The most we can learn from Singapore is a laksa recipe

‘Professor of Social Work’. Can any job title make a right-thinking person reach for his pistol more quickly? Paul Yip Siu-fai, holder of this position at Hong Kong University, chides the Big Lychee’s leaders for failing to adopt a Singapore-style population policy…

Both Singapore and Hong Kong share very similar population characteristics: a rapidly ageing population and very low fertility rates. Both worry about the negative impact of a shrinking workforce with an ageing society.

However, the way the two governments are responding to the challenges is very different. Singapore has been trying to divert the course of its population development to a desirable direction whereas Hong Kong’s last administration just wasted time … we have yet to develop an integrated approach to enable our population to grow stronger and better.

He then describes priority housing, paternity leave and other Singaporean measures that, he says, lead the Lion City’s women to produce two babies each rather than Hongkongettes’ rather miserable 1.6. He continues…

The Singaporean government also realises the importance of building a strong, high-quality workforce. It has pledged that, by 2030, two-thirds of Singaporean workers will hold professional, managerial, executive or technical positions, up from half at present … increase the percentage of young people [at] university … identifying potential migrants who can contribute to the economy … diversified its industry [via] biomedicine, advanced electronics and green energy…

Unlike Hong Kong, where university attendance is low, growth even in boring old financial services is slow and the tourism industry is unbalanced. The Professor admits that immigration is provoking a backlash in Singapore; he also bemoans Hongkongers’ ‘protectionist’ views on migrant labour and foreign students, and business opposition to pro-family policies.

Buried away in the article is a brief mention that GDP does not necessarily equate to happiness. And few would dispute his concerns about Hong Kong’s livability. But the bottom line here is that humans are economic inputs – production units, sort of like ants, only harder to breed. The purpose of their existence is to expand output and replicate, and if they aren’t doing it enough to be able to repeat the cycle adequately, bureaucrats need to start micromanaging tertiary education rates and the number of children families have, to rear a ‘strong, high-quality workforce’.

For the last 15 years or so, Hongkongers have been told through various subtle or blatant means that their city is losing competitiveness, that other places will ‘take over’ – that they should fear the future. Some of the scaremongering may have had an element of truth; a lot of it seems to have been spread by local elites to suit their own agendas, while more than a little of it can be traced to Beijing’s officials seeking to cow the population into tameness and obedience.

Anxiety about Singapore is a particularly inane and facile part of this phenomenon. The correct view of Singapore is: Who gives a damn about Singapore? (If you do care about the place, it should be out of concern that they have held their economy back by importing semi-skilled Third World labour to keep outdated industries going. One former civil servant down there says the Lion City should ditch its World City pretentions and accept that at best it’s on a par with – he says – Zurich, Tel Aviv or an obscure turnip-growing community in England called Boston.)

Same goes for the ‘aging population’ hype. Some people deny climate change; I can’t believe that the aging population is a problem. How can people living longer because they are healthier be a ‘problem’, unless you see the world through the perverse eyes of a social-engineering eugenicist eager to roll out his detailed plans for universal compulsory euthanasia and pining for the days when typhoid eliminated the production units before their economic utility declined?

Hong Kong does have a cohort of poor elderly born and raised – and denied much education – during the chaos of the 1930s-40s. And we have ample resources to look after them. Subsequent generations will mostly have enough earning power to provide more for themselves in old age, and good enough health to work a few years beyond traditional retirement age if necessary. Education, antibiotics, clean water, sewerage systems and ample nourishing food have not created a ‘problem’. Former Chief Executive Donald Tsang and his followers would have you believe in this bogeyman, but they wanted an excuse to hoard the people’s accumulated wealth.

Obviously, Hong Kong does have some real problems. A massively screwed-up land/housing system, a distorted economy, unbreathable air and a Communist-approved government too weak to override the silliest little interest group. If babies could solve these problems – great. And we wouldn’t need to push Hong Kong women into reluctant motherhood: just give permanent residency to all those Mainlanders and Filipinos, and we’d have all the kiddies you could possibly need.

As it happens, babies are even less likely to provide solutions than a South China Morning Post op-ed piece. (Mercifully: imagine all the whining about the shortage of milk formula if each woman had 3.2 rather than 1.6 of the things?)

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39 Responses to The most we can learn from Singapore is a laksa recipe

  1. Bela Barmy says:

    I am always uneasy about Singapore. The fist time I went there, their dollar was on a par with the Swiss franc. That gave me a bad feeling from the word go. The people looked rather Swissified too: twee, totally unmemorable faces, neutralized.

