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What Has Traffic Congestion Got to Do With The White Paper?

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Reading what Professor of Economics Ng Yew Kwang was reported to have said at the Economic Society of Singapore forum, one wonders whether he was trying to be facetious, and therefore should not be taken too seriously.

As Winsemius Prof, he could and should have been more coherent. But sadly he wasn’t. After all, Dr Wisemius was none other than the UN expert who played ‘a major role in the formulation of Singapore’s national economic development strategy’ according to Wikipedia.

Instead, Prof Ng talked about (of all things) traffic congestion. How is that germane or enlightening? I do not understand. For that matter, we have traffic congestions long before the govt opened the immigration floodgates that allow into this country an immigration tidal wave, a la what hit the British under the previous Labour Government and which the current Cameron govt is assiduously trying to redress.

It is mind-blowing when Prof Ng compared the relative abilities of Africa and Europe to attract investments, and in the process he had completely ignored the history and realities, previous and present, of the two continents. Like comparing a pineapple with a pineapple tart.

He went on to say “In fact, with more people coming in, the higher demand pushes up the prices of things owned by locals, and pushes down the input price of immigrants, and make locals better off. “

Well, we all know too well who are these ‘locals’ who are ‘better off’ he is referring to, don’t we?

And he followed up with “If you have immigration of low-skilled workers then it’s good for Singaporeans as a whole, but it’s bad for unskilled Singaporeans because it depresses the wage rates,”

Well Prof, where have you been these past weeks since the White Paper came out? Many Singaporeans have been protesting. In any case, it is rather odd that something can be considered good ‘as a whole’ when part of it is actually bad, for a lot of Singaporeans. And again, we know which category or categories of Singaporeans he is really referring to in his version of ‘as a whole’. But surely, more to the point is precisely how could Singapore’s elected govt KNOWINGLY DISCRIMINATE AGAINST SIGNIFICANT SEGMENTS OF THE POPULATION BY INDISCRIMINATELY ALLOWING foreigners to flood in in such huge numbers that they depressed and drove down the wages of these segments of the working population (and these are the ‘lucky’ ones, as they still have jobs to go to). And the ones who really got it worst (i.e. the really luckless ones) are those who have lost their livelihoods to the newcomers!

It is Economics 101 that a glut situation would depress prices, in this case, wages. Sadly, many of the affected Singaporeans depend on their already meagre take home pay to keep mind, body, family and soul together, and to rub it in, they are also caught in a double whammy of being savaged by an unrelenting increase in living costs at the same time. We are, according to international surveys, among the top nations in the dubious Hall of Fame of nations whose living cost is in the stratosphere, both in Asia and globally.

I’m still in favour of an immigration policy, but then it has to be supplemented by help to the poor.”

For the hundred thousandth time, nobody in his right mind is saying no/nought to the immigration of foreigners who can help us and make this place better. The problem is NOT WHY immigration, but WHY immigration is being carried out by the govt in such a manner that is detrimental to its own citizens? Surely, at some point you can OD even if immigration for economic gains is a tonic!

And more precisely, it is in how the govt has not been doing it that has caused so much consternation, complaints and miseries to descend into the lives of so many Singaporeans today. The govt has forgotten its own Total Defence Propaganda, particularly that part about social and psychological defence. To be thrown out of your job by foreigners in your own country by dint of your own govt’s policy, has to rank as the ultimate destroyer of your psychological defence.

Herein too, in the Prof’s above statement lie the seeds of the problem: The immigration tidal wave is brought on by the govt in its relentless pursuit of GDP numbers, year after year after year. The govt has been achieving its ever growing GDP results, but it is at a huge price paid by the average man in the street. But alas, it is not only the GDP numbers that have been chased up by this relentless pursuit of the  dollar. ‘Getting’ a ride all the way up too are the cost of housing, cost of living, cost of premature infrastructure aging, bigger MRT congestion (and breakdown), even longer hospital queues, and so on.

And while the govt is happily making the proverbial hay while the immigration ‘sun’ is shining, it has been wilfully blind to its responsibility of at least balancing the policy’s trade off which is at the expense of Singaporeans, with a trickling down of some of the collected ‘hay’, for example, by boosting healthcare subsidies, more and better support for the handicapped and disabled, lowering the levy on maids whose presence at home permits more of our women folk to enter the labour market, or even a cut in the GST should not be beyond the pale for basic food necessities (in the UK, for instance, different categories of goods attract different VATs, including low or even no VAT for certain essential goods) and a more generous helping hand for those at the bottom of the social economic totem pole who tend to be the worst collateral damage of the policy. But there had been little if not none of these until the recent huge outpouring of public outrage at Hong Lim Park and in the blogosphere, the only two places where Singaporeans can and may publicly protest legally.

As some economists have already noted and publicly acknowledged, making rich people richer does not make the rest of us richer. More often than not, this does not happen spontaneously in the so-called ‘free’market. For the goodies to really trickle down to the masses, the govt of the day will have to take from the rich (in return for helping to make them (even) richer), and deliberately distribute it down to the rest of the people through the avenues of its various public institutions for healthcare, social support and assistance schemes, for instance.

But, until very recently, the sad fact is that the govt has been accumulating all those gains for a very long time without making any, but the feeblest of efforts, to trickle down the much needed benefits and succour to the people whose sacrifices the govt has demanded and taken for granted, in order for it to make those gains.

We should all be looking forward to Prof Ng’s next speech at the economic forum.

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