How Many Foreigners Are Enough?

I have always pride myself for being a Singaporean in the past. There is such a diverse culture and the multi-racial society and colonial past has made us very tolerant of immigrants. Being racially prejudiced in some countries, I am even more determined to extend my hospitality (part of Asian culture) to foreigners. These values that we all take for granted are now under threat. The liberal immigration stance taken by our government had unwittingly bred a whole new generation that appeared to be xenophobic. The comments on the social media sometimes made me cringe. We should not adopt an anti-immigration policy but we should really do some soul searching and ask ourselves how many foreigners are enough.

In the pursuit of economic growth, our government had unfortunately ignored the rest of the social indicators. Perhaps the GDP growth was such an important KPI, linked to their bonuses (read my views on GDP Bonus here), that it was pursued at the expense of others. To fuel the GDP growth, we require more and more workers and hence the huge influx of foreigners. But is the growth really necessary? What is the marginal benefit to Singapore for the additional growth? Below are some points that I would like to raise.

  1. GDP Per Capita
  2. Singapore already has one of the highest GDP per capita in the world. Increasing the amount of workers simply to raise GDP without raising the GDP per capita doesn’t make sense as it would mean the average goods and services produced per person has decreased. Having a bigger pie is always good but if there are now more people sharing the pie, the increase in size may not be justifiable.

  3. Social and Welfare Indicators
  4. We must be mindful that we do not sacrifice the welfare of our residents for economic growth. Social and Welfare Indicators must be monitored so that it does not fall below acceptable range when we are increasing the amount of foreigners. We have limited resources such as public transport, amenities and even human resources (counsellors, doctors, nurses etc) and we must make sure that the ratio of residents to our resources are in the healthy range.

  5. Employment Rate and Household Income
  6. The government also need to monitor the employment rate and household income. No doubt that foreign investments along with the foreign workers are necessary for the economy and jobs creation, we still have to study their impact. Do those new jobs created increase the average salary of Singaporeans? Do the new investments lower the unemployment rate? We would be surprised sometimes when we analyse the results.

Singapore could well be over-populated now in our blind pursuit of GDP growth (strangely the Public Service is rewarded based on this criterion). If the government doesn’t watch it, xenophobia may grow. If left unchecked, it could become the platform for some far-rightist to make a stake. To curb this, we must re-visit all our indicators to make sure that the basic welfare of our residents are not compromised.

To sum it up, Singapore must reassess her priority. We are already an affluent country by all measures and economic growth should no longer be the top priority. After all, people chase money to buy a better standard of living. It doesn’t make sense to earn more but decrease the quality of our lives. I would end by quoting Mr. Robert Kennedy: “Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” Increasing foreign workers simply to increase our GDP serves no purpose to the ordinary Singaporeans.

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Posted on May 16, 2011, in What's Happening?. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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