Good quality of life need not come at high cost of living

I refer to the 4 Feb 2013 Straits Times letter “High cost of living comes with good quality of life” by Ms Tan Lin Neo [1].

Ms Tan found Singaporeans’ lament on high cost of living puzzling given the hundreds and thousands who throng condominium show flats and travel fairs. While hundreds and thousands may seem like large numbers, they are just 0.01% and 0.1% respectively of the Singapore population. The good life of the 0.01% or 0.1% should not be misconstrued as representing the good life of all Singaporeans.

Ms Tan took issue with Singaporeans who complain about high HDB prices but yet don’t mind selling their flats at high prices. But who in the first place sold Singaporeans the asset enhancement drug that got Singaporeans hooked?

Ms Tan asserted that high cost of living comes with living in a First World country with good quality of life while low cost of living means dirt roads, poor housing and low quality amenities. But there are many countries and cities that combine better quality life with lower cost of living.

For example, International Living’s 2011 Quality of Life Index listed 93 out of 192 countries with better (or same) quality of life as Singapore but with lower (or same) cost of living as Singapore.

Country Quality of Life Final Score Cost of Living (higher score means lower cost)
United States 86 76
New Zealand 76 69
Malta 76 68
Belgium 75 65
France 75 58
Monaco 75 47
Japan 74 61
United Kingdom 74 60
Austria 74 58
Germany 74 50
Portugal 73 72
Andorra 73 61
Australia 73 55
Italy 73 54
Netherlands 73 52
Hungary 72 79
Argentina 72 73
Slovenia 72 66
Norway 72 53
South Korea 71 76
Uruguay 71 67
Iceland 71 65
Spain 71 62
Greece 71 59
Ireland 71 51
Denmark 71 48
Poland 70 67
Czech Republic 70 64
Canada 70 61
Bulgaria 69 80
Estonia 69 76
Latvia 69 67
Finland 69 57
Sweden 69 49
Lithuania 68 70
Croatia 68 54
Mexico 67 77
Slovakia 67 70
Israel 67 56
Liechtenstein 67 50
Taiwan 66 75
Brazil 66 73
Antigua & Barbuda 65 80
Ecuador 65 78
Costa Rica 65 73
Romania 65 73
Bahamas 65 66
Cyprus (Greek) 65 61
Panama 64 78
Albania 64 75
Saint Kitts & Nevis 64 64
Barbados 64 57
Paraguay 63 84
Colombia 63 72
Jamaica 63 69
Chile 63 68
Cayman Islands 63 65
Mauritius 62 74
Serbia 62 70
Bolivia 61 88
Marshall Islands 61 86
Bosnia-Herzegovina 61 76
Dominica 61 74
Macedonia 61 70
Turkey 61 68
Tunisia 60 79
Dominican Republic 60 76
Botswana 60 76
Namibia 60 74
Ukraine 60 67
Morocco 60 64
South Africa 60 57
Trinidad & Tobago 60 55
Cuba 59 86
Lesotho 59 84
El Salvador 59 82
Malaysia 59 80
Guatemala 59 76
Belize 59 75
Moldova 59 73
Grenada 59 65
Macau 59 47
Kiribati 58 83
Thailand 58 77
Georgia 58 76
Bahrain 58 53
Bhutan 57 86
Suriname 57 78
Cape Verde 57 78
China 57 73
Tonga 57 72
Qatar 57 59
Singapore 57 47

The Economist Intelligence Unit listed 18 cities that are simultaneously better than Singapore in the Best City ranking and less expensive than Singapore. Its list of top 50 most liveable cities also does not include Singapore.

