Personal finance represents just one of my core interests in life. Therefore, it’s no wonder that I have sometimes deviated from this blog’s primary function, with posts ranging from my views on why the government shouldn’t be dispensing more help to elderly landed property owners, to my take on policies like MediShield Life and changes in PSLE.
Generally, these posts do not generate as much traffic and discussion as those that are directly related to the topic of money. But I still write them because I enjoy doing it. 🙂
So I was pretty surprised a couple of weeks ago when a Young NTUC staff extended an invite to me for one of their events.
“When Young NTUC held Our Singapore Conversations (OSC) Labour Movement Series in 2013, many youths have raised comparisons between Singapore and countries that have performed well economically, and/or socially. Scandinavian countries and Switzerland were cited as some form of benchmark.
Since August, Young NTUC held 3 dialogue sessions with young working adults on the socio-economic situation of these countries. It was apparent that for sustainable development of Singapore, family must continue to serve as foundation to balance the economic and social demands, hence the topic for the final session.”
It’s heartening to know that many young working adults have been engaged by the labour movement recently. Afterall, there’s increasing evidence across the world that the young are not satisfied with the status quo in their own countries.
During the recent Scottish referendum, evidence suggests that Scotland would have left the United Kingdom if the votes by the elderly and retirees were left out. For the protests in Hong Kong, the majority showing up on the streets comprised of students and young adults who were unhappy with the “lack of democracy” on the island.
That’s why I guess it’s extremely useful to have such a platform to discuss the changes young Singaporeans would like to see in Singapore in the future. And I was pleased that Secretary-General of NTUC, Minister Lim Swee Say also attended this session to observe and wrap up the discussion.
I enjoyed this roundtable session and besides rehashing some of the key takeaways from the event, I have also summarised some of my views below:
1. More emphasis on social objectives
This isn’t surprising. From the economic point of view, Singapore has enjoyed one of the highest living standards in the world for the past two decades. The average Singaporean has benefited from our competitive economy. Better and higher-paying jobs and the appreciation in value of their housing assets immediately come to mind.
Economically, as a society, there isn’t much to complain about. However, social woes are becoming more prominent.
It’s interesting to note that both rich and poor countries have their fair share of social issues to grapple with but my view is that it’s almost always better to address social objectives from a position of financial strength. Policies like the Pioneer Generation Package and the Baby Bonus Scheme isn’t cheap and it’s always easier to tax an additional dollar if the well-to-do are making $20,000 a month instead of $4,000.
And finally, as a society, is the majority ready for the trade-offs if we direct more attention to creating a less stressful, fairer and more inclusive society?
A fairer wage for cleaners and local blue-collar workers is likely going to result in at least a slight increase in costs. If working hours are reduced and productivity doesn’t keep up, wages would and should depress.
I definitely agree that we have reached a stage in our development to pay more attention to social issues. But I would just like to reiterate and emphasise that it’s impossible to have your cake and eat it all the time.
2. Building a more pro-family society
If a society is best measured by how it treats its women, I am pretty proud of our country.
In schools, girls get a fair and equal chance to excel. And at work, gender discrimination is at a minimum. The emphasis on gender equality has effectively doubled Singapore’s working population for the past half a century. But every solution eventually becomes a problem. (Err…Two is enough?)
As the focus becomes more centred on career success, women are choosing to get married later and it’s then biologically inevitable that they will have less children, even if they had wanted more.
I am 28 and I married my wife, who was my Junior College classmate. Out of the 23 (8 guys) of us in the class, there’s only about 7 or 8 of us that are married. Granted, there’s another 3 or 4 already making preparations for the big day. But that’s still barely 50%. And even for those that are married, only 1 has a child. Horrible statistics for the government, eh?
And interestingly, among the participants (who are more or less of marriageable and child-bearing age) of the roundtable, the majority are not married and also obviously, without children.
What I am saying is that there will almost definitely be less families and smaller families in the future. And it’s largely a personal and lifestyle choice for many.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew famously remarked that he would increase the Baby Bonus to $75,000 if he was in power just to prove that the fertility problem isn’t about monetary concerns anymore. I tend to agree since I am sure if I didn’t want children, that amount is unlikely to alter my decision.
Granted, the society at large isn’t helping. Crying babies in prams on the trains attract irks by many passengers and most taxis generally accommodate 4 passengers, an inconvenience for large families. Infant care isn’t cheap by most standards and not every working couple would like to or can afford foreign domestic help.
Therefore, even though it’s unlikely we can boost the fertility rate to replacement levels, I agree that improvements can be made to help those who want to have children but are somehow discouraged by monetary or societal factors. But again, there’s trade-offs.
With more and more singles, many married couples forget that their peers do not get the opportunity to buy a subsidised BTO from the government. (Yeah, even a subsidised BTO isn’t enough to entice singles to get married these days.) The government is also finding it difficult to hold the line and recently allowed singles above 35 to purchase 2-room BTOs.
If we decide to pour more money to encourage the formation of families and to help families, you could argue that it could be some form of an indirect tax for singles. And I believe singles wouldn’t be a minority in the country a couple of decades’ time.
As a married man and part of a couple who plans to have kids, I guess I am shooting my own foot. However, I am realistic enough to not expect the society to bend over backwards to help me in this very personal choice.
Unfortunately, pro-family policies tend to go against efficiency. And sometimes, as individuals, we can do more to help our own situation. It’s really about the priorities we set for ourselves. Lower expectations and less branded stuff? Less time spent on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? Stronger efforts to become better spouses and parents?
One of the main reasons for establishing our ultimate goal is for the both of us to be able to spend more time with our future children. And that entails some “prioritisation” on our part to be able to accumulate a comfortable stash to “buy time” off work in the future.
A 15 hour work week in your thirties might appear a heresy but I guess if I really I want it, who other than me to make that possible? (Not bad, I manage to bring the topic back to personal finance. =p)