Population Ponzi

In the townhall dialogue “Our Population, Our Future” attended by about 200, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean commented on Singapore's declining birth rate,

“1.2 means that for every 100 Singaporeans in this generation there will only be 60 Singaporeans in the next generation on average. In the generation after that, there will only be 36 Singaporeans, and because more people are living longer, the 36 people will have to look after the 60 people from the previous generation and most of the 100 people from the generation before that.”

Most of you think you are convinced but in reality you are merely misled by this over-simplistic concept. Let's look closer into Teo's message. 2 generations from now (3rd generation), there will only be 36 people looking after 160 people (optimally). That must be a scary thought. Thus ideally, there must be 160 people looking after these 160 people and the shortfall will come from the natural birth (increase of birthrates of citizens) and immigration (import of foreigners).

So if we have 160 people taking care of every 160 people, is that a perfect scenario and all problems solved? Not for the 4th generation, if you realise there are now 220 people to take care of (assuming the first generation completely dies off). Well, we can always import more foreigners to make up 220 people to take care of every 220 people right? The answer lies in this graph.

For the last 10 years, Singapore has increased 1 million in population from 4 million to 5 million. Taking a single generation to be around 20 years and maintaining our population growth of the last 10 years, the Singapore population will be: 7.2 million in the year 2032 (2nd generation from today). By the third generation, Singapore will need 10 million people in the year 2052. Can we support a 10 million population? Sure we can start building a underwater city, or bridge ourselves to Pulau Ubin and other southern islands. Bear in mind the cost of housing per person will be exponentially higher compared to the traditional HDB housing. Yes, we can break our physical and technological limits yet. But will we come to a point where though it may be possible to physically support a bigger population but is no longer financially feasible to do so? Very likely. So why is our government insisting on a strategy which is obviously unsustainable?

We have to look closely at the idea Teo Chee Hean termed 'looking after'. What does the government meant exactly when they need a bigger, newer population to sustain the current? Does it sounds suspiciously like a Ponzi scheme here? Is there something in the financial dynamics of Singapore that is failing behind that scenes but remains unannounced to the public? Why are we focusing on demography pyramid rather than working on empowering each citizen to be financially sustainable until death  instead of focusing on quick-fix fallacies?

If we work on this instead, the national birth rate will not be crucial to our survival as portrayed. The increase in cheap labour population which resulted in depressed wages and increased inflation is fast forcing out the concept of retirement for each Singaporean. Instead, we are looking to pump in the numbers to balance up the financially exhausted elderly population till they wither off the face of earth. This strategy appears to be a complete contradiction of we should be focusing on. The government is evidently only interested in GDP growth, privatising the profits and socialising the cost of the exponential population growth. When the bubble finally burst one day, companies will consolidate profits and cut losses to protect their capital gains over the years, the public will be left to pick up the pieces with alarming unemployment figures that leads to even more depressed wages, falling incomes, higher debts, increased crime rates, and more homelessness.


  1. so, that's why you and your family members have "run road" from SG to perth.

  2. While we have been growing the numbers to take care of rapidly growing numbers, we have added a whole lot more people who will need to be taken care of. So yes, even higher numbers will be needed, as you point out.

    We have also overlooked the kind of changes sociey needs to make to accomodate an older population, beyond nursing homes and care centres. Things like refiguring jobs so older people can do them. (There has to be a limit on cardboard box collectors needed.) Speed limits on roads. Doing the weekly marketing (how much goods and weight can an older person buy at one go and tote home on public transport?) I guess these will be addressed as the PAP loses more GRCs.

    1. The PAP will not lose any more GRCs. You have misplaced faith in Singaporean voters, who, just like their leader, are not known for having balls.

      Why am I so confident of that? Because last year, when things were presumably so bad, almost 2 in 3 voted the PAP back into power. Almost 2 in 3! So what if it was their lowest percentage ever? 81 of 87 seats are theirs. And with the first past the post voting system, all they need is just one vote more than the opposing parties, and they'll win.

      So what if they lose another GRC in 2016? They will still have 75-76 seats. At the rate of 1 GRC lost per election, 5 elections, or 25 years would have passed before they have less than 45 seats. How old would you be in 25 years? And even when they lose power, do you think that magically the next day after the election everything will be fine and dandy?? It will take another 10-15 years, assuming the opposition hold on to power, before real change can be felt.

      Truth be told, the boat has sailed. 2011 was the last chance and it is too late now. Get out before the island sinks.

    2. CK, I totally agree with you. That was why I went ahead to apply for my AUS PR after GE2011, the rest is history now.
      Rather than depending on the silent majority for the CHANGE, I effect my own CHANGE which is much more easier and faster.
      But nevertheless, I will not forsake my bro and sis from 39.9% in GE2011, I will return to vote against PAP in 2016.

    3. I returned to vote last year, but in 2016 I will not be a citizen anymore.

    4. Sad to hear that you won't be able to vote in 2016 but happy for you.
      Hope that one day I will follow your footsteps on the same path to give up my citizenship.
      You will be cashing out your CPF money soon, huat ah!

    5. Giving up citizenship is a personal decision (duh) and everyone has different reasons. Money is a good reason, but shouldn't be the only one (I don't have much in my CPF anyway, heh). For me, it is mainly because I don't identify with the values and principles of the country anymore.

    6. Dear CK,

      However, values and principles can change, both on the country and personal front. I am neither discouraging or encouraging you. Just wondering is it necessary to change?

    7. Boss (of the blog),

      You are right in that values and principles can change, both on the country and personal front. But me being me, I need to go all out (or all in). Cannot just put in the tip only.

  3. @CK, what if they lose 2-3 GRCs every election?

    1. Like I've said, I cannot see that happening. More than half the population would have to starve for that to happen, and PAP is too smart to let that happen.

      It didn't happen last year, and it wouldn't happen in future. Your best bet would still be one GRC at a time.

      I would be very happy to lose the bet, but I'm afraid I understand the psyche of Singaporeans better than they do themselves.

      Which is why I left.

  4. The elections dept comes under the purview of the PMO and you can bet your last $ gerrymandering will be taken to another level. Sure-win GRCs will have 10 or more team members and those deemed as 50/50 chance will make do with just 2 or 3 members. Don't be surprised with just 50% votes the PAP can claim 95% seats.

  5. Hi Nix,

    I chanced upon your blog while playing around with Google Suggest (why do Singaporeans ...). I really like your writing and think that you have a real gift. Been reading your older posts. I hope you don't ever stop writing even when life gets busier. Anyway, best wishes to the three of you.

    My thought on the foreign talent/worker policy is that it is not so much about the low fertility rate as it is about GDP growth. The low fertility rate is a problem for the future. At the moment, there are enough workers to support the aging population. In 15-20 years, if the low fertility rate persists, there won't be. Having more foreign workers today isn't necessarily going to solve the future demographic problem. Many of them are going to return home, and those who stay may not have enough children to add to the future workforce.

    However, having more foreigners helps "leverage" the economy and ramps up GDP. I think that is the primary reason for the foreign worker/talent policy.

  6. AH Kong is good at predicting the future. He is probably able to predict some SARS will come along and wack about half the population off the small island. The turth is our reserve suffered a lot of blow just like pension funds all over the world. To make up, importing foreigners is the fast and easy way out.