Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sylvia Lim, PAP MPs spar over happiness gauge

Oct 18, 2011


By Tessa Wong

WORKERS' Party chairman Sylvia Lim locked horns with PAP MPs Cedric Foo (Pioneer) and Heng Chee How (Whampoa) yesterday over her criticism of the Government as too focused on gross domestic product growth, at the expense of Singaporeans' happiness.

In her maiden speech as an elected MP, Ms Lim (Aljunied GRC) said Singapore had co-sponsored Bhutan's resolution at the United Nations General Assembly titled Happiness: Towards A Holistic Approach To Development.

She wanted to know what measures the Singapore Government planned to put in place to measure happiness and how its policies over the next five years would be guided by such indicators.

She also observed that headline figures on GDP growth mask the 'harsh realities' for certain groups of Singaporeans.

These include the bottom fifth of households by income, a group whose wages have stagnated in the last decade, those who feel unfairly treated as compared to foreigners, families hit by divorce who are left homeless, as well as seniors who worry about health-care costs, she said.

She cited Singapore's low fertility rate as an example of a policy the Government would approach differently if it were more concerned about happiness.

Quoting an article published in The Straits Times last month, she said National University of Singapore economist Tilak Abeysinghe had found that - based on data from 1977 to last year - fewer children were born when home prices rose.

Ms Lim said yesterday: 'If the happiness and sustainability of Singapore's society is the overarching goal, then there's a need to unravel the exact relationship between high property prices and fertility and what responses might arrest or even reverse the decline in fertility rates.'

[As my stats professor explained many times, correlation is not causation. And in this case, there isn't even a consistent correlation. After the 2000 spike which was mainly due to the Dragon year phenomenon, the housing Affordibility Index (HAI) actually increased slightly (which means housing is more affordable), but TFR continued to crash. There is a relationship... if you ignore the inconvenient exceptions that cannot be explained.]

Her speech drew swift rebuttals from Mr Heng and Mr Foo. Mr Heng challenged her to come up with ideas to help Singaporeans pursue happiness.

Mr Foo questioned Ms Lim's choice of Bhutan as a model for Singapore to follow, pointing out that the landlocked Himalayan nation of 700,000 people has a per capita GDP of only about US$2,000 (S$2,500) compared to Singapore's, which is over US$43,000.

'I think the opposition member couldn't have chosen a more dissimilar country to compare Singapore with. We are exposed to the seas, exposed to the onslaught of competition from the world, we were dealt a different deck of cards... and we must find our own formula forward,' he said.

Mr Foo also pointed out that Bhutan was for many years a monarchy and held its first general election in 2008. Perhaps it was because Bhutan only has two opposition members in its legislature's Lower House that 'the people are very happy', he added.

Observing that happiness measures are meant to complement, not replace, GDP growth figures, he said: 'I want the opposition member, Ms Sylvia Lim, to clarify whether GDP growth is total baloney.'

Ms Lim said she did not say GDP was irrelevant as an indicator, but that international opinion showed it is 'inadequate to represent the state of happiness or sustainability or well-being of a society'.

[Other comments on the HAI-TFR "link" :

Before we can pursue happiness, we have to first define it.]

No comments: