This issue has been actively discussed in many blogs there are many views, but I have a different view of the whole thing. Here is a summary of the reasons why top talents leave from the blogsphere:
1. Money - people make more money elsewhere.
2. National Service - people don't like to do it.
3. Opportunities - better else where.
4. We speak English so we can blend into other countries.
5. We are now rich enough to 'run road'.
6. Many students now study overseas so they may decide not to come back.
Lets get it clear, SM Goh is concerned about top talents not ordinary citizens. The other day I met a cabby who spent 6 months in some small village in Thailand, he may be "top cabby" but he doesn't qualify as "top talent" so our govt doesn't mind this category of people leaking away. While trying to retain top talent, the govt is probably very concerned that non-talents are not leaking fast enough. Until today, the PAP govt still provide incentives for lower income families to practice birth control.
The other thing to note is SM Goh went to Iran to talk about this issue. There is a good chance he was trying to bring across another point - Iran is a notorious leaker of talent far worse than us. If you're a top mathematician, the best paying job is in the nuclear programme...if you're a top engineer or chemist, again the best paying job is in the nuclear programme....so those people who don't like to be in the nuclear programme all want to leave. They make their way to the US, UK and even Singapore. SM Goh may be hinting to some of the Iranians to come to Singapore and help replendish our talent pool.
I would like now to debunk each of the reasons other bloggers discuss:
1, Money. Oh come on, Singapore held the top position for producing the highest number of millionaires per capita in the world last year. If you can't make it to millionaire in Singapore, chances are you won't make it any where else in the world!!! We have a govt that tolerates the highest GINI index in the developed world, cuts income taxes to very low levels, implement regressive taxes such as GST to help the rich get richer. Money CANNOT be a motivation for leaving....it is the reason why people are coming and staying!!!!
2. NS. 2 yrs of free weigh loss program, followed by annual refreshers. Imagine if you're a top talent with heavy responsibilities, 200 phone calls a day and 100 emails to reply to, would you welcome a break from work to hang around some army camp canteen with long breaks to doze off. All the top talents in my company come back from the in camp recharged. These top talents have already served their 2.5 yr NS and by the time they become top talents they probably near the end of their reservist duties.
3. Opportunities. Better elsewhere? Hey our esteemed Minister Ng told us, hundreds of thousands of jobs were created last year. We probably have the highest created opportunities per capita in the world. Where else so you see the govt so pro-active in encouraging entreprenuership, funding SMEs, seed money for research. Many of our top talents are leaving for Perth, Montreal, Toronto.....I'll tell you why they go to these places and its not for opportunity.
4.We speak English so we can blend into other countries. This argument borders on the absurd. Singaporeans blend in best in Singapore and even our top talents speak Singlish - just look at Lim Swee Say & SM Goh himself. Cultural differences is probably more key and harder to overcome.
5.We are now rich enough to 'run road'. Having enough money is an enabler and not a root cause. Just like you need a car to enable you to drive to KL, you go there for some other reason - business, pleasure or to visit Dr. M. Being poor on the other hand, can actually be a cause for leaking people....our grandfathers leaked from China because they were so poor some of them didn't even have food. However, there is some validity is this point as it is probably true that more people are leaving now they can afford it, but all along they wanted to leave but can't.
6. Students go study and don't come back. While this is true, students hardly qualify as top talent. SM Goh was talking about top talents who established their credentials here, then leave for somewhere else. Getting a degree overseas even from well established universities in the US does not automatically make you a "top talent"....there are so many these days. Just the other I got a resume from a straight "A" student from Cornell apply for my company in Kallang, we turned him down because some other applicant from China had far better experience, 8 years in the area, train by Motorola (China) and can probably do the job better. This guy from China is just one of the hundreds of thousands, we are not talking "top talents" here if we are discussing students.
Now I would like to explain why I think top-talents leave:
1. Top Talents get Lazy. Somehow the ang mohs mastered this trick of not working people to death and paying more for the same volume of work. I say ang moh because most people leave for western countries. The stress level in Singapore is the highest in the world...that correlates to our having the lowest sex drive in the world. We have the most extraordinary level of work ethics we can even get 80 yr olds to work as cleaners in hawker centers. Some people work hard, then they get to age 35+, cannot take it anymore leverage on their resumes for cushy jobs in Western countries.
2. Children of top talents may not be top talents. A top talent probably knows how he got up there and given the income inequality, he probably understands what happens to below him and people way below him. He probably figure that his children who have been free-loading on his achievements cannot possibly be happy is they are just ordinary talents. So they leave for countries where their good life can be protected by safety nets etc. ...and where the education system is less competitive.
3. Top talents fail to appreciate the PAP. Probably because they don't have enough time compared with ordinary citizens to read the Straits Times thoroughly and appreciate the grand achievements of the PAP....and how going to a country without the benefit of PAP leadership will mean disaster for their families. They also fail to understand the wonderful plans to make Singapore top 1st world nation - something worth looking forward to. They probably don't have enough time to stand in front of a blue dolphin fountain to enjoy its soothing effects and understand the true value of their vote for upgrading schemes around the island.
4. They leave for the weather. We are not just hot and humid, if you combine that with the high density of our population it can be tough. ...compare smelling armpits in Singapore's MRT and smelling armpits in London. People who leave invariably leave for places with nice weather - some even go to New Zealand where the economy is "most unhappening".
5. There was bad influence involved. When I visited a friend in Canada, he showed me his brand new Lexus and told me, "You can probably only get a Hyundai in Singapore for the same price". I can see he was trying to lure me, knowing that I can't even afford a Hyundai in Singapore and have to smell armpits everyday. He continued, "If I had stayed in Singapore, I'll probably be staying in a 4 room flat instead of a landed property. Lucky, you can afford live a better life as a waiter here than an engineer back in Singapore - medical care is good, so is job benefits". Okay but does the govt spend as much on Defense to protect the citizens? Do you have workfare & CPF? Will I be able to work until age 80? How do you expect me to stay in a country without a govt as good as the PAP?...There are many things to lure people out of Singapore but these are tricks and traps. My friend probably has a hard time cleaning his house because it is so big and the weeds grow in the garden.
There are a number of reasons why top talents leave Singapore BUT there is NO GOOD REASON for them to leave. They will leave, regret and miss Singapore. Once they suffer under the hands of an inferior govt, they will begin to appreciate the PAP. When they get old and have nothing useful to do, they will long for Singapore a place where even 80 year olds get to work.