While I was hoping against hope that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s (PM Lee) National Day address would be a breath of fresh air, I was left disappointed albeit not overly surprised. In trying to explain away the increased living costs, PM Lee, unfortunately, cited some rather irrelevant examples.
In justifying this statement, he used the example of telecommunication means saying that unlike in the 1990s, many Singaporean families today no longer use and pay for fixed phone lines that cost about S$100 a year. He is implying that our additional mobile phone charges have contributed to increased expenditure. However, he has failed to mention that we now live in a much faster-paced world with much longer working hours and expectations of instantaneous responses to work emails and queries. This is a global phenomenon. The government cannot profess to make Singapore an international city while at the same time expecting its citizens to live a 90s life.
He also suggests that parents make better informed choices on buying infant milk formulas for their children based on their needs and budget. Saying “When I was an infant, there were no such expensive brands of infant milk formula, yet my generation still grew up healthily. So I believe the next generation will not have a problem. (translated)”
Noting that Singapore has more dual-income families these days, PM Lee says that they have no time to cook after working the whole day and it is more convenient for them to eat out. He then goes on to state that while this lifestyle change is completely understandable but eating out costs more than cooking at home, pushing up the cost of living. Which led to his third point of helping Singaporeans manage the cost of eating out by building more hawker centres which provide affordable food choices. Almost every stall will offer at least one economical meal option, priced at $3 or less.
Now, the idea is that with progress, salaries should also rise in tandem and it hasn’t. While this is in some part to do with unavoidable external influences, one has to question if the government has managed the growth of Singapore properly.
The government consistently uses Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure the level of our economic success. Past a certain point, however, GDP is a false indicator of prosperity. For instance, construction work and road building which are labour intensive and rampant in Singapore contribute to GDP figures. However, much of it is generated by low-end foreign labour. This type of GDP growth will only contribute to the economic growth of Singaporeans if the buildings generate rents and employment. With most buildings owned by large corporations, to what extent has the individual citizen benefited? Jobs you may say. But with the downturn of the retailing industry, what jobs are generated? Yes, the GDP remains high but it is artificial where day to day living is concerned. Instead of chastising people to tighten their belts, where is the wealth creation?
PM Lee also cited the improved living standards as a contributor to rising prices. But the point is, rising living standards should correspond with rising wages. The real issue is not that prices have increased but that salaries have not increased on par?
I am not suggesting that people should not be responsible for their own budgets but I do think that PM Lee is fudging the issues a little. Tightening your belt will not do anything to prevent price increments. All it does is to ask citizens to live developing country lives in a country that professes to be first world.