Social Sciences & Economics & Michael Jackson

I wrote this when I was in Myanmar for an overseas community project with Youth Corps Singapore in December 2015.

As school is about to start, it is timely to revisit the reasons why I had chose to pursue a combination of Social Sciences & Economics. Granted, Economics IS a social science – the study of human behavior. Naturally, the two can be said to be highly complementary, especially for someone who has an inclination for public policy. In the light of recent events, such as Singapore’s economic competitiveness slipping down to 4th place and the provocative actions of the new Taiwanese President Tsai calling for China to apologise for the Tiananmen Incident and how a report suggested that Singaporeans are only tolerant of and not accepting of people with special needs, the insights drawn from the essay written 6 months ago still holds true – or perhaps, this is but a result of my hindsight bias.

“Social Sciences with Economics is like grass jelly drink with soy milk (Michael Jackson!) – a refreshing drink perfect for the humid Singapore weather. They are complementary and they are best used together to meet a common purpose (beat the Singapore heat!). However, unlike the drink found in our local coffee shops, Social Sciences and Economics are best used to advance the living conditions for the Singaporeans who may sometimes enjoy a good cup of Michael Jackson.

I envision a Singapore with close knit communities, resilient and generous individuals who place society before self, consume resources sustainably… A better Singapore. It will be an exhilarating journey, to do my part in pushing this little red dot to strive for much more than what it has already achieved.

To do my part for this city-state that I have grown up in and have much to be grateful for, I will need a key set of skills and knowledge that empowers me. Social Sciences, especially Political Science, will enable me to better understand the relationship between governmental institutions and the people they serve. I will also be able to see how and why policies are crafted in a certain way. Psychology, will allow me to better understand how the common man looks at and understands policies, how he or she reacts to it. Most importantly, how these policies can be tweaked to better benefit him or her. Economics will provide an essential repertoire of analytical tools, models and theories to help me make better decisions and shape effective policies. A deep appreciation of Economics is necessary to make sense of governmental policy-making, and how policies affect firms and consumers. After all, money is what makes policies.

However, as a result of technological advances, the growth of ideological fundamentalism and increased nationalism, the world today faces much more complex issues than before. Daesh, the threat of terrorism, slowing economic growth, ageing population, US-China hostilities, tensions in the South China Sea, the growing political plurality on home soil… Singapore will find herself needing to maneuver around an increasingly complex political and economic environment, while at the same time juggling societal aspirations and concerns. This is a time of great uncertainty for us, a young nation at 50.

The challenges ahead, are multidimensional. It affects both the economic sphere and the political sphere in which Singapore exist.

Economic growth in Singapore is slowing and the other Southeast Asian countries are catching up. How can Singapore manage to stay on top of the competition and continue to distinguish herself from her neighbors? Will the aspirations of my generation and younger Singaporeans be met?

In my opinion, this is a highly complex issue with no clear solution. The government has been slowing the intake of foreigners at least in part due to Singaporeans’ complaints and their unhappiness with increased cost of housing, hospital bed crunch, transport woes and stagnating wages that are largely associated with the liberal immigration policy. This liberal immigration policy has been key to delivering economic growth for our nation since its implementation. Local industries might have been over-dependent on the increase in foreign workers to boost productivity and output. Now, with the tightening on the inflow of foreign workers, our productivity and national income are struggling to take flight. Singaporeans wish to fulfill their aspirations, yet many of them wish to see less of foreigners working in Singapore. These two are inherently in conflict. Is it possible for us to bridge these issues? Probably yes, but definitely very difficult.

900,000. This is the number of elderly in Singapore by the year 2030. Ageing is a real issue, and affects Singapore’s economics, defence, healthcare and even politics. This is perhaps the greatest single domestic issue that Singapore will face within the next 20 years. How will we as a nation tackle this challenge? Will our economy stagnate, or will we emerge stronger as a society? How will this change our national values?

When ‘ageing population’ is first mentioned and the ideas of raised taxes and inadequate healthcare and defence capabilities come to mind. An ageing population does not necessarily represent a burden on the economy. When managed well, the skills and experiences of the elderly can be tapped on. Societal ties can be strengthened. A stronger national identity can be forged. New niche markets that cater to the elderly and their caretakers can be created, and possibly even exported overseas. It is easier said than done, many other countries have failed. There is no reason to believe Singapore will succeed just because she has proved the world wrong so many times. Singapore will need a creative set of policies to strive for this outcome.

The challenges Singapore faces, be it local or foreign have multidimensional aspects that require an interdisciplinary approach in tackling them. It is therefore insufficient to learn either Social Sciences or Economics and not the other.

For me, I am thrilled just thinking about the possibilities that lie ahead. The challenges that will come our way, and how we, as a nation will overcome them. Maybe, the answer to all these challenges lie in the perfect blend of our favourite Michael Jackson.”

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