a community of singaporeans

The heart of society

Posted by theonlinecitizen on January 13, 2007

I’ve been hearing this question lately. From my mom, my friends, colleagues and even strangers whom I happen to meet. “What exactly are we striving for, working so hard for?”

“Everything that we do or earn is just to pay our bills”, my mom said. “This is life”, replied my friend, “you want to afford the things in your life you have to keep slogging away.”

This perhaps is the view of many a people – with an echo of resignation at the end of it.

But should it be so? We slog all our lives just so we can pay our bills? Or afford the things of this world? Somehow, the pragmatism behind such thoughts saddens me. Have we become so hapless that we surrender and allow ourselves to be carried along this tide of resignation, of fatalism even?

A “bright future”

It was in the 80s that I first remember the many exhortations to ‘work hard’ and that the ‘future is bright’. Slogans were being dished out by the month, it seemed. But irony of ironies, I can’t seem to be able to specifically remember any particular such slogan. I only know that there were many.

Anyway, that’s some 20-plus years ago – and we’re now in the ‘bright future’ which we were told would arrive with our hard work.

Singapore now has the the world’s fastest growing number of millionaires. 48, 500 at last count, a rise of 22.4%. Singapore is also the 54th largest economic entity in the world. An astounding achievement, no doubt, given our size.

All these makes today’s Channelnewsasia report even more depressing. Let me quote:

What is more worrying is the fact that the majority of Singaporeans in the middle class has only seen about a one percent increase in their nominal income in the last 5 years. … So if you were a worker in the 50-55 age group, you could have seen your wages fall as much as 10 percent over the last 3 or 4 years.

If the middle class has seen only a one percent increase in their nominal income, what about the lower class? (By the way, I hate using the word ‘class’ but…) And now there is talk of a ‘dual economy’ emerging. Basically, that means the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer – or stay at the same level of poor-ness.

To be fair to the government, they did say that there will be a widening income gap and MM Lee himself had advised that

“If we want to have successful entrepreneurs, Singaporeans have to accept a greater income disparity between the successful and the not so successful.”
SM Lee Kuan Yew, Ho Rih Hwa public lecture, Feb 5, 2002

What is causing all this? In a word, globalisation. At least that’s what we’re told.

Are our elderly enjoying this ‘bright future’?

But where does all this leave your average singaporean, especially the older ones and the elderly ones, some of whom are still struggling but encouraged by the govt to go for ‘skills training’ – as in this report. I am all for skills training – for the younger set. But for the elderly – who should be enjoying this ‘bright future’ for which they slogged so hard?

Say what you want but my view is that there is something inherently wrong with society if the elderly still needs to work in order to ‘pay their bills’, cleaning after the younger set – at hawker centres, food courts, and picking up cardboards and tin cans from the trash bins.

“Globalisation” is just an easy and convenient excuse of those who have ‘made it’.

The government’s solution to this is, as usual, a pragmatic & economic one – skills training, job re-design, “Progress Package”, “GST offset package”, “Singapore Shares”, etc.

Do you see something wrong with this picture?

It is pure pragmatism. It is the absence of heart.

Do we have our priorities right?

Packaged as ‘help’, the truth is that these ‘help’ schemes are carefully calculated and crafted to alleviate or avoid future economic burdens which the government might face with an ageing population. (Singapore is one of the fastest ageing population in the world.)

All this is well and good. I am sure no one wants to have to face the problem in future – whether as a govt or as young, working adult individual. But good as it may be, it cannot be devoid of compassion. And this is the perception – that the govt wants you to ‘work till you die’, so that ‘you can pay your bills’. (And buy a place for your urn as well, in advance if possible.)

Consider the billions and billions being dished out on anything from HDB estate upgrading to a new national stadium, from indoor sports halls for schools to multi hundred-million-dollar R&D programmes, etc etc. And now we’re talking of ‘extreme makeovers‘ for our housing estates. So much glitz and glamour, my.

Have we stopped and asked ourselves, “Shouldn’t one of our priorities be the aged, old & elderly?”

