atans1

Why S’pore is rich, while S’poreans are poor: view of TRE writer

In Political economy on 22/10/2020 at 6:21 am

Further to Why S’pore is rich, while S’poreans are poor: Chris Kuan opines (Btw, Chris has explained that he was just channeling the FT writer), here’s an interesting piece from a TRE writer. It’s worth a read.

A new measure needed

I know it’s not cool to admit to it, but I’m doing well. I am the official owner of a flat that, once you minus the outstanding liability (ie the outstanding mortgage), leaves me with a sum of at least S$200,000 plus. I have a main job in professional services (accounting) and statistically speaking, I produce around US$103,181 worth of value every year.

Yet, despite my statistical wealth, I am economically unsecure. My best hope is that my main job will keep me on for at least another 20-years and a significant number of you who are reading this will support the advertisers on this blog so that I can afford to buy an extra cup of coffee every month. If, God forbid, I have any serious ailments in the immediate future, my best bet is to die instantly so that I don’t become a burden to my family.

What I’ve expressed would seem strange to anyone living outside of Singapore. However, anyone from Singapore will understand because what I’ve mentioned reflects the disparity between “Statistic” Singapore and “Real” Singapore.

As part of “Statistic” Singapore, I’m doing well. There’s a property to my name (I avoid using the word own as there is a mortgage to my name), and property prices in Singapore are generally higher than in most places (logic of small land area and many people living in the area) and therefore my paper worth is comfortable. Singapore also has a relatively high Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”) for a small island with a limited number of people and if you look at the GDP per capita, the only nations with a higher GDP per capita are Luxemburg (Tax Haven for wealthy Germans), Macao (Gambling Haven) and Qatar (gas station). So, as part of “Statistic” Singapore, my share of the national wealth is US$103,181 a year. This makes me better off than my friends in Western Europe or the USA. Measures of our GDP success cab be found in the following links:

Link 1 and Link 2

It goes without saying that my reality in Singapore is less rosy than what it appears to be in “Statistic Singapore.” Yet, despite this fact, the government has spent countless times talking about our economic statistics and leaving aside the economic devastation brought about by Covid-19, our government inevitably goes back to our GDP statistics.

In fairness to our government, it’s not the only government to fall back onto various economic indicators as how well they are doing. Donald Trump for example cannot stop talking about stock market highs whenever someone talks about his government’s record.

You could say that it’s only natural for everyone to want to show themselves in a good light and economic statistics are probably the best way to do it. So much of our lives are based on economics and I guess you could say that when governments talk about the economy, it’s a way of showing that there’s money to give us goodies.

However, as the differences between Statistic Singapore and Actual Singapore have shown, GDP is a flawed measure of how well a country is doing as it only looks at one aspect of life in a nation. So, could there be another way of measuring how well a country is doing?

I think one of the best ideas comes from the small Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, which came up with the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH). To a certain extent, there are aspects of this measure of happiness which one could say are unique to the Bhutanese situation. We also need to remember that Bhutan is not the idealistic Shangri La that is portrayed to be and looks to India as a centre of economic assistance. There is also the problematic issue of having to conduct surveys on a yearly basis.

Having said that, the basic idea of GNH is right. The Bhutanese has qualified happiness into several aspects, which include things like the environment, health, cultural diversity and community vitality in addition to the usual economic measurements. A graph of what GNH comprises of can be found below:

Now, admittedly its harder to measure GNH with its various aspects than GDP. However, as argue, GDP is a flawed measurement as it only acknowledges the fact that life more than just economics. If you look at the situation in Singapore, you’ll find that our government is obsessed with GDP. All you need to do is to ensure that enough people are employed and nobody actually starves to think that you’ve done a good job. There is, for example, no need to look at the type of jobs that people are getting and whether things like whether I’m worrying on whether I might be able to afford to send my kid to school or whether I get sick or not.

Let’s go back to my personal example. As GDP indicates, I’m doing well. I have a job and a property in my name. The government can claim that it’s technically done well. People like me are producing USD100,000 plus a year and so on and so on.

However, GNH forces those in power to see that people are not just economic digits. Under the GDP measure, you’d be successful if you see that your people have a job even if that job pays $500 a month. However, under the GNH measurement, you have to ensure that people not only have jobs, but they can afford to send their kids to school, live in normal conditions and don’t have to breath toxic air as part of daily life.

Our traditional method of measuring things is too narrow and doesn’t portray things accurately. Isn’t it time we look at trying to measure things more accurately so that we can build a more livable society for the greater number of us?

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

  1. this bloke is a “ft”, why does he keep writing about local politics ?

  2. The GNH is really a national marketing & propaganda tool. There is strong govt & social (and business!) pressure for them to tick “very happy” in official polls & smile at tourists.

    Being isolationist & isolated for thousands of years has helped hone this institutional mindset for ease of control over the land by the monarchy & elites.

    As Bhutan slowly opens up to the world, more & more of its younger population are becoming more cynical & “worldly wise”.

    On objective surveys that take into account material wealth, health, & mental/spiritual aspects, Bhutan actually ranks somewhere at the 50th percentile among the countries of the world.

  3. […] Why S’pore is rich, while S’poreans are poor: view of TRE writer (Thoughts of a Cynical Investor) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: