Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The solution ... is the problem

I've been reading Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, where he argues that Europe cannot remain Europe should the pace of (Muslim) immigration there continue. Fascinating stuff, and it got me thinking about our own immigration issues here in Singapore, euphemistically termed foreign talent.

Several of Caldwell's arguments can be generalized to problems with immigration itself, and not just to Muslim immigration to Europe. I won't go into detail on these arguments. Suffice it to say, you should pick up a copy of his book if you are at all interested about the problems that rapid immigration and dis-assimilation cause. In this post, I will focus on Singapore-centric issues only.

Singapore has a fertility rate of about 1.3, below the replacement rate of 2.1. We are sitting on a demographic timebomb. Add to that the unquenchable demand (at least on the part of the government) for ever greater GDP growth, Singaporeans are told that we must be open and accepting of immigrants (i refuse to use the doublespeak term of foreign talent in this post). Immigrants provide the warm bodies with which to fuel our economy. These two statements sum up the chief arguments behind Singapore's pro-immigration policy. The other arguments, no matter how well articulated or reasoned, can be subsumed under these 2.

Why aren't Singaporeans reproducing enough of themselves? Some reasons are common to why industrialized nations typically experience a fall in fertility upon attaining developed nation status. I will not discuss these. Indeed, some of them can be found in the Caldwell book. Instead, I will describe reasons more unique to the Singapore condition.

Singaporeans do not have many children because of the high cost of living (in particular housing), the high cost of raising children, the lack of social safety nets, the unavailablility of affordable and convenient childcare, and the competitive and stressful work environment.

In response, the government encourages immigration to make up for the reproduction shortfall.

Immigration results in greater competition for jobs and a more stressful work environment. Indeed, for some civil servants, a more stressful work environment is precisely the point of immigration (forget work-life balance, that token phrase that has been cheapened beyond all recognition). Philip Yeo has spoken explicitly of increasing the hungriness index as a spur to make Singaporeans work harder.

Immigration also tends to drive down salaries and retard wage growth. This has the salutary effect of pushing up corporate profits (and government tax receipts) but doesn't do much for workers. In addition, immigrants also require the use of public services and amenities, in particular housing and public transport, and correspondingly drive up their costs (in the former) or lower the quality of the experience (in the latter). Lately, there has been much unhappiness among Singaporeans over the high and rising cost of public housing. [no link provided here; too many to choose from]. Naturally, these two factors taken together exacerbate how the high cost of living and raising children discourage Singaporeans from reproducing.

Faced with such an abject environment, where Singapore citizens are made to feel marginalized within their own country, it is hardly a surprise that many Singaporean youth want to emigrate.

In view of rising emigration, the government takes the view that they should concentrate on making Singapore a more attractive place to live.

Of course, in the opinion of the government, a better place to live involves high GDP growth, which would be facilitated by, what else, immigration. Immigration would also conveniently help replace the Singaporeans who have migrated and mitigate the low fertility rate.

And more immigration would lead to ... well, you get the idea. In short, the solution ... is the problem.

1 comment:

Fievel said...

I'm not quite sure the government is actually looking for a solution as opposed to pursuing their most pressing agenda.

As to what that is, I can safely assume that most discerning Singaporean bloggers will be able to make a good guess at.