    The other thing was that the first print journalist to interview me in Hong Kong was a Singaporean (plug, plug). She took my book and just copied parts of it for her two-page “article”. We may as well not have met. Lazy woman called Gwee. Is the Post still employing journos from Singapore who suggest they are dissidents or something when they’re just deadbeats?

    Your list of Hong Kong problems is a bit superficial. The main problems this territory has are:

    I’m all Right Jackism
    Property Price Bores
    Passive policemen and traffic wardens
    Slow moving pedestrians
    Dog piss stains everywhere

    They don’t show up in sociological analyses very often. That’s why only literature AND FINE BLOGS SUCH AS YOUR OWN tell the truth about anything.

    I feel better now.

  2. CY has learned from Singapore. Not this silly population management stuff, but litigating dissidents that think they can print unpatriotic drivel to pollute the fair minds of righteous Chinese citizens. Today the HKEJ, tomorrow FEER.

  3. Mongkok Mzungu says:

    Pro-natal policies out of GDP-type economic concerns give me the creeps, as do academics publicly fishing for advisory jobs.

    Nevertheless, the TFR and birth rates in Hong Kong are such low outliers internationally that it is hard to believe families would not like to have more children if some key things were different. Key things, as usual, include (cost of) child rearing (basically education and day care/helpers), and housing.

    Cost of housing is a huge one. Because it not only affects a couple’s desired number if children, but it is also one of the biggest factors of influence on marriage timing. Marriage timing in turn is very strongly negatively correlated to TFR. Ie, the more expensive housing, the later couples tend to get married, and the later they get married, the fewer children they tend to have.

  4. Bela Barmy says:

    Be FEER Tom. CY doesn’t believe in muzzling. He likes to kick ass. Sometimes a muzzle looks like a boot, but only from some angles.

    All power to CY. There are so many asses in HK who need kicking – Dr Evil Allan Semen, parallel traders and Property Baron Fronting journos are just this week’s batch. Get over it.

    And what’s the FEER actually? I thought it went West – unlike it’s doddery boring old hacks – years ago?

  5. Mary Hinge says:

    Both cities could use a short, sharp dose of bubonic plague. It would free up space, and stiffen the resolve to improve pest control.

    How I harken back to those blissful SARS-infested days when you could clearly see from one end of the shopping mall to the other.

    P.S. Singapore has quite nice black pepper crab, too.

  6. Analyst says:

    HKEJ…50% owned by Richard Li…must be objective then.

  7. Stephen says:

    Lots to learn from Singapore and we are learning;

    Convincing the world we are democratic when we’re not – the reforms for the 2017 Chief Executive should start this process off;

    The emasculation of the press – Work in progress TV’s gone, Newspapers going, just the Apple Daily left;

    Independent Judiciary – Don’t like the decision off you go to the NPC;

    Unclean Government – We came on leaps and bounds under the Duck;

    Thank goodness for the pollution or I’ll start mistaking this place for The Lion City La.

  8. Maugrim says:

    Sure, go right ahead. Two to three kids in a 500 square foot flat, exams to get a place in a kindergarten, consigned to a 6 day a week job paying $15,000 per month, I wonder why people aren’t jumping at the chance. As above, these spurious GDP based ideas are great when the subtext is about creating an underclass of obedient ants. The problem is just reality, thats all.

  9. Jeff says:

    Honkers is a great place for double income couples with no kids, and a hell for couples with kids. And the locals know it. So do I.

    The guy is an idiot, but what do you expect? HKU and the rest are full of these retards..

    If you want couples here to have kids, why not consider the following:

    1. Clean up the air.
    2. Ensure places in good affordable English language schools for ALL Hong Kong children, since that is clearly what 99% of local parents want.
    3. Provide tax credits for school fees. We keep giving fucking rates rebates to people whose flat values have doubled, why can’t we give school fees rebates?
    4. Doublet the annual tax credit per child.
    5. Replace one off land sales revenue with yearly property tax.

    Instead, Yip suggests a week off for paternity leave. I despair. What a muppet.

  10. Jeff says:

    Did not mean to offend all of HKU and other Profs here. There are very good ones of course, just not Yip’s type!

  11. Chimp says:

    Singapore is a pretty nice place to live, like Hong Kong. Compared to most western countries (particularly the UK and the US) there is relatively good personal freedom. I would give Hong Kong the edge in terms of actual democratic values and respect for human rights, though I would say HK has the edge on all but the most extreme democracies (Scandies, perhaps).

    It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good.

  12. Property Developer says:

    The traditional argument for avoiding imbalances in the age profile is the strain it puts on welfare. But since we don’t have any welfare to speak of, apart from virtually free housing for nearly half the population, that falls down.

