Okay...so we're now most expensive city in the world!

Psst...have you read? We are now the most expensive city in the world!

 "Singapore has overtaken Tokyo to become the world’s most expensive city, driven by the high cost of car ownership and proliferation of glitzy shopping malls catering to Asia’s newly wealthy.

The Economist Intelligence Unit said in its twice yearly global cost of living survey that while Singapore was ranked 18th most expensive city in the world a decade ago, currency appreciation since then coupled with solid price inflation had “consistently pushed Singapore up the ranking”.

Initially, when I read this piece of news, I was quite OK with it.

The main reason obviously is because I'm currently not in Singapore, and I think such news are actually good Public Relations for Singapore!  Especially in certain part of Europe when:
  1. They don't know the native language of Singaporeans is English (Mark my words, Aalto University actually made me take a English test where I had to pay USD300);
  2. People don't know that Singapore is actually a rich country; and
  3. Some condescending foreigners actually therefore look down on Singaporeans, thinking that we Singaporeans are in their country to leech on their wealth. 
SO now with this report, you can actually retort back to anybody who tries to make a racist remark on Singaporeans. E.g.

-- "Oh, are you in Finland/Norway/Sweden/Europe because of the free education?"
-- "Oh, on the contrary, hell no! I'm here because everything is so cheap! Haven't you read on the Economist that Singapore is the most expensive city in the world? Oh...you mean you don't read the Economist?"

(Disclaimer: I don't talk like that to everyone. I talk like that only to people who are condescending intentionally towards me. If you haven't met someone like that, I thank God on your behalf!)

So in this defensive light, I really felt it was good PR. As a Singaporean based overseas, I strongly feel that we should not take our good national branding for granted, because a good national branding only works when people know your country. There are still a lot of people who think Singapore is in either China or Africa or Malaysia. Read this excellent tongue-in-cheek article! If they don't know anything about Singapore, then shouldn't you be thankful at least that people who do know about Singapore actually have a good impression of Singapore? That's partly why I don't really agree with the tone used by Stephanie in her video here, even when I do agree with some of her points.

Because a good national reputation should never, ever be taken for granted.

So...I thought the article was good PR, until our DPM came up with a statement the very next day, stating that there are severe flaws in the EIU's report. I have taken the liberty to assume that he does it because Singaporeans living in Singapore started to REALLY PANICK about their low pay, eroded savings (because inflation is getting higher), and consequently lower purchasing power:

"Cost of living reports, such as the one released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) which ranked Singapore as the costliest place to live in, are meant to measure cost of living for expatriates in various parts of the world, and thus do not reflect those of local residents, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

There are two things which make a big difference when comparing cost of living for expatriates and locals, Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, said as he wrapped up the Budget debate in Parliament on Wednesday."

I personally don't think the clarification makes things any better, to be honest. At best it just reflects a disgusting widening income gap. So I title this part of my post:

"The Possible Unintended (Mis)interpretation of our DPM's Statement"

The (Mis)interpretation might proceed as follow:

Singapore's GINI coefficient is honestly disgustingly high, at 0.414 as compared to other developed countries as of 2013. Zero represents total equality, and 1 represents total inequality, and few countries actually would exceed 0.5. So if you have a more expensive nation because of expats, that isn't something to boost about too, no?

Imagine it's the expats who are driving the prices of car upwards? And prices of house upwards? What's the point of the clarification? That actually the cost to the local is still manageable, while the lives of swanky expats who live on the same island is super duper high?

I'm sure we still remember expat Anton Casey, the dude who condemns all middle-class/lower-class Singaporeans who take public transport by calling them smelly. Well the DPM had to step in then, too, to disapprove his elitist comments BUT at the same time tell Singaporeans not to overreact. In my post here, I talked about how my closer friends and I were slightly taken aback by how comments by this idiot have been blown out of proportion so much so that his family and himself have to leave Singapore temporarily because they have received death threats.

Take it as this-- Singaporeans are really hypersensitive about wealth, because simply, there is a feeling of being robbed lah! If everyday you were to see your richer neighbours making more money than you despite YOU working so much harder, what does it say of the meritocratic system of Singapore?

Really meritocratic meh? Some people in Singapore earn way more on rent than a lower-income Singaporean in a month, despite the latter working so much harder.

I'd rather think it's the locals who will drive the prices of car, house and food upwards. Because at least it implies that locals have the means to spend money on these items.

But no! we have a hidden poverty problem too. And now you have to rub in that it's the expats who drive the prices up?

Bleah. OK to give DPM some credit, there are other blog posts cautioning the research methods in the original EIU report. Like here,  here and here. But note the framing of the issue--they are written to calm SIngaporeans down and to highlight the research limitations of the original report.

DPM's assertions, on the other hand, seem to stem from the presumption that there IS a severe income gap problem in Singapore. Note the phrasing!

So...what do you think? Can we as Singaporeans still make a difference? I'm starting to feel that a lot of Singaporeans are trying to leave Singapore, and Singaporeans who do not have the option of leaving Singapore will be stuck there forever...poor. Because it's a system problem. And then immigrants will increasingly be converted to new Singaporeans, and the system will repeat and the income gap will grow bigger and bigger.

And when immigrants to Singapore become Singaporeans, there can be no argument against the government, no? Because now this group of new Singaporeans will be voting for the incumbent. And the system reinforces itself.

Some might argue, "Vote for opposition lah!" Yes, it makes sense to vote for opposition perhaps, in some people's words "to wake PAP up". But don't forget, if too many people vote for opposition parties, they might well make up the next government. And I don't think honestly a lot of opposition groups are ready yet, for that.

This certainly is a complex problem, and I think more informed discussion should be made by fellow Singaporeans online. No name-calling, mud-slinging, whatever. Just typing out your thoughts in a reasonable manner, on what Singapore should be and what can be done. Yes, even if it is a #rant post, it can be done in a polite and civil manner!

In fact, if you haven't realised, this is a #rant post. There are a lot of fallacious argument mixed with valid points in my thought processes, and it should be read with a critical mind. But at least by voicing out my (sometimes fallacious) thoughts, you get a base to work on, and a position to make. ;)

0 comments: