Population White Paper should be about children, not about GDP


All projections into the future depend on assumptions. The same is true of the Population White Paper just released. It is one that has provoked a huge outcry with its estimate that Singapore will have as many as 6.9 million on this island by 2030, just 17 years away.

However, among the many assumptions used, one stood out to my eyes.  It is there in the executive summary, speaking of getting “3% to 5% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth on average” between now and 2020, and 2% to 3% thereafter. Strictly speaking, these were not assumptions. They were arbitrarily laid down targets, but once laid down, they effectively determined the result — which is that population has to rise to as many as 6.9 million.

We can see the problem straight away: why is GDP growth rate the driver of any population policy?

In what way did this target drive the conclusions? It’s like this: GDP growth comes from two broad elements: productivity growth and an increase in labour force. That is: existing hands creating more output by working more efficiently and productively, plus more hands coming on deck.

It is a known fact that over the longish term, productivity growth rarely exceeds 2 percent per annum. Especially for a developed economy, even 2% might be a struggle; it could be 1%. Hence, if the laid-down target is 3 – 5% GDP growth, inescapably it must mean more hands on deck.

The choice Singaporeans should be asked to consider is this: Do we prefer to have a more slowly-growing economy (1 to 2 % a year) with no further increase in population or do we prefer a faster-growing one with more foreigners in our midst? The White Paper does not give Singaporeans this choice.

Ageing, shrinking citizen workforce

That said, it isn’t as straightforward as that. The existing trends with respect to the native citizen population (a term that I am using to mean those who are citizens as at end 2012 and their future children) present additional complications.

Because our total fertility rate has been below replacement level for the past 30 years, the numbers in the younger generation are fewer than in the older generation. Thus, between now and 2030, about 900,000 older citizens will be expected to leave the working age range (roughly age 25 to 65), but a smaller number of younger ones will be entering it. For some strange reason, the White Paper does not provide any figure with respect to the deficit, but from looking at the diagram provided, my rough guess is that about 700,000 to 800,000 younger citizens will enter the working age range in the same period. This implies that the citizen workforce will shrink by about 100,000 to 200,000 by 2030 — one must also make allowance for people who are in the working age range, but choose not to be in the workforce.

This short video describes a similar problem faced by Germany:

How many citizens are there in Singapore’s workforce currently? I can’t find the latest figure, but here are the figures for mid-2010:

There were 1,712,600 Singapore citizens in the labour force in June 2010, making up the majority or 58.3% of the labour force (excluding foreign domestic workers). Permanent residents and non-residents formed the rest of the labour force at 11.4% and 30.3% respectively.

— Dept of Statistics
http://www.singstat.gov.sg/pubn/papers/people/op-s17.pdf, page 2.

With only about 1.8 million citizens in the workforce currently, a reduction of 100,000 to 200,000 by 2030 is significant. It represents around 10% decrease, counteracting any productivity gains we may obtain along the way.

In other words, if we relied only on productivity improvements to grow our economy, and no further new citizens nor increases in permanent resident and foreigner numbers here, we’d probably see GDP growth settle around 0.5% to 1% per annum between now and 2030.

Is this acceptable to Singaporeans?

Bear in mind that total population might not fall despite this reduction in workforce. This is because retirees aren’t going to die anytime soon. With extended lifespans, they will still be around.

Alternatively, we could say let’s take in a few more people as new citizens to make up the native citizen shortfall in the ageing workforce. This means we will need 100,000 to 200,000 new citizens in the workforce, which in turn means naturalising 200,000 to 300,000 new citizens between now and 2030, or about 15,000 to 20,000 a year (here again, we need to make the allowance that not all new citizens will join the workforce).

The overall effect would be to permit a gradually increasing total population, reaching perhaps 5.5 or  5.6 million by 2030.

Is this acceptable?

Cap on foreigners?

The above two scenarios are going to cause a lot of pain to businesses which expect to grow by increasing their employee numbers. Where hitherto they might have relied on being able to bring in more foreigners, the two scenarios will impose a rigid cap on them — exactly as existing numbers are: about 1.5 million foreigners, of which about

  • 1.0 million working (other than domestic work)
  • 0.2 million in domestic work
  • 0.3 million dependants and students

On the one hand, some of us may think such a rigid cap is too drastic and too disruptive to our economy. On the other hand, some may think that it is precisely this kind of shock therapy that is needed to drive productivity improvement. There is no way to answer this question without actually trying one route or the other.

Total Fertility Rate

The problem that must be confronted is that of the total fertility rate (TFR). It is currently 1.2, a figure that means that each woman is likely to bear 1.2 children. For a population to replace itself, a TFR of 2.1 is needed. The White Paper tell us that roughly 20% do not ever get married, another 20% get married but have either zero or just one child, and about 60% have two or more children (mostly just two). This pattern does account for a TFR of 1.2

This level of TFR is a very serious demographic problem, for it means that our citizen population will decline by 40% within a generation.

We’ve been using immigration to top up the population, but with such a low TFR, a high rate of immigration is needed. Moreover, it is a never-ending problem. So long as TFR remains this low, a high intake will be needed indefinitely. Such a prospect is virtually impossible to sell politically.

The White Paper also mentions something else that may further complicate the TFR. It says that a high percentage of marriages are now between Singapore citizens and foreigners. This is supported by a figure from the Department of Statistics:

Marriages between citizens and non-citizens made up 39.4% of all marriages involving citizens in 2011

— Dept of Statistics,
http://www.singstat.gov.sg/stats/themes/people/popinbrief2012a.pdf, page 14

How many of the offspring of such marriages are citizens? Moreover, there are about 200,000 Singaporeans now living abroad. How many never come back?

I found it very frustrating that the White Paper does not discuss the effect of these two factors on TFR. Is the TFR figure of 1.2 nett of foreigner marriages, or inclusive of them? Given that many such couples will want their children to adopt the nationality of the foreign country, I suspect there is a considerable leakage.

The point here is that we have to do something — and drastic — about TFR.

Starting NOW, we have to insist that every adult citizen (male and female) reaching age 30, raise 1.5 children before age 40. Marriage should not be a pre-condition. Married or single, everybody has to raise 1.5 children. We may have to re-shape our taxation policies to ensure that taxes are so heavy that it becomes plain that the only way to neutralise the penalty is to have children and claw back the tax and subsidy incentives related to child-rearing. Make it obvious that it is better to raise children and take the incentives than to do without kids and pay the penalties.

pic_201301_48Of course, it is easier said than done. It means a massive reshaping of values and economic expectations.

It’s time we recognise that to expect a two-parent household to raise 3 children, one parent shouldn’t be expected to work in the formal sector for about ten years. That means the family has to be able to live on only one income for ten years.

A one-parent household, expected to raise 1.5 children, has to be allowed to opt out of the workforce for about five to six years.

Either we chop down the cost of living to allow this to happen or the state therefore has to come in with a replacement income stream to keep all these families afloat. Alas, I do not see the government willing to confront this reality.

Quite the opposite: Page 38 of the White Paper still speaks of “helping more Singaporeans join the workforce”. No, that’s the opposite of what should be done.

If we do what is needed — i.e. at any given time, a number of people leave the workforce temporarily to raise children — then our citizen workforce between now and 2030 will fall even more than the 100,000 to 200,000 mentioned at the start of the essay. A “child-raising sabbatical” of ten years per couple, equivalent to five years per person, is approximately 15% of one’s working life. This means a further reduction of about 150,000 in the citizen workforce.

It will have a huge effect on our economy. Whereas I spoke above of settling for 1% GDP growth over the next half-generation, if we want also to fix the TFR, it really means negative GDP growth.

But if for our long-term good, we make rectifying the TFR the top priority, then we have little choice. We must (a) pull people out from the formal workforce to do child rearing, and (b) completely restructure or taxes and incentives. If we, at the same time, cannot stomach more immigration to make up the shortfall in the workforce that results, then Singaporeans should be told that we have to pay the price of economic shrinkage for say 10 – 15 years while we re-adjust the moorings and foundations of our economy and society.

* * * * *

In short, the White Paper is totally misguided. It fixes a GDP growth target of 3 – 4 percent per annum, and then tells us we need so many more foreigners to get there. But the root problem of low TFR is not prioritised for fixing, which then means that importing foreigners becomes an indefinite scheme that will go far beyond 6.9 million after 2030. To 9 million within another generation?

It should have used fixing the TFR the key driver for population policy. Then the conclusions become vastly different. We have to rethink our values, our consumerist aspirations, and be prepared to live with a smaller economy for our long-term good.

106 Responses to “Population White Paper should be about children, not about GDP”

  1. 1 SN 31 January 2013 at 14:21

    Agreed. I understand the problem this way – what is it with our economic model, and other relevant policies (such as housing) that deters Singaporeans from having children? Why can’t we fix that instead of having to rely constantly on immigration to keep the numbers up? (One would assume in this instance that naturalised Singaporeans will face the same problems as ‘native’ Singaporeans with respect to child-bearing choices).

    The White Paper is a prospective look into our future, about 20 years down the road. There is enough time to restructure our way of life, if need be. That it does not ask or face up to these hard questions shows a lack of imagination.

