Monday, February 18, 2008

Middle Class Woes

The 2008 Singapore Budget has acknowledged the importance of the middleclass..
Singapore's TodayOnline on 2008 Budget Speech

Mentioned 16 times, the middle class Singaporeans, which form the bulk of the working population. Looking at a bell curve, the 2 extremes which are the extreme wealthy and the extremely poor, should have no worries. Afterall, the rich have excess abundance of wealth for grand homes and able to pay their taxes , the poor are subsidised to the extent that they pay almost lesser than 100 dollars for monthly rented housing.

The bulk of the population falls under the category of Middle Class. Politically speaking, the Florida state of USA 2000 elections, which means it is the tipping point for elections. Win the tipping point and win the elections.

For Singapore, the tipping point would be the bulk, which is the middle class population.

As Singapore holds no natural resources, its humble beginnings relied heavily on the local workforce. Being strategically located, its port has been one of the major revenue and besides depending on techology, ports are operated mainly by a huge workforce. From there, sprouted its oil and gas refining beginnings as the ports made easy access from Asia to the world and vice versa.

In a way, it was good vision that made Singapore the famous port it is now and we should not forget that human resources are also a major factor in making Singapore so successful today.

With skilled labour and strategic location, there were still several needs to be addressed. Needs to ensure a productive workforce. Then in the early years of country development, housing issues were addressed by the Housing Development Board, HDB, to provide affordable housing for the workforce. Stability of the economy to ensure that the workforce need not worry about losing their jobs, Government initiated pension schemes [Central Provident Fund,CPF ] to assure the workforce that their retirement fund is covered and that will also assist in paying for their affordable housings.

I quote the following from Dennis Kucinich's rally for US presidential election site about his take on the middle class which I see happening in Singapore today.

Extract from above site subtitled : Survival of the Middle Class

It is a shocking - and dangerous - trend in the USA over the past 3 decades: the plummeting rewards and respect for hard work.

As a result, the middle class who has produced this magnificent American engine of economic growth is under intense pressure from the governing elites - of both parties. Risk envelopes the life of the average American employee while the casino capitalists at the top prosper. Global elites scour the globe in search of slave labor while some of them earn 36,000 times the wage of the average American worker and 580,000 times the average Chinese worker. The middle class has watched as their jobs are being exported, health care costs are soaring, wages are being depressed, tuition costs are rising and retirement savings and pensions are disappearing. All while wars damage their family's economic health and security are being waged in their name.

Perhaps not all that are mentioned above are applicable to Singapore's middle classes today but its easy to spot the similarities between the two nations.

Little subsidies are given to slow down the rising cost of living.
Much of it goes to investments elsewhere which is not in the country which the middle class contribute to.
Housing are no longer affordable and retirement funds which was extracted from the working employee is being governed as if it didn't belonged to them anymore.
Rising healthcare costs ensures that more money from the CPF is being funneled out and back into the state.
Education costs are higher than what it was and it seems to on the rising trend with yearly revisions up Northwards.

We are in no war but defense budgets skyrocket and take a significance portion of the annual budget.

Stability is rocking with the incumbent government is opening its doors and attracting foreign talents to work in Singapore. Perhaps in hope to fill the overpriced housing which the locals can no longer afford. Basic HDB houses actually costs 10 times more than what it was 20 years ago. I believe the middle class income for the same job did not match such inflation.

Taxes rise upon Electoral wins as opposed to other countries which promise tax cuts which their political parties win.

Usage of the infrastructure for commuting between home and workplace is getting more expensive as more road tolls are implemented for roads and highways, which were built more than 10 years ago. All in the name of preventing congestion. Funny how it works when a commuter pays a toll and still get stuck in a jam. Roads are built for a reason and it seems it is discouraged for commuters to use these roads or highways by implementing a toll. I'm sure the revenue from these toll collection will go into technology to create even more ways to collect toll charges.

Today, the nation is facing a shortage of babies. I'm sure there's a reason or combinations of reasons why this is happening....

Just choose a reason listed above..