    A generation ago we were bombarded with dire predictions about excessive world population growth — often, I suspect, the same people now telling us that the HK average living space of about 100 sq ft per person should be reduced. The aim being to have more ignorant property agents, innumerate insurance agents, illiterate teachers and greedy banking epsilons…

  13. Zoophile says:


    “Compared to most western countries (particularly the UK and the US) there is relatively good personal freedom”

    When did you escape?

  14. Chimp says:

    Around about the time they started putting camera’s looking through windows, and before they deployed crotch cams at airports.

    Remember: Everyone is guilty.

  15. Xiaoyao says:

    Jeff wrote: “Provide tax credits for school fees…. Double the annual tax credit per child.” Yes and yes. Obvious, easy to enact policies that would benefit those who could use the help.

  16. Mind the Doors says:

    @Zoophile. At least in Hong Kong and Singapore I have the freedom to let my teenagers travel on public transport late at night. I would not let them travel on any public transport, at any time of the day, in London, New York or any other of those bastions of freedom in the West.

  17. Sojourner says:

    Chimp — You write like a quintessential, stereotyped foreign expat on a undeservedly inflated salary.

    You don’t know many real Chinese, do you?

    Also please — oh pretty please with sugar on — learn the correct use of the apostrophe (and no, don’t blame it on typos).

  18. Sojourner says:

    Mind the Doors .. The trains ran on time in Fascist Italy too.

  19. Mjrelje says:

    MTD: do you seriously think that if you let your teenagers go out in London, New York or other bastions of western freedom that you mention they would be immediately harmed. Mlions of people use public transport at all times of day and night without harm. I know paranoia is massive in HK and reports of extremes are more available worldwide, but really don’t you think that teens and people in general are pretty safe in the world unless they are looking for trouble? I have 5 children (21 to 8) and have never had any worries of them using public transport, being out late or being alone. They know risk and how to avoid it. Parenting teaches them that not paranoia.

  20. Mjrelje says:

    Jeff: its not even a week off – its three measly days! Government employees get a week.

  21. Regislea says:


    I haven’t lived in the UK since 1977 – so I can’t really write from personal experience. What I can tell you is that my two sons – 40 and 38 – both ex-rugby players (one a hooker, one centre, at a decent level) won’t go out in Aylesbury – a country town about an hour from London – on a Saturday night. Not scared – just too much hassle – and they don’t look for trouble.

    A friend of mine returned to Sydney after a number of years in Hong Kong. He’s a musician, playing in pubs and clubs. Hates it because of “the underlying threat of violence”.

    Neither being paranoid – just being sensible.

  22. Bela Barmy says:


    Very astute. I agree. People live in fear in the UK. Never registers in economic analysis but it’s very real.

    As for Singapore, in much the same way, you either feel it or you don’t. Clearly Chimp believes good societies are free of Untermenschen.

    Most Singaporeans, like most Swiss, don’t need to fear the police. It’s the neighbours who police you. That’s the most insidious tyranny.

    I’m going shopping to Stanley Wellcome in my pyjamas now. Try doing that in Singapore! You can just about do it in the UK I guess.

    A free society is where you can be eccentric all the time. And Hong Kong is full of loonies. Hurrah!

  23. Mjrelje says:

    What is too much hassle in going out in Ayelsbury for a hooker and a centre player?! Seriously though, are you saying that grown men can’t just walk by and ignore / avoid ‘rowdy’ spots in a town center? Are they worried that they will be noticed or looked at? Has anything happened to induce this paranoia or is it just cozier to veg in front a TV and not bother going out at all?

  24. Mjrelje says:

    My wife was horrified when I suggested that my 11 year old son took the bus on his own to meet me in Wanchai. He had a mobile phone and a inbuilt sense of self preservation. What could go wrong?? What did go wrong? Absolutely nothing. What caused her concern? People believing that every time you go out alone as a child / adult you will be attacked by some random yob. The highest risk you have in UK is standing in a taxi queue and glancing at some bird’s half exposed tits. That will get you a slap in the face from her and her’s — even though they are dressed for display 🙂

  25. Sojourner says:

    Regislea, are you have a laff, mate? Having a right laff? Aylesbury?

    My son and daughter (29 and a beautiful 17 respectively) live in Nottingham, a city that consistently comes near the head of UK league tables for crime/violence, blah, etc., and, hey, guess, what? They go out at night without fear, with nary a trembling in their boots. And neither of them has come across a whit of aggro. Ever.

    On virtually every imaginable level relating to quality of life, comparing average life against average life, Nottingham exceeds Hong Kong, despite the latter being number 6, or whatever. in global GDP. If you think otherwise, you are an errant fool.

