Friday, August 22, 2003

Apples and Oranges

Somehow, I have immense sympathy for these two fruits. They are often abused as metaphors ("apple of my eye") and much maligned ("rotten apples"). Ok, maybe the oranges were the unfortunate victims of this association. Nonetheless, I am tempted to have another dig at these hapless species.

The reason is simple. The Singapore government has a habit of comparing apples with oranges, and I thought it's only fair for someone to come out in defence of both, while highlighting the futility of such a comparison.

If you have followed the news, you should be well aware of the statement put up by the Singapore government regarding the cost competitiveness of local workers vis-à-vis our foreign counterparts (certain factions of foreign talent were conveniently omitted from the equation).

Put simply, the government is saying Singaporeans are a demanding bunch of fat cats who have no sense of realities in such difficult economic times to moderate our expectations. At our present pay scale, the argument goes, it would cost a company twice or more (varies from country to country) to employ a Singaporean worker than those in Malaysia, China, India, etc. Therefore, we should be more competitive, and should have no qualms whatsoever about holding down lower paying jobs.

I suppose that's an oversimplified way of addressing the issues. Without going into the specifics, how did the high costs of local labour come about? Has it occurred to the authorities that the higher salary is necessary because our costs of living are significantly higher (compared to those in the neighbouring countries mentioned earlier)?

A $2,000 pay cheque may be sufficient (or perhaps even a pleasant surplus) for some of our foreign counterparts when you take into consideration the dollar equivalent in their respective countries, but would it be enough for proletariats of Singapore to pay bills, feed several mouths (including oneself), and once in a while indulge in conspicuous consumption (like what a certain Straits Times journalist has done)?

And how did the high costs of living come about? Because we wanted more expensive cars on narrower roads, and more expensive but smaller apartments? Could it be that some of these costs were artificially inflated to sustain certain industries or corporations?

What needs to be done to cap the high costs of living, and consequently, the high costs of labour necessary to sustain those living in such an environment?

I don't have all the answers - if I do, I would have been the fattest cat of all. As it is, we already have our fair share of fat cats who couldn't offer concrete solutions to remedy the nation's ailments. Those were just some of the questions that troubled me when the comparison was made. Don't ask me to step forth to form a political party and challenge the establishment. I'm not interested, unless it comes with a million-dollar salary. I could probably make do with just half. I'm not that greedy. I'm not implying anything either.

Perhaps high up in their ivory towers, things got a bit too clouded for our government officials to see the situation with a clear perspective, helicopter view notwithstanding.

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