    On a different but related note, what would historians make of Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy, if Singaporeans have to, so to speak, breed themselves out of existence as a consequence of the system he put in place? Maybe history will not be so kind to him after all.


  2. 2 Pearl 31 January 2013 at 14:35

    Recently, I asked a new Singaporean citizen from China about which party she voted in GE2011. Obviously, she came for the prospect of a better life. Therefore, she takes no interest whatsoever in politics – it’s something that only matters to true-bred Singaporeans. So, as you would have guessed, her vote went to the PAP.

    So, perhaps the PAP figured that it didn’t need defamation suits to topple the opposition, it didn’t need to give goodies to sweeten the ground, it didn’t need to redraw boundaries.

    All it needs is to attract more foreigners into Singapore, knowing that some of these will take up Singapore citizenship. And knowing that most, if not all, of these new citizens will vote for them.

    There you go!

    • 3 Lye Khuen Way 31 January 2013 at 18:29

      Yes, that is how clever the PAP were and are still.
      I also agree with Alex fake, that they should be addressing the low TFR .

      Some scholars getting the wrong sense of the issue ? No, they never seriously wanted TRUE blue Singaporeans to populate this place.
      We have grown too demanding.

    • 4 Rogueeconomist 31 January 2013 at 22:49

      A friend recounts a story of her manicurist complaining about how service standards in Singapore have fallen dramatically because of all the PRCs. The irony? The manicurist is a new citizen from China.

      So let’s wait and see. Some of the more vocal critics of immigration are themselves new immigrants. If they moved to Singapore because they valued things such as relatively uncrowded subways, streets, and less human competitive pressure than the big cities of China and India, my bet is that they won’t be too happy necessarily if they thought waves of their countrymen were right behind them.

      However, this does suggest that the Opposition movement needs to move beyond the strong wave of ‘true blue’ nationalism that is currently helping it forward. Actually, none of the leading Opposition politicians (to their credit) are catering to the extreme nationalists in any case. But I understand why few ‘new Citizens’ might be voting for the Opposition, if they associate Opposition politics with racism-tinged nationalism. Would you vote for a political movement that you associated with ‘true blue’ Singaporeans trying to throw you out?

      Like it or not, I don’t think elections are reliably winnable solely relying on the ‘true blue’ Singaporean vote. Some pitch must be made to new citizens as well, to get them to vote for alternative voices.

    • 5 kitty 31 January 2013 at 23:14

      It depends. I asked my colleague this morning about who he will vote for in 2016. As a new Singapore citizen, originally from China, he said he would vote against the PAP. Why? Because he and is wife, both doctors, are smart to think and analyze that what the PAP is doing is not giving his family a better quality life with the new population policy.

      He said, “Adding more immigrants is not going to solve the problem to what Singapore is facing. New citizens like my wife and myself, educated, would know that this kind of policy is a recipe for disaster. So not all new citizens will vote for the PAP. Unless the PAP imports foreigners from 3rd to 4th world countries (or an entire rural village from China), show them the MRT, nice buses, clean water, etc, then these new immigrants will vote for them. Show them a better life.”

      I think this speaks for itself.

  3. 6 petulantchild 31 January 2013 at 14:57

    You’re assuming that we’ve maxed out on producitivity gains and can’t improve further. That is far from the truth. The businesses here are so reliant on cheap labor that productivity has been left on the wayside donkey years ago. Our productivity level isn’t even comparable to other developed countries. It’s time that the economy is restructured to focus on innovations in increasing productivity and away from dependence on cheap labor. We still have some way to go before producitivity growth stabilized like other developed countries. In fact if we are able to develop a knowledge economy which produces high value services and products,, the productivity gains will outstrip the reduction in workforce. Basically we need to change from being a price-taker to one which dictates prices.
    To increase the TFR, it’s not enough to just give incentives, quality of life has to improve. When we have a sense of stability and master of our own fates, that’s when people are comfortable to have 2 or more children.
    Most of all, everything is interlinked, to resolve the TFR issue, the problems in the economic structure, healthcare l and the education system etc have to be addressed simultaneously.

  4. 8 S 31 January 2013 at 15:08

    “Starting NOW, we have to insist that every adult citizen (male and female) reaching age 30, raise 1.5 children before age 40… ensure that taxes are so heavy that it becomes plain that the only way to neutralise the penalty is to have children and claw back the tax and subsidy incentives related to child-rearing.”

    Alex, this seems to me to be a horrific plan. Children born to parents who only had them because they were forced to under threat of impoverishment are hardly likely to have loving homes. For the parents themselves, this would be a gross infringement on the most important kind of freedom – the right to control one’s own body, sexuality and family life. (Needless to say, the burden would be far greater for women than men, who would be forced to undergo the dangers and discomforts of pregnancy and childbirth.)

  5. 9 JG 31 January 2013 at 15:09

    I appreciate the detailed analysis. I find some of your ideas horrifying – mandating every adult, with or without love, to have a child. But i get your point.

    Essentially, what I like about your analysis, and grossly missing from the White Paper is an adult conversation about the various CHOICES Singaporeans have to make. Instead, all we’re given is a binary choice of 2 extremes – either 6.9m population, or completely no immigration wef 2013, which is a ludicrous proposition. Nothing in between is presented, let alone discussed. So valid existing issues – such as an aging population, low TFR – are used as excuses to support the 6.9m proposal. Neither does it warn that this proposal of – taking on more debt to pay debt – means that Singapore is headed irreversably to keep taking on more people, at roughly +1million every decade moving forward. Because the +1 million we took in last decade, and the +1million we’re taking in this decade will also age and contribute to the aging pool. ie. taking of more debt to pay debt.

    So the White Paper is written like a glossy PR document. Existing policies to solve the existing over-crowding problem is re-packaged and presented as the solution to future over-crowing problem.

    Its a PR document because the Govt does not trust its people with the facts to make any alternative decision. Despite PM Lee having just admitted it screwed up big time in the last +1 million exercise last decade.

    That’s whats so terrifying about it.

    • 10 yawningbread 31 January 2013 at 17:47

      But in the end, people still have a choice: pay the tax or have children.

      • 11 Kenneth Tan Kian Wee 31 January 2013 at 23:28

        Agreed. With the tax you can support the development of the extra children of those who want to have more children.

      • 12 Broken 1 February 2013 at 15:07

        Ah…. but does the children have a choice?

        Perhaps you should spend a bit of time with the darker side of society…. the drug addicts, the emotionally unstable, the self destructive, the depressed, the ones who have been “broken beyond repair”, and then see for yourself what your proposed 1.5 children per adult will result in.

        Oh, and I’m not talking about the “cost to society”. You can have laws against family abuse, drug rehab centres, social workers, support groups, etc, etc… But can you ERASE the mental anguish that these people suffered while growing up? Is “Singapore” really so important that we must inflict suffering unto innocents to ensure its survival?

        I strongly feel that some people are just not suited for bringing up children and we must NEVER ever implement policies that’ll make them do so.

      • 13 eremarf 1 February 2013 at 18:49

        I think what JG meant was that the White Paper presented SGeans with a false dichotomy. It’s a shame because the White Paper could have presented 4 or 5 different policy-scenarios – and allowed Singaporeans to discuss which were better (or rather – which they preferred).

        But it’s all top-down still, right? JG says they don’t trust us enough to let us speak up. I think they actually fear that once Singaporeans get the data, do the analyses, present their arguments – that the PAP’s facade of omni-science/potence will all fall away.

      • 14 Victor 2 February 2013 at 16:20

        “But in the end, people still have a choice: pay the tax or have children.”
        Or emigrate.

  6. 15 petulantchild 31 January 2013 at 15:12

    Following up on my previous comment, a small island like Singapore cannot keep increasing its population. Unless you’re agreeable to shipping the old folks to Johor.

  7. 16 LazyCat 31 January 2013 at 15:38

    Thank you Alex.
    According to you, children – who once used to be delightful additions to the family and who contribute to a couple’s closeness and joy – should be seen as economic digits, specifically bred to support an ageing population. How is this different from the government’s view of Singaporeans?

    And I guess when this young lot gets old, the younger people in the future will have to produce even more children to support the larger number of old. And so on and so forth. How is that different from the inevitable development of this govt’s current proposal, please?

    To add to your thoughtful suggestions, may I propose: We could temporarily import a lot of people who believe in large families, for instance, Muslims. They at least see children as something special, as human beings, creatures to be cherished. Importantly, they tend to have more than 1.2 kids.

    But let’s not put all our eggs in one basket, as we have done with govt. To make sure we get our numbers, we should also pick out a bunch of women, whose sole task is to breed. We give them homes, medical, food and such. We inseminate them artificially or otherwise. We pay them to breed. Amen.

    • 17 yawningbread 31 January 2013 at 17:45

      Well yes, children can be both, as they have always been historically: A down-payment for future social security (economic digits, as you call them) and an unquantifiable delight that gives meaning to life.

      But the point I am trying to make is that if we have to choose, which would we native Singaporeans prefer as economic digits: our own children who would reflect our culture and values or future foreign workers?

      • 18 S 1 February 2013 at 08:32

        1. What are Singaporean “culture and values”? Hard work? Respect for parents (filial piety)? Emphasis on education? What else?

