26 February 2007

6.5 million will make a different Singapore

Expecting 2 million more immigrants, should Singaporeans be fearful for their jobs? Are Singaporeans able to adapt to the social changes to come? Full essay.


Teck Soon said...

Alex complained about the CMIO categorisations, but in a previous post indicated his feeling that forced racial integration in HDB flats was still necessary. How to implement this ethnic integration without an official race classification?

I actually agree that CMIO should be retired, but I also think that all race-based policies such as HDB race quotas should be retired as well.

Anonymous said...

It is all very well to talk about it at a macro-level. But there is the here and now for the average joe who sees his rice bowl threatened or worse, already taken away from him.

The govt has also an equally important and moral duty to ensure that while it is building for the future, it cannot take for granted as acceptable 'collateral' damages done to people here and now. the suffering is real, the casualty is real.

Do you think those theroetical points you make will cut any ice or make any sense to these groups? If they need real substantive help, there is a moral duty to take care of them because they are one of us.

I called them theoretical points because I am very sure, the LKY govt must have gone thru precisely the same scenario forecasting/planning when it decided on the stop at two population policy.
On balance, can we honesty say that we have been really better of (esp at micro level) because of it? Moot point.

Moot point too all those educational and other living stress the average Singaorean is subjected to. Do the cost outweigh the benefits, justify the price we paid and are paying for a better environment. Is there any meaning to such living environment for the average joe?

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

To anonymous 26 Feb, 13:05

Your last paragraph reminded me that I should have pointed out in the essay another widespread fallacy: that if we only got rid of all these foreigners, we'd have the same standard of living without the extra stress of competition. We won't. We'd have a smaller, less vibrant economy and a lower average standard of living. So the choice is between a becoming a poorer, quiet protectionist backwater with "assured" jobs and a better standard of living with more competition.

Sure, I'm talking about averages, and sure, the government had been negligent for some years about its redistributive, social role. But let's not confuse a clear understanding of economics with the debates about politics.

Anonymous said...

Dear Alex, nice article I just want to comment on one figure and add a story:

"Singapore's Total Fertility Rate per woman is just 1.25, well below the 2.1 needed for a population to even replace itself."

What alwyas bothered me, in Nationmaster, WIkipedia and in other trustworthy publications, Singapores fertility rate is even lower, even for 2000:


"2006: rank #222 Singapore 1.06 children born/woman"

Lower is only HK and Macau... as the TFR is a calculated/projected figure it may be calcualted differently, or is it again the difference citizen/resident?

I dont know why this quite different "1.25" is the figure used in the local medium - it is as well on:


("1.25" here has a note: "Indicator computed based on Singapore residents." - NOT citizens, thats why?!)

Ayyway, 1.06 would mean quite exactly that in "every generation", the number of born-Singaporeans shrinks by HALF as 2.1 are required. BY HALF! Thats drastic. In that sense, we are even better than the better half of the "first world"...

My second comment relates to your conclusion about "race". Many commented successfully even in the local medium on that, like the girl who looks obviously Indian as she is 75% Indian, but has a half-Chinese father and therefore has "Chinese" as a race in the IC...


I am myself considered "Caucasic" but have never been to the Caucasus, nor do my forefathers know where it is. And if I were from Brazil or Russia I would also be "Caucasic". My children with my Chinese wife might look Chinese, but will then be also "Caucasic", what for is that? Or cann they be "Eurasian"? Then, in a few decades, we will be all Eurasians....

The fact that I am considered "Caucasic" angried me so much that when I got my PR, I convinced the immigration officer that I am "Eurasian" (I kind of didnt take these race terms seriously, and I liked that very vague category as I am from Europe and live in Asia..). The lady had no problem with that, as my skin is quite dark and I look somehow remotely Indian.

She said "No problem sir, I change it to EURASIAN then on your IC". (This alone tells us something...)

Unfortunately, in the last moment, she double checked: "Sir, your Asian relative, was it your mothers or fathers side?". In stupor and being overly careful (my family name is obviously not Kumar or Tan), I said "I think, my mothers father was an Indian" - "No sir, then you cant' we only go after the father side"..!!!

What does that tell us? (I) The race definition is vage and largely useless, as it seems to me that no official "prrof" of racial background is required, (II) it is furthermore applied chauvinistically as it goes only after father, even if the father is totally mixed ("Pater semper incertus est" - even the Romans knew that, doeh..).

The more this society will mix and comsompolisize, the less will we be able to refer to "race" anyway. In my view, "Nationabuilding" should actually encourage steering away from racial definitions or stereotypes, we are all supposed to be "Singaporean" aren't we?

Anonymous said...

I love this example you gave to explain your point:

"Take 2 million people, foreigners all, ... Put these 2 million people on an uninhabited island with no natural resources. ... Will it have an economy after? If so, where does the economy come from?"

Isn't that exactly the history of SINGAPORE, 1819 - 1970?

Anonymous said...

