Friday, August 08, 2008

Singapore's Quality of Life vs Sweden's

This has got to be one of the best written letters in the ST Forum on Singapore's quality of life and how it's not really as good as the Singapore government makes it out to be. I append it here for my future reference. Emphasis added by me.

For more information on this topic, see "Quality of Life is more than Material Wellbeing: GDP as an Incomplete Measure of Singapore's Development"
Swede quality of life

I REFER to Ms Heng Siew Cheng's letter, 'Why one couple is resettling in Sweden'', (July 17) and the replies by Singapore Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua (July 22), and 'Where else can you buy your home in 5 years?'' by Mr Peter Wadeley (July 24) My Singaporean wife moved to Sweden in 2001. She gave birth to our first child, a boy, last November. We are now on holiday, extending our first flush of joy of parenting in Singapore with my wife's family.

My wife, a teacher, is on a year's maternity leave. I am on paternity leave for 45 days here. When I return home, I shall still be on paternity leave for three more months. The generous duration of our parental leave is mandated by the state. Mr Wadeley implies that Singaporeans can buy a home in five years. I disagree. Last year, the median household income was $4,870. Even with grants, an average family cannot pay off a flat that quickly. It is also unachievable for Ms Heng and her Swedish husband, even if their collective income barely breaches the HDB's $8,000 bar.

Mrs Lim's comparison is incomplete. Nine in 10 Singaporeans merely lease their homes (HDB flats are typically 99-year leaseholds). Freehold ownership is higher in Sweden: Forty per cent live in landed property, 20 per cent in freehold condos and 40 per cent in rental flats. Swedish rental flats are akin to HDB flats. The main differences are that there is no downpayment, and the rental contract does not expire.

It is true, as Mrs Lim says, that Swedes spend 13 per cent of their income on housing. But for the money, half of us have our own garden - and precious time - to play with our children.

She suggests it is less expensive to raise children here. It is true that consumer goods are cheaper here and Singapore ranks third globally in per capita GDP (purchasing power adjusted) and Sweden 12th, according to the World Bank. But as more of Singapore's GDP comprises imports and exports, the statistic does not reveal the extent of benefit to its citizens.

The World Bank uses Household Final Consumption Expenditure (HFCE) as an affordability benchmark. Including goods and services provided by the government, it tells how much one has for useful spending, either directly or through tax. Sweden's HFCE per capita, in 2005 figures, is US$30,000, (S$42,000) double Singapore's US$14,000.

Ms Heng is concerned about raising children here. Having lived in both countries, I agree. The United Nations' Human Development Index, based on 350 indicators, tracks 'a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living'. Sweden ranks sixth worldwide, while Singapore trails at 25th.

I am not advocating the adoption of Sweden's welfare system wholesale. But, if Singapore adopts a tiny part, giving parents flexibility and cheaper childcare, it probably means a tax hike of just a few per cent.

I would like to extend a warm welcome to Ms Heng to Sweden.

Jan Sundström


Jan Sundström said...

Hey, thanks a lot for the kind words! Interesting to see that you also made the comparison between GDP and HDI. I hadn't read your blog before...
Of course, the comparison between two totally different countries is moot, each country's housing market - and indeed economy in general - is subejcted to it's unique geographical position, politics etc. But since SM Mrs Lim started to make the comparison in the first place...

Jan Sundström said...

See the somewhat heated follow-up debate to my letter here:

Anonymous said...

I left Singapore 3 years ago.

Feel sad that the majority of Singaporeans still don't get it.

For that I am ashamed to be one of them. For all the world-class branding that we put on ourselves, we do not exhibit the maturity of a developed nation.

From the exchange, one can only see a bunch of brain-washed die-hards who refuse to look beyond their claustophobic enclaves.

Singaporeans like me will continue to leave because we need a bigger space, for ourselves and our kids.

I had no problems living in Singapore. My husband was a government scholar and working in the elite service.

But we had ideals different from the majority in Singapore.

We are paying high taxes in our new country. But, it is meaningless to compare dollars and cents. Often, those unquantifiable factors are the most critical for people like us.

Money is not IT.

Eat money said...

I believe the majority of Singaporeans are starting to realise their govt is running Singapore as a corporation motivated to make money and more money. The govt has also managed to hoodwink most of the world that it is running a country.

There is so much talk about Singapore's wealth, but a survey will show that most citizens feel the wealth will not benefit them.
If one agrees that wealth alone does not determine success, then Singapore as a country cannot be viewed as a success.

Do a poll with the citizens and find out the following:
1) How many citizens feel there is a bond between the people and those in power ?

2) How many citizens feel they are defending the country or actually defending the political leaders and the wealthy ?

3) How many citizens have left the country and how many would leave if given the opportunity ?

4) How many citizens believe this govt is for the people ?

5) How many citizens feel there is free and fair elections ?

To those who have left or plan to leave Singapore, follow your heart. Perhaps one day Singapore will be in better hands.

singapore said...

One must look at both quantitative and qualitative factors...loh...