        2. Why can’t these be taught or conveyed to immigrants, so that they too become Singaporean? After all, Singapore is already a multiracial society. Culture and values cannot be purely conveyed through blood. Why can’t people from, say, the Philippines, come and be welcomed to Singapore, build good lives for themselves, and come to see themselves as Singaporeans – just as ethnic Indians and Bangladeshis and Chinese and Ugandans move to Britain, or the US, or Australia, and come to see themselves as British, American or Australian?

      • 19 S 1 February 2013 at 09:08

        Also, I am amused and also slightly disturbed by how many people on this forum are using the phrase “true blue Singaporeans”, when this is in fact a piece of Aussie slang. Clearly Singaporeans are capable of absorbing some parts of foreign culture into their national identity. The disturbing part is that it mimics exactly the kind of rhetoric spouted by some white Australians (eg Pauline Hanson) in promoting racism against Asian immigrants… many of them of Singaporean origin, like myself! Australian culture (and Western culture more generally) has changed a lot as the result of immigration, mostly for the better – less insular, more reflective, better food.

        At risk of sounding bombastic, why should immigrants necessarily be seen as a liability? Why can’t foreigners eventually become locals, and friends? Why are people themselves seen as a frightening, invasive force?

        I agree with a lot of your proposals for rethinking wealth as the sole objective of life, but I think you also need to add to that a rethinking of how you regard migrants, who are basically just people from somewhere else – much like the parents/grandparents of most Singaporeans now.

      • 20 dZus 1 February 2013 at 16:20


        You make very good points. Of course it’s great news for foreigners who becomes citizens to be truly integrated and call Singapore their home.

        But the discussion is about the prospect of having a very rapid and huge influx of foreigners onto our shores in a very short time frame, and how it’s not a sustainable and forward-looking model for SG.

        I’m pretty sure most foreigners here are here to work and (pardon my French) fuck off, not take roots and spend their twilight years in an expensive country such as ours. So unless you’re arguing all these people will stay and stay loyal to SG, I don’t see what you saying happening.

      • 21 Fred Khoo 2 February 2013 at 10:29

        I have to say that this page IS the National Conversation. Keep up with the good work!

      • 22 S 2 February 2013 at 10:45

        dzus: Agreed. I think the question becomes, why don’t foreigners want to make their homes in Singapore in contrast to migrants in, say, New Zealand? I think the level of racism and hostility directed towards them (the treatment of migrant workers, for instance, catalogued by Alex on this blog and elsewhere) is one reason. Sure, the government is largely to blame for that, but the rhetoric espoused by commentators on this forum is not exactly helping. There is racism everywhere – I’ve definitely experienced anti-Asian prejudice in Sydney. But it is disturbing to find it on a progressive, liberal, thoughtful forum like Yawning Bread.

  8. 24 voiddecker 31 January 2013 at 15:51

    >> Quite the opposite: Page 38 of the White Paper still speaks of “helping >>more Singaporeans join the workforce”. No, that’s the opposite of what >>should be done.

    It is right that we should encourage more Singaporeans such as retirees and mothers to join the workforce. That’s one of the ways to boost the tax base and rely less on foreign workers. This could be part time or flexi work of course.

    • 25 eremarf 1 February 2013 at 19:13

      @voiddecker: I’m just a layman, but wouldn’t getting retirees and mothers to join the workforce depend on some things like:

      1. Keeping retirees in good health, with relevant skills, etc? You don’t get that under systems that under-invest in these long-term goods in order to produce short-term profits, e.g. when people overwork themselves and suffer poor health later in life (or are just too poor to maintain good health). Or when labour dynamics (businesses, people, govt) lead to little skills upgrading (many Scandinavian countries have retraining subsidies, compared to the US, which has none). It’s not just about “encouraging” people, or even “encouraging” businesses to hire retirees.

      2. Re: mothers – work at home, especially raising kids, is hard to value – but I’m sure when mothers work, they have less time for raising kids. I believe S. Korea’s women’s labour participation rate is 60+% – because they’re busy raising kids in a hyper-competitive society where childhood achievement matters so much. Singapore is similarly competitive – would de-coupling childhood achievement and life success (lots of possible policy solutions here – not least reducing income inequality or levelling the educational playing field) encourage women labour participation? What about hidden costs – do children grow up more or less successfully if their mothers work?

      3. On top of all that – culture matters too. Social expectations of the roles people play in life – what children and parents ought to do for each other at stages of their lives, etc. What constitutes a “good life”, etc.

      My point is – it’s a complex dynamic, with many variables. I don’t think we laymen can get a good grasp of the big picture – and I would much prefer the civil service and academics to lay (or battle) out the options (backed by good evidence), and then public debate (with a free press and etc other democratic institutions), and then finally implementation via elected representatives.

    • 26 eremarf 1 February 2013 at 19:26

      Sorry missed this idea out when summarising too viciously -that “there is no free lunch”. Labour participation from older people and women is enabled or disabled by factors like health, labour skills, labour requirements, social expectations of people, etc. These things don’t appear out of thin air. It’s cheap to launch a campaign asking businesses to hire retirees or mothers – but it’s not likely to work. You can have tax incentives too – but it takes a short-term view of things – health and skills are things maintained over time – and a contemporaneous tax break can’t fix the inertia of preceding decades. And IF we realise keeping retirees and mothers participating in labour requires investments (i.e. costs!) – then we see there is no free lunch aka “there is a trade-off” (only that lunches can have more or less preferred food items, and some lunches are fitter for some purposes than others?).

      As an example – I’ve been seeing some “Good Neighbour Award” advertisements around – how crazy is the PAP/civil service conglomerate to think that you can change neighbourly norms with an award? Neighbourly norms are the product of many variables (e.g. stress, (lack of) leisure time, rise of alternative social networks enabled by technology, etc) – and token gestures to “encourage neighbourliness” aren’t helpful when other policies are undermining neighbourliness.

  9. 27 4eyes 31 January 2013 at 15:53

    This ‘white paper’ sounds like western medicine… fix the symptoms, never mind the root of the problem. Because they have already set the criteria – business growth – so all you baby-makers better comply because we want to carry on making more money – or else we bring in any el cheapo who will sell his soul for several dollars less than you are willing to accept so that we can laugh all the way to the bank. What a bunch of sickos.

    • 28 Saycheese 1 February 2013 at 16:25

      You are describing a PLUTOCRACY.

      This is where a meritocracy of having the right meritocratic genes will lead us to. All the serfs toiling away for a ruling class that is laughing all the way to the bank.

  10. 29 Duh 31 January 2013 at 16:00

    Another interesting commentary on this White Paper was done by Tattler:


    “The Population White Paper is really one piece of shoddy work. There’s no bibliography, annotations or scholarly references cited to support it’s preposterous arguments or constructs.”

    Importing foreign labour is a myopic strategy to sustain GDP because it exacerbates the TFR further and thus requiring even more foreign labour to sustain this. Businesses currently addicted to cheap foreign labour will be further reluctant to switch to hiring Singaporeans and increasing wages, thereby depressing wages further making citizens even less likely to have children. It is surprising that the White Paper did not consider the phenomenon that is CURRENTLY happening and blissfully hypothesized an utopian future when current situation already shows the consequences of this flawed logic. The PAP has shown itself to be incapable of handling an increase in resident population to ~5mil and somehow we should trust them when it reaches 7mil? The word ‘preposterous’ comes to mind.

    The idea of depending on new citizens to uplift TFR is naive at best and delusional at worst. How many residents eventually convert to citizenship and continue to stay in Singapore with their children for, say, 20-30 years? How many DO have at least 2 children who their children eventually accept a Singaporean citizenship? Do we have data on that? Extrapolating from limited time series data is a statistical no-no. And given that educated Singaporeans are LEAVING the country in thousands every year? What confidence is there that these new citizens will not do the same when it is easy for many countries to re-issue citizenship to their ex-citizens (e.g., PRC)? When THOUSANDS of educated Singaporeans are leaving the country every year, PAP’s solution is to import foreign sources to replace them? HOW UNIMAGINATIVE. Don’t treasure and attempt to retain or woo back what you have but seek cheaper replacements? How loyal PAP.

    Singaporeans as THE core component can only be true if legislatively a Pro-Singaporean Employment Act is in force and actively enforced, particularly for professional posts. Isn’t the argument that foreign labourers do the jobs that Singaporeans shun? If so, this pro-Singaporean Employment Act should be applied even more strongly for professional hires. Did the White Paper propose this? Do we need to project into 2030 to do this rather than NOW? MoM was certainly quick with the PRC bus drivers’ strike but when it comes to this… well… reluctance is the word.

    This White Paper is a rehash of old PAP rhetoric and flawed logic. Almost everyone can see this. The White Paper is so badly thought out that it just simply is a piece of political propaganda, like the NatCON. Seriously, PAP, more bullsh*t?

    The CENTRAL issue with low TFR has to do with stagnant wages due to cheap foreign labour and unequal employment opportunities for Singaporeans, AND the obsessive pursuit of GDP and productivity resulting in poor work-life balance. ISSUES that the PAP has no courage to tackle head on but instead take the quick and easy method of buying or importing cheaper foreign sources. Maybe, just maybe, these politicians should be paid far far less than current because their work performance has been rather lackluster.

