06 February 2006

"Stayers are people who do not have the means to quit!"

This letter in TODAY was, I felt, an excellent summary of the major challenges and difficulties faced by Singaporeans today.
Can you blame them for leaving?
From young to old, life here doesn't get easier

Give locals priority over foreigners
Monday • February 6, 2006
Letter from Jimmy Ho Kwok Hoong

I REFER to the letter, "Puzzle of migrating Singaporeans" by Lim Boon Hee (Feb 2). Let us rationally analyse the "quitter" problem from the perspectives of different age groups.

Our educational curriculum deprives us of a proper childhood from a tender age. Judging from the proportion of students wearing spectacles here, it is not difficult to tell they have been overexposed to textbooks. Parents who cannot bear to see their kids live with the need for regimental "mugging" may consider migration.

On the next level, a hopeful graduate, fresh from his victory in the educational system, may be in for a rude shock when he discovers that the job market — with its plentiful supply of foreign talent — is not prepared to pay him enough for a decent lifestyle.

It may be worth mentioning that our definition of the words "foreign talent" has changed from its initial meaning of highly-paid expatriates and cheaper IT staff to include the foreign worker who clears the dustbin. Although these foreigners may be needed to reduce the overall costs of operations in Singapore, have we gone too far in welcoming them by being reluctant to control their impact on local rice bowls?

When setting up a family, most couples will learn that the house they buy will probably cost them a lifelong mortgage.

When a Singaporean reaches 40 years old, he should realise that his shelf life in the workforce is only about 10 years, upon discovering that he is considered "obsolete" at that age — even after having acquired a Masters' degree at 30.

The middle-aged professionals, when they are retrenched, will have to decide whether to "upgrade" themselves — taking up menial jobs despite their immense experience in white-collared posts — or to throw their savings into entrepreneurship, for which the chances of success are slim.

Unemployment fell to a low of 2.5 per cent last quarter. However, wages have yet to recover to the level they were at in the previous cycle. In other words, jobs were created but at lower value added as a whole.

The private sector has been asked not to discriminate based on age when hiring, yet public organisations continue to recruit based on age limits.

Older folks in their "golden years" are also not spared. They are expected to slog for their livelihoods to a ripe old age, while their peers elsewhere happily rely on welfare and healthcare provided free of charge by their governments.

The biggest issue may be the refusal to acknowledge that the problems exist — let alone working on solving them. Given such an environment, is it any wonder that some Singaporeans choose to migrate? As I hear someone saying in a coffeeshop say: "Stayers are people who do not have the means to quit!"
The last paragraph of the letter reminds me of what Catherine Lim termed, sometime around 1995, the Great Affective Divide, an emotional estrangement between the people & the government. In more recent times, Catherine Lim said this:
"Perhaps the most disturbing thing .... is that while both sides are having their due say, neither appears to believe it will make the least difference. A kind of fatigue has set in.

The Government and the people seem no longer to be in dialogue; they appear to be talking at rather than to each other.

Indeed, there is the eerie sensation of the observer that both sides are merely going through the motions and paces of a practised stance, doing an accustomed, tedious but necessary dance with each other.

The Government seems to be saying, a little wearily: "We will keep explaining our decision, as meticulously and as patiently as we can, for as long as you like, but don't expect us to change it in any way."

And the people seem to be saying with equal weariness: "We know. But since there is this new climate that allows for freer expression than we have been used to, we might as well make use of it, and have our say, for all it's worth."

In the end, the situation remains the same, caught in a time warp where everything else around is moving on.


Sleepless in Singapore said...

"After changes upon changes, we are more or less the same." - Paul Simon, The Boxer

Biased Observer said...

I am still in Singapore because it is a good base for someone with a regional job. HKG is too expensive, China is too closed, M'sia is still a little rough around the edges, Australia is too darn far.

I am here also because the tax structure is favourable to me. I make good money, pay little taxes, and can solve lunch at $2 for chicken rice.

