6.5 million

There was a recent discussion on Channel U’s Crossfire programme about Singapore’s imminent population explosion to 6.5 million. The four panelists were MP Josephine Teo, a person called Da Ming, a young professional and a professor.

Increased market size

Da Ming started off by saying the increased maket size from 4.5 million to 6.5 million will immediately benefit the local food and service industries. He gave an example of how difficult it was when he started off as a laser disc producer to even hit a sales figure of 3,000.

There are many ways to increase the market size, increasing the population may not be the best way. The professor illustrated this very well with the example of how if he currently sells 2,000 books, increasing the population from 4.5 million to 6.5 million will not boost his sales to 5,000 books. If his exhibition now draws 100 visitors, increasing the population will not boost the figure to 3,000. As a little red dot on this planet, there can only be that many people we can comfortably squeeze into our tiny island. We should therfore be looking to expand overseas rather than self-implode.

Josephine pointed out that books can be sold online, whereas Yakun cannot sell its coffee online and therefore needs a big enough local market. The professor countered by saying Yakun can and did venture overseas. But Josephine insisted that Yakun had to succeed locally first before it could venture overseas. But the fact that Yakun did succeed goes to show you don’t need 6.5 million to succeed.

Da Ming then claimed that at the very least, 6.5 million allows some local businesses to survive which 4.5 million wouldn’t. You wonder which food / service industry business will suddenly collapse and go bankrupt when the population falls from 6.5 million to 4.5 million. In any case, there are many more millions of tourists arriving each year that ought to more than make up for that coveted 2 million addition to our population.

The prime minister just said last week that the government wouldn’t protect the SMEs for fear of sapping their vitality and dampening their entrepreneurial spirits. So wouldn’t enlarging the local market to benefit the local SMEs do just the opposite of what our PM advised?

Quality of life, infrastructure

The professor also reminded us that a burgeoning population would drastically lower the quality of our lives as traffic congestion would worsen and queues everywhere would get longer. There are already complains about our current public transportation infrastructure, what more with another 2 million people?

But Da Ming is confident that the government will have absolutely no problems handling the additional hardware / facilities / housing requirements for the additional 2 million people.

The professor advised however, that the additional infrastructure isn’t free and comes at a cost that would in all likelihood fall upon the shoulders of the people. The peoples’ lives are already hard enough as they are and shouldn’t be emburdened even more.

Da Ming then conveniently swept away the cost issue with a rather irresponsible, off-the-cuff remark that it only costs $5 per head to build these additional infrastructures. $5 multiplied by 4.5 million people = $22.5 million. What can you build with $22.5 million? One pedestrian overhead bridge?

The young professional pointed out an apparent dilemma Singaporeans are facing. On the one hand, the government is encouraging us to stay with our parents and have more kids but at the same time, flats are getting smaller. With more people living in the same space and a limit to how high buildings can go, surely something has to give and it’ll be what precious little living space we still have.

Josephine pointed out that there is another dimension to quality of life – culture. New York may be crowded but it is also a city of culture. But there are so many sleepy European cities steeped in history and culture but with populations less than 3 million, like Vienna and Helsinki. Culture is the product of a long gestation period of shared experiences that cannot be bought or imported in an instant.

Competition for jobs

The host mentioned about the increased competition for jobs, to which Josephine happily announced that job opportunities have never been better as the government created 173,000 new job opportunities last year against 33,000 new job seekers and 60,000 plus unemployed. This leaves a shortfall of 80,000 workers even if all new job seekers and unemployed took up those jobs.

It’s funny how when the world economy (US in particular) is down and jobs are lost, the government doesn’t say they’ve lost jobs. But when the world economy recovers and jobs return, the government says they’ve created jobs. You must be wondering why if these jobs are so wonderful, 60,000 of us would rather stay unemployed than rush to take them up?

Foreign talent and sense of belonging

Josephine emphasised the need to embrace foreign talents with open arms and give them time to prove themselves. The young professional asked how much time. 10 years, 20 years? Josephine reassured him by saying only proven foreign talents will be given PRs. The young professional then shared how some of his foreigner friends returned home the moment they received their PRs for they now possessed the passport to freely enter the country as and when they please. So proving themselves worthy enough for PR doesn’t necessarily prove their loyalty to this country.

Furthermore, said the young professional, most new immigrants would undoubtedly come from China and India and given the rapidly rising status and prosperity of these two nations, even if we were to embrace them with open arms, it is doubtful they wouldn’t feel more proud of their motherlands now. Japanese wherever they go would always say with pride they are Japanese.

To this, Josephine remarked that Japan is currently facing a declining birthrate and if things were to persist, Japan may one day cease to exist. But can a Japan comprising more foreigners than Japanese still be called Japan? At least Japan has more than 2000 years of history and culture to bind them together. What have we? In fact, the young professional pointed out that it took three generations to create a shared Singapore identity. Opening the flood gates to immigrants would erode this paintstakingly assembled shared identity.

But Josephine is of the opinion that our identity should always be evolving. But evolution is by definition a gradual and natural process. Here, we are artificially and suddenly altering our identity against nature and against evolution.

Josephine shared how her grandma used to tell her aunts not to marry outside their own dialect group. So what is Josephine trying to tell us? That the foreign talents are not merely here to take away our jobs but also our women? And we should encourage them to do so?

Planning, not target

Elsewhere Josephine reiterated that 6.5 million is a planning figure, not a target, as if this figure is so inevitable that we have no choice but to plan for. But is this figure inevitable? Isn’t it ultimately determined by how many citizenships / PRs / work permits the government actually grants? Maybe what she meant was that we’re planning to boost the figure to 6.5 million.

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