"Do we want to open our country to expats so that they can progress at the expense of our own Malaysians? Do we want to 'progress' to a level that even our children can't buy a house in our own land? Last, I ask myself. Do we Malaysians look at GDP growth as the only measure to choose our government or are we much more matured than that? Achievement at whose expense?" - Vijay Kumar, Malaysian who worked in Singapore [Link]
We saw what 7.5% GDP growth is like in 2007 - cost of housing went up by 23%, transport costs go up, utilities go up, etc. Income rose meaningfully only for a small number of people because of unequal distribution. Most Singaporeans fear the type of GDP growth we see in 2007 but we are also afraid of job losses in a recession. For many Singaporeans, the good times are gone for ever and life is a perpetual struggle to survive. Why?
Take cars as an example. We have a quota system. This means that even if income rises, the number of people who are allowed to have cars is the same. What happens when income rises is the COE price goes up disproportionately compared with the rise in income. You might think that if your income goes up, you can afford more taxi rides, forget it! Taxi fares rise just as fast when demand goes up because the number of taxis is also limited by the COE. Housing? Do HDB flats become more affordable when GDP goes up? No! In 2007, the GDP went up 7.5% but the cost of housing went up by 23%. The paradox in Singapore is as people make higher incomes, the size of homes they can afford shrinks. For a large number of people whose income remain stagnant, these price increases represent a fall in real wages and we see more poverty in Singapore today than we did 20 years ago.
Singapore did what no other country has done to go after GDP growth - importing foreign labor in large numbers. Most other countries do it by moving up the technology ladder, innovation, nurturing home grown industries. In 2008, our population grew by 5.5% to 4.84M[Link] that is an addition of roughly 250,000 people. Does it make sense to add so many people onto a land scarce island like Singapore? We have been told various things over the years including "foreigners create jobs for Singaporeans", "don't be small minded", etc. Most Singaporeans can agree that a certain level of immigration helps to keep our society vibrant but to import people to maximise GDP ignoring the impact on ordinary Singaporeans can be detrimental in the long run.
Malaysian, Vijay Kumar, fears that his govt will copy Singapore's model to maximise GDP growth. He does not like what he saw when he worked in Singapore and asks if Malaysians should just "look at GDP growth as the only measure to choose government" or "are we more matured than that?". Vijay Kumar has asked the right questions, the same questions Singaporeans asked but received no proper answer for the past 15 years. Now we are told to just accept what has been done and told to live with the consequences.