Are we so willing to write out billion-dollar cheques (as it were) to state-fund economically beneficial programmes while we urge our old to continue to work, instead of allowing them to have peace of mind and time to fulfill their hopes and wishes?

Where is the heart?

I am well aware that there are old and elderly people who prefer to work but this should be a choice and not a necessity, especially at their age! A society loses something important if it rejoices at the sight of its elderly cleaning tables and taking out trash. “Look! They’re healthy, able-bodied, and gainfully employed!”

Society loses its soul – and its perspective.


It is thus with much hope that I await the prime minister’s budget speech next month. I know he is not going to be announcing any ‘welfare’ (what a dirty word, huh?), but I do hope that the money collected through the increase of the GST will be truly used to help the less-abled, especially the elderly.

And maybe, just maybe, our elderly will be able to enjoy this ‘bright future’ which they were promised – record-breaking number of millionaires and all.

And there is nothing more joyful for the elderly than to spend time with their own families, their kids and grand kids – not cleaning up after strangers. That, I dare say, was the ‘bright future’ they had in mind.

Do we have the heart to let them fulfill their simple dream – while we race ahead for our own?

Where is the heart of our society?



13 Responses to “The heart of society”

  1. Rigpa said

    Many people do not know what the meaning of life is.
    Many people simply follow others, as blinds following the blinds.
    Many blind leaders simply strive to keep and maintain their power.
    Many blind nations simply run the course of daily chaos.

    We are blind because:
    We have eyes but do not see.
    We have ears but do not listen.
    We have hearts but do not feel.
    We have brains but do not think.
    We have conscience but do not care.
    We have spirits but do not lift.
    We have consciousness but are not awaken.
    We have minds but have not been enlightened.

    Alas! Life simply goes on in a cyclic existence!

  2. sillyzen said

    You forgot to mention there are more than 1000 attempted suicide and suicides every year. For a tiny utopian nation, the number is troubling.
    So you can continue to latch on to this hope but I doubt the problems can be resolved the way things are going.

  3. Singapore is not a country.

    It is a company set up to milk its citizens of maximum profits to support the Board of Directors and CEO who are part of the elite.

    Your happiness as a citizen only makes sense if it makes you more productive to contribute your economic efforts to supporting the elite.

    Your life belongs to them because we gave up original thought and ideas and subjugated them to worshipping money and economic prosperity. We are happy in so far that our happiness is purchased using the wages of our work. Happiness beyond the economic sphere is non-utilitarian and does not benefit the elite.

    Welcome to UTOPIA aka Singapore.

  4. spin said

    we run an efficient system, so they boasted, yet, many end their lives in meaningless death. but there are help available, they defended. their tragic deaths are their own doing and them to have an answer to everything except being honest. and the honest truth is that the civil servants are totally devoid of heart and soul AT SOME POINT. and it is at this point and beyond that many who sought help lose hope,trust and faith that some end in tragic death.

    no one who works for a salary gives a damn really. no? the wise one said, don’t pay them enough corruption sets in. their heart is as warm as the next meal on their table. if they truly care, they will share their lion’s meal with you!

    do you see that happening?

    in the laws of the junggle, to each his own AT SOME POINT!

  5. Thanks for this piece, it was a good read and timely because I’ve been contemplating the same issues. I do not feel globalization is just an easy excuse… it does have detrimental effects, and worldwide activists who protest the IMF and World Bank are well aware of this. But I do agree the G-word is too convenient a crutch used to excuse, even justify, cold-blooded policy.

    I’m saddened to see “welfare” has become a dirty word in Singapore just as it has become in the US. The situations in the 2 countries are currently too similar – the American middle class is struggling, wages have not kept up with inflation, and meanwhile, more and more wealth and assets in the country are going to the richest 5%… their income keeps multiplying at the same time their tax burdens (I’m still talking about the wealthiest billionaires) are decreasing.

    I was alarmed when health insurance became a must-have in Singapore, because it was starting to resemble the American healthcare system, which an American will tell you honestly is in shambles. Americans are afraid of seeing their doctors because of cost. They putter on until they need the emergency room, the costs of which take years to pay off.