  26. Sojourner says:

    Regislea, yer right, old china, even rugger players walk in dread on the mean streets of fair Albion. ..
    Bollox, absolute bollox .. You havig a laff, mate?

    And Bela, you should know better than to give even a whit of credence to such twaddle.

    Some of the remarks by commentators on this blog are surreal to the point of Dadaist absurdity.

  27. Headache says:

    Sampler of night times and public transport “in the world” for Mjrelje:

    There is an overriding sense of safety in Hong Kong and Singapore.

    There is an underlying possibility of violence in the US, UK and Australia.

    There is a real danger of sexual molestation in the sub-continent and Indonesia.

    That’s for starters anyway. Family values? Try social facts.

  28. Joe Blow says:

    Reading these comments I suddenly got a flash-forward: this is what a Friday nite in an old people’s home must be like. (careful with the apostrophe or I’ll get hit with a Zimmerframe)

  29. Oik says:

    There’s an undercurrent of aggression present in almost every city centre pub in the UK in the evenings. Ok, London & the South East where I’m from. Perhaps not those posh places where the chattering class of Guardian readers hang out but eventually everyone has to venture onto the street and Fri/Sat nights at chucking out time are a war zone in places like Brighton and Croydon.

    These days it’s not just a bunch of fives to your chops either. The ones you’ve gotta be wary of are the scrawny little oiks in hoodies carrying blades (cos UK coppers are too afraid to stop & search any more).

    HK every time for me, thanks.

  30. Aghast says:

    Sojourner – you honestly think the quality of life in Nottingham is better than Hong Kong?

    Failed in Nottingham, failed in Hong Kong?

  31. Bela says:

    Naughty, naughty.

    If you guys would put your comments on EARLY IN THE DAY LIKE WHAT I USUALLY DOES, poor Hemlock wouldn’t have to interrupt his Ovaltine and new hardback book to display them.

    Help The Aged – Post Early.

  32. Mind the Doors says:

    Nottingham – 2010. 88 gun crimes, 15 confirmed incidents of open fire. one death. Population – 305,000

    Hong Kong – 2010. 15 gun crimes. No reports of open fire, No deaths. Population 7 + million.

    Think I know where I’d want to live.

  33. Bela says:

    ….AND the fact that people are writing comments about yesterday’s piece while waiting for TODAY’S UPDATE ought to be telling someone whose name begins with H to pull his finger out and update mid-morning latest. So there.

  34. Sojourner says:

    Er, yes …. For a person on median income, all things considered, the quality of life is definitively better in Nottingham than Hong Kong.

    Aghast, don’t froth, please. Take your medication and settle down in your bathchair for a nice cosy nap. It’s not my fault that the last time you were back in Old Blighty a Teddy Boy was rude about your cardigan.

  35. Sojourner says:

    There’s nothiing better than the smell of a bourgeois moral panic in the morning.

  36. Aghast says:

    Sojourner said ‘On virtually every imaginable level relating to quality of life, comparing average life against average life, Nottingham exceeds Hong Kong’


    How about life expectancy (74 for males in Nottingam), crime rate(highest in UK) obesity, smoking, unemployment(recently highest of UK cities, at least three times that of HK), alcohol abuse?

    Even the Council says : ‘The council also says ‘Nottingham has high rates of mental health problems and suicide compared with England. Mental health problems are often linked with deprivation, unemployment, drug and alcohol misuse, which are all issues in Nottingham.’

    But let’s quote another sojourner on life in Nottingham to get a real flavour :

    ‘nottingham live there for 5yrs,while working as security in student accomodation had my bicycle stolen lol,got headbutted in d nose for nothing while chattin to my gf from a stranger outside the pheasant when england got knocked out of world cup,could happen anwhere n world not jus notts lol,other than that all the so called scum bag pubs wer my locals,found most people in general wer sound,as anywhere stay away from scum and out of there bussiness and u b ok. ‘

    Now what sort of ‘imaginable level’ were you imagining?


  37. Sojourner says:

    Gor blimey, Guv, you really know how to blindside me with an erudition and a choice of unassailable primary sources that surely can only be exceeded by your indubitable personal charm.

  38. Aghast says:

    Love the funny voice! Bela does a really funny black woman – and a german and a vampire too!

    Perhaps you could do improv together.

    Or perhaps you could soj off back to your shithole in the East Midlands!

  39. Sojourner says:

    “Or perhaps you could soj off back to your shithole in the East Midlands!”

    Or you could say that to my face, old sport?

    Isn’t the anonymity of the internet a wonderful thing?

    you are such a winsome charmer!

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