Comments on Mr Shanmugam’s comments on the Population White Paper

I refer to the 4 Feb 2013 Straits Times report on Minister Shanmugam’s comments on the Population White Paper [1].

Mr Shanmugam claimed that 6.9 million is not a target but a possibility to plan for. But the Population White Paper wrote: “if we can achieve 2% to 3% productivity growth per year (which is an ambitious stretch target) and maintain overall workforce growth at 1% to 2%, we can get 3% to 5% GDP growth” [2]. As written, the 2% to 3% productivity growth is a target, not a possibility to plan for. The 1% to 2% workforce growth and hence the associated population growth cannot be some random possibility. It must be a distinctive possibility that is either being targeted or constrained as such by other factors. Since the government insists that population growth and hence workforce growth are not being targeted, they must have been constrained by other factors. Since workforce growth + productivity growth = GDP growth, constrain to workforce growth must require constrains to both productivity growth and GDP growth. This means that besides productivity growth, GDP growth is also being targeted. The setting of targets to both productivity growth and GDP growth automatically constrains workforce growth and hence population growth. Thus, even if 6.9 million is not a target, it is the result of targets set to both productivity growth and GDP growth.

Mr Shanmugam also claimed that a responsible government will look 15, 20 years ahead so that we would not be caught by surprise as we were in the 2000s when there was an infrastructure crunch. But the government in the 2000s is also the government today. Is Mr Shanmugam saying that our government had been irresponsible in the 2000s as they were caught by surprise then?

Mr Shanmugam urged young people to think hard about the need for economic growth to create enough good jobs for a rising number of future graduates. If young people thought hard enough, they might come to the conclusion that they should have fewer children. If the need for economic growth is to feed a growing number of future graduates, to alleviate that need would be to reduce the number of future graduates by reducing the number of children. So in the end, the government is contradicting itself by saying on the one hand there is a problem with too few children and saying on the other hand that too many children is also a problem as there would be more future graduate aspirations to fulfil.

[1] Straits Times, 4 Feb 2013, Paper on population is ‘to spur debate’

[2] Population White Paper, chapter 3, item 3.35, page 43

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