Not worth a King’s ransom: A letter to the people of Singapura.


Prosperity, sky-scrapers, luxurious shopping and glorious food. These are the things associated with the vibrant and multicultural place I am born in – Singapore. The Kindgom of Singapura was a small Malay Kingdom back in 1299 that was founded by Sang Nila Utama. Today, in 2014, Singapore is the most expensive city to live in.

By today’s living standard, the people of Singapore enjoys more goods and services than pre-independent Singapore. Singaporeans also enjoy more exposure to world cultures and economic activities. All these are relatively good compared to the earlier 20 years or so. The cost of living survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit may not include local the cost of living by locals but it sure reflect heavily on corporations relocating their employees from overseas with New York as the base of reference. This is a good sign of economic progress but it does not show that Singapore has one of the biggest wealth disparities in the developed world in terms of its Gini coefficient.

Wealth disparity also means social adjustments and interactions. However that is purely up to each individual with their tastes and debonair. What is crucial to me is that this sky-high costs is also a reflection on the kind of investments that the Singapore government is attracting. Manufacturing is slowly and steadily moving away from Singapore. The Jurong Town Corporation that was set up for the industrial estates do not have the same kind of manufacturing activities as before. One major reason is due to the globalisation of the world economy. The other is the very affordable labour cost and relatively low property prices of giant emerging countries like China and India. This results in the high property prices (including rentals) in Singapore.

In terms of economy, the Singa City looks flourishing and buzzing. If we question deeper into the types of economic activities, there are lesser factories and manufacturing companies that are employing huge labour. China do not just have low-cost labour, China also has plenty of land to rent out to investors for their business. Economic activities have a repercussion on the residential property prices. The property prices, labour cost and other goods and services will in turn cause inflation that will also push up the cost of living for the people of Singapore. There is nothing wrong in the ownership of property or having the liquidity to own more than one properties for wealth accumulation. If we keep on satisfying the people’s dream of wealth accumulation and disregard the people’s dream of home ownership (the reason HDB was set up to fulfil the housing problem in post-independence Singapore), it is inevitable that property prices will keep going up and become unsustainable.

Personally Singapore being the most expensive city is not a good sign. It means that the government is attracting different investments and is moving away from the traditional path of manufacturing that allows high employment and low on inflation. Standard of living may have improved due to these investments but the cost of living will continue to increase and the people will find it harder to live and set up families. Having children will even be more difficult and hard when jobs are not secure and people are socially not mingling and integrating with each other. In the longer term, it poses a different kind of challenge socially and economically. Politically I doubt Singaporeans will cause too much unhappiness for the governing body. This is not to say Singaporeans are ignorant. They are as practical as any Asians. The concern for me is if the cost of living keeps increasing for the people and the people are hardly having any good employment that can sustain the aspirations of the people in the long run, the social structure of Singapore will lose its colours and foundations.
Those high net worth individuals that come to Singapore make up only, at best, the top 1%. The 99% of the people still largely depend on stable jobs with relative income and incentives in order to fulfil their basic needs and aspirations. If the upper middle and upper classes of Singapore continue to focus too narrowly and too much on those high-end goods and services and/or high net worth individuals, it does not seem like Singapore is heading in the right direction in terms of employment sustainability and in the long-term growing the population and making up for the low TFR.
My personal life is a very good sign of how these uppity (atas) Singaporean people are separating themselves socially and also how the immigrants from Asia and the rest of the world is adjusting and settling down in Singapore to make Singapore their homes. The immigrants need not know the full history of Singapore (it is only about 50 years of independence anyway), but the people and the immigrants cannot behave as if they are of different worlds or that they are earning a different income as compared to me or my parents. Yes I do have generational gap with my parents, every or any other Singaporeans as well. However what I experienced recently seems to suggest to me that people are getting more and more alienated due to the diversity and is getting more adverse than being friendly towards one another.
If the economy is of any worth to bring together people from all walks of life to live, work and play, it certainly isn’t worth a king’s ransom. Sang Nila Utama may not even chance upon a strange mythical animal and founded his Kingdom of Singapura – the ‘Lion City.’
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