City EIU 2012 Best City rank EIU 2012 top 10 most expensive cities
Hong Kong 1 #N/A
Amsterdam 2 #N/A
Osaka 3 #N/A
Paris 4 6
Sydney 5 7
Stockholm 6 #N/A
Berlin 7 #N/A
Toronto 8 #N/A
Munich 9 #N/A
Tokyo 10 2
Rome 11 #N/A
London 12 #N/A
Madrid 13 #N/A
Washington DC 14 #N/A
Chicago 15 #N/A
New York 16 #N/A
Los Angeles 17 #N/A
San Francisco 18 #N/A
Boston 19 #N/A
Seoul 20 #N/A
Atlanta 21 #N/A
Singapore 22 9

Mercer’s 2012 Quality of Living index and Cost of Living Index together show 23 cities that have simultaneously better quality of living and lower (or same) cost of living than Singapore.

City Mercer quality of living 2012 rank Mercer cost of living 2012 rank (higher ranked means more costly)
Vienna 1 48
Zurich 2 6
Auckland 3 #N/A
Munich 4 #N/A
Vancouver 5 #N/A
Düsseldorf 6 #N/A
Frankfurt 7 #N/A
Geneva 8 5
Copenhagen 9 21
Bern 10 14
Sydney 10 11
Amsterdam 12 #N/A
Wellington 13 #N/A
Ottawa 14 #N/A
Toronto 15 #N/A
Berlin 16 #N/A
Hamburg 17 #N/A
Melbourne 17 15
Luxembourg 19 #N/A
Stockholm 19 46
Perth 21 19
Brussels 22 #N/A
Montreal 23 #N/A
Nurnberg 24 #N/A
Singapore 25 6

Finally, the UBS Prices and Earnings report 2011 also listed Singapore amongst the priciest of First World cities.

City Price level excluding rent City Price level including rent
Oslo 139.1 Oslo 108.9
Zurich 135 Geneva 106.5
Geneva 133.1 Zurich 105.5
Copenhagen 118.4 New York 100
Stockholm 117.5 Tokyo 94.2
Tokyo 112.6 Copenhagen 89.4
Sydney 107.7 Sydney 89.1
Helsinki 103.5 Stockholm 88.5
Toronto 102.8 Singapore 88.3
Singapore 102.4 Paris 82.8
Vienna 102 London 82.5
Paris 100.9 Toronto 82.1
Luxembourg 100.1 Helsinki 81.5
New York 100 Dublin 78.8
London 99.8 Montreal 77.6
Munich 99.7 Luxembourg 77.1
Montreal 99.4 Hong Kong 76.5
Frankfurt 98 Frankfurt 76.3
Dublin 95.7 Vienna 75.2
Brussels 93.3 Munich 75
Rome 92.8 Brussels 74.5
Lyon 92.2 Rome 74.4
Auckland 91.7 Auckland 73
Barcelona 90.9 Los Angeles 72.7
Amsterdam 88.2 Chicago 72.3
Los Angeles 88.1 Barcelona 71.1
Madrid 88.1 Miami 69.2
Tel Aviv 87.6 Milan 68.9
Berlin 87.5 Madrid 68.7
Milan 84.5 Amsterdam 68.4
Seoul 84.5 Seoul 68.4
Hong Kong 82.3 Lyon 67.2
Chicago 82.3 Tel Aviv 66.5
Athens 80.1 Berlin 64.6
Lisbon 79.9 Lisbon 62.4
Miami 78.8 Athens 60.1
Taipei 73.2 Taipei 57.3

So this is the reality reflected in many international surveys: that there are many cities and countries that have simultaneously better quality of living and lower cost of living than Singapore. It is a truth larger than the one advocated by Ms Tan which Ms Tan claimed to be the entirety. Singaporeans don’t need the government to fulfil every whim and desire, only to face up with reality entirely and responsibly.

[1] Straits Times, High cost of living comes with good quality of life, 4 Feb 2013, Ms Tan Lin Neo

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One Response to “Good quality of life need not come at high cost of living”

  1. JG Says:

    Bravo!! Well-said!!
    I’ve always enjoyed your writings — you marshall a lot of facts. I know its not easy and takes time. Thanks & Keep it up!!

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