The Middle Class, I believe, were not merely acknowledged for their existence but the Middle Class, are FEARED, for the majority of the population that they are and their ability and capacity as a Citizen to exercise their vote-casting rights.

I end this post on my blog with a quote from V for Vendatta [ A TV series that was made into a movie recently ]

The People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their People.

Today is 18 Feb 2008
Time is 1725 hrs

I am having financial difficulties paying for my house, my kid and my car.

Monday, February 11, 2008

We are Singaporeans!

The most dreadful thing a driver can see on a Singapore road these days is not an accident. We got insurance and airbags to cover both damages and safety.

As a new driver to Singapore, I'd begun to feel the pinch of paying the local road use toll charges on Expressways and entering the City. The word "City" in Singapore is used ambiguously. On one hand, most would recognise Singapore itself as a city as it is too small. To locals, City will mean the shopping belt and hotels area.

To prevent congestion, The Land Transport Authority has implemented Toll Collection aka Electronic Road Pricing [ERP] for vehicles entering the "City" area. This makes sense as it reduces traffic jam in the shopping area where we get the bulk of overseas tourists visiting. Singapore doesn't want to portray itself as like Bangkok with severe traffic issues.

Next, the expressways are also in the ERP scheme, having motorists to pay for smooth traffic to go to work in the morning. Now that makes sense as most expressways converge in the city area anyway.

In short, motorists would have to pay toll charges for entering City or using expressways to get to work. This also prevents motorists from travelling through the city to reach their destinations. Motorists will then have to detour by another road in order not to pay toll and the result was achieved, easing the traffic in the city.

Next, short notices were given that even on the route back from work, to homes in HDB heartland, ERP gantries will be installed. Not much explanation were given, other than to reduce traffic on the expressways. White and blue collar still went home, however, if your home is along places such as Ang Mo Kio, Toa Payoh, Yishun, Woodlands, you will most likely have to go through CTE and passing "several" toll gantries along the way. That will mean that if you are to drive home before 8pm, your journey will be more expensive than others living in areas such as Bedok or Tampines.

Funny how the incumbent Government is trying to promote family lifestyle and having more babies. Not sure if the Ministry of National Development and the Ministry of Transport are in sync with each other in the direction which the country is headed.

Now right in 2008, the LTA has announced even more gantries, it seems the city limits have been stretched to even places like Kallang and Boon Keng, which surprisingly have zero malls. When ERP was implemented for the expressways, to head to places near to the city, it appears that most motorist will avoid taking the expressway and thus travel the old routes [old days prior to the construction of the expressways] and this means travelling across places like Kallang, Lavendar, Boon Keng, Geylang.

There is no doubt that with the initial implementation of ERP on expressways, the traffic will detour via the roads going around the expressways. And now, the reason of implementing the new ERP gantries around these routes is the same. To "ease" traffic congestion. You can already expect the response from the motorists. However, as Singaporeans as tame and obedient, the response was not great enough for the authorities to reconsider their decision. Well, the people making decisions are ultimately chosen and elected by the public whom deem them as good decision makers.

So I quote my opinion from an engineering point of view based loosely on the Venturi Effect.

The law of fluid dynamics states that for an incompressible fluid, the rate of flow for the entrance and exit as it goes through a passage has to remain the same. Blocking or restricting the entrance or exit will only result in slower flow.

Imagine the fluid passing through a tube, blocking the exit will result in build of of pressure and also will reduce the rate of flow. If pressure is large enough, the tube will then break and the fluid will naturally flow out via the cracks. And at the cracks more blockage is also implemented. There seems no clear funnel for the traffic to go to with these gantries. ie I haven't got the faintest clue where LTA expect the traffic to go.

It just seems another method to collect revenue where ever possible without much obligations to the people whom had elected them. The backbone of the economy is based on the workforce. Sadly, Singapore is a place with zero natural resources. With cost of personal transport and public transport growing and totally out of sync with the manner which the income is rising, a big build up of pressure and a major slowdown is expected.

And when the pressure is big enough, there is only one imminent and inevitable result.