lose power. I guess this is what happens when you have been top puppy for too long, you tend to think you are invincible.

    At least he lived long enough to see a GRC lost and not 1 but TWO ministers kicked out. That was a good wakeup call to him that Singaporeans can, dare, and WILL kick out your ministers. I can bet he was seething with a lot of anger and going “HOW DARE THEY!!!!” over and over again.

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  • David doth not Goliath become:

    Pride leads to persecution of the Lord’s people
    My enemies trample on me all day long, for many are they who attack me with pride.

    (Psalm 56:2)

    God’s counsel to the proud:
    Be careful what you boast about for
    I say to the boastful: “Do not boast,” and to the wi**** I say: “Do not lift up your horn; do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with a haughty neck.”

    (Psalm 75:4,5)

    Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve!
    They crush your people, O Lord! and afflict your heritage.

    (Psalm 94:2-4)

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  • Hu Chian:

    “President Richard Nixon reportedly speculated that, had Lee lived in another time and place, he might have “attained the world stature of a Churchill, a Disraeli, or a Gladstone”. This, however, is an overstatement. If Lee had been born in the United Kingdom, he might have ended up being an underdog in the House of Commons.

    The reason is simple. Yes, he could run an island of millions without democracy. However, he would probably not have been able to rule a nation of tens of millions under democracy where his opponents would have been free to criticise and even try to ruin him if circumstances permitted. Such a political landscape has never existed in Singapore.”

    The beginning of the end of Lee Kuan Yew’s dynasty?

    Lee Kuan Yew’s Shadow | Rabbit Hole

    something that i saw in other forums and i did not know old …

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  • Hu Chian:

    “The road to dictatorship is depressingly predictable. Once power is stolen, the problem is to keep it. Anyone who might develop a separate power base must be struck down. Eradicate rivals, rule through force and fear. Trust no one, particularly family, friends and the army. Keep everyone on their toes with random executions, unpredictable policy changes and imaginative public tortures. So far, so historic. It could be a Shakespeare play. What distinguishes modern tyranny, Dikötter argues, is the cult of personality. Total control of the information space keeps the modern dictator in power.”

    Dictators: the great performers – New Statesman

    A Quest for Power: The Cases of Hitler and Stalin …

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  • Hu Chian:

    “David Cameron, the prime minister of Britain- which is less of a democracy and more of a corrupt oligarchy noted without irony “Lady Thatcher once said that there was no Prime Minister she admired more than Mr. Lee for ‘the strength of his convictions, the clarity of his views, the directness of his speech and his vision of the way ahead”. His gift for black humor should not be underestimated as Maggie went on a wrecking spree by breaking the working class and entrenching the financial elites on the top of illegitimate wealth pyramid.”

    Article: The toxic legacy of Lee Kuan Yew | OpEdNews

    I Come To Praise Caesar, Not Bury Him

    How a Tiny Southeast Asian Country Changed the CIA Forever

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  • Hu Chian:


    ” As during the Great Depression, major corporations (most of them) will be allowed to survive while small businesses are bankrupted and absorbed, further centralizing management of economic activity into the hands of a select few. In the meantime, a majority of people will be completely dependent on government aid in one form or another just to survive.

    The pandemic threat will continue for many months to come, perhaps with intermittent periods of loosened restrictions and lifted lockdowns. The public is being conditioned with a “wave model” of crisis and release, as I outlined with evidence in my last article ‘Waves Of Mutilation: Medical Tyranny And The Cashless Society’. This means that the economy is never coming back as it was, and tens of millions of people will remain jobless for a prolonged period of time.

    I predict that the establishment will support the populace with a form of Universal Basic Income (UBI) for a little while (2-3 months), and then, as the economy continues to crash, they will start cutting off these benefits to some people while adding requirements restrictions to receive benefits for others.

    When government becomes your sugar daddy, there are always strings attached. In some states they are already telling the public what they are allowed to spend their money on…………..

    The only way to counter such control is to not need the mainstream system at all. Localized barter markets need to be established, and if they outlaw those, then you need to set up black markets. Trade and production must continue or humanity as we know it will die. It will be replaced with a centralized socialist hive system that will crush all liberty, and this is unacceptable. Localization is the key to our survival.

    This means that the public must make and active effort to save themselves through their own innovation instead of waiting around for government to save the day.”

    How To Protect Yourself From Long Term Pandemic Lockdown

    Of Two Minds – Re-Opening the Economy Won’t Fix What’s Broken

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  • patriot of TUMASIK:


    Hu Chian’s Link to Understand and KNOW what is REAL with some slight errors and NOT an Illusion created by a Bastard…

    Chian, may I suggest you compile a Reading Material from all your Links and circulate it among Singaporeans through the Possible Alternate Govt supporters and sheeple with a CONditioned MIND!

    TOUGH!!! but Doable leh!!!

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  • Hu Chian:

    “In the 21st century alone, I’ve been given good reason to distrust all sorts of things around me, including the U.S. government (all governments really), intelligence agencies, politicians, mass media, Wall Street and Silicon Valley, to name a few. These power centers make up “society” as we know it in 2020, which is really just massive concentrations of lawless financial and political power obfuscating rampant criminality behind the cover of various ostensibly venerable institutions. What’s most remarkable is how many people still maintain trust in so many of these provably untrustworthy organizations and industries, which speaks to the power of propaganda as well as the comfort of denial.

    That said, the ground is clearly beginning to shift on this front. As more and more people recognize that the system’s designed to work against them, increased numbers will reject conventional wisdom and search for an alternative framework. Unfortunately, this next step can be equally treacherous and it’s important not to jump from the frying pan into the fire.

    This is where social media comes into play. It offers an endless array of opinions and analysis that you don’t get from mass media, but it’s also filled with bad actors, professional propagandists and con artists. At this point, everyone knows that social media is the new information battleground, so every character or institution with malicious intent is aggressively playing in this arena and often with boatloads of money. The charlatans at MSNBC will have you believe it’s just the Russians or Chinese, but every government and every single special interest on the planet is now involved. They’re all on social media in one form or another, trying to push you in a specific direction that’s usually not in your best interests.”

    Trust No One

    Social Media’s Plantation of the Mind – Of Two Minds

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