Much as I enjoyed reading Alex's articles, I will like to challenge the implicit pro-immigration stance in this article.

Alex argues that "in other words, an economy is something that is created by people, not a function of natural resources." The fact is the government needs to attract immigrants with the right sets of skills that multiples resources, and not use them up. Beyond a few CEOs and managers who are recruited specifically to address a particular issue (e.g. Sentosa tourism) or expand a designated sector (e.g. bio medical industry), how many of the 18.3% non-residents are of this calibre? My own relative, who works in a mnaufacturing plant, was a victim of being replaced by a Chinese worker who will work for a lesser pay for the same job - if this is not a zero-sum game, then what it is? Why is it that we see so many local old aunties becoming cleaners in food courts and public toilets?

The second point that Alex didn't mention is the fact that many indigenous Singapore have incurred personal sacrifices into building the nation. This, as many of us will attest to, includes National Serice, days of reservist training and personal taxes. The govt has to be sensitive to this group of people in designing immigation policies - yes, immigration is good and has a multiplier effect (if done properly), but if you spend years of your life growing and preening a seedling into a tree, only to be told later that it can provide shelter only to a foreigner (to use a common Chinese proverb), how does it make one feel?

Anonymous said...

You wrote: "More than that, the talent we need must be unusually adventurous, people who by personality are bored with the conventional and the known, who feed on pushing beyond boundaries. These are the inventors and the creative workers that we've been talking about for 10 years. Such people don't thrive in cities that are too safe; they need exciting places. Thus the Straits Times' choice of headline."

It seems that after pointing this out, you decided not to pursue the logical progression from this point onwards. The questions that follow are of course whether do you honestly think S'pore will attract such people, considering the international reputation of a country ruled by an iron-fisted regime that borders on dictatorial.

And even if these creative types are lured here do you not think the repressiveness and social constraints will kill instead of foster or support such free-spirited elements necessary for that thriving vision?

Bart JP said...

I wrote about this only a couple of days ago (http://perspectiveunlimited.blogspot.com/2007/02/tipping-point-lessons-of-economic.html).

No matter how hard one tries to explain, there is always a job fallacy (ie, lack of jobs to go around). In fact, there is likely to be more jobs when more people come to Singapore.

The only chink in the whole argument is that some Singaporeans genuinely do not share the global city dream. It is perhaps not only a matter of wanting to adopt a cosmopolitan attitude or not.

Some people truly want home to be more comfortable, not so globalised, less of a pressure cooker, with lower cost of living. This partly explains the attraction of Australia for example. Trouble is always Singapore's small size - there simply is no hinterland for people to withdraw to if they do not wish to live in the pressure cooker.

But good post.

Bart JP said...

I wrote about this only a couple of days ago (http://perspectiveunlimited.blogspot.com/2007/02/tipping-point-lessons-of-economic.html).

No matter how hard one tries to explain, there is always a job fallacy (ie, lack of jobs to go around). In fact, there is likely to be more jobs when more people come to Singapore.

The only chink in the whole argument is that some Singaporeans genuinely do not share the global city dream. It is perhaps not only a matter of wanting to adopt a cosmopolitan attitude or not.

Some people truly want home to be more comfortable, not so globalised, less of a pressure cooker, with lower cost of living. This partly explains the attraction of Australia for example. Trouble is always Singapore's small size - there simply is no hinterland for people to withdraw to if they do not wish to live in the pressure cooker.

But good post.

Anonymous said...

Great ! The EU could learn a lot from such a strategic choice. The debate is open now here in Europe, but popular resistance to immigration is even much stronger, due to a complete lack of immigration management for decades. With immigration rising, I hope Singapore won't suffer from the same reaction that we've know here in Europe : the development of an ultra-conservative extreme-right movement.

Personally, I'm already answering the call of the Singaporean government. I'm moving to Singapore on the 7th of march to join my Singaporean friend.

:) Anybody has a job for me ? I have a customer service background (corporate travel agent) and I speak 5 to 6 West-European languages ...

karel (karel321@yahoo.com)

KiWeTO said...

The core question that we are not asking is - are we a country or are we a city?

If we're a city, its great to aim to increase population by 50%. The best come to the city to make their fortunes, and so cities prosper by attracting more people.

If we're a country, then, to increase our population by 50%, ostensibly who are willing to assimilate our current beliefs and modes of thinking, and willing to serve NS with pride; somehow, it doesn't quite feel right.

The question that many of us are asking is - having sacrificed (NS, or other blood sweat and tears) into carrying the red passport/pink I/C, why are we giving the bank away so easily? Do we truly have no confidence in our own people?
(though often, I have to concur that our own people can't do independent thought, so it might really be best to import thinkers).

If we're a city and a state, then, something has to be done to make us feel that the efforts of reservist callups, random mobilizations, and other anchors that we carry as citizens be sufficiently rewarded; else, being economically 2nd-class citizens in our own country is an affront to our own sense of self-worth.

