I had received a comment from one of the blog posts. The question pertains to why the government wants to keep salaries and income tax low. I would like to share the question and my respond in this article.
Question: has it ever occured to you that keeping lower income tax lower, and when u keep salaries costs low, then multinationals will come to SG to set up office? once u increase salary costs, these multinationals will go elsewhere and there will be thousands of Singaporeans jobless. do you really think that Singaporeans are so hardworking or clever that multinationals want to go to Singapore? they can go other countries where the workers are paid lower, more creative, hungrier for opportunties and work harder. AND complain less.
My response: I agree with what you say. The reason why the government has suppressed the people and our wages, in a way, is because we need a hardworking and docile population so that there is a willing and controlled population which can be pushed to work. Like you say, if people are given more rights, will they be more hardworking? Then, if they are less hardworking, will they still want to work? And this is not an airy fairy thinking the government dreamed up. I am pretty sure the early leaders have observed the other other countries to come up with this idea.
We can look at it in two ways – if this is the case, we can keep wanting to keep a population controlled, suppressed and docile. Then the question is, how far can you keep the population like this? By no means are our calls for change one that is against the flow of the natural progression of Singapore.
- You see, whether the government likes it or not, all over the world, when there is access to information and where people are able to connect the dots for themselves and realise for themselves how controlled they are, they will start to grow unhappy.
- And second, when there is a growing income inequality, the people will be unsettled and they will want change.
There are a few things the government can do if they want to maintain a controlled docile population – cut off information access so that people cannot learn more about their condition and increase wages for the lower income groups, so that the do not ‘feel the pinch’ and things will go back to square one. This will easily resolve the whole situation in Singapore.
But – do we want to cut off information access? We cannot because as the world transits into a knowledge economy where you need people to have the innovation to create new ideas and thoughts, we simply cannot. But how to you control people’s urges to want to have more autonomy? You give it back to them – you give them freedom by allowing demonstrations, by allowing freer access to information, which means mainstream press which is not controlled by the government. Will the government want to do that? This is the paradox – if you know people want more autonomy and want to be given more rights, then you give them more rights by allowing demonstrations etc – but the government feels that this goes against the very idea of creating a controlled people, so that they can be hardworking. If they are freer, how can they be controlled – then how can they be hardworking?
Then, on increasing wages for the lower income groups, again this is a paradox – the whole reason why the government wants to depress wages is precisely because they, or the companies can earn more profits, so that they argue there is incentive for companies to want to invest in Singapore, the argument being that then Singapore provides low cost labour, which can cut costs. Not forgetting when we import labour, we can further cut costs by employing foreigners with the same skills, yet be able to operate in an interconnected environment, such as Singapore. Then, the question is – can the government keep suppressing wages, just because increasing it contravenes with their planning model?
You see, this isn’t a matter of whether the government can control the changes. These changes, across the world, are an evolution of the landscape and the mindsets of the people they are in. It’s a natural evolution of economies where as you become richer, people start to be able to ponder, and then the question of wealth vs autonomy comes into play. This is not something the government can control – it’s the natural evolution of rich societies and the way the mind develops alongside it. Yes, the government can control and buy time – for how long? Another 5 or 10 years? If so, it means you only further suppress the people. By then, things will reach a boiling point, and very surely, the flood gates will open – this is not a hypothetical scenario. This has happened all over the world, in history.
Then, you might want to continue to depress wages. And again, for how long? The people won’t take it. A people who are considering their autonomy, and who are able to start observing the rights of others will start to question to legitimacy of treating people like this. Also, they will start questioning why they aren’t advancing as fast as those who are able to in society. This, again is a human basic evolution of the societies – when the people at the top becomes more and more selfish, they continue to accumulate wealth at the top, the income gap grows wider, the people at the lower rungs feel less respected and they will fight back.
Like I have said, this is a natural order of societies and the government cannot go against the tide, only because the government cannot. As mentioned, there are some things the government can do to act as a stop-gap measure for now – allow for freedom of speech and demonstration and increase wages at the bottom – but this itself is a paradox to their governing principles. And also, even if they do so, this will only be able to suppress the population for another 10 years or so, then they will again ask for change, as it is inevitable, just as the other societies before us have developed have shown.
