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When immigration stops being the elephant in the room and becomes the great white shark in your parliament.

Elephant-in-the-roomOn April 23 the Straits Times (ST) hosted a roundtable to sit around and discuss a survey of people’s perceptions of key policies, three years after the 2011 General Election. The panelists were the usual PAP-approved pundits.  A safe group carefully selected to be more interested in the con than the conversation.

One of this panel was Eugene Tan, who is now seeking a second term in that affront to parliamentary sovereignty the NMP position. Even though I would never be invited and my alternative model is never represented in the media or in forums, I noted that my ideas are very much NOT non-ideas.  I have seen them enter the mainstream of Singaporean political thinking to such an extent that on this occasion Eugene Tan could not avoid paraphrasing me. He even used  a title and the ideas from an article I wrote a few years back.  This is what Eugene Tan said:

I had some issues with how immigration came out in the survey, the issue was ranked rather lowly in terms of the different concerns. I look at immigration as the mother of all issues in our political landscape. You can trace all the different complaints about transport, housing, cost of living, national identity very much to immigration. So I think like in 2011 GE, immigration is a dog that didn’t bark in the survey.

 Immigration is the elephant in the room, it will be very much in the hearts and minds of voters and candidates in the next GE.”

My article, published in December 2011, was entitled “Immigration is the Elephant in the Room”.   I was prompted to write it because of an article I saw  in the ST on rising inequality in Singapore. While two economists in that article rightly brought up the subject of stagnation in real incomes for the majority and absolute decline for those in the bottom 20%, they could not bring themselves to mention the main cause. The main cause of rising inequality which I highlighted – is the fact that the PAP government implemented an open-door foreign worker policy with no minimum wage or protections for Singaporean workers.  Here’s a quote from that article which you have probably all forgotten by now.

However they fail to mention the elephant in the room, which is immigration policy or the lack thereof. Undoubtedly the government’s determination to allow our wages to be determined by those in the poorest economies in Asia has played a major part in depressing real wages, particularly for the lower-skilled workers. Not only was there very little restriction on foreign labour, and no restriction at all for those earning more than $2,500 a month, but there appears to have been lax enforcement of what rules there were and ample loopholes. This has been demonstrated by a recent case where an employer was jailed for putting phantom Singaporean workers on his payroll to allow him to bring in more foreign Work Permit holders.

 Whether we have a minimum wage, or a cap on foreign labour (which amounts to the same thing), this is The Elephant in The Room whose emissions are causing the inequality. Unfortunately, we risk the Elephant turning into a Raging Bull if the xenophobic ranting in cyberspace is anything to go by. What we need now, and urgently, is some serious and open and reasoned debate on the future of Singapore.”

Not only does Eugene seem to be channeling me in this recent discussion but my predictions about the raging Bull make it seem as though I had a time machine.

Since I wrote that article the Elephant in the Room has indeed metamorphosed into the Raging Bull. Witness the current declarations of war ( metaphorical) over the Philippines Independence Day Celebrations.  Sadly kicking those weaker than you is not an appropriate way for Singaporeans to vent their anger with the PAP government’s policies. Not only is it not appropriate it is also plays into the PAP’s hands as it allows the government to paint those  people as xenophobes and continue to divide and rule. Fanning the flames of anger and hatred will probably ensure more seats for the PAP in the next GE.

Raging BullSomeone posted a marvelous quote on the Facebook tribute page for my late father recently. ” If your Dream starts to fade,wake up!”   Well the 10% of the elites in Singapore are fully awake and benefitting just as the  bottom 20% are fully awake and unable to dream due to suffering  but when will everyone else wake up?. Will they wait for that fading dream to become a full-blown nightmare?

The problem is simple. The PAP government knows only one economic model. That model which I first pointed out and which these days is explained back to me by taxi drivers is this. It is a sausage making machine.  You feed in additional inputs of labour at one end of the sausage machine to produce additional units of output, or GDP, at the other. In between there is no rise in underlying productivity. Despite a Budget devoted to productivity in 2010 and Tharman’s promise to raise productivity growth to 2-3% per annum and real incomes by 30% by 2020,the facts show that productivity growth was -2% in 2011 and 0% in 2012. That’s a clear sign for you. Wake up!

A Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman exposed this same model in the 1990s when he debunked the Asian economic miracle and that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1990. This is a basic model of economic development that has been around since 1954 when Arthur Lewis first propounded it (“Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour”). Sooner or later this model just runs out of steam or collapses because there is no innovation. The PAP have just put off  the day of reckoning by opening the floodgates to cheaper and cheaper labour supplies from the developing countries of Asia.