[and no, its not just about making non-singaporeans pay more, its more intangible than dollars and cents. its about having a say in how things are run, rather than being told how to run.]

Anonymous said...

It will take more than economics to convince our Nativists (someone on another blog came up with that term) that immigration is one of the areas where we need to re-invent ourselves.

There is fear of the unknown and jealousy of the "privileges" that foreigners are perceived to enjoy. There is even suspicion of those who choose to become Singaporeans; with accusations that they are not true Singaporeans, because they did not serve National Service.

Maybe it shouldn't be too surprising. Switzerland, another country with compulsory NS, also regularly considers laws to bar immigrants. Its going to take time for the cosmopolitan mindset to take hold here.

nepenthes said...

On the one hand, I am not against immigration. I agree that a larger population can lead to a larger economy, given good governance. I have contributed my own fair share of blood, sweat, tears and youth in NS, but using it as an argument against 'no-sacrifice-citizenship' does not really make sense to me. Our female population are not required to serve NS, and yet we have never questioned their citizenship.

On the other hand, I do not support this proposed huge population increase. While Singapore is not the most crowded city in the world, it seems to be headed in that direction. There is scarcely breathing space left. Are overseas trips the only possibilities for peace and quiet? Can we not carve a space to accomodate those pursuing the cosmopolitan dream and those who just want a simple life? Is it so wrong not to be so progressive-minded? Not to aspire to greatness? Not to aspire to play big on the world stage? It is becoming increasingly difficult - if not impossible - to live a simple, normal life on this crowded little island. Is squeezing everyone into this pressure cooker the only way to survive?

Perhaps such diversity of space is the luxury that only bigger countries have. But what is the point of achieving economic excellence as a country if there is no space for the normal citizen? What is the point of citizenship in an excellent country in which I feel alienated, even if i was born and bred here?

Yuri/Dee said...

It's kind of interesting how Singaporeans view other immigrants. I, for a fact, used to know at least a few PRs who went on to become Singaporeans and it's kind of odd how they hold similar views of non-Singaporeans(this bias sometimes extends even to those from their own country of birth) just like other Singaporeans. Homogeneity, perhaps?

Still, I admit to having harbored some rather disturbing sentiments regarding other ethnicities and nationalities. My experience in a multi-national classroom definitely shot down many of these views. Whether such sentiments and views still exist in me, remains to be seen.

Anonymous said...

What I would like to know is how the Singapore Govt's economy is going to sustain this huge population growth?
Does that mean LABOR is going to be even cheaper?
With no natural resources of food, will that mean a spike in grocery bills?
Living expenses will go up?
And how crowded is crowded?
The costs of living will continue to rise.
Jobs will go to the FTs.
Whether FTs are part of Singapore or have intergrated, or just using singapore as a 'springboard',

How is the Singapore Economy going to sustain the people of Singapore?

Dee/Yuri said...

To nepenthes:

Well, one might desire to live a simple life. However, if one society lags on progress while its' companions attain greater stages of development and research, etc., then it risks being ignored and its' losses would be multifold.

Reason being a country which has a constantly evolving(in terms of numbers) pool of talent and population cannot rest on its' laurels. It must constantly adapt to the environment and seize the moment. But of course, we've failed in at least one aspect: we don't energise ourselves or even have much of a positive mindset. Innovation requires a positive drive and ability to recover and learn from your failures. Yet, we expect everyone to be Mr. Energizer Bunny: to be able to go on and on. Well, guess what? Nothing is limitless or endless. All batteries need constant recharging.

About Singapore being over-competitive, I'd like to point out the tendency to compete is universal. You can find this in various places: in sororities in colleges and universities, in hospitals and in other aspects of society. In the end, it is better not to hold yourself up to ideals set forth by others. For, upon setting step on the stage of glory, you find that you've lost yourself.

Anonymous said...

A global city? A renaissance city? Or just more digits to feed the GLCs? YB, if you think creativity and take root in S'pore, think again.


Anonymous said...

Hi Alex, just for the record this "we need 2 million more" figure is simply WRONG! We need at least about 4 million! Why?

It was clarified that the 6.5 million target is ment for 20-30 years down the road. Now, presently Singaporeans have <1.1 kids/woman on avarage (depending which statisc you trust, it could be as low as 1.02). That means quite exactly that within one generation, there will be half the number of true-blue Singaporeans, ergo from 3,5 to about 1.7 million in 20-30 years (not taking into considertion that it might drop further, or that 50% of young Singaporeans are happy to migrate away, so it might be rather much less, <<1.7 million).

So, we really need 4 and not 2 more millions to reach the 6. then. (I know, I did kind of ignore the PRs/green card people, but the dynamic here is hard to predict, and the whole issue of citizenship/inhbitants is very blurr and was depicted by yourself very accurately before!).

Its kind of amazing isnt it, it means that Singapoireans for sure will be a minority in Singapore soon! Alamak.