Ex-GIC chief economist criticises ex-HDB chief’s advice that Singapore must target population of 10 million

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Ex-GIC chief economist Lam Keong Yeoh has criticised former Housing Development Board chief executive Dr Liu Thai Ker’s remarks that Singapore should aim for a population of 10 million residents.

Dr Liu had made the same comments in the past and reiterated his position, asserting that he stands by his views, at a property summit on Tuesday. The renowned town planner who led HDB for a decade, from 1979 to 1989, added:

“You cannot stop population growth, because as long as your economy is booming and you create new jobs, you need new population.”

Taking to Facebook, Lam opined, “with all due respect, while Dr Liu is an extremely competent and highly regarded town planner, he is effectively recommending very poor, outdated economic policy indeed.”

Calling a 10 million population target “awful,” Lam added:

“What we need is high quality, not poor quality, high quantity growth. The latter is the way towards an unbearably crowded, extremely stratified, xenophobic and socially divided Dubai-type society; very far cry from a Swiss-style standard of living that a productivity-led, relatively population-light strategy like Germany or Switzerland’s can alternatively provide.
“Citizen well being, not growth numbers, greater profits, more billionaires or tall fancy buildings should be the true test and ultimate goal of long term population policy and urban planning. Let’s not forget that we are not just a city state but, much more importantly, a nation state as well.”

“Dr Liu said his idea of the population increasing from the current 5.6 million to 10 million in less than a hundred…

Posted by Lam Keong Yeoh on Tuesday, 7 November 2017

In case you cannot read the full post above:

“Dr Liu said his idea of the population increasing from the current 5.6 million to 10 million in less than a hundred years was a low estimate of the growth rate.

While the Government has been taking steps to curb population growth, he said: “You cannot stop population growth, because as long as your economy is booming and you create new jobs, you need new population.”

Keynes said that “practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

Nowhere is this more evident than in Dr Liu’s above remarks..

The problem here is that with all due respect, while Dr Liu is an extremely competent and highly regarded town planner, he is effectively recommending very poor, outdated economic policy indeed. He is still implicitly stuck in the defunct “go for growth” strategy which the government has long realized was a mistake since their Economic Strategies Committee led by DPM Tharman in 2010.

Between 1990 -2010, however, twenty years of this “go for growth” strategy has left us with a bloated, inefficient, excessively labour- intensive and low productivity economy that has depressed wages for the working class, created massive working poverty, and boosted the population to an uncomfortable 5.6 mn that could easily swell to double that if labor force growth is not scrupulously controlled well below 1% pa long term.

Germany for example, grew its labour force and population at less than 0.5% pa over the last few decades and remains the most competitive and dynamic high value-added export economy in the world!

Doing the same for the next few decades will leave Singapore with a population well below 6.9 million ( a goal enunciated by the PM ) and not anywhere near an awful 10 million population advocated by Dr Liu. And the former will have higher productivity and real wages, less extreme wealth and income inequality and a much, much smaller and more assimilable new foreign population.

What we need is high quality, not poor quality, high quantity growth. The latter is the way towards an unbearably crowded, extremely stratified, xenophobic and socially divided Dubai-type society; very far cry from a Swiss-style standard of living that a productivity-led, relatively population-light strategy like Germany or Switzerland’s can alternatively provide.

Citizen well being, not growth numbers, greater profits, more billionaires or tall fancy buildings should be the true test and ultimate goal of long term population policy and urban planning. Let’s not forget that we are not just a city state but, much more importantly, a nation state as well.

55 COMMENTS

  1. 3

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    Who is right and who is wrong, I can’t say. One thing I know for sure is … our land size definately can’t take a population of 10 million people unless we are prepared to give up our water catchment area or our green corridors. Can we effort that? My answer is a big ‘NO’.

  2. 2

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    4 million new residents of what type?

    4 million who are mainly innovators and entepreneurs, who bring in wealth and provide jobs?

    Or 4 million people who mainly depend on our coffers for healthcare and housing, while competing with locals for jobs by underpricing everything?

    It’s better to have only 10,000 of the former, than 1 million of the latter.