    • 30 michael 31 January 2013 at 18:21

      Remove 300,000 “skilled” white collar foreigners. Cancel the operating permits of all companies that employ 11 foreigners (Indians, US, Australians) to 1 Singaporean at the high salary level (and who add a few cheap Singaporeans to cheat on their quota) I used to work in one! True story! – they don’t give high value jobs to Singaporeans. Enforce quotas for Singaporeans. I guarantee you will see higher wages for Singaporeans, reduced prices for homes, lower car prices. And magically! The birth rate will start to rise.

      Surveys have already shown that most parents want to have 2 or more children. And many people want to get married. Just remove what’s stopping them! There won’t be any need for taxing people into having children then.

      • 31 l'ingénieur 9 February 2013 at 16:26

        At full employment, especially white collar, I find it difficult to hire Singaporeans when the foreigners are gutted. There is a latent pool, besides the older folks who have been displaced due to ageism – and that is the hordes of insurance and real estate agents, of whom many are tertiary educated. How value-added is their work? It does generate real revenue. But with a legislative stroke of the pen for universal H&S or CI insurance, a standard in many developed countries, the legions of them appear redundant overnight. As for real estate, I recall how some of them used to boast “I can close a deal in a day earning me commission what a lawyer/doctor earns in a month” Champion negotiators? Or just natural monopolists? For what good is our world-class education if the resultant jobs are shifted towards such sectors?

  11. 32 ricardo 31 January 2013 at 16:01

    There seems to be a huge disconnect between the PAP govt. and the real world. Singapore is a very small place with overcrowding and insufficient infrastructure to support even the present population.

    The govt. should be planning how to SHRINK the population in a controlled manner .. ensuring greater fairness, distribution of wealth and a better Quality of Life for an aging population in the process.

    I can’t think of any sane economy that is planning to store up greater problems for future generations in its bid to maximise short term profits for themselves.

    How about raising the Quality of Life for ALL Singaporeans WITHOUT increasing the population? Is that too hard for the PAP govt. or just something they never considered?

    Higher Quality of Life IS possible with SMALLER population. But maybe not with more multi-million Dignity for our Lord LKY, the HoLee Family, their Ministers and friends. What THEY want to do is what George Yeo is doing.

    • 33 Janeway 31 January 2013 at 21:44

      I agree with Ricardo….alas the ruling party are totally one dimensional in what they do and say – a nation is MORE than its economy.

    • 34 Saycheese 1 February 2013 at 16:36

      “How about raising the Quality of Life for ALL Singaporeans WITHOUT increasing the population?”

      But that will not increase the profits for the rent seeking plutocrats. Suppressing wages is more profitable and you die your business.

    • 35 Victor 2 February 2013 at 17:28

      Australia went through a national debate in 2010 where the government resisted some interests group advocating population expansion.

      I quote below from the article
      “Population sustainability and the Ponzi demography” by Quentin Dempster – Aug 5, 2010

      “The Gillard/Abbott current consensus about constraining population growth does not appear to have been motivated by any voter concern about Australia’s prosperity. It has come because they acknowledge quality of life is declining, major cities are increasingly gridlocked, housing is unaffordable, there is a discernible degree of mortgage stress and infrastructure, particularly public transport, is inadequate. The population growth debate was provoked by former PM Kevin Rudd’s faux pas that he favoured a ‘big Australia’. The debate exposed a very real concern that, if allowed to continue at present levels to the projected 36 million people by 2050, population growth will only exacerbate these adverse conditions.”

      And, here is a bombshell:

      “The sustainable population activists are advocating limiting net overseas migration to 70,000 people per year. .. … …. …The aim is to keep Australia’s population to around 26 million souls.”

      “Professor Tim Flannery, former Australian of the Year and a patron of Sustainable Population Australia guesstimates the long-term human carrying capacity of the Australian continent and Tasmania might be as low as 8 million to 12 million people.”

      Australia’s long-term human carrying capacity is only 8 million to 12 million people.

      And, we are eyeing 7 million population by 2030??

      Australia is 11,000 times the size of Singapore.

  12. 36 Hansen 31 January 2013 at 16:05

    The White Paper on population is a white-wash. You are right that it should be about raising TFR, not GDP. There are a few short points I want to make:

    More foreigners reduces TFR. Due to greater competition for limited resources, couples tend to give birth to lesser children. Countries with high population density such as Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Maldives, Japan and South Korea also have low TFR. According to CIA Factbook 2012 data, Singapore’s fertility rate stands at 0.78, the lowest in the world, while population density stands at 7546/km2, the third highest in the world.

    Ageing Population vs Ageing Singaporean Population
    Importing foreigners does not in any way change the demography of Singaporeans. It will still be an inverted pyramid for the citizens. Ageing population is due to the fact that Singaporeans are living longer and producing lesser. Having a young foreign workforce does not prevent an ageing Singaporean population. Foreigners come to seek opportunities, they are not going to be there to help feed your ageing parents.

    Population Limit
    The white paper does not define a limit for the population. Anyone with common sense will know that our island has its limits. Most of the resources are imported and some we try to be self sufficient. Water is the greatest point of contention. With a large number of population to feed, securing resources become more crucial for our survival. Would NEWater sustain our country’s demand? Do we need to import more from Malaysia? What happens if the water contracts are not renewed?

    National Service
    A sore point is national service. Our male Singaporeans would be asking why they are wasting time serving two years of full-time national service and 10 more years of ICT just to defend a country that is already invaded by foreigners. Why are Singaporean males being burdened with NS while their male foreign counterparts enjoy all the benefits, some with fully sponsored scholarships too.

    National Identity
    What sought of country would Singapore be with so many people speaking foreign tongues. How would these people assimilate with us? Would Singaporeans be sidelined if foreign managers start to pick their own kind to work for them? Would their be foreign enclaves? Would there be more conflicts such as the curry incident or worse?

    Kicking the can down the road
    What then would happen after 2030? The same problem of ageing would still be there but enlarged even further. Is the PAP pushing the problem for the next government to solve?

    GDP and its relevance
    What is so important about GDP? With the current inequality and high Gini coefficient, any rise in GDP does not translate to wealth for the general populace, except maybe the top 1%. So, why do we need to care so much for GDP?

    Is the government trying to convert more foreigners to Singaporeans for the sake of maintaining power?

    Ponzi scheme
    Lastly, without convincing explanation to the public on the rationale behind this, it certainly smells like a Ponzi scheme. Quote:

    “According to Ponzi demography, population growth — through natural increase and immigration — means more people leading to increased demands for goods and services, more material consumption, more borrowing, more on credit and of course more profits. Everything seems fantastic for a while — but like all Ponzi schemes, Ponzi demography is unsustainable.

    When the bubble eventually bursts and the economy sours, the scheme spirals downward with higher unemployment, depressed wages, falling incomes, more people sinking into debt, more homeless families — and more men, women and children on public assistance…”

    • 37 Lee 1 February 2013 at 12:20

      Our national identity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XkfVeCQ2P8

      I miss those days when Singapore was Singaporean.

    • 38 What is the catch? 1 February 2013 at 16:23

      Absolutely agree that the issue should be about children. if the Govt is really that worried about an ageing population, then why is it that new immigrants are allowed to bring with them their parents and/or in-laws on long term dependent passes?

      If say for every one couple + average 2 kids + 2 aged parents they bring in, tHe replacement ratio in simplistic terms means 2 young ones for every 2 or 4 older ones going to compound the ageing problem further in another 10 or 20 years. So does this not give the lie away that they need the young ones to replace the older ones?

  13. 39 Desmond 31 January 2013 at 16:19

    This white paper is like all other gahmen papers/policies, where the maintenance of the GDP is more important than everything else, even to the lowering of our standard of living (i.e. crowded infrastructure, great increase in cost of living with not much increase in salary).

    It is already difficult for Singaporeans of a certain age to find good jobs, what more if we have a population of 6.8 million. And the gahmen’s stand on Singaporeans inability to find a job is that they are picky, ask too much, etc. When those who are jobless would attest that nobody wants them because they are either too old (around their 40s) or ask for too much (why hire Singaporeans when you can get someone else at half the cost).

    Then again, we have been screwed over and over again, being screwed again would really matter anymore.

  14. 40 Worst Singaporean 31 January 2013 at 16:23

    “Make it obvious that it is better to raise children and take the incentives than to do without kids and pay the penalties.”

    Disagree with your drastic suggestion here. People who are not ready or who lack the necessary responsibilities should never raise children just to avoid the penalties, because in the end the children will suffer, and society will pay the penalties.

    • 41 Devil 31 January 2013 at 17:48

      Isn’t that the point? Either society pays the cost of child-bearing or society go extinct.

      • 42 Worst Singaporean 31 January 2013 at 20:40

        If we really need to go to that extent, there is no more meaning in existing as a society, i would rather we extinct than to give birth to children just for them to suffer.

  15. 43 lobo76 31 January 2013 at 16:37

    Actually, wouldn’t immigration itself be detrimental to TFR? More people, more competition, more stress, less babies.

