Commentary on the 10 things every Sg should know about White Paper

This is a commentary on the 10 points Ms Aresha Krishnan raised in her 26 Feb 2013 TREmeritus article “White Paper: 10 things every SG should know & think about”.

Ms Krishnan started by saying we are a small, young country with no natural resources going from zero to hero in 50 years whereas it takes hundreds of years to stabilise a country. Much of that is not true. Singapore has been around since 1819 so we are already 194 years old, not that young anymore. We weren’t zero back in 1965, we were at least middle income back in 1960 [1] and according to LKY was already a metropolis or very nearly so [2]. According to Dr Goh Keng Swee, even though Singapore didn’t have natural resources, our very geographic location is one of four reasons why Singapore succeeded [3].

Point 1: We were founded and sustained from day 1 on the basis of foreign migrants

Ms Krishnan’s first claim is based on the fact that our parents or grandparents were foreign migrants. While that may be true, it doesn’t mean that generation after generation must continue to be foreign migrants or that our new found indigenity isn’t worth protecting and promoting.

Ms Krishnan supposedly found data [4] to show that there aren’t that many true blue Singaporeans. Her data supposedly shows that out of 3.81 million Singapore residents; 1.96 million are foreign born while only 1.85 million are local born. That is not true. Our own 2010 population census [5] shows that in 2010, out of 3.77 million residents, 0.86 million were born outside of Singapore, 2.91 million were born in Singapore. So the number of foreign-born residents should be 0.86 million and not 1.96 million as stated by Ms Krishnan. The Singaporean population should be 2.91 million strong, not 1.85 million strong as stated by Ms Krishnan. So how did Ms Krishnan get her figures so wrong?

Mr Krishnan’s data source [4] is World Bank’s Stock of International Migrant data which is in turn obtained from the United Nations Population Division, Trends in Total Migrant Stock: 2008 Revision. By retrieving data from the 2008 Revision website [6], we can confirm that Ms Krishnan’s figure of 1.96 million refers to Singapore’s stock of international migrants for the year 2010. The UN defines international migrants [7] as the number of persons born in a country other than that in which they live. This means that our international migrants refers to all those who live in Singapore but who were not born in Singapore and that includes all foreigners and foreign born residents. Thus, Ms Krishnan mistook “international migrants” to mean foreign born residents when it actually means all foreign-born including foreigners and foreign born residents.

Point 2: The Population White Paper proposes to slow down the volume of foreign migrants to the lowest ever in the history of Singapore

One look at Ms Krishnan’s data source [4] and we can immediately tell her second claim to be false. The following chart obtained directly from Ms Krishnan’s link shows there was no increase in our migrant stock between 1960 and 1980. No amount of ‘supposed slowing’ by the White Paper can be lower than that recorded between 1960 and 1980. It is also clear from the graph that our most recent rate of foreign migrant intake between 2005 and 2010 is the fastest in our self-rule history.

migrant stock singapore

More precise numbers in the table below are obtained from the source of Ms Krishnan’s data source: the United Nations International Migrant Stock: The 2008 Revision [6].

Year Number foreign migrants Average foreigner intake per year
1960 519,246
1965 525,047 1,160
1970 527,453 481
1975 529,006 311
1980 530,873 373
1985 619,330 17,691
1990 727,301 21,594
1995 991,549 52,850
2000 1,351,806 72,051
2005 1,493,976 28,434
2010 1,966,865 94,578

The Population White Paper estimates our population to be between 6.5 million to 6.9 million by 2030 of which 3.6 million to 3.8 million will be citizens from which we can estimate the foreigner and PR population to be between 2.9 million and 3.1 million. That will mean an addition of about 0.94 to 1.14 million foreigners and PRs to the current 1.96 million. Add to that 15,000 to 25,000 new citizens injected each year till 2030 or a total injection of 0.255 million to 0.425 million new citizens, we will have a total of 1.2 to 1.6 million international migrants injected from now till 2030. This is equivalent to the injection of between 70,294 to 92,059 international migrants per year, a level comparable to our current all-time high of 94,578 between 2005 and 2010 or second all-time high of 72,051 between 1995 and 2000. In other words, the claim that the Population White Paper is seeking to slow down foreign migrant intake to the lowest level in our history is false. Far from it, it is proposing to maintain it at the current historic high or the next historic high.

Point 3: Our GDP growth correlates to a ‘T’ with foreign worker numbers and number of overseas born residents

The graph below shows how foreigner numbers, GDP and per capita GDP changed since 1980. We can see that spurts of growth in foreigner numbers in the early 1980s and in the mid-1990s did not correspond to spurt in GDP while in the early 2000s, foreigner numbers fell while GDP continued to go up. Correlating to a ‘T’ isn’t exactly how you would describe the relationship between foreigner numbers and GDP. While foreigner numbers grew by 11.3 times since 1980, GDP only grew by 7.8 times. Foreigner growth outstripped GDP growth by 1.5 times.


