Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Higher Aspirations Not To Blame

_DSC4043I have high regard for Dr Ng Eng Hen. So I am a little disappointed by his remark that higher aspirations of Singaporeans is one reason for the high cost of living in Singapore. He cited an example of mobile phones almost being an essential item for children. Sure, we can’t fault that. Most of us adults didn’t have mobile phones twenty years ago.

But society progresses. Standards of living go up. What we considered to be luxury items can unsurprisingly become essential items today. This is expected. This is not out-of-the-ordinary. To summarily put the blame on aspirations is incorrect. We must look at things relative to the times we’re living in. It makes no sense to expect us to live by the standards of living from two decades ago.

Besides, surely mobile phones and TVs are but just a small part of our living costs. A big part of it has got to be housing. While it is true that our real income has increased over the last twenty years, do you think the cost of an average 4-room HDB flat has not increased significantly faster?

Let’s just look at the last ten years of data. It’s easily retrievable from the Department of Statistics Singapore website.

2003 2013 Change
HDB Resale Price Index (last quarter) 103.9 201.7 +94%
Residential Private Property Price Index 112.8 214.3 +90%
Per Capita GDP $40627 $68541 +69%
Mean Gross Income from Work $2410 $3705 +54%

You can see how property prices have risen so rapidly in the last ten years, compared with the mean gross income.

Oh yes, that the mean gross income having rose 54% in the last 10 years is also something that begs further explanation. You see, while the high-fliers continue to earn more and more, the same can’t be said for the average and lower-income Singaporeans.

An article from Yahoo News back in 2011 reported how the bottom 20 per cent of working Singaporeans saw their pay stagnate in the preceding 10 years. More recently, an editorial piece from SPH’s Editor at Large also reported how wages haven’t grown as rapidly as our economy.

Housing has been an area that Singaporeans have complained a lot about for many years. Prices have skyrocketed too rapidly. Cooling measures seem to be taking effect, at least for now. But the problem still remains that they are too expensive. What we need is a reversal, but that itself will be a problem. If property prices were to fall, those who already bought high could find themselves in trouble. A nice catch-22 situation.

Higher aspirations are but a very weak excuse.

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