Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Idea of "Two Singapores" is not a new concept. But I think this idea is.


Leader of Opposition Pritam Singh, I think the only SMU JD in parliament, went viral when he spoke about Two Singapores emerging if we fail to rein in inequality. 

Interestingly, this idea has been introduced previously by yours truly. 

I wrote Growing Your Tree of Prosperity in 2005, and I've taken a screenshot of a page I wrote about 18 years ago. I'm sharing another snippet of my writing.  

Having two Singapores is such an old idea. There is no novelty in talking about it. And in the SMU JD program, novelty earns you an A+ in-class participation. 

Singaporeans should consider themselves lucky these days if there are two Singapores. We can solve the problem by taxing one Singapore and distributing it to the other.

The problem arises if we have 20-30 different Singapores with their own social norms and circles. Policymakers will have a brain aneurysm trying to balance out this kind of society. 

There is a certain fractal quality of income gaps in any society. Policymakers can target broad differences, but the finer societal differences are impervious to policymaking.

Take, for instance, the salary gap between polytechnic and university graduates. We're focused on that today.

But it gets more interesting. If you zoom into different local degrees, there is a gap between non-professional and professional degrees. You can google the massive difference in salary between an NUS graduate in Art, Media and Design versus a Law or Computing degree.

It gets worse. 

Within a degree qualification, major gaps exist as well. Compare lawyers' salaries in an international firm versus a big 4 versus a small firm. Look at the difference between what a Specialist earns compared to a GP. There might even be an intra-group salary gap.

As you zoom in on a population, you will find a gap between different sub-groups within a population. As you zoom into these sub-groups, you may find more gaps. If the gaps worsen over time, it may be because the premium knowledge workers are getting higher regardless of which sector you are in. 

If there are many Singapores, Then as a policymaker and individual, you've got a severe problem. No matter how much training, you'll always be in a collective with vast salaries and income gaps. 

If there are two Singapores, one Singapore is happy and cannot complain. If we have 32 Singapores, only one Singapore will be happy at the pinnacle of society. Does taxing the upper echelons solve that problem?

Economic intervention is something that MUST be done. But it will only solve the problem if we also attempt to change the mindset of citizens, which is hard and involves many fine-tuned interventions. Moving a rich-kid primary school to Tengah will just be the beginning. 

There might be one, albeit ugly, alternative.

Singapore stops seeing itself as a country but a temporary place to earn money. So we take in foreign talent, let them work and try to succeed in a low tax regime, but eventually, most of them will go to a cheaper place to retire. Some foreigners will make it to have children, but they will eventually be tested because they might not make it to produce the next generation. Future immigrants may drive real estate to levels the previous generation will not be able to handle. There's a certain perverse justice and fairness in all of this since most of us are descended from immigrants anyway. 

If you are an opposition MP or PAP supporter who wants to mine future talking points in Parliament, do follow the links to Amazon to buy my book. 

I'm also available to give speeches to your party cadre.


  1. Hi, which blog post is the first snippet taken from?