  16. 44 observer 31 January 2013 at 16:41

    Unfortunately what many people fail to realise is that even if we raise our TFR to replacement rate over night, the indigenous workforce will still decline over the next 20 years if not longer. Children take time to grow up. But we can’t just call an economic “time out” in the interim. I certainly would find a zero growth economy completely stultifying.

    • 45 Peace 31 January 2013 at 21:48

      No one is advocating a zero growth economy but slower growth..what are the consequences of a economy that grows slowly?

      • 46 yawningbread 31 January 2013 at 22:19

        We cannot just look at percentage GDP growth without looking at percentage population growth. If an economy grows by 3% and the population also grows by 3%, how is the average person better off? A zero growth economy with zero population growth is no worse.

        A point that I want to make is that chasing economic growth is making us all very unhappy.

        I am postulating that we may be a happier society if we had for a while a contracting economy, allowing us more time to do things we want, have children and play. We may not be able to upgrade to the latest gadgets as frequently as we’re accustomed to, $50 lunches will have to be ruled out, etc. This is what I meant when I said we need to “re-adjust the moorings and foundations of our economy and society.” One with more children and a healthier attitude to life is more sustainable than the present rat race.

      • 47 eremarf 1 February 2013 at 19:53

        @Peace re: low growth – I think the outcome is greater global equality. Generally you find less developed countries can have higher growth rates because their “low-lying fruit” (a la Paul Krugman 1994 on the myth of the Asian Miracle) have not yet been picked, and they can model their development strategies on fore-runners. Developed countries don’t have such growth rates. It would impact geopolitical power arrangements across countries.

        From a national perspective, I guess it means relatively less economic power (people consume less) in a globalised world. It doesn’t necessarily affect quality of life – because quality of life is quite subjective. Would we be happier consuming less material stuff like YB suggests (but maybe consuming more intangibles like leisure time, stronger social bonds, nature, etc)? I think I would.

  17. 48 Anon n1Lb 31 January 2013 at 17:03

    Wow, why is it that the real common sense and intelligent comments are made by bloggers like you. The men-in-white look like kindergarten students when compared with the stuff you write! keep it up. Hopefully more people will read this.

  18. 49 The Pariah 31 January 2013 at 17:25

    In URA’s 80-page Land Use Plan, the word “Singaporeans” is sprinkled everywhere but I now read it as “Naturalized Singaporeans” (as opposed to “Native Singaporeans”).

    Extant Native Singaporean owners will NOT be able to buy back replacement unit in same location with the “windfall” en bloc sale proceeds and so will have to downgrade/downsize unless we borrow lots more or dig much deeper into CPF savings – both of which compromise our eventual retirement security.

    Concept of “ageing-in-place” applies only to HDBers because of heartlanders’ electoral voting power – not because of social and humanistic values. That’s what Pay and Profit (PAP) is these days. .

  19. 50 daniel k 31 January 2013 at 17:48

    “Married or single, everybody has to raise 1.5 children… Make it obvious that it is better to raise children and take the incentives than to do without kids and pay the penalties.”

    I cringed when I read those lines.

    Singaporeans might need to remember that even though we are just a little island, there is still a bigger picture beyond our myopic concerns.

    The world population is exploding and it is uncertain how this planet is going to be able to cope with so many people in it. One could say that having children is the most environmentally-UNfriendly thing to do right now. The world needs less mouths to feed, not more. Personally, I would like our policies to STOP encouraging babies – it’s only a responsible thing to do.

    Opening our doors to immigration is inevitable. (furthermore, most of us were immigrants only not so long ago). The question is how much immigration. 6.9million in this tiny island is just plain insane and proves we care more about economics than humans or the environment.

    Strangely, your proposition here seems to encourage that kind of mindset too.

    • 51 LazyCat 31 January 2013 at 20:34

      Agree with your points, including your reading of what Alex is suggesting (which I found surprising), except one. Why do you, and many others, feel that just because our ancestors were largely immigrants, we should therefore accept more immigrants?

      Re environmental impact. I note almost all new homes – landed or flats – pay little consideration of wind flow, around and into the home. That means more use of the air-con, and more electricity. More heat generated. As is, our shady trees are being replaced by palms!

      • 52 eremarf 1 February 2013 at 20:09

        @ daniel k: the global population problem seems to be a “commons” problem like global warming, and similarly unfixable. If you’re interested in finding out more, there’s a good recent post on the Archdruid Report (blog) about commons problems. So – not much point discussing it I guess.

        Also, re: “immigration is inevitable” – um, I don’t see why – unless you mean we should always try to attract “good” immigrants – which I agree. I think in a world with scarce resources, there’s a good argument to be picky about who to allow into our society?

        @Lazycat re: the “we were ourselves immigrants” meme – I am similarly mystified by this thought. It seems like another PAP meme along the lines of “Singapore has no natural resources” that has no grounding in reality. Arguments for immigration should not be based on the fact that most of us were descended from migrants – but on other merits of immigration.

  20. 53 Anon s9jV 31 January 2013 at 18:06

    I agree that the work of the white paper and the researchers involved should be to make Singaporeans aware of the range of choices available and the possible trade-offs of choosing one option over others.

    This to-ing and fro-ing about migrant and aging populations and the ‘official’ release of white papers which suggest either-or options to coax agreement reminds me of this quote from Ayn Rand:

    ‘Sentences like used chewing gum, chewed and rechewed, spat out and picked up again, passing from mouth to mouth to pavement to shoe sole to mouth to brain …’

    It essentially describes how this problem is being approached and ‘dealt with’. It is a shame.

  21. 54 Anon a2Ag 31 January 2013 at 18:11

    It’s interesting seeing what’s happening to sg from a distance. I migrated to Australia with my wife and family 5 yrs ago because we decided sg will never provide a good work life balance for a family with 4 kids. I don’t see how an increase in population with ever result in a higher TFR. It defies logic and is the greatest disincentive to have children. The population 5 yrs ago was already enough for us to call it quits. We are working professionals with a desire for a big family. Unfortunately the PAP policies have chased us away – the very demographic they want to retain.

  22. 55 walkie talkie 31 January 2013 at 19:08

    One suggestion that may be worth considering is to take in orphans from other countries. This is being suggested at http://dareyoutothinkagain.blogspot.sg/2013/01/singapores-need-for-population-growth.html

  23. 56 Teck Soon 31 January 2013 at 19:49

    Why is it so important that the overall economy grow over a long period of time? It seems as if my quality of life would actually be better if the population fell – property prices would decline so I could afford a bigger house (more existing space per capita), I would get paid more when I searched for a job (reduced supply of labourers), and we would not have to invest as much in public infrastructure. We also wouldn’t need to divert economic resources towards child-rearing as your tax (and existing incentives do. These resources that would go in your plan towards babies could instead be spent on things that improve the quality of life for the rest of us. Human beings are already exerting a heavy toll on the planet’s finite resources. Why must we continue like this? Please could you explain how my life would be worse off if people could just be free to have the babies they want, we give no incentives for them, and we restrict immigration?

    • 57 yawningbread 31 January 2013 at 20:38

      In theory there is no reason why a shrinking population and economy can’t be a lovely society to live in. However, it will require a whole new set of management tools which we have not acquired and which few places have. We may be able to learn as we go if the decline is a very gradual and moderate one, but a native population collapse of 40% within a generation is not gradual at all. It will be extremely traumatic and disruptive.

      A good case study is Detroit whose population fell about 50% over 60 years. It had 1.85 million in 1950 and 912,000 in 2008.
      Read about Detroit’s current troubles for example:

      The Economist: Detroit’s Future: Thinking about shrinking

      Bloomberg: Half of Detroit’s streetlights may go out as city shrinks

      The Guardian: Detroit mayor plans to shrink city by cutting services to some areas

  24. 58 MS 31 January 2013 at 19:52

    Alex, you’ve succinctly and effectively laid down exactly what needs to be done in a macro sense. I don’t see anyone in the present political landscape capable of translating that into effective policy and then harder still, convincing the electorate.

    I fear that our capitalist system which rewards behaviour detrimental to our long term survival will, if left unchecked, be the the cause of the eventual collapse of our civilisation.

  25. 60 nihaoma 31 January 2013 at 20:13

    I want to offer some suggestions that can make the 6.9 million population more palatable to every SIngaporean. Become like UAE where 91% of the population are foreigners supporting the local native Emiratis.

    However to ensure that citizens do not get the short end of the stick. I propose the following policies

    1) Put labor laws that ensure that Singaporeans have priority in employment. If they cannot find S’poreans, then they are allowed to hire foreigners. This should not be a problem since so many SMEs keep complaining that they cannot find locals to do the job.

    2) Scrap NS totally or reduce to maximum 1 year. We should also allow conscience objectors. Ensure tax credits or housing priority for NSman to make up for their loss of time in NS. Reservist should be until 30 years old and deferments for reservists should be granted readily. There is no good reason why males should have two years of their youth taken away to serve a nation where nearly half of the pop aren’t citizens.

    3) Allow dual citizenship for Singapore citizens. Singapore keep saying it is a global city but yet it does not allow dual citizenship. We are already moving towards a globalized world where many Singaporeans are already abroad working. Philippines already allow dual citizenship on the condition that the other country also allow dual citizenship, knowing that so many of their citizens are abroad.

