Three professors from NUS Business School (NUS Business) and NUS Design and Environment have written a first-ever fictional account of Singaporeans and their economic behaviours that integrates data from financial and real estate research. Launched at The POD at the National Library Building on 19 December, Kiasunomics - Stories of Singaporean Economic Behaviours (Kiasunomics) follows the life of Teng, a Singaporean taxi driver from birth to adulthood.
The authors — Professor Sumit Agarwal, Visiting Professor at NUS Finance; Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon at NUS Marketing; as well as Dean’s Chair Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo, Deputy Head (Admin & Finance) at NUS Real Estate and Director, Institute of Real Estate Studies — employed an engaging storytelling format for Kiasunomics.
Speaking of the genesis for the book, Assoc Prof Ang said, “The impetus for writing this book was really to show people the relevance of research and how research can be useful to you. That was our motivation.” She added that the authors, who tended to write in academic prose, went out of their comfort zone to write Kiasunomics in a storytelling form to make it more accessible.
Prior to collaborating on Kiasunomics, Prof Agarwal and Dean’s Chair Assoc Prof Sing had been penning research articles in economics, finance and real estate. Assoc Prof Ang was intrigued by their work and decided to join them in translating their academic research into pieces that the masses could relate to.
Speaking of the challenges the trio faced when developing the book, Assoc Prof Ang said that one was in weaving the different kinds of research into a coherent story, and at the same time creating chapters that could be read individually. Another challenge was in ensuring that the extent of colloquialism did not dilute the rigour of the research.
The 288-paged book starts with the protagonist’s birth in the Year of the Dragon, where the concept of the cohort effect is woven in. The other chapters of the book trace the milestones in Teng’s life, including marriage, the couple’s first home and the birth of their first child. Dean’s Chair Assoc Prof Sing shared that the book drew on some 20 papers written by Prof Agarwal and himself over the years with other researchers.
During the forum held in conjunction with the book launch, the authors shared their views on kiasuism — a typically Singaporean trait defined as the fear of losing out, which occasionally had a slightly negative connotation. Prof Agarwal saw it differently, saying, “There is some healthy amount of competitiveness we all need in our lives. Otherwise, we will not amount to anything.” He highlighted Singapore’s success as a case in point, noting that Singapore has accomplished what it has because its people are driven. Dean’s Chair Assoc Prof Sing shared that kiasuism could happen due to peer pressure as well. For example, utility bills now include usage distribution in an effort to nudge user behaviour.
Following the forum, the authors engaged in a lively exchange of views with members of the audience during a question-and-answer session, during which topics such as unexpected research findings and whether kiasuism kills innovation were raised.
The book is published by World Scientific and is available for sale at major bookshops across Singapore and on Amazon. The authors’ royalties will be donated to various entities such as student bursary funds like the Leong Siew Meng Memorial Fund and DRE Endowed Bursary.