Then the question is this – how can the government go along with the ebb and flow, and change their policies or governing principles to adapt to the evolution of Singapore? Like you say, if we increase wages, will companies still want to pay a worker population who might become less hardworking, and might complain – this being the assumption that this will be what will happen? You’ve identified the precise problem and issue that the government wants to keep a lid on. Then this means, if we have to open up, as its inevitable, how do we re-envision the people? How do we ignite their passions and create a worker population that continues to strive, even as they achieve more freedom and higher wages. It looks like these are contradictions, but are they, really?
See, if you look at the Nordic countries, because people are given more autonomy, they take more pride and passion towards what they do. And because of that, they are more committed towards their jobs and they find ways, by themselves, to be efficient and productivity. Then, because the society recognizes that there needs to be equal treatment of the people, they respect that the people at the lower rungs should be paid a higher wages, and those at the top are willing to accept a lower wage and higher taxes so that they can equalize the distribution of incomes across the board, and allow people at the bottom to have a more equitable living. So, is this possible? Clearly, it can be done.
Why is the government resistant? Lets face it, if you are a rich in Singapore, are you big-minded enough to start thinking for others and letting go of your wealth because some people might be better off even if you go of just a little bit? The thing is this – no where in the world did the rich decide to suddenly be nice. The government needs to enforce this and the government needs to teach its people. So, it’s about time we do that in Singapore. Because Singapore is evolving and it’s inevitable, we have to go with the flow – we simply have to! This means the government has to tear down laws which prevent the freedom of speech and demonstrations, and along the way, teach people how to be responsible about it, allow people to grow and bloom, find their passions, put in place incentives to help them believe in what they do so that they will become a committed workforce, and one that is truly is – not one that is bought over compelled. Then, redistribute wealth and educate society to learn to see equality as an ideal.
This is the way to go because its more sustainable anyway. Imagine that we keep the population controlled for the next 50 years. Let’s not even say 50, let’s say 30 – our population will grow to become so unthinking, and mindless that we will just keep working and working mindlessly. Companies will equally stop coming because you have a population which isn’t able to innovate and create ingenious solutions for the company. What’s more so is that we are moving into the knowledge economy, or are already in one. Even more, companies will find this a significant disadvantage – and this is already a critique of the Singaporean workforce that has began.
As I’ve said, we can grow beautifully and the government can go with the flow of societal evolution, as can be observed throughout time and space, move with it and develop relevant policies and governing ideals to move with it, so that we continue to make Singapore relevant, to its people and to the world economy. This is is as simple as that.
Now, the basic fundamental question is this – would the government? You see, what has clouded our government and muddled their judgment is this – our government are also the companies which earn profits and who the companies who look at things from a short term perspective, in the grander scheme of societal evolution – when they look at the economic policies, without having a broader picture of the evolution of societies. Also, the government is also made up of people who are the rich as well. With this put together, there is a lot of resistance among those in the government to change – why? Simply because they feel there’s a lot to lose. But it’s true, when you are the rich, there’s more to lose, but only financially. Will a more egalitarian society equate out the losses by having more sustainability in the country and by having a people who feel more respected and committed, down the road? The question then is – are they able to see this? Are they willing to recognise the advantages that a redistribution of wealth can bring, in terms of longevity and sustainability, or is the current wealth enough to consume them?
What has really complicated the issue is because our government are the business owners and the rich. This is what the problem is – the government cannot step out of its role as the business and the rich and so they continue within their trappings of thinking that if they change, that’s it. Well, if the current government doesn’t change, they will render themselves irrelevant, by the natural order of things. Then another government which becomes more relevant will be voted into power. They can prevent this from happening, and I can detail to you the mechanisms they can use to stop this change from happening. But change will come. It just means that it will be prolonged if there’s any resistance. Then instead of 5 years, it might take 20 years, but change will come. And it will be much wiser and better for the whole of Singapore if the current government takes the lead and evolve among themselves so that they can be the one to make this change happen. But then – how long will they sustain this change, before they revert to their old ways, and where people will then vote for change immediately?