In October of 2018, having taught at Singapore Management University (SMU) for seven years, I was called into the office of the dean of my school. The dean told me it was unlikely my contract would be renewed for a third time. He told me that everyone in the school “thought I was a nice guy” but that he and the faculty committee reviewing my renewal felt I just “did not fit in”. A few months later, I was packing up my office in Singapore, with a one-way ticket to London, jobless.
I left that fateful meeting with the dean overcome with an odd mix of amusement and dread. The dread part is easy to explain. After seven years in Singapore, it was my home, and I remain attached to the city-state and even to aspects of its developmental state model. I have friends there amongst artists and curators. I had connections to wider social movements, artists and activists in Southeast Asia from Chiang Mai to Yogyakarta. It was a lot to contemplate being expelled from the place, but I was also smiling at what a funny formulation that was: “Everybody likes you, but you don’t fit in”. I was laughing at how weak this formidable fortress of meritocracy suddenly appeared.
Under most reasonable labour law and human resources practices, “you don’t fit in” is not an appropriate reason for termination. In many jurisdictions, it could lead to a lawsuit on the grounds that it implied discrimination based on who I was, not my work. But that was not the case here. It was my work that was to blame.
That work, however, included a record of student evaluations of my teaching that was well above the school average. It involved being named twice on the dean’s list for excellence in teaching, and holding grants and significant publishing. I wrote a book with the former dean of the same school about how to teach humanities in business schools, featuring a chapter about my experiences doing so at SMU. Cambridge University Press published the book (Thomas & Harney, 2019). I was contracted on the “education track”, so high teaching evaluations and publications about curriculum and pedagogy were supposed to be precisely what I needed to produce to remain in contract. There seemed to be no real reason to terminate me in an expanding fiscal environment like the business school. But months after being told I would likely not be renewed, and a month after confirmation of this decision, I gave the dean and my colleagues a real reason to fire me. But more on that later.
Meritocracy is fundamental to the maintenance of hegemony in Singapore.
In any case, the dean was right to fire me. My students and I were undermining the ruling model of meritocracy in Singapore. The way we studied together was a threat to them. Schools and the universities in Singapore are key sites for the production of meritocracy in Singapore. Meritocracy, in turn, is fundamental to the maintenance of hegemony in Singapore. That hegemony is a complex mixture of colonialism, settler colonialism and the racial capitalism of finance and logistics. Meritocracy is used not only to justify many of the legacies of exploitation, expropriation and punishment in Singapore, but is also a fundamental component of the relations of production today. It makes people work hard while accepting their place in the hierarchy and their tenuous relation to the means of production.
What is crucial is that our relationship to the means of production of knowledge is artificially restricted. Before the advent of capitalism, many people had direct access to the tools, land and resources they needed to make their homes, their clothes, their medicine and their food. They owned or had direct access to these means for producing what they needed. Of course, under capitalism, we cannot produce our own clothes, homes, food, etc., for the most part. We do not have access to these means because they are now owned by companies and shareholders (and sometimes, the government). But the curious aspect of knowledge is that we do have access. We have access because the main tool is our brain, and the main means is our study together, and, especially thanks to the internet, we can mostly get the books and information we need for free. Thus, we should have a direct relationship to these means of production of knowledge, but instead, we restrict our relation to those means with all kinds of rules, hierarchies, permissions, etc.
Of course, it sounds grandiose to suggest that mere “study” can threaten a system as sturdy and successful on its own terms as the Singapore model. (By “study”, I refer to a process where some people get together to choose what they want to learn together and how they want to learn it together on their own terms—that is, they decide how long to study something, where to study it and how to study it together. The term “study” comes from the history of black study, where Black people in the Americas were forbidden from even learning to read in many cases and thus had to get together secretly to set up their own autonomous forms of studying together.) And I should correct myself: although our study was threatening to the people at the top of the hierarchy, it is the ongoing “study” already in effect all the time in Singapore that remains the systemic threat. We were just an example of it, albeit an exposed one. Nonetheless, I think our study can instruct us by revealing the ways meritocracy works in Singapore and perhaps more broadly. This is evident in the meritocratic discourses and workplaces of the tech sector or the finance sector or in the global university more generally.
What is Meritocracy?
