Why is Singapore Overcrowded?

Temasek Review
your letters

John owns a shoe factory. He has about 10 employees and some machinery.

Business has been bad. He hasn’t got any new order for months. He may have to close shop soon and let all his employees go. His employees sense the situation and are very worried.

Then suddenly, he receives a $1 million order to produce 12,000 pairs of shoes per year for 2 years.

This is a godsend. With this order, he doesn’t need to worry about having to close shop and retrenching his workers.

However, the order is too large for him. He will need to employ more workers. He will need to get more machinery. His factory can still be used but it will be overcrowded.

What should he do? Should he accept the order?

He decided to accept the order. He has to make hay while the sun shines. Getting more workers and machinery and overcrowding may be a problem, but it is a happy problem.  His workers would benefit too. Not only could they keep their jobs, some might even be promoted to take on bigger roles. They might also get better bonuses at the end of the year.

So John accepted the order. Everything went well. Everybody was happy. All the workers kept their jobs and had a good pay rise too. Because the health of the company improved, more orders came in. Again everybody benefited.

But as time goes by, the workers begin to complain that the overworked machinery were breaking down. These breakdowns resulted in inconvenience for the workers. They also begin to complain about the overcrowding in the factory. They seem to forget that the overcrowding is because of the $1 million order that helped them keep their jobs. All they care about now is the overcrowding.

People are needed to grow the economy. For a 710 sq km Singapore, this will definitely lead to overcrowding in public places, roads as well as in the trains. More people in the trains led to higher wear and tear (additional human weight will weigh down on the train and create a drag on the track). This will lead to more train breakdowns. There will definitely be inconvenience.

  • In 1997, we had the Asian Financial Crisis.
  • This was followed by the 2001 Dot.com Crisis
  • In the same year, the 9-11 brought about another crisis.
  • This was followed by SARS in 2003.
  • Then in 2009, the Global Financial Crisis struck.

Those who had been through these crises would remember how hard life was like. It was as bad if not worse, than the anxieties facing John and his workers when the business was bad.

There is no telling when the next crisis is going to strike us.

Thus, whenever there is a chance to grow the economy, we better grab the chance. Just like the $1 million order. We don’t know for sure it will ever come again. So when it comes, grab it. Make hay while the sun shines. For nobody knows how long will the sun shine or for that matter, when will it shine again.

There will be overcrowding. There will be train breakdowns. Just like the overcrowding in John’s factory and the breakdowns of his overworked machinery.

But what is the alternative?







  1. John can expand his factory or build another one. A country cannot get more land. Your analogy fails.

  2. I totally agree to your analogy. Many do not see this basic principle in which we have nothing to begin with and yet because of how we have become affluent that some begin to think they have the entitlement. I have been through all the crisis mentioned and i know from first-hand account how troubled we were.
    @James: John has been expanding his factory! What do you think we have been doing in Suzhou, Shenzhen, Tianjin, JB, etc??! Why do you think more Singaporean get deployed overseas and are travelling more than before?! However i should only say that these expansion plans are somewhat “on lease”. So instead of giving ignorant comments, i suggest you study and work harder to contribute to our country before it fails and you start blaming everyone but yourself.

  3. Another thing. It’s easy for the director to stand from where he is and criticise the workers. It’s easy for him to criticise them for grumbling and complaining. As far as he can see, they are whiners. “That’s why they’re down there and I’m up here.” However, it’s easy for him to believe that they are grumbling over nothing, because where he is, he is pretty comfortable already, and he might believe that his workers get the same perks or comfortable life as him. They don’t. How would you feel to be working poor in singapore? To live off $600 a month? Would you call these people grumbling? The old aunty who collects cans at 70 plus years old–would you tell her to her face to suck it up and take it like a man?

  4. So the author says “make hay while the sun shines”. That is good wisdom. However, there is also the saying, “When the wind is in your sail, there’s no need to row very hard.” Ultimately there must be balance

  5. Before I sign on the dotted line promising to deliver the huge order, I will make sure I have enough capacity to deliver on the promise. Once the factory is too pack and work flow is disrupted, people working in the overcrowded factory will be unhappy, eg, the toilet is constantly occupied, the canteen queue takes up too much of the lunch time…while I am happy I am making more profit, I should also be concerned that I am turning my factory into a ‘sweat shop’. If my supervisors is favouring young nimble workers who ask for lower pay and cause older ‘expensive’ worker to be out of job, I also will be concern.. unless I am a money grabbing ruthless employer. But if those forced out older workers were my uncles and aunties who has helped my father build the business, and have children to sent to schools, will it be right for me to do that for the sake of more profits?

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