Comparisons with the Nordic Model – A Goal towards Equality

The Straits Times had published a comparison of some statistics of Singapore and the Nordic countries for us to make a comparison as to ‘who’s better’, as the table is titled, as can be seen below.

There is an implicit suggestion for us to compare the following:

  1. Singapore has a higher income per capita GDP as compared to the Nordic countries. We should be thankful.
  2. Singapore’s tax rate is lower than the Nordic countries and thus the public spending has to be low.

The Straits Times had thus wanted us to make a ‘fair’ comparison, and remind us to be thankful for what we are given. Be thankful, Singaporeans! And we know who The Straits Times is controlled by and who is telling us to be thankful.

Of course, what The Straits Times had not chosen were some other pertinent statistics to include into the comparison:

  1. Average wages & growth
  2. Inflation rate
  3. Singapore’s reserves
  4. Singapore’s surplus
  5. Health expenditure (for comparison of social spending)

From the table in this illustration, you can see:

  1. Our per capita GDP, The Straits Times suggest, is higher than the Nordic countries. However, the average wage (adjusted for purchasing power) a worker earns in Singapore is $2,616, which is actually lower than the Nordic countries. This means that about half of Singaporeans live on $2,616 every month.
  2. If you look at the rate at which real average monthly wages have grown in 2011, real wages have actually dropped by 2.8%, whereas they have all increased in the Nordic countries. This is compounded by us having the highest inflation rate. So what if we have the highest per capita GDP, our real average wages are the lowest, and have in fact dropped in 2011.
  3. I learnt about this from Prof Christopher Balding [1]. As he has pointed out, our surplus is ranked as one of the highest, at 8% of GDP. However, the government expenditure, at 13.4%, is one of the lowest in the world. Why is it that we have a surplus higher than some of the Nordic countries, yet our public expenditure is significantly much lower?
  4. Our reserves, at US$225,715 million, is one of the top 15 in the world and we have the highest per capita reserves, at US$44,458, in the world. The Nordic countries have significantly lower reserves (and lower surpluses), yet, again, they are more willing to spend more on their citizens.
  5. Also, for a comparison on social spending, I looked at the health expenditure, where there is more readily available data. With one of the highest reserves and surpluses (as a percentage of GDP) in the world, our total health expenditure and health expenditure per capita is very low, compared to the Nordic countries. Why does the government not want to provide more for a basic necessity such as health?
  6. This not forgetting that what our government collects from our CPF S$187,817 million (net increase in CPF) [2] – another asset which they have been able to use for investment by the government’s investment arms, Temasek Holdings and GIC. From the 17% and 7% interest that they are able to earn from our CPF respectively, we get a marginally lower 2.5% interest on our CPF Ordinary accounts and 4% in our Medisave, Special and Retirement accounts. This is on top of the low social (e.g. healthcare) expenditure by the government.

Is The Straits Times (and thereby they who control The Straits Times?) providing us with a skewed picture as to why we should be thankful, when the government should be the one to be thankful that Singaporeans aren’t protesting?

They should be thankful because:

  1. Singaporeans are not given the full picture for a complete comparison.
  2. Singaporeans are being told only one side of the story and not the rest. We are told the convenient truth (for them).
  3. Singaporeans are taught to be quiet and obedient and not to question what they read.

Should we? Should we not question? I think we should – because of the money we loan our government to make a better living for us, not for them; because we deserve to be respected; because the government is now in a position to make it better for us, and they should learn to stop ignoring us.

The question we have to ask ourselves, finally, is, what is the government making all these money for, if not to help the people? Why does the government choose to spend so little on the people, in spite of having one of the largest proportionate cash stocks in the world?

Our government is smart enough to make money, one can possibly argue for itself, but it’s not smart enough to find ways to achieve equality? Really? Seriously, are they trying to tell us that our government is so dumb? Are they trying to tell us that we are paying millions to our leaders, who are supposedly that capable and sought from leadership positions from companies all over Singapore but that our leaders are not capable or smart enough to use the money we amass, which easily ranks as one of the highest in the world to find ways to achieve equality for Singaporeans? Is the government really not smart enough to do it (then why did we put them there in the first place?) or does the government not want to do it? Is the government not interested in helping Singaporeans achieve equality? What is in the government’s interest in not reducing inequality, or rather, to favour the rich over the poor?

I have no answer for this. I am not the government. If the government doesn’t want to explain itself, then this is the only logical conclusion that I can make from the statistics – the government doesn’t care.

Whilst “equality” is enshrined in our pledge, is the government actually still practicing it? Or it is simply lip service, literally?

What am I asking from the government? Simple. Respect us. Be honest to us. Be truthful to us. What are you doing with our money? How are we really being (mis)treated? Why do you not want to increase the lot of, at least those in the lower rungs of society? Why do you choose to present one side of the story but not the full story to us? Do we not deserve your respect, simply by virtue of people whom had put you into your position?

There is more than one way to achieve equality. There are hundred and one ways to do that and if our government is serious about achieving equality, they’ll find it. If the government is committed to doing something, they’ve shown us that they can do it. They’ve built the casino, haven’t they? They’ve allowed 36% of the resident population to be foreigners [3], haven’t they? We are not saying follow the Nordic model. We are not cows. We know better than to adapt wholesale what another country is doing, especially it being a country with characteristics much different from ours. No, we are not saying we want the Nordic model. What we are saying is – and listen carefully here – we want you to find a way to achieve equality and we know you can do it. We’ve paid you enough to find a way. Otherwise give us our money back. If you can find ways to make our companies rich, such as the ones that were previously government-linked but now “privatized”, then you can find ways to achieve equality. If you are not sure how to, then find different models, look for different ways. You are good at that. Look at different ways to achieve equality and implement what is doable. We have enough of your reasons and excuses. We do not want to hear anymore of, “We cannot adopt the Nordic model because we are different.” Of course we are different. Do you think we cannot see that for ourselves? We are saying, now that we know we are different, what can you do to achieve equality? Do it. We’ve been cows long enough. But even cows know how to find grass that’s greener. But if you give us grass, which is of poorer quality everywhere, and keep us there, where else to we find greener grass? Is it any wonder then that many Singaporeans have gone to where, where the grass could actually be greener on the other side?

Instead of asking Singaporeans if we are grateful, I am asking you back, my government, are you not grateful?

Endnote: Some readers might ask, are we comparing apple with apple? Note here that I have taken the selective information that The Straits Times has chosen to paint, and put in a fuller picture, so that we can understand the context to the information they shared.

I had originally posted this article on my Facebook page:


[1] Balding’s World: Singapore, SWFs, and Other Countries: Part 1

[2] Changes in CPF Minimum Sum, Medisave Minimum Sum and Medisave Contribution Ceiling from 1 July 2012

[3] Year-on-year statistics reveal 36 per cent increase in non-Singaporeans

References for Statistics:

World Competitiveness Index, Gini co-efficient, average annual GDP growth, per capita GDP, public spending, top personal income tax rate: The Straits Times June 23, 2012

*Per capita GDP & public spending for Finland

Average wages (in Purchasing Power Parity dollars) (source: International Labour Organisation)

Growth of real average monthly wages


Cash surplus, total reserves, total health expenditure & health expenditure per capita


  1. Pingback: DPM Teo: Point-by-Point Rebuttal to Mr Teo’s Arguments on Pro-Parenthood Policies « The Heart Truths
  2. Pingback: Dr Ng Eng Hen: Double Standards for Singaporeans? « The Heart Truths

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s