Friday, 1 February 2013

Empty Promises?

   I was taken aback when the government announced plans for Singapore's population to reach 6.9 million by 2030. The argument has always been that because of the ageing population and low birthrate, Singapore has to increase it's population to remain economically viable. Simply put, "Singapore cannot survive if the population doesn't grow".
   I trust that the government truly believes that this is the way to go. I'm sure they have done their homework before coming up with these "necessary" projections. However, I must point out that the need for population increase is simply that - a projection. The following are some points I would like the government to address:
1) Is planning based on the "worst case scenario"? While it is good to plan for the worst that may happen, it usually never does. If such planning results in other uncomfortable sacrifices, perhaps we should be a little more optimistic. Which brings me to my second point.

2) Can Singapore still survive without being the best in the world? Yes, we may lose some of our international clout and influence. We may become less competitive on the global stage. But I believe we can still survive as a nation with a reasonable standard of living. I wouldn't mind giving up some competitive edge if my quality of life doesn't drop too much. Call me naive but I believe I'll have a better quality of life if I don't have to compete so much for air and space with my fellow Singaporeans and foreigners. 

3) GDP has always been the measure used to justify population growth. GDP doesn't take into account quality of life, effects on the environment and depreciation of natural resources (which, we have very little to start with). It is ludicrous of the government to assure us of a "good quality of life" when statistical models do not consider this when deriving the projections for "necessary" population growth.
4) Correct me if I'm wrong, but the increase in population in the past few years resulted in a lowering of quality of life. Check out the crowds in town on a weekend; even far-flung Changi City Point is crowded. Those who drive can attest the fact our roads are increasingly congested. I'm sure local data would show that the incidence of accidents have gone up too. The size of HDB flats have shrunk and officials have to resort to comparing us to other countries with limited space. Quality of life should be an absolute calculation and not a relative measure.

5) Not only has quality of life gone done, cost of living has increased as well. This makes for a "double whammy". Those with means will move overseas where they do not have to tolerate the crowds. Most of the time these people are the very ones we should be keeping. I dread the day when the government announces the need to import even more "foreign talent" because of local brain drain.
6) DPM Teo Chee Hean mentioned recently that the government is looking for "high-quality, productivity-driven growth". It is a fact that Singapore would do well to increase its productivity. Increased productivity means that one worker can now do the job of more than one person. This also means that less workers are needed to complete the job. Doesn't it seem ironic that Singapore requires both increased productivity and an increase in population? Moreover, as recent job data has shown, curbing the influx of foreigners has resulted in an increase in Singaporeans being employed. This shows that we are not in such desperate need of bringing in people to increase our population.

7) Population growth is not sustainable in the long term. How many more Bidadaris can we convert into housing estates? Will the future Singapore be deprived of it's forests and nature reserves? Will such a Singapore be worth striving for? Population increase is simply a temporary stop-gap measure that frustrates everyone. Why not get to the root of the problem? Is there no other option? Sometimes it seems that members of the government suffer either from group-think or the fear of being radical.
   In conclusion, population growth is not sustainable. GDP is not a good measure to justify increase in population. There is no way that the government can assure us that we will have quality of life if the population and cost of living continue to grow. What we need is a paradigm shift. Singaporeans cannot expect to remain "number one in the world". If we want a more "livable" Singapore for ourselves and our children, something has to give. It is now time for all of us to find that balance.

You may also want to check out an article by Joseph Chamie, the former Director of the United Nations Population Division, on how population growth is actually a Ponzi scheme:

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