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Various ministers have proffered various numbers for our population size: 4 million (Goh Chok Tong), 5 million (Lee Kuan Yew), 6.5 million (Mah Bow Tan) and 6.9 million (Lee Hsien Loong).$CUT$
Are these numbers helpful? On what basis have they been determined? If they are a result of extensive Government study and planning – which one would expect them to be – then why do they vary so wildly?
In reality, these figures are arbitrary, based on assumptions rather than evidence. This is why the SDP refrains from proposing a target population number.
A more sensible approach would be to base our population planning on measurable (and, therefore, less arbitrary) factors. We need a tool that can best measure the effects of population size on the well-being and happiness of the people. Too small a population and the development of our economy would be stymied. Too big a number and the result is overcrowding and a deterioration of our quality of life.
So what is the tool? The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) is, while not perfect, a good one. Essentially, the instrument takes economic production (usually measured by the GDP) and subtracts from it the costs that go into this production such as crime, juvenile delinquency, mental health, and so on (not measured by the GDP).
Singaporeans pay for these costs. The higher they are, the lower the quality of life and the less happy the people are.
Overcrowding is a major cause of the increase of such costs. There is clear indication that the quality of life of Singaporeans has deteriorated. We work the longest hours, suffer reduced wages, score low on productivity and high on income inequality, live in one of the most expensive cities in the world with weak purchasing power, lead highly stressful lives and are the unhappiest people in the world.
All this signals that 5.3 million people is already too many. We cannot and should not expand our population to 6 million, let alone 6.9. We must first address the problems by decreasing our population size.
To do this, the SDP proposes a two-pronged approach: First, we cut the number of foreign PMETs in Singapore by tightening the criteria of their admission through our TalentTrack Scheme. We also wean our workforce off low-skilled foreign labour by requiring businesses to restructure and upgrade their operations.
Second, we put in place the GPI to track the happiness and well-being of Singaporeans. This will ensure that the Government does not bring in foreigners for the sake of GDP growth while causing unhappiness and stress for our people.
Depending on how the GPI trends, we can adjust our population size accordingly. The crucial point to note is that this method relies on the level of happiness and quality of living as a guide in our determination of the optimal population size for the country.
It is fundamentally different from putting out an arbitrary figure and then struggling, at great cost, to achieve it. We believe that the SDP’s approach is more sensible.
Building A People: Sound Policies for A Secured Future (pdf) is available for download