[Also on Today, 21 Mar 2009 "Will we be last of the Mohicans?"]
SINGAPORE: Even after the millions spent on Baby Bonuses and other parenthood incentives, policy-makers are confounded by a problem that goes to the very heart of survival: Singaporeans are still not reproducing themselves.
And on Friday, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew reflected on this challenge at the National University of Singapore Society's (NUSS) dialogue on "Singapore and Singaporeans: A Quarter Century From Now".
In Singapore, he said, it is becoming a "lifestyle choice" for women past the age of 30 to stay single as they are well-travelled and have no one to worry about.
"My daughter is one of them. What can I do? When she was in her early 30s, my wife used to tell her, what you want is a 'MRS'. She did not think it was funny.
"Now she is 50-plus, her mother is bedridden, I'm on a pacemaker, I got this rambling house. Everything is looked after now. What happens if we are both not there?...
"She says, 'I'll look after myself'. But we know she has not been looking after herself all these years. When she went to Boston for training, her cooking was to just to put her salmon into the microwave."
Mr Lee added: "But that's life. It's a choice that she has made, and a choice that 30 per cent of our women are making. Who am I to complain? Society lives with the consequences it is making."
The problem that this trend creates: "Without new citizens and permanent residents, we are going to be the last of the Mohicans. We are going to disappear".
But immigrants bring their own challenges to a society.
Some Singaporean parents have complained about migrants entering schools and competing with local children. He urged parents: "Would you want them to compete against you or with you as part of the team? If you don't have them with you as part of your team, they will be on the Chinese and Indian team."
Some of these migrant students, he acknowledged, use Singapore as a stepping stone to other countries. So "why are we so stupid" in allowing this?
"Because more than half (of these students) do not make the grade to go to America, and the second tier is not bad for us."
Singapore needs to draw from a big talent pool beyond its own shores, "so that we can continue to punch above our weight. No other way".
"Would you want the pie to grow? You want a small pie with your children taking the last portion, or a big pie where you get a bigger portion, even though the talented person may get a bigger slice? That's life. If you are afraid of talent, you will not succeed."
One catch he foresees: Even as the second generation of today's immigrants become more Singaporean, one dubious habit they might also adopt, is to have only one child.
"So we got to make this breakthrough, otherwise we are going to have a constant problem.
"We got to get people to realise that if we don't have 2.1 (babies) to replace ourselves, we are always dependent."
Earlier in the evening, Mr Lee officially opened the new NUS Alumni Complex, which comprises the redeveloped NUSS Kent Ridge Guild House and Shaw Foundation Alumni House. - TODAY
[MM Lee suans his daughter in public. :-) But it is a rare personal insight into his life and perhaps his regrets. ]