What do I mean by meritocracy? Meritocracy is an ideology asserting that people can succeed and attain power based solely on their own merit and ability, rather than any outside social pressure, nepotism, wealth or connections. The ruling class has a vested interest in preserving the appearance of meritocracy, as it legitimises their rule and status. What is important to note is that meritocracy is real in its effects and it can, therefore, be proved to exist and to work, even though it is based on an obfuscated reading of society in Singapore. Accordingly, I cannot set out to show that it is wrong, or even that the ideas behind it are false. But I can say something about how it functions in our society, and the ways it damages the lives of those caught in its logic, to say nothing of the destruction of earth that forms the “free” funding of this logic of accumulation, where the true cost of what is taken from the earth (minerals, oil, wood, etc.) is rarely taken into account in the profits and losses of our business systems.
Meritocracy is the imposition of scarcity. It is an artificial political limit, justified precisely by claiming to solve the problem of scarcity through its logic of “achievement”, or “effort”, or “talent”.
The most important element about how meritocracy works is that it is not a justification for the distribution or maldistribution of limited or scarce resources. Meritocracy is the imposition of scarcity. It is an artificial political limit, justified precisely by claiming to solve the problem of scarcity through its logic of “achievement”, or “effort”, or “talent”. The second important aspect about meritocracy is that the scarcity it imposes is on the means of production, rather than any product, position or property. Because it is the means of production that meritocracy targets, it cannot be satisfactorily combated with a redistributive strategy. It is because of this latter point that the university is a prime place to undermine the hegemony of meritocracy.
What might my story tell us about how to pursue some form of insurgent study in the face of a patrolling and severe meritocratic ideology in Singapore?
The main course I taught at SMU was called “Capstone: Studying Business through the Classics”. This was a senior undergraduate course, enrolling fourth-year students. It was compulsory, although students could choose between the course I created and a more traditional course consulting with businesses in Singapore. That other version was a familiar model—the university essentially lends the free labour of its students to businesses in the city (labour heavily subsidised by the state). This garners favour with those businesses that the university hopes will later deliver either in positions for the students or enhanced reputation within the business community, and perhaps endowment gifts. Overall, I felt the other course was poorly conceived and executed, and fourth-year students were often disappointed with its repetitive material or fearful of the vicissitudes of real businesses and their judgments. In the intense competition for grades—the most visceral manifestation of meritocracy—students often shied away from the uncertainty of grading in this version of the course.
My class had a reputation for being more predictable in grading, but also for introducing its own perils. There were two aspects of my course that were different. We read classic, contemporary literature, philosophy and social theory directly, not through textbooks and case studies. Thus, students were introduced for the first time to passages from Freud, Marx and Nietzsche, but also from Arundhati Roy, Frantz Fanon and Carol Gilligan. We read Buddhist philosophy and studied the Tao. It was often all new to the students and a challenge for those used to digested readings. Everything was staked on whether we could find a way to study together with this material.
The second aspect that made the course different was that it came at the end rather than the beginning of their education in a specialised field. This turned out to be crucial, and it only took shape this way because a previous dean had come to recognise that in both teaching and scholarship, business schools had become too narrow. Both scholars and students lacked the grounding in history, economics, philosophy and political and social theory to address the business problems of the day.
Undergraduate business students in Singapore follow the British model of applying directly into their school or program, and thus, in our school, spend four years studying business subjects. At SMU, however, there has long been an attempt to broaden that course selection. In consultation with the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania over 15 years ago, SMU was designed to include elements of a liberal arts undergraduate education. In their first year, students are exposed to introductory courses in the liberal arts. A few introductory courses within the business school curriculum were also designed to combine elements of business education with broader readings and discussions from sociology, the history of science and ethical philosophies. But most students regarded these requirements as something to get out of the way in order to focus on their chosen concentrations, whether in marketing, organisational behaviour, finance or strategy and organisation.
The problem of educating “for breadth” was compounded by the fact that the classes taught inside the business school were given to junior business school professors. They tended to pull the course back toward what they knew, and thus, a course on the history of science might become one of business innovations through history. Since most faculty are narrowly trained, they also regarded these courses as outside the norm and perhaps damaging to their careers, jeopardising future moves to other business schools without such classes. The breadth introduced was, therefore, ironically framed within business knowledge. As I was being shown the door at SMU, a new university president was centralising the teaching of this liberal arts core. It would be thematised in ways designed for the courses not to slip into professional education. But this broader knowledge was still limited to the first year, and the message to students was that it was some kind of spiritual and ethical education separate from their professional training, and so it ranked lower. And there would no longer be a capstone in the business school itself, no fourth-year course at all, nothing linking business knowledge to the broader context of the social sciences, to history, to politics and economics.