    With such a small local market, any biz here has to have a global outlook to survive. Having dual citizenship will encourage Singaporeans to expand their biz overseas and having dual citizenship will make transition between two countries easier. Having dual citizenship will also mean that some Singaporeans will retire in a country that have a comprehensive welfare system, thereby reliving the govt of having to take care of the aged.

    NS commitments should not be a good reason why dual citizenship should be allowed. As long a male Singaporeans is overseas, he should be allowed deferment.

    4) Make it insanely hard to get citizenship for foreigners. If the whole entire point is to have a large working force to support a tax base to support the local population, why not just make the entire foreign workforce a transitory one?

    Many FTs don’t intend to sink roots here, so why bother. Once their productive days are over, they should retire back to their home country. Singapore will just be a place for foreigners to earn as many strong Sing dollar as they can and let them retire back in their old country

    A continuous stream of younger FTs will continually replace the older FTs. I am very positively that our poorer ASEAN neighbors will be more than willing to take up on this offer.

    We still can have a liberal immigration policy and not worried about having to support them once these foreigners get old. Singapore will be just a place for foreigners to earn as much money as they can.

    All these proposals will also mean there is no such thing as a Singapore culture as it is ever changing. Then again, SR nathan never felt Singapore had a culture and Singapore was an immigrant society to begin with so why not make the entire society a transitory one? Of course, I am open to constructive criticism about my suggestions.

    • 61 Anon hCb4 1 February 2013 at 10:52

      I totally agreed with u tat we can be like Dubai. Have a large foreigner base working and make money for us then use this money to help citizen improve TFR without diluting Singaporean identity. Why pap did not consider this? The difference between your proposal and pap is tat foreigner have no voting right, new citizens have.

    • 62 Steven 1 February 2013 at 11:18

      Your suggestion worth considering. We can hv a large foreigner working base without diluting citizen identity, make money for us, then use the money to help citizens improve TFR. Why pap did not considering this? The difference between your proposal and their is that foreigner has no voting right, new citizen has!

      • 63 yawningbread 1 February 2013 at 12:19

        Not so simple. The main grouse, as far as I can tell, is over the large numbers of foreigners here, not whether they are naturalised citizens or not. So the suggestion that we can have large numbers of foreigners here, only that we don’t give out citizenships, does not address the key dissatisfaction.

  26. 64 Lai Yeu Huan 31 January 2013 at 20:24

    Great insight as usual.

    Another factor not examined is this: the paper takes it as a given that we need to maintain a working population large enough to support the growing retired population.

    This problem however, is not as acute for Singapore as it is for other countries where a significant cost of growing old is borne by the state, in the form of pensions and extensive healthcare. Singaporeans are self-reliant to a much larger extent.

    This begs the question: what really is the size of the working population (and tax base) which is necessary for Singapore, to support our growing aged? And the obvious corollary: can we not use some of our substantial surpluses to support the elderly?

    Singapore is in a way like a person: saving up in its youth in order to have the option to use those savings in its old age.

  27. 65 Char Siew 31 January 2013 at 20:28

    Of course we have space!

    Just plonk one block of flats to the left of your block, one to the right, one in front and one behind.

    That’s what is happening in mature estates now! Every little space that was once a playground, a small empty space for morning exercises, etc is turned into concrete!

    They don’t give a damn about your quality of life.

    At the same time, we’ve space for 22 golf course, a sport played by a mere 2% of the population:

    From this website (http://eidus.org/2010/04/08/are-there-too-many-golf-courses-in-singapore/):

    [quote]Yet, in contrast, to date we have built 22 golf courses, most of which are 18-holed oases to cater to a sport whose following is a mere 2 per cent of all regular sports participants, according to the Singapore Sports Council’s National Sports Participation Survey in 2005.[/unquote]

    • 66 Chanel 31 January 2013 at 21:17

      This country is run by an elite class for the elites. This is why golf courses are indispensible. Lesser mortals can be cramped together ever more tightly, but the elites must have ample space for entertainment and sports

  28. 68 henry 31 January 2013 at 21:04

    The GDP is used as a key performance indicator for the Cabinet and MPs to ascertain monetary bonuses. Therefore growth in the GDP is the target and the means is via population expansion… cant wait for nature, it needs direct infusion ( remember the days when we had instant trees planted because someone wanted the country to be a “garden city”?.. same philosophy)

    The adoption of new citizens is also a method to ensure political control.. new citizens are selected carefully. People who will be beholden. Local born and bred Singaporeans are no more valuable than newly minted ones.
    In fact local Singlish speaking singaporeans may be too much an irritant, who knows too much about the past here.

    All this talk about old age, elderly, productivity are convenient points to argue for the proposal, masking their real intentions.

    I too believe that we can be price givers and have more innovative industries rather than labour intensive kinds. They say they have created jobs, but observations reveal that the jobs are 90% within the service sectors of retail, casinos, transport, food & beverage. The financial sector is dominated by foreigners, so is the Infocom Technology and health care.

    What is left? being a politician? Join the SAF?

  29. 70 Chanel 31 January 2013 at 21:15

    An unspoken motivation behind the white paper is to figure out a way for PAP to stay in power forever. By diluting the born and bred S’poreans with large numbers of new citizens (who are presumably likely to vote for PAP), PAP would b able to maintain its super majority in generl elections

    • 71 Anon n5mW 31 January 2013 at 23:25

      When you have 3 former military generals presenting the Population white paper, you just feel uneasy.

    • 72 Kev 1 February 2013 at 09:17

      Chanel, while I agree with your premise as it is, what I wonder is, has the PAP even considered the extent to which this will bite them in the ass big-time? New citizens are not as subservient or afraid of the law as local-born Singaporeans, and they know little of the history of Singapore as we all know it to even be scared of the government’s power. When the going gets tough for them as much as any other local Singaporean, they will turn against the PAP which first gave them the passport. In the easiest case out, they can just run back to their original countries such as China and India which are growing anyway, but in the worst case, if they are from Third World countries like Burma and so on(which are worse off than Singapore), they will be the very enemy that the PAP never anticipated–lured by false promises but angered by betrayed ones.

    • 73 LC 1 February 2013 at 10:23

      Another very obvious motivation is to keep up the demand and hence the property prices so as not to lose more votes from those who now own their flats – I think quite a large part of the electorate. Some votes might be lost if the property prices came down.

  30. 74 Lipstick Girl 31 January 2013 at 22:48

    Why 2030?

    Just like the frog in boiling water story, the increase in votes gained from new citizens will be felt little by little, so as not to cause any sudden surge in dissatisfaction among the people.

    By 2030, the full impact will be felt but by then, the frog will have been happily cooked to death!

    Nobody will remember what happened 17 years before and everybody assumes that’s the way it has been, it is, and will be.

  31. 75 Scratchead 31 January 2013 at 22:54

    Rather than viewing population growth as a means to achieve desired GDP growth rates, shouldn’t they start with asking what is a sustainable level of population for Singapore’s size and the desired level of quality of life for this population (i.e., the ends), and accordingly the desired GDP level and growth as well as other non-GDP related means (e.g., a more gracious society) to achieve the ends?

  32. 76 nobodynobodybutyou 31 January 2013 at 23:36

    If we are happy with 1-2% growth like common in developed countries, then be ready for the same unemployment and volatility in those countries.
    See the US and European countries.

    • 77 Lee 1 February 2013 at 12:12

      Rubbish. The volatility in the EU was because of the problems caused by monetary union. And US, what volatility? If you want to create a statement like that then have the common sense to substantiate it.

  33. 78 The Pariah 1 February 2013 at 00:06

    URA Land Use Plan is eerily silent throughout 80 pages about the only other significant land supply source from en bloc sales.

    OMG – 630 likes as at 6:30 pm, 31 Jan 2013 for one comment in Yahoo News article to vote in more Opposition MPs!

    Law Minister K Shanmugam is in Nee Soon GRC – Remember this pls as we en bloc The Istana to Iskandar.

    Using the en bloc law, MinLaw unlocks land value for Private Developers so that Rich Foreigners and Rich Naturalized Singaporeans can buy redevelopment projects in prime/popular areas, after pushing out Native Singaporeans who CANNOT buy back in same area with “windfall” en bloc sale proceeds when PROPERTY IS ALL ABOUT LOCATION AND TIMING.

    This is what Pay And Profit (PAP) call “WHOLE OF GOVERNMENT” approach.

  34. 79 Shaf 1 February 2013 at 00:44

    Let’s say in 2 or 3 years time, our neighbours and/or traditional sources of immigrants’ economies grew by leaps & bounds. To the point where their pay package would be comparable or even better than what we can afford to pay. What’s the incentive for them to come? Where are we gonna get the numbers to add up to the magical figure of 6.9 m? Source out from Africa? Latin America? Poor Europe? How will that change our demographics even more?

    On a side note, I think it’s brilliant for them to come up with 6.9 figure instead of a straight 7. What with all the sex scandals coming to the fore (maybe more to come), there must be some behind the white paper cracking up at their ingenuity to correlate the two.

