COMMENT: Singapore may be 'most expensive city' -- but it's important we know why

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes at www.rangosteen.com. The views expressed are his own.

COMMENT

You know, I have read two of BBC’s opinions on Singapore this year already. The first one about Singapore’s hidden poor and the second one showing how poor families “survive” in this country.

I felt both articles were opportunistic at best. Take the same headline and you can plaster it on any country, making a sensational story. Tell me which country on this planet doesn’t have a problem with poverty?

However, I took particular offence at today’s report on the latest Economist Intelligence Unit survey which listed Singapore being most expensive city in the world.

In traditional economics, you take a basket of goods for global comparison. Guess what? Singapore is land scarce. We will surely lose out on such a comparison. We hear it again and again, we are small. Some dismiss it as government propaganda. It is not, it is reality. We ARE small.

Now when you don’t have land, you don’t have a lot of space for cars. We do not have a lot of space to build houses. We do not have enough land to share between farms, cemeteries, historical preservation, parks and industry. We do not even have enough land for water catchment.

Cars and investment property are not, cannot and should not be cheap. We have to manage the prices of food which we almost wholly import. Our politicians fought tooth and nail over our supply of water, without which our military will almost be certainly be deployed into war to defend this basic sustenance (and thank goodness for investment into water technology, this is not going to happen).

To make up for the lack of land, we pay money to build infrastructure. We pay money to develop or import technology. We have to use pricing to control the distribution of goods such as cars and property.

If you read a headline that goes “Singapore named the world’s most expensive city”, you would almost go “…awww, the poor Singaporeans…” But I assure you, it is not like that.

This country needs a lot of work to maintain a constant state of balance. Too much wealth and the economy could overheat, the bottom-middle strata of citizens may not be able to catch up. Yet poor economic performance could set a downward spiral, a downtrend that could take decades to recover from.

It is not that bad.

Basic education is virtually free. The destitute are taken off the streets, housed and helped back on their feet. The handicapped have social assistance. The poor also have similar assistance and help with job placement. A strong tripartite alliance is lifting both wages and productivity. Government handouts that neutralise the effects of Goods and Services tax. Very low income taxes. A forced savings plan known as the CPF, to guarantee a most minimum of savings to use for medical care and old age.

In some ways, it is expensive -- and it is important we know why. See beyond the high price and you will see an oasis of opportunities. Opportunities for one to capitalise off the wealth in this country and to build a niche of success for oneself.

We may not have done as well as them, but surely the British should be proud of this little ex-colony called Singapore, no?

Other stories by Benjamin Chiang:
COMMENT: Why COE, ERP show no love for common man
COMMENT: Housing foreign workers offshore not the way
COMMENT: Will 2014 be 'breakthrough' year of the low wage workers?

 

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