No doubt, I ask for some indulgence when I say I think my course was a threat. But even if the capstone was, in fact, only a threat to my students and me—to what we thought before we undertook the course, to our tacit or explicit belief in meritocracy, our participation in the regime of scarcity, and our acceptance of the limits placed on us before we came together to study beyond those proscriptions—I think it is worth daring an alternative explanation.
One way to think about this class is that we tried to insist on an unlimited means of production in our study together, and we tried to think of this unlimited means of study together in different dimensions.
For example, in an average class, we might listen to Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (1970) to start, then talk about entrepreneurship, drift to politics in Thailand, and end with some history of the Boxer Rebellion. Another day might see us talking about the students’ direct memories of urban change in Singapore, viewing part of a documentary on an art school in Cuba, and finishing with the theme of alienation in philosophy.
The banking model of education is precisely a system of limiting the means of production to those who have the capital and those who can learn to operate within the strictures of credit and debt.
The means of study was unlimited because there was no material, no reading, no set of ideas we could not attempt to include. We would be limited only by how much work we wanted to do together. Perhaps aspects of quantum physics would be too much for us, but only because we decided to work on other things for now. But we also refused other ways to limit our means. Disciplines, most especially our own, would not limit us, and we would resist not only what was authorised by that discipline but also all the ways our discipline prevented access. We rejected the suspicion that we were somehow disloyal or critical of business education. We rejected the assumption that we were neglecting business education or somehow not extending our business knowledge by reading whatever we wanted. Most importantly, we rejected the charge that some of our ideas might be dangerous or subversive.
We would also not be limited by what we understood, by an injunction to master our materials, to grasp everything in front of us. We allowed ourselves to read without understanding everything, without being able to summarise everything, and again, especially important in professional education, without being able to apply everything we studied. We did not reject movies because they were too popular or funny, and we tried to help each other with clips that were in different languages. Film, cartoons, Shakespeare, music, chanting, paintings—all were welcome in the class.
So why was the course not chaos? For one, our full employment of the means of study still took place in the university, in a structure of classrooms, schedules, programmes of professional study and our own learnt institutional comportment. But the main reason the course “worked” was that it was organised around us. We ask questions of ourselves. Why are we attending university? How did we get here? Where are we going? What real value is education, including professional business education? Did we expect to find fulfilment in our careers? Will we find a calling? Happiness? Purpose? Each other? It was, therefore, both highly organised with a very visible and common principle, and at the same time, always subject to revision.
Both the students and I were trained to believe that the means of production for knowledge was indeed limited, and our access to them would in turn be limited. For me, it occurred through ideas like mastery and rigour, respect for the work of those who came before and humility about one’s own contribution. All of these ideas are powerful because they are ideological, and they become inculcated not through propaganda but through practice, and in particular, through inculcation in the school system. As Paolo Friere (2001) famously explained, the banking model of education (referring to how, in traditional educational methods, the teacher simply deposits knowledge into the student, like a person would deposit money into a bank; then the student is to withdraw this money at the appropriate time, like during an exam or for a job) is precisely a system of limiting the means of production to those who have the capital, and those who can learn to operate within the strictures of credit and debt.
So we had a lot of work to do together before we could seize the means of production for ourselves. I had to trust that my experiences of study—many of which took place in autonomous spaces beyond the university—could be applied to a regular classroom of 40 students meeting for three hours once a week and repeated throughout the week in four different classes of students, with 160 students in all. I had to find ways to give the students a feeling that we were in this class together, that I was not their manager, not the only person who could claim direct access to the means of study. I tried to find a way to assure them that the means of production of knowledge were not a limited resource subject to property rights but boundless—a social wealth produced by all of us for all of us. Most practically and immediately, I had to find a way for them to get relief from the tremendous pressure to get the right answer and then get the right grade. If I could not relieve them of this burden, we could not hope to study together in this way. This was so because the meritocratic culture had such a grip on them, but also because grading is a fundamental way to impose scarcity and force students to accept their limited access to a concentrated means of production.
