On the brink of our 50th National Day, we should rightfully celebrate Singapore’s achievements. We have come a long way since independence. Measured in terms of per-capita incomes we are one of the richest countries in the world. Our success has not been built on the brilliance and vision of one man or one family but on the hard work and sacrifices of millions of ordinary Singaporeans.
Yet despite the impressive statistics life for the majority of working Singaporeans is not as good as it could be. Despite the PAP’s propaganda, we were for the fifty years prior to independence the richest city in Asia.
Our GDP per capita may look impressive but it is boosted by the huge number of cheap foreign workers without dependents that the PAP has brought in and by the much longer hours that Singaporeans work than their European or US counterparts. GDP per hour worked is a better measure and here Singapore ranks near the bottom of advanced countries, let alone the top cities within those countries. GDP also includes the share of income going to profits, most of which go to the PAP Government or to foreign MNCs. Our income distribution is one of the most unequal in the world. Properly measured the median Singaporean is no better off than his counterpart in Kuala Lumpur and poorer than similar workers in Seoul, Hong Kong or Taipei. We lag well behind the top European or US cities.
Despite their low wages Singaporeans get little or no help from their Government. The PAP is fond of saying that Singaporeans are lucky because taxes are so low. But that really only applies to the top 5% or so of Singaporeans. Workers in other advanced countries in Europe and North America also pay little tax. But they receive far more in benefits from their Government including subsidised or free health care, old age pensions, genuinely free education frequently up to university level, unemployment, child and disability benefits and no minimum wage. While it is important not to remove the incentive to work through overly generous welfare Singapore has gone completely the other way. The PAP Government runs huge surpluses running into tens of billions of dollars but spends one of the lowest proportions of GDP on healthcare and education among advanced countries.
Unfortunately the PAP economic model now works to the disadvantage of most Singaporeans. It worked well, though without any rise in underlying productivity, while we had surplus labour that could be drawn into the workforce. However when this was exhausted, rather than allow wages to rise to the levels of other advanced countries, the PAP found it easier to open the doors and allow a flood of cheap foreign labour from countries with wage levels of around a tenth or a twentieth of Singaporeans’ levels. First they took the jobs at the bottom but now they are increasingly moving up to compete with Singaporeans at all skill levels. Other countries have much stricter controls on immigration and have minimum wages and employment protection. The PAP have made sure Singapore has neither.
Singaporeans should not be fooled by Lee Hsien Loong’s claim that the PAP have calibrated the inflow of cheap labour. The only reason the rise in the foreign worker population has slowed down over the last year is the dire state of the global economy. Once global growth picks up, expect the foreign worker population to soar again. It is too easy a way of generating growth and indirectly swelling the incomes and bonuses of our ministers and their wives, relatives and cronies who run the GLCs whose profits depend on access to cheap labour. Our productivity and Singaporeans’ living standards will never rise as long as the PAP can tap new sources of cheap labour.
In a democracy parties that implement zombie economic policies that have long outlived their usefulness should get voted out by the electorate and replaced by parties with fresh ideas like the Reform Party. We need a new economic compact with a real emphasis on productivity as the driver of economic growth and intelligent curbs on cheap foreign labour. We need to secure for Singaporeans a fairer distribution of the national wealth by redistributing some of the massive wealth hoarded by the PAP Government. Unless the Government is lying about the amount of wealth it controls we can do this without adopting a high tax regime which might damage Singapore’s competitiveness.
Singaporeans need to stop falling for the cheap confidence trick perpetrated by the PAP and to stop living in fear, both of what the PAP might do to them if they vote them out and of what might happen to the economy if the PAP were one day replaced by an alternative government. Things can only get worse for Singaporeans if PAP’s current policies are allowed to continue.
It is time to cast off the chains that bind you and realise your power. It is time for reform!
Happy National Day!