    I’m starting to see the “framing” war happening in Singapore that has been playing out in the US (welfare=bad, globalization=good, when it just isn’t that simple), and I’m glad to see Singaporean bloggers wise to it.

  6. ChinaMan said

    If there are any resemblance in the US and Singapore, it’s because of 6 years of Bush administrations. Now that both houses of Congress have gone to the Democrats, and hopefully the executive branch will follow in 2 years, life for middle class American will turn for the better. But in the little red dot, the MIW will rule till kingdom come. How to have a future?

  7. aliens said

    greeting eartlings,

    We visited you this Sunday, remember the green lights over sg hahahahahahaha! Never fear once we vat and liberate you by making you into a battery, you wouldnt even know, you are slogging away!

  8. Dear Singaporecityzen,

    Same as you I am rather disturbed that ‘welfare’ was described by the prime minister as a dirty word.

    I do believe that the govt is taking the extreme meaning of the word without giving due consideration to the fact that there are (and always be) people who are in need of state help – no matter how perfect our policies are.

    Treating the word ‘welfare’ as ‘dirty’ and declaring it so makes me wonder about other words they used – like ‘caring’ and ‘compassonate’.

    I thought the words were related. Maybe I am wrong.

  9. Welfare is a dirty word because taxing the rich to help the poor is anaethema in Singapore!

    We tax the poor to help the poor! (Think GST’s regressive nature)

    We tax the rich (a little) to show they are also taxed but by golly GST hits them less severly than the lower income earners.

    We don’t have capital gains tax – but then again, please dun introduce it cos it will hit my punting on the Stock Exchange to provide me the gains to offset the potential increase in GST.

    Welfare is a dirty word. Because THEY say so.


  10. Rowen said

    Those in power would spend their means and ways to stay in power.

    The way it is said is to pay enough so people do not become corrupt.

    What in the world or in Singapore is stopping people who are paid enough or more than enough from becoming corrupt?

    It is human nature to want more. Give a person a wooden hut, he would desire a brick house, Give him a brick house, he would want a Mansion, Give him a Mansion, he would want a castle, Give him a castle he would want a kingdom, Give him a kingdom, he would want the world.

    What governs a person’s desire, his morals and not external factors of giving him more money.

    Look and the NKF Mr Durai, he has a pay which is benchmarked against the CEOs of companies. Yet he wants more. Yet he is corrupt.

    Look at Mr Chen Shui Bian of Taiwan. He started with no money and a nobody. He declared that the ruling government then was corrupt. Yet now in his position of power less than a decade of his rise. He too has become corrupted.

    Powers corrupts.
    Those who stay in power will become corrupt.

    That is a simple fact of life.

  11. Rowen,

    Sadly, there is some truth to what you say. Which is why Singaporeans must be even more involved in the political issues of their country. Only with that can we guard against corruption.

    We may never attain 100% certainty of incorruptibility, but that does not mean we don’t try, right?

    So, take heart. Singaporeans are slwoly being more interested. That’s my view.


  12. sunny said

    what is that great deception that brought about this degeneration and it is this – selling you a heart and soul that few can distinguish from the genuine article

    oh unless your righteousness EXCEEDS the righteousness of the learned practioners, you shall not enter into true liberty and the celebration of life

    oh unless you be discerning enough to distinguish your mirror image from who you really are, you shall remain placid to the false

    not all goodness and charity are alike.

    however, it is easy to rule over those who think they are one and the same!

  13. Dead Poet said

    Yes, we have 48,500 millionaire and I saw the top 40 richest men list in Singapore. Of the 40 I have no problem for they are people who have achieved success on their own effort, hardwork and integrity. But what really suprised me is that a few people namely those in politics did not appear in the list especially a notable family. We all know with the given wages, directorships, pension etc we should have a few people on the list but yet we do not see it. So much for transparency. Well we only knew how much money Suharto and Marcos had only after they lost their power and perhaps that’s why losing power is such a fear that it will be prevented at all cost.

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