Grading is a fundamental way to impose scarcity and force students to accept their limited access to a concentrated means of production.
The way I tried to do some of this and the way the students tried their own versions of opening up the classroom were myriad, but one was especially important. Even before meritocracy uses grading to distribute access, even before it uses management in the classroom to restrict access, and even before it privatises these means through individuation, citation and expert opinion of ideas, it limits the means of production by distinguishing what is and is not a tool for the production of worthwhile knowledge. For example, too often, traditional assignments, even in the humanities, will understand Freud as a means, and a film as raw material to be fed into that means. Why could the film itself not also be a means? (e.g. “How does the film Ex Machina (2015) illustrate Freud’s ideas on the uncanny” is acceptable, but “What does the film Ex Machina teach us, and how does that help us understand our lives better?” is not.) Or traditionally, certain methods qualify as means, and others are just forms of consumption or realisation. Thus, literary criticism is a method and is restricted to those who are qualified to employ it, yet while anyone can meditate, meditation is not a proper method; or indeed because anyone can do it, it must not be a proper means to producing new knowledge.
Only with the scarcity established by meritocracy does meritocracy then presume to solve the problem of informational access. Meritocracy then proposes measures to make sure even proper means are not widely available and accessible, not vulnerable to endless reproduction and mutation. Thus, after Freud is distinguished, he must be further protected and restricted as a means (though he can circulate widely as a product). Meritocracy only begins with this founding scarcity.
However, when we began to question this false scarcity, students started to think with all kinds of means, and none of them prevented us from reading Mao or Fanon or any other designated or approved means. The students wrote papers together about trips to museums, and they made films together about ideas they had studied. We tried to remember that any means was allowed in the room and that we did not have to get it right. We tried to get away from knowledge being personal, private property in those we read and in ourselves. I told the students that the class was graded on whether you studied together and not on what you achieved. Students did not all have to participate in the same way in study, but they should try to work together. If they tried and turned in the work, I would give them the best grade I could under the rules of the university. Because the university operated under a bell curve, it meant I could only give out 35% A grades. But I gave the rest the highest B+ allowed if they turned in work. We used the imposition of this bell-curve to discuss the meritocratic regime we were trying to evade.
The bell curve appeared to us like such a violation of what was supposed to be a natural meritocratic order because it was not just preserving this supposed naturalness but creating it, decreeing it, through its violent application. I also used the opportunity to talk with the students about the history of the use of the bell curve, including its notorious applications to humans, and in particular to IQ. The significance of this history did not escape them. It also led to a discussion I had every year with my students in the capstone. Not only would it work better if I could give everyone an A, it would also be more consistent with how we were trying to study. Moreover, giving everyone an A would also make much more sense than creating a pass/fail class, because pass/fail did not specifically challenge meritocracy: pass/fail is merely the suspension of meritocracy. One interesting discussion we had concerned whether an A would “mean anything” if everyone got one. A few students worried about this. I took it as evidence that breaking the meritocratic ideology took a lot of practice. It was perhaps like my residual concern over whether the students would evaluate me well. The capstone was not a utopia, and anyway, study does not propose to dwell in such a place. Seizing the means under such a meritocratic regime meant, in the short term, more work and not less, but it was self-directed work, and that is why we enjoyed it together.
Meritocracy features so prominently in the university because the means of production in the university are so evidently plentiful. The threat of an outbreak of study is ever-present. But the business school has an even more particular relationship to meritocracy because its managers are themselves so restricted from the means of production. In other professional schools, students can expect to be taught by those who practice. A medical school is staffed by doctors and a law school by lawyers. A certain number have moved into research, but they have direct experience of the means of producing law and medicine, and even of the patients and criminals who actually produce the means they use, as Marx reminded us (Greenberg, 1993, 72). Business school professors have, by and large, never managed, led or even worked in business organisations. There is a lengthy discourse on this difference, but it is devoted to more effective management of the means, not seizing them.
