SM Goh has a masters degree in economics, yet he used the word 'happiness' rather than 'economic benefit' or 'wealth' when he gave that speech in Sept 2010. His idea of 'net happiness' may be a little shaky (or funny) but his choice of word 'happiness' is spot on. Some economists, like Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, is now saying that happiness should be a measure of economic success not GDP[ Link]....but very often, in Singapore, happiness is what is traded off for money or GDP. The Singapore govt often say Singapore is an economic success because of our rapid GDP growth but what ultimately is the point if people are not happy....?
I want you to close your eyes and think about the happiest times of your life. For most people, it is time they spend with their family and friends celebrating birthdays, Christmas, New Year, etc. The source of happiness comes from human relationships, human interaction, people's feelings for one another that is nurtured over a period of time. For the few whose happiest moments are the day you got your first pay cheque, knowing the property or the stock you bought has gone up 30%, or winning money playing jackpot/4D etc, I'm old enough to confidently tell you that you're missing something very important in your life.....I'll get back to this point a little later to tell you why.
Yesterday I took a taxi home from the supermarket after collecting some food I ordered for a Christmas celebration. I wished the taxi driver 'Merry Christmas' and he replied with a rather tired 'Merry Christmas' so I asked him if he had enough rest. He told me that he drove 18 hours on Christmas Eve to make as much money as possible from the holiday eve surcharge. That is what many workers have been motivated to do year after year - work a little harder to make ends meet as the cost of living goes up. Singapore workers today clock the longest working hours in the world[Link]. We have given up time with friends and family to accumulate this thing they call money. It is suppose to make our life better but does it really? We work longer hours than ever before but the homes we can afford have shrunk, smaller % of Singaporeans can own cars as the number COEs are cut and the same money will buy you less next year. Why did the taxi driver drive for 18 hours on Christmas Eve? He knows he can't buy happiness - he is trying to avoid the misery of being poorer next year. You have to work longer hours just to be able to buy the same things you're buying...not just longer hours but later retirement ages because the cost of living goes up. ..and coincidently it goes up faster just after general elections are conducted in Singapore. Young people are entering the workforce at a time when they are asked to work longer hours than their parent, retire later, shoulder a much heavier debt burden when they get married to buy a much smaller home - struggle harder for less, you have to compete or you're even worse off materially. This is what happens when you pack in more people onto an island with limited living space and resources - the GDP will grow by this crude rather thoughtless brute force approach but so will the misery of the people on the island.
Year after year we trade away things we cannot buy to compete harder and struggle for more money just to keep up with the ever rising cost of living....and the govt wants to keep the GDP growing as fast as possible. GDP does not translate to happiness....in fact we trade off happy days and friends as the pace of life increased over the years. You cannot solve this problem by working 18 hour days and becoming cheaper, better and faster. For the ordinary Singaporean, there is little benefit focussing on GDP growth when the economic benefits of this growth so unequally shared with corporate profits taking the highest % of GDP in history. To create 'net happiness' policy makers have to start looking at a diferent set of measures and goals other than GDP growth - like how many hours a worker has to spend with his family, the quality of life of retirees,etc. The PAP govt goes on a growth formula of importing foreigners to expand the population and pushing the increasing cost of healthcare, transport and housing to ordinary Singaporeans who now have to trade off time with family & friends to up with rising cost of living. There is no net happiness in this formula....and there is little motivation for the PAP govt to change this. So how do you create 'net happiness' for yourself and your fellow Singaporeans? You start by removing your support for this formula and sending a clear signal that you want it changed....otherwise it is more of the same...and a few years from now you may find yourself working 18 hours on Christmas Eve just like the taxi driver I met.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!