Thursday 1 August 2013

Harsh reality of slower growth

TO WHAT extent is our fast pace of life attributed to the fast pace of economic growth ("Much to gain from slower pace of life" by Ms Catherine Ho Shull; July 18)? Are gross domestic product (GDP) figures a bundle of irrelevant numbers?

GDP data reflects the extent of work we have put in to generate consumption and the public services we utilise, the exports for earning foreign exchange, and the savings we can accumulate each year.

Lower GDP growth means one or more of these components are growing at a slower pace, or even shrinking.

When we had good growth in some years, some remarked that we achieved it "at all costs" and blamed the Government.

To survive, every company has to set a reasonable growth target. Would employees suggest to their bosses to lower the target?

Should a company cut its target, its competitors would be keen to take away its market share. Its workers may have to accept smaller bonuses, or worse, no bonus at all and pay cuts. The self-interests of the company and its workers would not allow a voluntary slowdown to happen.

To slow down the economy, the Government could raise interest rates, tighten money supply, trim public expenses, scale down or delay infrastructure projects, further restrict the supply of foreign labour, or raise consumption or income taxes.

Growth that is too slow, whether voluntary or forced, would weaken our economic efficiency and global competitiveness.

Most people may not worry about this - but certainly not those who are responsible for ensuring the long-term survival of the country.

With no natural resources, we have to make as much "hay" as possible while the sun shines. We need to strike a balance to avoid economic overheating - but it is not an easy task.

For us as individuals, we aim to achieve a good work-life balance but we have to accept the trade-offs it entails. It requires us to re-prioritise our goals, which may mean adjusting expectations and cutting down on non-essential consumption.

The harsh reality is that work-life balance, standards of living and GDP are all entwined.

Ng Ya Ken
ST Forum, 31 Jul 2013

Much to gain from slower pace of life

AT A recent forum, Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam painted a "stark picture" of the future of Singapore if we should adopt a slower pace of life ("Slower pace of life comes with trade-off, says Shanmugam"; last Saturday).

The problem is that the picture is incomplete.

Our leaders have constantly reminded us that "no one owes us a living". This is why we work tremendously hard to be No. 1, and then work even harder to maintain this position. But what is the unquantifiable price we have paid?

Singapore has the highest number of millionaires per capita, yet our happiness levels are low. Our suicide rate is also at a 20-year high ("Suicide cases rise nearly 30% to hit 20-year high"; last Saturday).

The rich-poor divide is growing, with the poor seeing their incomes rise only 0.1 per cent each year between 2002 and last year ("Real incomes for low-wage earners 'have continued to rise'"; Feb 6).

Last year, we had the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world, yet couples have no confidence to have children, causing the fertility rate to fall below the replacement level.

Our education system churns out students with top grades, but we are low in innovation and creativity.

It seems that the current picture is already stark.

Singapore cannot keep pursuing economic growth at all costs, when this method has already fallen short. Is it not time to try something different?

Teachers should be able to truly nurture young minds, and children should grow up loving to learn and discover.

Parents should be able to spend more time with their children, rather than just ferry them from one enrichment class to another.

Couples should be able to make babies - and not just a living. Adult children should be able to live with their ageing parents and not abandon them.

All this requires a slower pace of life and a commitment to people, not numbers.

Quality of life may be lower, but the gains could far outweigh the costs.

Catherine Ho Shull (Ms)
ST Forum, 18 Jul 2013

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