Eugene Tan seems to be saying that the PAP have only to solve the Immigration issue to win back the voters.  I wonder if that is true? But even if that was the easy solution to another 50 years of PAP rule, it is not that simple. Firstly, I don’t think PAP can abandon their model. It would remove their raison d’être. Not only that, but it would lead to a severe economic slump at least in the short-term.  The answer is surely to change the economic model by putting a better one in place and that would mean removing or fatally wounding the PAP government.

The unfettered population issue is not just about crowding on the SMRT. Everything in Singapore, from ceaseless construction activity to inflating property prices, is dependent on continued population growth. That growth through immigration depresses wages and increases returns on investment. Without continued population inflows, the whole fake bubble of inflated values for HDB leaseholds will collapse. It will no longer be economically viable to regularly tear down old HDB blocks to put bigger and taller ones in a smaller area of space. The illusion of ever rising prosperity for HDB owners will be destroyed. Already Khaw Boon Wan is warning you that SERS will only happen where it is profitable for the government.

The real reason you need to wake up dear readers is this. To the PAP, Singaporeans have no value in themselves. The only value is in the real estate and then only because of Singapore’s strategic position. The PAP’s ideal is to dispense with citizens altogether and just have a disenfranchised global population who come to Singapore to work and then go home or get deported without ever being a burden on State services.

The PAP government is the principal owner of land and capital. By transferring resources from us the workers to themselves, facilitated by the role of immigration in depressing wages and pushing up land prices, that wealth stays out of our hands. Make no mistake, in the last 50 years that wealth could have been used to develop a strong middle, each generation better off than the one before, free universal education, joined up health care, a professional paid army, benefits for the most needy.
Instead our sick are housed in tents like the wounded in a war zone and that wealth disappears abroad into unaccountable entities controlled by Temasek and GIC. Every year Tharman makes the pretence that part of the returns is recycled back to us but as I have exposed in 2012, this is an accounting sham (see “Smoke and Mirrors in the Government’s Accounts“)

Any attempt by Singaporeans to gain any information about the true level of assets and investment returns,  as well as the remuneration of the PM’s wife and relatives who work for these entities, is met with the arrogant and contemptuous rebuff that the disclosure of such information is not in the public interest.I should know having taken the government to court in an effort to get them to live up to their obligations of due process and accountability.

Great WhiteSo immigration is not the elephant in the room everyone is trying not to mention.  It is  the doomed policy of a Great White Shark. The shark is a dangerous, efficient but fairly primitive organism that can only survive if it continues to keep moving and water flowing over its gills. If it stays still it drowns.  In the same way the PAP must continue to keep our population growing rapidly as it is the only way they know to create growth. This leads to the myth that  somehow the laws of Economics don’t apply to the PAP and that they alone have invented an economic miracle.

The only miracle here is that so many blindly believe in this myth that the PAP have fabricated.  I’ll end with an uplifting quote from the song Mac the Knife in the Threepenny Opera by Kurt and Weil.

“Oh the shark babe has such pretty teeth, dear. And he shows them pearly white.”  





  1. Dear Mr. Jeyaretnam,

    I know this blog-entry is quite old, but I have a question that has been puzzling me and I was wondering if you could enlighten me: I found a paper by Hopf (2009) about savings and investment in Singapore and in his concluding remarks he writes: “With exception of 1988 and 1989 the loans outstanding to the HDB have been continuously rising since 1960 with no sign of a substantial repayment. In the 1990s alone the outstanding loan arrangements increaded from S$ 16.5 billion in April 1990 to over S$ 72 billion in April 2000. The quality of these loans is rather questionable. How will the HDB ever be able to repay those loans?” (p. 317). I understand that HDB would be able to repay these loans not through service charges as Hopf wonders, but through the SERS-sceme. However my questions are: Am I right to assume from the data that at least during the 1990s the HDB massively subsidized public housing? Although at the same time HDB units have often been described as overpriced? Do you have data from 2000 onwards? Thank you for your help!


  2. This is such an elucidating article. It would be a fair statement to say Singapore’s economic engine is totally depending on population growth through immigration. Each and every point you raise cannot be denied. You have captured my interest so much that I want to support you hereon!


  3. This is a very good article and put the BIG PICTURE of SINGAPORE in focus. Thank you.

    You need a Political Editor who can make your article attractive to the typical Singaporeans who are Ah Bengs and Ah Lians.

    Keep up the good work and make your work even better with an (political) Editor.


    • I make no apology for my blog being on economics not politics. As such it is not dumbed down to the nth degree. Certainly on walkabout everyone I meet seems to be saying that they have read my articles and understand them.


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