Could This Be Why; The Singapore Population is Shrinking? Part II
December 18, 2007
See what I mean, trying to pin down the real reasons behind why Singapore has a shrinking population isn’t so simple. One clue that may shed some light into the mystery is to be found in; how economist have traditionally defined economic man and more important codified what he traditionally aspires to do, if he were faced with a series of life decisions – generally, it wouldn’t be wrong to say, Economic Man only has one thing in his mind - $
Why is that a problem? It’s a big problem - as it means when economist talk of money supply, (it’s a bit like watching a continental movie, what you hear is not as important as what you read), it doesn’t half mean quite the same thing in English as it does in Economese.
Economist only refer to money as in the traditional sense of the word i.e paper money, currency, checks, credit cards, you know the stuff that makes the world go round and that’s where I suspect the calculations may have gone awry straying off the mark. Just as economic theory attempts to explain the abstraction of life by imposing some intellectual order on events and phenomenon, it also means it will always continue to remain blind to the other dimensions of life which defy quantification such as health, peace of mind, quality of life or whether you have the opportunity cost to luxuriate in the privacy of your little room hunching over your computer reading this while picking off dead skin from your big toe.
Nor does the model of Economic Man take into account the phenomenon called “downshifting.” As the word implies, it’s the direct opposite of not having a choice rather it emerges from the full consciousness, one is reconciling a lesser utility or return in exchange for another equivalent utility, only its one that cannot be possibly recognized by the formulaic economic approach.
Downshifting looks like the stuff of irrationality, it’s reminiscent of the hippy culture during the 60′s: opting for being less busy, taking time off to meditate, getting off the treadmill of life to do something which Economic Man cannot possibly even fathom, such as smelling the roses.
One reason why downshifting is yet to register in the radar of economist and policy makers is the very idea of attaching the word “deliberate” to earning less – still sounds nonsensical to those who still cling to the infallible model of economic man. However, denying it does little to make it disappear. Downshifting is rapidly gaining recognition in the age of globalization. Even sociologist have recognized an emerging phenomenon of downshifters in Western countries, as many of 15% of Americans have already made the decision to opt out of the rat race preferring a slower paced life. Neither does it take much conceptual acuity to understand why either: as the pace of life increases exponentially with Moore’s law, new levels of complexities brought forth by the new paradigm management such a multi-tasking, strategic rotation and having to understand the entire length and breadth of the business process – brings into stark focus Thoreau’s dictum that:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Against this bleak world, downshifting is a reversal from the idea that we are somehow only alive during rigorous leisure time stolen from “dead” time of work. Yes, I do not discount there are those who may find comfort and joy and even eventually discover the meaning of life from work (like most erudite lot in SPH), but for the mass majority of well balanced workers, work fortunately is still perceived as a poor substitute of life – it’s simply a means to an end. There are moments granted when the hair at the back of neck does stand up along with other body parts, but the vast majority of time. It can at best be described as a tedium or repetitive litany. That’s the reason why 76.8% of heart attacks in the Western world occur on Mondays in between the hours of nine and ten in the morning. (so that’s a career tip, lay the bad news thick and furious on your manager early on a Monday, when his eyes start rolling over and he begins to turn slightly bluish, it simply means you are going to get that promotion over his dead body!)
Contrary to popular myth neither are only white collar workers the ones necessarily opting out of the rat race, presumably because they no longer see the merit of living the a battery chicken existence. Even professionals such as lawyers are downshifting en mass as they give up legal practice preferring an in-house counsel job that takes them out of the mind dumbing long hours and dead days. Again these decisions are usually made with foreknowledge of cost penalties which translates into a lower salary, but it is a decision that obviously has pay outs.
The trend of downshifting goes a long way to explain why couples these days are not only deferring their plans to start a family, but they are consciously making decisions to say, “no.” To posit the factorial money, cost of living, time and opportunity cost lies at the root of the baby crisis is at best an oversimplification of a very complex problem. Yes these factors do certainly feature in the decision nexus, but if the solution were that simple then how can on account for the paltry baby birthrates of most EU countries after having addressed all these structural shortcomings?In short, the real problem is one that goes beyond the structural and even the notion of Economic man. It’s one that is firmly rooted in uncertainty which invariably breeds fear in our inability to exert full control over our destinies. Our own fears, refracted and enhanced by ever increasing demands to work smarter, faster and harder is simply reaching a point of diminishing returns when its no longer perceived as an enduring utility that’s even worth chasing. One where it may even be argued our level of fear is no longer a reflection of the actual risk level. As 9/11 as shown us what constitutes “fear” and “loathing” is largely a matter of perception and has very little to do with perceived truth and even less to do with reality. Rather much of what actually makes up the reality of fear is largely imagined.
Downshifting offers the promise of reclaiming these lost chapters of life, putting them back into perspective and harmony – work and leisure, work and family and much more – its not simply about escaping the cacophony of modern life, that may be possible in America or Canada, but in a city state like Singapore, that form of escapism just isn’t physically possible – if anything, downshifting if I was pressed to define it, is a conscious decision; to live with less in the hope of getting out more out of life.
If you really think about it, downshifting makes alot of economic sense from an energy conservation perspective at least – if nothing else can be severed to yeild an advantage; not work, not if one simply doesn’t have the qualifications that firms are willing to pay for. There really is only one option –forestalling the stork permanently.
To suggest the dismal baby births can be arrested or even reversed by “more education, day care centers, monetary incentives, parental holidays and medical provisions without first addressing the root cause: fear brought forth by an age of uncertainty is to miss the point entirely.
The cost of living in fear is huge, people don’t start businesses, they don’t speak out, preferring to tow the line, they look down when others challenge them, they don’t make eye contact preferring to avoid conflict. Above all is it such a wonder when people fear as they often do – they dowan to make babies.
(By Harphoon, Astroboy & Pumpman / Socio / Politics / EP 99037739 -2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)
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