The government does very well to retain people like me, but there is no loyalty in my decision. I am here because it is financially and logistically favourable. The government has to work at making sure I stay, they don't have to do so for the many who have no choice but be stayers - that's why their needs will never be met, but mine will.

Elia Diodati said...

This is somewhat nitpicky, but lifelong mortgages are pretty much a fact of life no matter where you choose to live. Perhaps the more salient point is that Singaporeans in general are very poorly educated when it comes to personal finance. The mutual fund craze of the late-1990s is perhaps a good illustration.

hugewhaleshark said...

You have a point, elia. We have to consider whether the grass really IS greener on the other side. Are these things really peculiar only to Singapore:

- pressure cooker education (consider Japan, China)
- competition from foreign talent (consider the tech, or industrial worker in developed countries and the competition from India and China)
- lifelong mortgages (consider most developed cities)
- older folks not being able to rely on welfare (consider the pressure on pension systems and high taxes in developed countries with low birth rates)
- a government which refuses to acknowledge problems (consider France and their racial issues and US and their farcical hurricane emergency system)

Why am I in Singapore? Because my family and friends are here. My business network is here. That's what matters for me.

Beach-yi said...


nice points there minasan.

Just adding a few pittance worth of cents/sense;

our government probably deserves every single cent they earn while taking the dump on the porcelin throne every morning, I wonder do they consider how to repay some of the debts they owe to older singaporeans who slog their assess off to help bring about what the little island is today. You want to count the pathetic NSS and ERS, if so, thanks for the laughs in advance.

I wonder about it because the current way they are treating the old makes me think twice about sinking my 'roots' in the god damn island. By the way, foisting the care of the elderly to their younger family members is just another way of transfering the burden, visited the MOF website recently, they have a nice little nifty few liners that pontificate the virtues of not burdening the future generation. Hur hur, so the government can say hey I am not going to take care of you directly when your breasts sag and you need dentures. But hopefully your property increases in value and allow you to capitalise on it (hopefully before you die and your mortgage is cleared) and there's also your kids and grandkids to support you too! Wow!

Not all $2 lunches are healthy in the long run ya, better to make and bring your own.

Hmm and not all other governments makes their young generation run around in circles chasing illusions. Sure, other governments have sucky curriculam and lousy school facilities, but that didn't stop geniuses from appearing in their countries.

I thought pressure cooker systems are unique in Japan and China (plus Korea too if only Eastie Asia is counted) because they have the urgency and need to play catch up with the industrial west after the debilitating world wars, regional wars and whatever.

And pity the proveberial grass lah, so much of them wilt in the shitty heat of the region Singapore is located in. There were even bush fires too!

note: the usage of 'you in this comment is in the context of a generic 'you' or person x.

Han said...

an important point to remember about lifetime mortgages:

in other countries, once you've paid up your mortgage, you basically own the title as fee simple (forever, almost).

In singapore, all we have are only leaseholds.

hugewhaleshark said...

In China, all residential leases are 70 years, and in HK all bets are off post 2047 (nearly all, anyway). Really lah folks, there is a price to leasehold, there is a price to freehold. The market is free, more or less.

Anthony said...

One important point,

If a democractic government fails to solve the populace's problems, that democractic government finds itself out of a job.

This lack of a viable alternative political voice hurts us in very many aspects. The writer highlights but some of them.

Competition is good. Rent-seeking behaviour is bad. The difference between the two are frighteningly small.

Anonymous said...

there is no such thing as $2 chicken rice in cbd area.. (presumably that's where your MNC/Regional company is located)...

in anycase, yes, NATO(no action talk only) causes even more disillusionment and apathy, followed by NS enslavement now at age 13 for exit permits, one can't get a feeling that the only way to vote is with your feet..and fertility treatments to make sure your offspring is female..and give birth to males overseas in the case of foreign spouses.