Most doctoral students working toward PhDs work in the mode of a university science lab, toiling away on a subset of a dataset overseen by a senior professor who himself has, at best, consulted with businesses, but most likely not managed or led one. They also produce elaborate literature reviews of journal articles, where lists of authors form a wall of property rights around the means they are employing. With a dataset and a literature review, they find a problem and build a model to solve it. The model usually already exists and is modified for their purposes or put to new use with new data. In other words, they are like miners who must buy their shovels at the company store on credit. They dwell in a universe of privatised means. They owe their first position to their supervisors who put them on a few papers in exchange for data work or literature searches. They must now buy access to another dataset to start work on the articles that will get them tenure, and keep up with the literature for the theories they will cite. In time, they may take up their old supervisor’s position. But their experience from the beginning is restricted. For the most part, they begin lecturing about business without any experience or firsthand access to the means of production in any business, and with plenty of experience that is severely limited, hierarchical and remote. In other words, they are installed in perhaps the most meritocratic universe of any part of the university.
It should be of little surprise that this meritocratic severity shows up in their classrooms, where the first thing they do is buy case studies to teach. Having experienced the privatisation of the means and its regulatory restriction in their own training, they impose an even more severe lesson on their own undergraduate business students. Repeatedly inculcated to accept this property regime and lack of access, students are simultaneously exhorted to distinguish themselves for grading and supposed employment placements. Competition erupts among the students in this artificial scarcity. They learn that what they gain in access to the means must be at the expense of those around them. They also learn that they deserve their access, and those around them do not. They come to accept that their own access will be limited, and they will have to keep working hard to expand this meagre access, or even to maintain it. But this is not just a lesson these students learn about business education, or even the business world, but about society—about Singapore. Because if there is one abundance of means they encounter other than their university, it is their city.
The Singapore Model
Indeed, our class and the city mixed in several ways. The students went out into the city in groups on different projects over the years. They went to contemporary art exhibits and performances, adapted several social and ethnographic experiments out in the cityscape, filmed around the city and drew from our own family, educational and social lives in the city.
But the most direct connection with the city in the end was also the one that most directly challenged the city’s own meritocratic ideology. In the last semester I taught the course, after I had been told I would not be renewed, I finally made good on my lecture on the bell curve and awarded all 170 students in my four capstone courses 83, the threshold grade for an A. It was the logical outcome of our discussion and our study. But when the university found out, they asked me to reconsider. I reconsidered and then released the 170 grades of 83 again to the students. A headline in The Straits Times accused me of assigning “bogus grades“. The article itself, however, gave room for a description of the course and even an explanation of our reasons. The paper even featured a “Letter of the Week” defending our methods. Both articles were among the “Most Read” online for most of the week after their publication. Discussions in the letters section and on social media abounded. We had taken our challenge to the city itself. Many condemned the grading for not recognising the hard work and talent of a selection of students. But many others said it was about time someone drew attention to the overly competitive quest for grading. As for the university, they could not fire me twice.
Singapore is, of course, a model. It is a model of state-led development successfully presenting itself as a model of the free market and global trade. It presents like this particularly in financial services and logistics, but increasingly in other technologies, and most recently in education export services and the contemporary arts. Yet the underlying and real accomplishments are not what businessmen and political leaders elsewhere in Southeast Asia admire. They are drawn to its one-party rule and controls of free speech, free assembly and dissent—including, of course, labour dissent. In this sense, the Singapore model is not a model at all, but an exception. Moreover, it has always been an exception. Chosen over rival regional cities from Batam to Penang to be the midway port of the opium trade route, its economy was always subject to special state intervention by the British for this purpose. Opium farmers (distributors) in Singapore integrated this lucrative trade with pepper and chebula farms, local mines and public works and logistics. These farmers were businessmen with the muscle to control the trade once the concession was granted by the British. No other part of Southeast Asia enjoyed anywhere near the centrality of Singapore to this trade, and for several decades at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, it represented anywhere from 40-60% of the colonial government’s revenue, as the fine work of Carl Trocki details (2012).
Singapore’s government, in all its functions arbitrating merit amongst its population, must be seen to be fair. Only in this way can scarcity be accepted in a city as wealthy as Singapore.
Today, Singapore remains an exception, perhaps even a greater one, and not a model, for other reasons. There are around 3 million Singaporeans, but at any given moment, there are up to 5.9 million people in Singapore. A very small percentage of these 2.9 million non-citizens were, like me, designated as expatriates—white-collar, mostly of European descent and working in banks, though also present are Japanese, Indian and Korean executives in oil and transport. The rest consist of manual workers in construction, cleaning, maintenance and gardening, in the case of male “guest workers”, mostly from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Or they are domestic and service workers, mostly women, working in homes, in restaurants, hospitals and other hospitality services, including Singapore’s legal prostitution industry. These domestic and service workers come from throughout Southeast Asia, from Myanmar to Indonesia. The Singaporean economy, to say nothing of its social compact, would collapse without them. There is no other country in Southeast Asia (excluding Brunei) that could copy this model. The populous countries around the region need first and foremost employment strategies, though few pursue them with any coherence, as Alice Amsden (2010) noted convincingly.
