Of late, I have been uncomfortable picking up news and observations about life in Singapore from the lens of a Singaporean. As I read more online posts, forum letters, newspaper commentaries and so on, the lingering discomfort got stronger.
In no order of sequence or synthesis (and take this as me mumbling to myself in some disorganised, random way), these are the issues that triggered my thoughts:
1. Housing - yes, the perennial election hot potato. The runaway property market prices and insanely tiny shoeboxes are recipes for disasters once interest rates revalue and rise.
2. Universal insurance coverage - the unhealthy minority that all insurance companies reject and avoid will ultimately become societal's healthcare and fiscal cost. Unless there is mandatory state regulation to cover this group at higher premiums (spread out) for all. It is not a question about economic efficiency, at least not directly
because there is nothing efficient about cover already- or
have-recovered sick people. The decision to make it mandatory or not cuts to the core of what do we want really as a society and nation.
3. Singapore, our home - I'm tired of reading yet more reports about how Singapore is the XX (insert any high-ranking number) most desirable place for some unknown foreigners or overseas Singaporeans who have the world to choose from. Imho, Singapore should be the MOST desirable place to live and work for Singaporeans. If it is not, and if we are 'stuck' here out of no choice, then something is seriously flawed.
4. Income inequality - that runaway Gini coeff has made Singapore the most 'unequal' place in Asia. Such, everyone can tolerate some measures of inequality so long as everyone else has enough. The flyaway nouveau rich gap against the rut-stuck poor has widened. Globalisation and growth are no longer seen to be delivering the golden fruits as they once promised. The benefits are diffused and not clearly seen, but the costs are becoming localised and painfully felt.
5. Inflation another culprit - Any econs student will tell you that Singapore is an open economy, with trade in our lifeblood at 3.5x our GDP. As such, we are very susceptible to imported inflation onto our shores. However, as one newspaper commentary recently pointed out, the sources of our recent 5% (persistent) inflation is not so much directly imported as domestically generated. Eg. high property prices (from hot money) and transport prices (from COE system). On the other hand, wages have not been rising at 5%. one does not need to be a maths whiz to figure out that we are actually poorer by the day.
6. Cars and a warped COE - Every newcomer to Singapore is astounded by the high prices we pay to own a car. The expensive thing called a COE that one has to bid for. When I studied Econs in school, COE was a clear-cut demand-supply illustration, very straightforward, very easy to understand its policy mechanism and rationale. But I wonder if sometimes this is also a case where policies constructed in a very engineering way ignores the unintended social consequences. With a tightening of COE, car prices have been shooting through the roof. The warped outcome is that people see no value in paying an expensive COE for a normal Honda or Toyota sedan (the usual family cars) as it is not worth the price in proportion to the cost of car. As a result, COEs are being bid up by car collectors, people who are buying the Lamborghinis and Maseratis. So the average resident who needs a car to get by with his family, elderly or children, is unable to get a car. The above-average resident gets to buy a car for showroom purposes.
I look at my colleagues - young elites - who easily earn more than the combined household incomes of many median families, by him/herself, and I wonder if they really empathise with the average median Singapore. I look at my friends, we and their children are considered lucky because we can afford to make choices, offered a life of comfort and opportunities. To operate from a position of having options is to operate from a position of power. The more options, the higher the power. Again, I wonder if these young children will grow up being able to empathise with their many counterparts who do not have such luxuries (now termed necessities) in life.
This is my selective random rambling to self (I like 'talking' to myself :)). I just wanted to get it jotted down somewhere and off my chest, so there. It is not so much a critique (hardly organised enough to be one), but thoughts gathered from simple daily observations as a Singaporean. I have no solutions, except to repeat that Singapore should be the most desired place for a Singaporean. Otherwise, it is time to reflect.
.... I think I should go for a run soon. It's much easier than mulling over these issues. Run, yes!