Singapore's Richest Top 40: a comment.
Singapore's richest have, despite the recession, managed to get richer. The aggregate wealth of the top 40 has risen from 32 billion US dollars, to 39 billion US dollars since last year.
Ng Teng Fong, 81, was named the richest man at 8 billion US dollars, who has managed to gain a billion dollars over the year. The greatest "riser", however, was Kuok Khoon Hong, 60, who rose 2.2 billion US dollars to 3.5 billion US dollars. Ex-remisier Peter Lim rose from 1.1 billion US dollars to 1.5 billion US dollars. He remains in seventh position. I have omitted the full detail because it is not available in the online sources I have seen - that was reserved for print editions of newspapers.
Anyway, it is telling that 19 of the top 40 gained wealth over the year, with only 13 out of 40 losing it. The others were presumably stable. To my mind this means that Singapore's rich have fared very well in the recession that has affected so many others rather badly.
So, the rich are still getting richer...my question is: are the poor getting poorer? A much more enlightening list would be a list of Singapore's bottom 40...as it were: the Top 40 Poorest People in Singapore. That is a list I would be much more interested in reading for it would be a list with a lot more to say about the REALITY of Singapore, today, for so many people.
It is a myth, for instance, that Singapore is a rich country. It is not. It has a few rich people in it...but almost all the wealth is concentrated in a tiny strata at the top of society...everyone else is struggling just to make a basic living. The government owned leased flats called HDB are filled with families with barely enough to live on. There is a lot of untold suffering in modern day Singapore. Largely, this is the result of such economic policies as no minimum wage, the import of cheap foreign labour to depress salaries across a wide range of jobs, over-inflated public housing that appears to be much more expensive than it should be (ie. it could be built for much less I am sure). There are many, many poor people in Singapore. There are, however, only a few rich ones. This is recognized in the Gini coefficient for Singapore being among the world's highest for a developed country - that is the disparity between the earnings of the rich, and the earnings of the poor is great.
I wish I had the information to hand, to be able to compile a list of the top 40 poorest people in Singapore. It would have a lot of interesting things to say about what is really going on in Singapore. For instance, would the poorest be from racial minorities? This is likely given the racial attitudes so prevalent in Singapore. How difficult would their daily lives be? Could they afford enough to eat - or would they be, like an old woman I saw once, foraging for leaves in a public space?
I have no doubt that the net worth of the poorest 40 people in Singapore would be negative. They would, literally, be people without money. The saddest thing about compiling such a list is that there would be SO much competition for spaces on it. There are really a huge number of effectively poor people in Singapore. Deciding just who was the poorest would be very difficult indeed. The rich list, on the other hand, is easily compiled since there are so few competitors. For the poor list, there would be hundreds of thousands of people vying for the titles (in a population of 4.8 million).
The top 40 richest people is a meaningless list. It says nothing about what is really going on in Singapore. Just because a handful of people are wealthy, it does not mean that the average person is well off. Indeed, of all the developed countries I have been to, I have never seen a country in which the AVERAGE person has such modest wealth. Singaporeans are not rich - they are just TOLD they are rich. In reality, it is a nation of relative paupers. Surveys of purchasing power, put Singaporeans very low down the list of nations. (Over three times less purchasing power than Switzerland, for instance...and about the same as the typical Malaysian).
If there is one idea I would like to dispel, today, it is the myth that Singaporeans are wealthy. The Singaporean state is wealthy, yes; the government ministers and MPs are wealthy, yes; a few tycoons are wealthy, yes - but the average person in Singapore is worse off than the average Russian (the same survey I saw referenced above).
The only problem with compiling a top 40 poorest person list is that the media in Singapore would never give it coverage - because the image of national financial success must be maintained at all costs. However, in some ways, it is not necessary. Anyone who has actually lived in Singapore and actually been to several other developed countries - and even many developing ones - cannot have failed to notice how little wealth (in real terms of what they are able to buy), average Singaporeans actually have. Why else would over 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in what, in other countries, would be viewed as slum dwellings? (HDB apartment blocks)
Singaporeans will never be truly well off, unless the whole economic philosophy of the country changes. Issues such as the ridiculously high Gini coefficient need to be addressed - perhaps with a minimum wage; it seems unwise, from a humanitarian point of view, to constantly depress wages with cheap foreign labour; the population should be held in check, because more people means less living space for everyone. There are so many things that need to change...I won't make a long critical list, for anyone who has lived here should be able to do so. One thing is clear, though: the present direction of the nation is towards a more unaffordable society, with greater wealth disparities, more overcrowded and less livable. In such a place, the proportion of effectively poor people will only grow. Is this the Singapore that people want?
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