Nor could these regional countries impose such a meritocratic regime on their suspicious and resistant populations. One of the characteristics of this exception is the lack of corruption. But Singapore’s lack of overt government corruption is not sustained by an ethical commitment, rather by a reliance on meritocratic rule in the city-state. The principle is the same one I violated in the classroom. Scarcity cannot be imposed amid plenitude unless the administration of merit is respected. If the professor gives out all As, then he destroys the authority to be trusted to adjudicate merit. Similarly, Singapore’s government, in all its functions arbitrating merit amongst its population, must be seen to be fair. Only in this way can scarcity be accepted in a city as wealthy as Singapore. It must be argued that the bountiful means in Singapore are so restricted and in so few hands because of a history of merit. And the population must be convinced to keep faith and keep working by the same logic—that anyone could have such merit bestowed on them by the trusted authority of the state and its proxies, who, like the professor, know how to distinguish effort and talent in an impartial and expert way. No wonder our study together in the capstone hit a nerve not just in the university but ultimately in the city itself.
Of course, there is a necessary sleight of hand here. The argument is circular. The bell curve must be applied because the bell curve exists. When I argued that all my students had seized the means and created engaging work worth an A, I was told that my assessment was insufficiently discriminating. An interesting word to use because meritocracy assumes the human population really is distributed on a bell curve. My (non)grading went against the natural order of humanity. This bell-curved reality not only imposes scarcity but naturalises the previous impositions as part of its history of merit. Given that Singaporean history is that of colonial capitalism and subsequent racial capitalism, this history is in fact structured by forces with very little to do with merit and everything to do with the corruption of capital, white supremacy and racial and gender hierarchies.
The meritocratic regime reads back into this real history its own ideology of merit. Thus Malay and Indian Singaporeans come to deserve their fate, and at the same time, despite visible and invisible barriers, are welcomed as if on a level playing field into today’s meritocratic game. Meritocracy secures racial capitalism in Singapore. It turns out, nothing is more corrupting than clean government, except perhaps objective grading.
Louis Althusser (2008) On Ideology, London: Verso.
Alice Amsden (2010) ‘Say’s Law, Poverty Persistence, and Employment Neglect’ in Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 11:1, 55-66.
Paolo Friere (2001) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Continuum.
Antonia Gramsci (2005) Selection from Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence & Wishart.
David Greenberg (ed.) (1993) Crime and Capitalism: Readings in Marxist Criminology, Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Stuart Hall (1985) ‘Signification, Representation, Ideology’ in Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 2:2, 91-114.
Tyler E. Lewis (2017) Inoperative Learning: A Radical Rewriting of Educational Potentialities, New York: Routledge.
Fred Moten & Stefano Harney (2010) ‘Debt and Study’ in E-Flux, Journal 14, March.
Howard Thomas & Stefano Harney (2019) The Liberal Arts and Management Education: a global agenda for change, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Carl Trocki (2012) Opium, Empire, and Global Political Economy: a study of the Asian opium trade 1750-1950, London: Routledge.
Hypatia Vourloumis (2014) ‘Ten Thesis on Touching, or Writing Touch’ in Women & Performance, Issue 2-3, 232-238.
 See Fred Moten and Harney (2010); Also see also the parallel work, highly developed, on study of Tyson E. Lewis (2017)
 A classic example is lumber companies who cut down forests and replace them with trees. Trees are not forests, which are complex ecosystems and very expensive to rebuild. Likewise, many companies mine and think they need put nothing back. They have paid for the equipment and bought the concession, but they never paid for the production of the minerals themselves (nor could they, since some take millions of years to form) and they will not replace them for future generations. Thus, they are essentially taking what they mine for free.
 See: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/smu-reviews-grades-after-don-gives-a-to-all-students And: https://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-on-the-web/weeks-top-letter-1-rethink-grading-on-bell-curve