The Straits Times
Published on Feb 09, 2013

Look beyond population increase to sustain economic growth


THE Population White Paper has sparked strong debate in Parliament and the MPs have put forth good arguments on the pros and cons of its recommendations.

Nominated MP Laurence Lien has raised some good points that are worth looking further into ("NMP proposes cap of population at 6 million"; yesterday).

For example, should the Government focus less on gross domestic product (GDP) growth and consider other important tenets of nation building, such as values, cohesiveness and the well-being of the people? Will the focus on these non-economic variables indirectly lead to greater economic growth and productivity?

Another important point Mr Lien brought up was whether there are other ways to grow the economy besides increasing the foreign labour force to augment the inadequate local workforce.

Augmenting the workforce through foreign labour may sound rational as the argument is that businesses would not survive without access to the workers they need. But shouldn't we also consider ways of growing our GDP in less labour-intensive ways?

In the past decade, we have looked into growing our education, research, finance and biotechnology sectors, which are less labour-intensive.

We could look beyond the surface need for greater human capital for existing industries and businesses in the short to medium term, to growing new industries that require more advanced technology but less reliance on foreign workers. Then, we could perhaps see another perspective and not think of population growth as a "do or die" choice to make.

We would also do well to look deeper into the Singaporean psyche and why Singaporeans shun certain jobs.

Perhaps it is time to rethink our attitudes towards service staff and look into paying them better and giving them greater recognition.

Perhaps it is time to show our appreciation of one another, regardless of our jobs, and increase our graciousness as a society.

We need to start designing policies that go with the grain of human nature, and maybe embed behavioural economic thinking, which includes social psychology, in our future policy designs, so as to ensure a better, more sustainable future for all Singaporeans.

Low Poh Lyn (Madam)