Singapore is expensive – but it is not that bad.


“World’s Most Expensive City” says the internet… and with that the Facebook explodes to life.

You know, I have read two of BBC’s opinions on Singapore this year already. The first one about Singapore’s hidden poor and the second one showing how poor families “survive” in this country.

I felt both articles were opportunistic at best. Take the same headline and you can plaster it on any country, making a sensational story. Tell me which country on this planet doesn’t have a problem with poverty?

However I took offence at today’s commentary on Singapore being most expensive city in the world.

In traditional economics, you take a basket of goods for global comparison. Guess what? Singapore is land scarce. We will surely lose out on such a comparison. We hear it again and again, we are small. Some dismiss it as Government propaganda. It is not, it is reality. We ARE small.

Now when you don’t have land, you don’t have a lot of space for cars. We do not have a lot of space to build houses. We do not have enough land to share between farms, cemeteries, historical preservation, parks and industry. We do not even have enough land for water catchment.

Cars and investment property are not, cannot and should not be cheap. We have to manage the prices of food which we almost wholly import. Our politicians fought tooth and nail over the supply of water, without which our military would almost certainly be deployed into war to defend this basic sustenance (and thank goodness for investment into water technology, this is not going to happen).

To make up for the lack of land, we pay money to build infrastructure. We pay money to develop or import technology. We have to use pricing to control the distribution of goods such as cars and property.

If you read a headline that goes “Singapore named the world’s most expensive city”, you would almost go “…awww, the poor Singaporeans…” But I assure you, it is not like that.

This country needs a lot of work to maintain a constant state of balance. Too much wealth and the economy could overheat, the bottom-middle strata of citizens may not be able to catch up. Yet poor economic performance could set a downward spiral, a downtrend that could take decades to recover from.

It is not that bad.

Basic education is virtually free. The destitute are taken off the streets, housed and helped back on their feet. The handicapped have social assistance. The poor also have similar assistance and help with job placement. A strong tripartite alliance is lifting both wages and productivity. Government handouts that neutralise the effects of Goods and Services tax. Very low income taxes. A forced savings plan known as the CPF, to guarantee a most minimum of savings to use for medical care and old age.

In some ways, it is expensive – and it is important we know why. See beyond the high price and you will see an oasis of opportunities. Opportunities for one to capitalise off the wealth in this country and to build a niche of success for oneself.

We may not have done as well as them, but surely the British should be proud of this little ex-colony called Singapore, no?






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  3. The BBC (and others) might also do well to point out that the poor are given opportunities here in Singapore that they may have no chance to secure in other countries. For example, our government emphasises skills-training and re-skilling, to ensure that people can secure employment. I have absolutely no doubt that many of the unemployed poor in other countries (such as the US) would jump at such an opportunity. Poverty is on the rise alarmingly in the US along with extreme income inequality, and the tragedy is that for many there is not even much hope anymore. With nearly 50 million people on food stamps (barely adequate in many cases), I reckon many of them would envy the recipients of government assistance here.

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