27 January 2011

Government Policies and the Procreation Goal

Singapore's present prosperity masks its grim future if we are not producing enough citizen babies.

We tell ourselves that permanent residents make up for the shortfall, but the reality is that they don't because they are not citizens and this is not their home.  Few permanent residents will defend Singapore; forcing them to do national service may soothe citizen unhappiness but may deceive the SAF into believing it has more manpower than it can actually muster.

New residents bring new issues.  Is immigration about the economy or nation building?  The speed and scale of recent immigrant arrivals threaten to radically alter the character of our nation due to its smallness and compactness.  Furthermore, selecting immigrants based on "desired" qualities deprives us of natural diversity in the population that may haunt us later.

Perhaps, the availability of foreigners has prevented us from going all out to solve the problem.

Perhaps too, over-crowding from wave after wave of foreigners has exacerbated our procreation woes.

The emphasis on economic growth and productivity and the free-for-all competition for jobs have led to an almost single-minded focus on career advancement and wealth accumulation, and an aversion to opportunity cost.

Some families wonder if they have enough money to live, let alone have children.

When our Malay and immigrant communities follow our Chinese and Indian communities in under-procreating, it's clear that increasingly fewer people care about child-bearing or children, or want their children to grow up in such conditions.

We should ask ourselves whether modest sustainable economic growth that provides enough jobs for our people is not better.

Next, many existing government policies may make sense on a standalone basis, but seem disconnected from encouraging procreation.  How many ministries or statutory boards even consider this in their mission statement?

There should be a government-wide review of policies and regulations, with the aim to eliminating those that stymie procreation.

For example, build HDB flats in anticipation of demand so that newly married couples can get their homes almost immediately.  Allow newly married couples whose salaries exceed HDB's income ceiling to rent HDB flats for a predetermined duration (eg five years), with the option to buy them if they produce children.  Price new HDB flats at cost plus a small margin, instead of market minus a subsidy.

Remove all pre-conditions for assisted reproduction.

When appraising pregnant civil servants, make allowance for their possibly being less productive at work.  If supervisors don't get the message, counsel, reprimand, demote or sack them.

Reconsider minimum wage legislation.  Alternatively, substantially raise Workfare payouts and raise the cash component.

Scrap child tax relief, which is income dependent.  Instead, give every child a generous annual allowance, in cash.

Remove GST on essential items.

Change the primary school admission priority to favour larger families.

Further review the education policy on mother tongue.

If we really want more babies, put procreation as a core do-or-die mission and plan everything else around it.  Prosperity lacks meaning if there are few citizens eventually to enjoy it.

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