Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The core reasons behind Singapore's population problems

With all the talk about the population white paper in Singapore, I think a lot of people have lost sight of the bigger issue at hand - the thorny issue of why Singapors are not having more children.

The government recently announced their Marriage and Parenthood Package which gives up more cash handouts for babies born and also announced some changes to parenthood leave - namely dad's can have one week of leave and parents of kids will have a priority while applying for government subsidized flats. They also announced plans to create more childcare facilities, better pre-schools etc.

Will such schemes help? I think the answer is a resounding "No" as the problem in Singapore of why people are not marrying and having children lies much deeper and I feel is linked to policies made in governments past.

First of all, National Service. This is a weird one you might say, why would making men (and not women) do two or two and a half years of National Service cause a parenthood and baby problem? The issue is that all Singaporean men will start their careers much later than Singapore women and non-Singaporeans. A couple things will result. One, the Singaporean woman will have time to concentrate on their careers as a priority and also to get further education. Two, Singaporean women will interact more with foreigners and get married to foreigners (as stated in the population white paper, 40% of marriages occur with foreigners). This number sounds small and not all of the 40% are by Singaporean women I am sure, but what this means is that the Singapore man will have less choice in terms of meeting and marrying a spouse in Singapore. The more sophisticated, educated and some might say better groomed Singapore female has a much higher likelihood to attract a foreign spouse compared to a Singapore male. Three, Singapore men will chase their careers that much more to catch up with the women and thus place less priority on settling down and having kids. The solution to this? Shortening National Service to one year might work and the earlier we do this, the better.

Secondly, the drive towards economic progress. This has been raised several times in the past, that Singapore's endless pursuit of economic growth and increasing GDP has made their citizens focus so much more on their jobs and careers rather than having families and children. Singaporean couples are having either one kid or no kids. Looking around me, it is clear that the demographic of people who have more children now vs in the past has changed. The rich are having more children (or keeping at the same rate of childbirth) vs the poor. Why, the cost of having a child has increased and the rich can afford it for one. They can focus less on their jobs and careers. Most importantly though, their parents i.e. the kids grandparents have more time and energy to help the parents take care of their children. Childcare centers don't raise children, families do. In the past, many families have the pattern of having a working dad and a stay at home housewife. They could afford to do so for one - things were cheaper. Houses were cheaper. Education was simpler. Raising two or more kids without grandparent support is a daunting proposition for families who are not financially well off. There have been calls recently (by the Workers Party no less) to make people work longer and raise the retirement age. This is a serious mistake. If Singapore had a better system to ensure that old people didnt have to worry so much about their own retirement expenses (the existing CPF system is outdated - a pension scheme such as the ones used by countries like Switzerland), my reckoning is that Singaporean couples will be more willing to have children since they would have a support structure i.e. their parents to help take care of their kids. This will never happen though if the Singapore government is so fixated on the economy.

Thirdly, and this has not so much to do with babies but more of taking care of our elderly. One of the big reasons why a country needs population growth is the replacement theory that you need X people to take care of the elderly e.g. 2 children with two spouses to take care of 2 sets of parents. There are several problems in Singapore. Based on observation, Singaporeans largely do not take care of their health or they think it is less important (as compared to their careers maybe) - i.e. they spend less time on healthy activites, exercising, they eat unhealthy. Despite the statistics, I dont think Singaporeans are living longer and healthier and happier especially the men. If both spouses lived longer, they would (theoretically) need less support in their old age. More old age homes is not the answer. Again, some type of a pension scheme would help and not just the CPF Life annuity which is rather half hearted in my opinion. The Singapore Medisave scheme needs to revamped as well. Currently, there are too many restrictions on how we can spend OUR hard earned money. Singapore is already enough of a nanny state without having to nanny its citizens when they are 75 years old!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Why Singaporeans drive the way they do

There have been a whole bunch of news of how bad drivers in Singapore are and theres a perfectly reasonable explanation - you have the
  1. rich towkay or expat who drives like he (or she in the case of the towkays or expat wife or wives),
  2. you also have the typical harrassed executive who after a whole day of being pissed on at work wont take any crap from other drivers,
  3. then theres the totally irresponsible taxi driver and bus driver (why would they they dont own their own vehicles) and
  4. the crazy lorry/pickup/van driver who gets paid by trip;
  5. worst of all, you have the women drivers who are just plain dangerous - sudden and/or persistent braking and generally driving with little road sense and awareness of whats happening around them. 
With this circus on the road how do you expect the "bad driving" situation to inprove? As a guide to new drivers on Singapore roads, avoid the above mentioned moron drivers and vehicle types and also the following passenger cars whose drivers/buyers tend to be the worse culprits when it comes to bad driving:
  • Most Nissan sedans - especially the Sunny and those people who moved on to Latios, Sylphys and Cefiros. Bad drivers who dont know what a good driving car is buy Nissan sedans.
  • Mercedes E-class drivers - they jolly well act like they own the road dont they?
  • Alfa Romeo drivers - these guys and girls think the road is their speedway. Also most likely to "jam brake" to test the reflexes of the drivers behind them.
  • Honda Stream/Toyota Wish drivers - especially those that have been "benged" up.
  • Large SUVs e.g. Toyota Fortuners, BMW X5s - who will swerve into your lane probably because they cant see you while sitting so high up
  • Drivers of a small French make e.g. Citreon C4, Renault Megane tend to be shitty drivers. Same Nissan syndrome as above.
Oddly enough, the drivers of supercars or sports cars are the tamest drivers of all.