    • 80 Chow 1 February 2013 at 13:14

      Exactly. At some point we’re going to (I believe we already are) plateau in terms of economic progress. This is not too far-fetched given how our productivity and innovation has been crawling along for a while. The other regional and Asian economies are catching up fast and at some point, they will surpass us. Once that has occurred, we lose the incentive for the very people we do wish to attract (unless we want to be a tax-haven of sorts). Typically wage differential, opportunities, and quality of life are some of the determining factors in migration. Once the economies of, say, the Philippines, Vietnam, India, etc start to take off, I highly doubt that we’ll be that attractive to them any more.

      My take is that, for quite a while, the scene here was mostly government led. They tried to cherry-pick the winners. Often they would make a big push for things like the DotCom, Engineering, Digital Media, and Life Sciences as the ‘next pillar of the economy’. That’s fine and good in itself. The problem is that when these things sometimes don’t quite work out the way it was meant to be and then we were left with a whole bunch of graduates trained for the previous economy. These graduates were also trained not so much to be educated in the broad sense of the word but cut from a cookie-cutter mould to fill the needs of the economy. So, when the new wave comes along, the new companies come in and find that there aren’t enough people with the right skills around. The floodgates then need to be opened and what happens to those trained for yesterday’s economy? Well, they put out a call for ‘upgrading’.

      My feel is that we should forget this GDP through population growth thing. Sure, we may bring in all these people, but what is there to make any of them sink roots here and start a family? We need to seriously restructure the economy, the way we are educated, and focus on population growth led on the understanding that it’s going to be based on the ‘locals’. Sadly, the timelines on the paper are 2030, which is 17 years from now. That’s slightly more than half a generation. Not quite enough time for a ‘local’ led baby boom to be in time for that.

  35. 81 Duh 1 February 2013 at 01:27

    I have mentioned this as a possibility in my comments to Alex’s previous blog post – has anyone considered this White Paper as further evidence of the PAP wanting to give up politics?

    I mean using this White Paper to incite the population so that they can be voted out in GE2016 bcos that is the only way they can quit politics?

  36. 82 Rabbit 1 February 2013 at 06:32

    My first impression on hearing 6.9million population is, a NATIONAL DISASTER in the making.

    There were many assumptions in the white paper, mostly painted a rosy picture ahead of time, otherwise some freaky threat to sell their unpopular policy. The possible side effects and other likely disaster of having 6.9mil populations were hardly visible like a disclaimer clause in sales brochures.

    Nobody can predict future international events, namely investors may not generate enough high skill jobs to cope with large aspirants’ population. Low skills job with low wage will continue to make aplenty for demoralized citizens. Unable to cope with cost, poverty may rise out of a chunk of huge population with low wagers. Just like drug addicts, bringing in population is easier than taking them away when situation is dire. Why add so much dose of stress to the already stressful society for the beneficial few?

    Likelihood is lack of hospital facilities to cope with large patients’ intake, several inconvenient train breakdowns due to extensive network and human overload. We are not Lego block; stacking human into high rise flat will not solve congestions, unless people don’t move around, in our scarce land.

    High populations also mean high maintenance for additional infrastructures & facilities, less nature reserves for people to relax and PAP will have Singaporeans suffer the cost of everything tangible and intangible. GST will be raised substantially to tax the poor and low corporate tax continues to favor the rich (in the name of attracting investors, including those $2 kinds who will bring load of siblings to get PR status and speculate on properties – may be living off on rental too) enriching themselves even more.

    Most importantly, human emotion congestions which PAP tend to avoid discussing. Loyalty will be put to test again, more immigrants’ enclave within their nationalities, minting new citizen may not buy loyalty out of their original birth place, privileges given to one is deemed discriminative to others, society will become more eroded and divided than before. The current leader may no longer be around to solve all these problems. Thus, it is not fair for future leader to take the messy crap from another poor 20/20 foresight of their predecessor. Will LHL, TCH and their current white paper team be around to apologize to Singaporeans again?

    PAP, the largest employer and developers, will ALWAYS stand by the employers, is not a balanced party for Singaporeans. Low fertility rate is an easy excuse for bringing in cheap labor, because businesses never fail to view increasing wage as nightmare for many years to come. The same arguments they used today will be repeated ad nausesm in future. With easy access to labor by any quantity, I am not confident our productivity and wages will improve; it never happened since the last decade and looks bleak in the future too

    Work life balance remains a challenge in Singapore; employers are largely unmoved under PAP protection. . This is not an assumption; the living stress is felt for many years with provened statistics, and has became a perpetual problems not successfully resolved by the unwilling ruling party, who sometimes appear rather contradictory in their stand. Thus, PAP and ordinary Singaporeans can never be agreeable with each other is not without basis. Singapore form of Tripartism is not effective and never will be, if they are not independent from the govt and employer

    Main stream propagandists have been focusing too much on PAP business federation, economists and employers’ words to justify GDP on white paper. The core issues leading to low TFR were sidelined.

    We have many cabinet ministers already passed their productive years and still drawing obscene salary. As such, they are not fit in their position to justify that aging population is a frightening things, otherwise LKY would have been sacked by employer many decades ago and current old ministers would be dismissed from duty for many errs.

    On the other hand, WP has already proposed that this govt should loosen up the cap on elderly citizen’s medisave a/c. This will avoid taxing young couple for having to foot expensive medical bills for their parents. Their cash saved, can be used to up bring their children or next generations.

    Basic necessities like transportation and medical bills should be heavily subsidized, as compensation, for future old folks whose current wages have been depressed due to govt lack of 20/20 foresight decade ago. National reserves, are accumulated savings build up by these citizens over the years, the elderly’s sacrifices should not turn into penalty and make them a scapegoat to bear fail policies.

    Another form of immigration is to make baby adoption easier for couple, who loves children but could not conceive due to medical reason. Single parent should not be discriminated and their children be allowed to grow up in supportive environment.

    The plan for population growth should come with concrete and reliable findings, not fanciful illusion with half-baked data delivered for questionable purpose. Intensive disclosure of vital information and transparency are necessary for public scrutiny, if govt wanted Singaporeans to have a stake in its initiatives. Otherwise nobody is going to buy the superficial white paper.

    The team in NPTD is not helping either, because we already knew who they were and their likely source of feedbacks behind closed door. As such, I doubt parliamentary debate, in a one-party state, is going to make any difference on what has already been decided by the ruling party and such “guilt”, explains why by-election was called before the release of white paper.

    A real national Conversation can never come to such a conclusion of wanting 6.9 mil populations, which shock Singaporeans.

  37. 83 R 1 February 2013 at 06:38

    Hi Alex, I love your posts and the thoughtful analysis in this article – but the idea of 1.5 child per adult reminds me of the old days of social re-engineering [http://www.asiaone.com/Just%2BWoman/Motherhood/Stories/Story/A1Story20080715-76872.html] Every child needs genuine love, and must not be seen as a tax relief.

  38. 84 ExtinctSingaporean 1 February 2013 at 07:57

    My take on this is that we should merge with Malaysia, pronto. That is if Malaysia wants us back. Only if Mahatir & the Old Man had not gone into bogeyman episode in the late 1990s & our locals had been more receptive of that idea at that time, the merger could have proceeded in phases to result in a smooth transition.

    • 85 Lee 1 February 2013 at 12:08

      Back in NUS, we had an entire tutorial devoted to this. Our group’s conclusion was:

      1) One country two systems
      2) Barisan Nasional and PAP are voted out, and racial politics goes the way of the dodo.

      Indeed, the PAP has spent a massive amount of resources on creating a psychological mistrust against our neighbours. You don’t have to look very much further than our defence policies. This is despite the fact that our history, culture and family ties have been intertwined for as long as the British were here. Despite this, our state crest still bears images of two animals: The lion for Singapore, and the Tiger for Malaysia

    • 86 mirax 2 February 2013 at 21:49

      No way. Malaysian racial and religious politics have gone beyond the point of no return. They will not return to any form of a secular state for the foreseeable future even if the BN is overthrown. PKR and PAS are not remotely interested in a secular democracy.

  39. 87 Hunky 1 February 2013 at 16:52

    “Starting NOW, we have to insist that every adult citizen (male and female) reaching age 30, raise 1.5 children before age 40..”

    I f*cking hate kids, can’t stand them, don’t want any, ever. I also come home half-drunk every night and some nights with a KTV mei-mei. OK, if the government insists, I will have a kid or two, provided they pay for their everything, and don’t expect me to change my lifestyle…

  40. 88 Q 1 February 2013 at 17:13

    Shouldn’t we address the low Singaporean TFR problem head-on in a population white-paper?
    Instead the paper feels more like a propaganda paper to brainwash us to accept more foreigners. Fear-mongering us that our economy will be devastated if we do not import 30k PR a year will not work on us! We are not xenophobic but who can stand escalating cost of living (cars, house) due to sharp immigration increase?

    How to encourage Singaporeans to have more kids
    – build a less materialistic society
    – govt performance to be based on a more holistic “happiness” index
    – reduce pay of ministers and pass it to the civil servants who actually do the work
    – have more public holidays
    – dramatically reduce stress level of education system
    – car ownership incentive for middle income parents with 3 kids
    – better pay for teachers with good performance (again can be funded from ministerial pay)

    On a separate note – maybe new citizens can only be allowed to vote after they have stayed for min 5 years.