More importantly, it is per capita GDP that matters rather than GDP itself. Per capita GDP grew by only 3.5 times since 1980 compared to 11.3 times growth in foreigner numbers. Foreigner growth outstripped per capita GDP growth by more than 3 times suggesting that our growth is very much labour driven rather than productivity driven.

Point 4: The ratio of working adults to households will fall as birth rate falls

Fall in birth rate means fall in working adults and fall in households too. Depending on which falls faster, the ratio may increase, decrease or remain unchanged.

Point 5: We have the lowest GDP in Asia

That can’t be true given the abundance of poor countries in Asia. East Timor and Bhutan have lower GDP than us. Again, it is not GDP per say that is important but per capita GDP.

Point 7: The two child policy gave birth to a well-educated society

That only makes sense before compulsory education when parents with too many children may not be able to afford to let all their children go to school. But compulsory education meant that all were given a chance at education regardless of population size. Hence, compulsory education was probably more important in giving birth to a well-educated society.

Point 8: The property boom in 1994 may have led to drop in population

Ms Krishnan claims there is a second fertility slump post 1992 due to the 1994 property boom. The following graph shows Singapore’s TFR from 1960 to 2010. There is no evidence of a significant second TFR drop post 1992. Apart from a small spike around 1997, our TFR has mostly been flat and gradually declining since around 1977.


Point 10: Our success today is the result of our government

In his essay [3], Dr Goh Keng Swee wrote of four reasons why Singapore prospered despite insurmountable difficulties: our excellent geographical location; Victorian principles of free trade and free market system which helped keep Singapore efficient and adaptable and the continuous development of Southeast Asia. Dr Goh wrote that Singapore had to constantly adapt her economy to changing circumstances throughout our colonial days and it is this adaptability that is the priceless advantage that we inherited from the British. In other words, our success and competitive advantage is largely the result of our British inheritance. We inherited a most invaluable port from the British. We inherited free trade, free market principles from the British too. We also inherited an outstanding civil service and other institutions from the British. In so many ways, our success really is a continuation of the success we have always had since colonial days. This can be seen from the fact that we had already achieved middle income status back in 1960, 5 years before independence [1] as well as many other historical snippets [2] which show that we were already quite successful before or at the start of PAP rule. Last but not least, we also owe our success to Dr Albert Winsemius who came up with the economic plan which we followed.


Ms Krishnan recommends that we slowly deconstruct our economy since it is a foreigner based one. But as shown in Point 1, her recommendation is based on her false finding that Singapore residents comprises 1.96 million foreign born and only 1.85 million Singapore born. That is found to be untrue. Our own census shows that 2.91 million out of 3.77 million or 77% Singapore residents are Singapore born.

Ms Krishnan lends support to the Population White Paper by supposedly showing that it too recommends the slowing down of foreigner intake. Again, that is found to be untrue. The Population White Paper recommends foreigner intake that is comparable to our current record high.

[1] Carl A. Trocki, Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control, Page 166
Singapore had already attained a middle income status in 1960 with a per capita GDP of $1,330

[2] Peter Wilson / Gavin Peebles, Economic growth and development in Singapore: past and future, Page 26
Post-war Singapore was never a backward fishing village waiting to be transformed by Lee Kuan Yew into a modern economy. The King of Thailand wouldn’t have sent 20 of his sons to a fishing village for education in the late nineteenth century. A fishing village could not have staged a manned air flight as early as 1911. Singapore was credited with the finest airport in the British Empire in the 1930s. LKY had already acknowledged in an Aug 1967 speech to American businessmen in Chicago that we were already a metropolis.

[3] Goh Keng Swee, The Practice of Economic Growth, Chapter 1: Why Singapore succeeds, pages 6-7


[5] Census of Population 2010, page 6, table 5

[6] United Nations International Migrant Stock: The 2008 Revision

[7] United Nations International Migrant Stock: The 2008 Revision


2 Responses to “Commentary on the 10 things every Sg should know about White Paper”

  1. dotseng Says:

    I really appreciate your essays. They r tight, bs free and really perceptive.

    Thank you so much. Writers like u merely confirm my belief that the ST is truly optional, if one desires to stay informed in the age of endless hype and spin.

    Do have a great day!

    Darkness 2013

  2. Native Singaporean Says:

    Excellent article to debunk the rubbish propaganda that we get from the MSM. Thanks for the detailed analysis.

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