  3. 4

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    Our MRT System is now creaking and failing frequently. Our road has reach its maximum bearable traffic.
    With a population of 5.6 millions, the locals are now unhappy with the PAP. Now especially with the trouble in SMRT.
    Desmond Kuek, the volunteer CEO pocketed $2 millions annually for five years, while the cultural problems persisted and culminated in the pump failure in Bishan and the recriminations aimed at Staff

    According to a past SMRT Engineer in his posting that there is a VP by the name of Ng Peck Too was behind the falsifications of maintenances records.
    Though he has been suspended, he has not been terminated. If after an audit and he is found to be behind all these false reports, he should be terminated and blacklist from working anyway in Singapore. If proven, he has brought shame and dishonour to Singapore.
    As for the current CEO, it is time that he should consider stepping down . He had earn enough and his volunteering has not result in establishing a culture of good maintenance SOP. This just shows that he is incompetent. He should be asked to resign

  4. 0

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    First and foremost most do not know who Mr Liu is. Trains and property are totally different. Perhaps Mr Liu knows something we don’t. He saw the development of Spore hdb from scratch. The time when Mr Lam was playing marbles Mr Liu was prob building the first flat. I am not bias when it comes to our future. Mr Liu was from lky time. Just answer me does the old things work better or the newer ones? I rest my case

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      What has this idiot being from LKY’s time got to do with anything? LKY himself wasn’t a genius. Singapore is a microstate currently. When LKY ran it, its population of about 2-3 million makes Singapore the equivalent of just a small North American metro area and LKY is nothing more than just a city mayor. No need to lionize that dictator. He wasn’t any hot shit. Heard of the phrase sup sup soi? This was why Jiang Zemin told him “if I ever need advice on how to be the mayor of Shanghai, I’ll go to you.” You think Singapore stinks now compared to LKY’s time? Sure and I’ll tell you why. Nothing to do with him. Singapore has limited land and what you are experiencing now is the result that you are just at the phase where it’s nearer to the “end”. The end will come, and things are messed up because the higher density and higher population are posing as direct challenge to the size limitation. During the old man’s time, you weren’t at that stage yet.

  5. 2

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    This ah liu, I doubt he is competent enough to be a town planner Ah liu need to retire and go back farming! He is just too old for the job. He probably won’t live until the day Singapore get into big trouble because of his advice. But we all will outlive him and will suffer because of his incompetency!

  6. 2

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    The chinese have a saying: 老而不死是为贼。it means if you live too long you would likely do something wrong that makes you a thief. This applies particularly to people with money, people and influence. Mr Liu was once a respected city planner. But now he starts to talk mumbo jumbo. I am afraid he deserves no more respect now, as the old Chinese saying has claimed him as one shining example.

  7. 2

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    I agree. Liu belongs to the old fool thinking because the world has changed and he has not. He is truly a relic of the past and this is where he best belongs. The new economy is more efficient, less reliant on labour. Technology and AI will make a lot of jobs obsolete. The world is already moving on to higher value stuff and even the government realises this. And he still wants to populate Singapore with more people, with more problems and less space. Someone should enlighten him or best, tell him to retire gracefully and keep his archaic ideas to himself.

  8. 0

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    Imagine if 80 % of the extra 4 million residents buy HDB flats , whose pocket is going to swell? The oldest flats will be reaching its age of 99 years in may be 40 years’ time,and all will become ZERO .This is called ‘袋袋平安’ and ‘代代平安’ but definitely not your pocket or my pocket,not your offsprings or my offsprings lor…hahaha..

  9. 0

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    In other places “high quality” has only meant jobs for the few. Not advocating higher pop. That is also just stupid. We need lower pop and we need to focus on giving jobs, both “high” and “low” end because that reflects the actual need of any population anywhere. What? We all IT savvy disruptors ?? Or we all flip burgers?
    We above all need to just shut the heck up about this fixation with branding and get on with it.

  10. 1

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    Dubai typed society! That’s what I saw coming into Singapore, 4 years ago when I had a stopover in Dubai enroute to Washington DC. With the model the PaP is building here in Singapore, that’s inevitable. It’ll be here either sooner or later. Just a matter of when.