  41. 89 Kyleced 1 February 2013 at 19:18

    Who are we going to blame when this government comes out with life changing policy that goes wrong? Is it the government ? No, no, no it is us Singaporean wake up if we allow them to treat us like numbers ! Did you not heard the PM uttered this “infamous” line ““We lacked that 20/20 foresight. Next time, we will try to do better,” It seem to me they always have another next time when things goes wrong but in the mean who bear the brunt ? Are they sure they have the 20/20 foresight now with this “beautiful” picture they painted about the population white paper ? Are we going to accept another “We lacked that 20/20 foresight. Next time, we will try to do better” ??????

  42. 90 Anon 7jEd 1 February 2013 at 20:47

    Your math does not add up! If we need 200,000 to 300,000 then the total pop we be 4.3m plus 0.3 equals 4.6m. Please explain why it should be 5.3m +

    • 91 yawningbread 1 February 2013 at 22:57

      Do you even know that the current total population is already 5.3 million? That’s why I said that if we bring in immigrants merely to replace the missing babies and no more, our population will reach about 5.5 or 5.6 million.

  43. 93 Chanel 2 February 2013 at 08:47

    It isboth very disturbing and telling tht the govt has yet to publicly disclose the exact criteria used to import new PRs and citizens. Developed countries such Australia, UK, US, etc have strict and clearly spelled out criteria for issuing PR status and citizenship, eg minimum of 4 years stay.

    • 94 Lee 2 February 2013 at 14:30

      The criteria? Race. I have met dishwashers from china who are PRs. DISHWASHERS.

      • 95 mirax 2 February 2013 at 21:35

        And my part-time Pinoy maid informed me in 2011 year that she was getting PR! Her adult daughter was working here (as some sort of a white collar worker) and was on her way to getting PR too. I felt it would be too intrusive/rude to ask her how she qualified for PR and refrained.

        But 6000 Singaporeans are separated from their foreign spouses each year because the govt refuses to give them PR. The WP to its credit brought up this issue during the PE by-election.

      • 96 Anon BDsW 4 February 2013 at 05:02

        I apologize if the following comments offend any reader, Singaporean (old, new, to-be, of whatever vocation) or otherwise. I contribute this in the spirit of discussion, and feel that clarity via directness is probably better than wishy-washy (sorry!) euphemisms that might further muddy the waters (sorry sorry!).

        Singapore needs dishwashers. We are experiencing a loss in the numbers of dishwashers due to the shrinking native population. Replacement via immigration is a way to make up for this loss. Therefore we should expect dishwashers amongst the new immigrants, who may then establish a new, replicating line to refresh this vocation pool.

        Similarly for other vocations that do not immediately spring to mind as being of high value-add in nature, eg … er … masseurs.

        If all the PRs were granted to high-end professionals like lawyers, bankers, doctors etc, there would be nobody left to do the dishes in the future. At least not at current wages.

        Higher productivity, eg via automation should help but it seems that the track record for such past efforts is unclear. So it may be “safer” to rely on time-tested approaches.

        Perhaps the above describes a line of thinking taken by the country’s decision makers?

  44. 97 Contrarian 2 February 2013 at 10:47

    It is not about children or GDP, it really is about taxes and the state wanting to ensure that revenues are sufficient to generate surpluses in the years to come. As Singapore moves from a progressive tax model on income to consumption, a higher population assures Government revenues and surpluses. The population will age with or without foreigners or new incentives to have children. This is about Singapore Inc.

    • 98 Chanel 2 February 2013 at 13:59

      Not entirely right. It is about maintaining the top personal income tax low, so that the very rich (including our ministers and their cronies) pay one of the lowest taxes on the entire planet Earth

  45. 99 FTMs 2 February 2013 at 22:26

    Has the PAP Government gone mad or are they bankrupt of ideas? No right thinking Singaporean should support the idea or allow these goons to get away with it. It’s simply suicide to have the kind of population they are talking about for this tiny island. They can create more land or build more infrastructures. But Singapore will never be the same again. Wih the population as it is, we are already finding it unbearable. Now these goons want to jump up the figure to 7 million!!! To support who and to support what? To sustain the economy they say. And when will it be enough or what will happen when the next plateau is reached? The average Singaporean is struggling to cope with the high cost of living with many surviving hand-to-mouth. These goons say without a population of 7 million, the economy cannot be sustained. What is there to sustain? To sustain the poor so that they become poorer or to sustain the multi-million dallor salaries of the ministers??? They are hell bent in destroying Singapore which does not belong to them. Singapore belongs to future generations. These goons don’t have to worry about the destructions or havoc that they will wreak to this island we call home because they have amassed millions by helping themselves with taxpayers’ money. Their children don’t have to worry too because they can afford or already have alternative homes elsewhere. We and our children, without the mobility of high income, are the ones who will be stuck in this island which by then would have been transformed into a living hell !!

  46. 100 Chamari 2 February 2013 at 22:52

    Hi Everyone
    I am a PhD candidate of NUS. I am researching on blogs and readers’ comments and how they can advocate mutually beneficial governing. I need to ask few questions (face to face or email)from the readers who are responding to these blog posts. If anyone is interested in assisting me in this research I would be grateful. Please kindly contact me chamari@nus.edu.sg.
    Identity and other Information will be kept confidential.

    Thank you

  47. 101 Chanel 3 February 2013 at 08:52

    It the elite ruling party (and their crony rich towkays) that cannot get use to a lower GDP growth. They have seen how high GDP growth can fatten their bank accounts. Problems accompanying a larger population are merely collateral damage that lesser mortals gave to accept (well….60% of voters support this!)

  48. 102 reddotsg 3 February 2013 at 18:27

    Dear Alex, i know this may sound simplistic, but if we were to propose free medical for all Singaporeans for deliveries of sg sons n daughters, do you think it will remove one of the first hurdles of having a child? Do u think the G would be receptive?

  49. 103 whyigiveup 3 February 2013 at 19:43

    “The point here is that we have to do something — and drastic — about TFR.

    Starting NOW, we have to insist that every adult citizen (male and female) reaching age 30, raise 1.5 children before age 40. Marriage should not be a pre-condition. Married or single, everybody has to raise 1.5 children. We may have to re-shape our taxation policies to ensure that taxes are so heavy that it becomes plain that the only way to neutralise the penalty is to have children and claw back the tax and subsidy incentives related to child-rearing. Make it obvious that it is better to raise children and take the incentives than to do without kids and pay the penalties.

    Of course, it is easier said than done. It means a massive reshaping of values and economic expectations.”

    Alex, your proposal here sounds eerily familiar to the fictional social-re-engineering experiment described in The Handmaid’s Tale, a book written by Margaret Atwood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Handmaid's_Tale). In this story, we have women completely losing all their rights to own property, individual freedoms, access to literature and education, all for the sake of producing babies in a country that has abysmally low TFR. Women are effectively caged within their homes and their movements are severely restricted. They have effectively become nothing more than walking uteruses whose sole national duty is to produce babies for the nation. Their entire daily routine is brutal and systematically designed to increase their chances of conception.

    Like you, Atwood’s fictional work also penalises those women who fail to produce a baby after a few tries, by branding them as “un-women” and sending them to hard labour in the colonies. I am not saying this is likely to happen in Singapore but when you talk of penalties and heavy taxes for adults who FAIL to meet their KPIs, you inevitably risk ringing some alarm bells. This is exactly the kind of talk thrown about by LKY that led to the establishment of AWARE in the 1980s. Women did not want to be reduced to walking uteruses and they were tired of being constantly dragged into a national fertility agenda they could not identify with.

    Lastly, you mention the need for massive reshaping of values and economic expectations. Given that Singaporeans are very unlikely to change their attitudes to child-rearing any time soon, and are likely to resist further liberal labour imports, what should we learn to expect in terms of the economy, jobs, salaries, general quality of life, infrastructure and public services? I believe most of us are quite clueless about what to expect yet, we distrust the government’s dire predictions of what to expect – even if some of it might be true – simply because we are sceptical of their own motives.

  50. 104 eremarf 3 February 2013 at 23:56

    Hi was browsing the Naked Capitalism blog as usual and found these relevant articles friends here might be interested in – YB can I put them here, please?

    About worker-retiree ratios vs productivity growth in the US (productivity growth tends to outpace worker-retiree ratio changes based on US historical data – but uninformed Americans aren’t getting the right data from either the (subverted!) press or policy makers!): http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/beat-the-press/ezra-klein-srikes-out-big-on-immigration-and-demographics

    Empirical survey of immigration’s impact on different demographics in the US – analyses and data that we sorely lack in Singapore: http://www.epi.org/publication/bp255/

  51. 105 Anon 1T56 8 February 2013 at 11:43

    Population White Paper should be about children? where are the kids??

  52. 106 Gavroche 13 February 2013 at 00:26

    Alex, you said “This level of TFR is a very serious demographic problem, for it means that our citizen population will decline by 40% within a generation.”
    How did you arrive at the figure of 40%? If you will refer to the chart 2.7 on page 15 of the White Paper, you will see that assuming a constant TFR of 1.2 and with no immigration, the population will shrink from about 3.3 mil in 2012 to about 2.6 mil in 2060, over a period of 48 years. This is a decrease of a little over 21%. What have you taken as the time span of one generation?

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