- Straits Times,27 Nov 1960.
Of course what turned out in the subsequent decades proved this piece of social engineering misguided. The Singapore economy boomed and rose as one of the Asian Tigers chalking up breath-taking double digit growth year after year in a one-off transformation. Not only did Singapore acquire the resources to accommodate a larger population, it ended up facing a labor force bottle neck due to its population control policy and ended up importing foreigners primarily from Malaysia to fill the gap.
How and why did this mistake occur? The govt based its population plan on what happened it the past with the economy. Despite selling us the notion that they were men with foresight, great planning and helicopter views that steered the Singapore economy from the 3rd world to the 1st in one generation, they were riding on a wave they themselves did not foresee and based their population planning on the anemic economic performance of the past. You see you can always make the conclusions you want depending on the assumptions you chose to make.
Today they tell that there are blue skies ahead, the global demand will keep rising and Singapore economy can keep expanding to fill the demand. So they propose an extreme population growth policy based primarily on importing foreigners and converting some of them to citizens and PRs. The rate at which they choose to grow the population is much faster than the replacement rate - by a factor of 5. They want to convert many to PRs and citizens. Now they assume there will always be enough jobs, there will be enough infrastructure expansion to accommodate the people, inflation which is high now will not get worse. But what they are doing is putting a lot of risk on Singaporeans with this plan. With the financial crisis just behind us, we see inherent weakness in the big economies - Europe is indebted and aging, US is heavily indebted and must cut spending, China facing a mountain of restructuring in the coming years. If global aggregate demand falls, we will suddenly see our artificially enlarged population competing harder for fewer jobs as the ability of our economy to support this enlarge population falls.
Singaporeans already see the clear and present danger of such a policy in the past decade. It has caused a sharp rise in our cost of living, it caused our income gap to balloon as the foreign influx caused a wealth transfer from the employed to businesses that used them, we are also familiar with the effects of overcrowding in public spaces and public transport. Few Singaporeans believe that continuing a high foreign influx will improve their lives but the govt is driven by other interests other than that of ordinary Singaporeans. It has a power structure constructed to benefit those who form part of the elites and a network of GLCs, many of which are monopolies, that will benefit greatly from a larger population. Singaporeans cannot afford not be awake at this late hour and allow the PAP govt to execute what is proposed in the white paper. The PAP will do anything to achieve its political goal to benefit those who form its power-elite structure.
"Of course, they ask good questions. How can you be sure? More population, but quality of life remains the same or even better?"
"Actually, the answer is yes," he emphasised. "It's possible."
- Minister Khaw's reaction to the white paper[Link].
Minister Khaw slipped when he was asked if such a population growth plan would improve the lives of Singaporeans ...he said that that improving Singagporeans' lives was "possible". If the Singapore govt has been putting the interest of Singaporeans ahead of everything else, the singular purpose of the population plan should be to ensure that Singaporeans have a better quality of life - that should be the only goal of the plan not the goal of 5% GDP growth in the white paper. However, bettering Singaporeans' lives is just a possibility assuming that our infrastructure can keep up with the population expansion. Infrastructure has not even caught up with the influx of the last decade ..it is dangerous to assume there will be no severe strain as we push the population density to even higher levels - today we are already at the highest living density in the world and the PAP govt wants to push this even further.
No other developed country tries to grow its economy by importing people even though fertility rates have generally fallen in these countries because of the deep negative effects of doing so. If our competitors are not doing it, why do we have to do this in order to compete and grow? What is increasingly clear to Singaporeans is the PAP govt is willing to use this brute force method to create growth which the white paper stated as a goal of 5% GDP to ensure businesses including its network of GLCs can grow profits. Without fully addressing the income gap, the beneficiaries of this growth will be the small % at the top of our income distribution. We have already seen first hand the deleterious effects of this type of GDP growth on Singaporeans in the last decade and nothing will change because the goal of the PAP remains the same.