Is the Singaporean going to be extinct due to fifth lowest baby rate?

October 13, 2016

imageQ: What do you think is the cause of our lamentable birth rates in Singapore?

A: There are many causes. You could just as well pick your favorite bug bear ranging from the high cost of living to the idea babies these days are perceived as a liability rather than a boon.

Q: Do you think this trend can be reversed in Singapore? There is a lot of evidence that suggest both France and the Scandinavian countries have managed to successfully reverse the tide.

A: I think the difference between those countries and Singapore is notable in so far as the political leadership in both France and Scandinavia have placed the highest priority and strategic interest on improving their once lamentable baby birth rates. In the case of Singapore. I want to be polite. So I will just say there is a lot of room for improvement in those two areas.

Q: So you think the decline in baby births is inexorable in Singapore?

A: Well let’s put it this way. With the passing of every year, the benefits of having children decreases while the risk associated with child rearing seems to increase exponentially to a point where I believe there are really more penalties now than plus points.

Q: I take it you don’t believe anything constructive will come out of even a frank discussion on this subject?

A: It depends on what and how you define as ‘frank?’ Like I said, I want to remain polite. So let me just zoom into the cogent. It’s all water under the bridge. It’s not as if this isn’t a well trodden path where anyone who has followed the narrative knows all the set piece discussion by heart. I imagine many of them will likely go into this ‘frank’ discussion with a sinking déjà vu feeling. So let us speak frankly about the expected outcome of having a frank discussion on our baby blues – nothing new will emerge.

Q: You don’t see improving incentives as a solution?

A: I do. But I also recognize the diminishing aperture of being able to effectively influence couples to jump into bed and produce babies. I think there was a time when that idea could have been further sharpened to yield statistical plus points – but as it is, the math is dead stacked against young couples opting to have children.

Before it was just Holland V Veronica hanging up her eggs because she wanted to impersonate Sumiko Tan to prove she could go as far as men in whatever chosen parallel universe they lived in. But these days even Sengkang Sally has decided to give the idea of baby making the thumbs down. To paraphrase, we are dealing with a very serious problem at not only a systematic financial level that threatens the continuation of the nuclear family. But I suspect, at some point even the best social planners will have to recognize the law of diminishing returns or worse still the doctrine of reinforcing failure.

Q: What do you see as the prescriptive cure for this systematic problem?

A: I much prefer to remain silent.

Q: Many years ago, you mentioned lebensraum as a possible solution to our lamentable baby blues. As I remember it, you received a lot of criticism for your proposed solution. Do you still believe in the idea of lebensraum?

A: Yes, absolutely. I see this idea as the only sustainable solution to improve two main constraints that militate against couples deciding to have babies – space and opportunity.

Q: I think many people fifteen years ago did not really understand your concept of lebensraum – it was labelled as an ultra right wing militant concept that turned off many. Would you like to clarify your position?

A: I never ever used that word to specifically describe my suggested solution. If memory serves it was labelled as such in forum discussions and the tag just stuck. But since you have given me the platform to clarify my position. I will reiterate my main point. Basically I have always perceived very real limits to natives having any credible incentives to jump on the baby train if they remain in Singapore – one reason is because wages are stagnating and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future and the cost of living is ratcheting up year by year. So what you have is an acute imbalance between aspirations and what’s possible. The tragedy is most natives genuinely want to have kids. Most simply can’t afford too in super expensive Singapore thru no fault of their own as I mentioned space and opportunities is the primary root causes.

The idea of space or what many of my detractors label as lebensraum goes beyond the idea of physical space. Space if you think about it encapsulates really a broader paradigm. It’s really an attitude. Play around with this idea, if I gave you just three hundred square foot to play around. Maybe you would start a nick nack shop selling cigarettes, snacks and newspaper or dabble with the idea of a mee pok stall. If I increase it to maybe eight hundred square feet, we are talking about a cafe, bistro or maybe a shop retailing stuff. If on the other hand I kick the door down and give you two hundred hectares. That’s really another ball game. You would be talking about mining, commercial farming and maybe a whole community complete with schools, provision shops and even a town hall. So to me the idea of space and opportunity is really one of the same reality. You could just as well use either term to denote the same thing and that might also supply an explanation why most Singaporean enterprises seem to be pretty much run of the mill. Everyone wants to open up a cup cake shop or a boutique cafe where they sell basically the same stuff as the next entrepreneur next door. That brings me back to my original supposition concerning how space or the perception of it can actually transform one’s attitude towards the scope of possibilities. And with the idea of space naturally opportunity enters the discussion – where I envision Singaporeans relocating to countries with a lower index of cost of living and most importantly a higher opportunity for increased earning capacity to offset this perennial constraint in space and opportunities in Singapore.

Q: Even you cannot deny there is an imperialistic tone to your strategy that harks back to Nazism?

A: I categorically object to this line of questioning. I will be lodging a protest to the Guilds and the Confederation concerning this matter.

I apologize but this conversation is over.

(Interview continuation)

Q: Allow me to quote word for word what you once wrote in Ekunaba concerning this subject of space and opportunity as the keystone of your suggested solution to improve the birthrates.

‘During it’s zenith, the British Empire covered an area of 4 million square miles. To my understanding this miraculous feat of empire building cannot be mere coincidence – circa 1850 – 1900.

This was also the period when the British were most productive in chid rearing. Historians have often suggested the motivation behind Britons having more children becomes more apparent when one considers this period coincided with the advent of the industrial revolution. A period of relative economic stability and prosperity – others have forwarded the notion, the age of the machine spurred ship construction and modern armaments to expedite conquest.

But what has often been elided from all discussion behind the motivation for Victorians to have larger families was the strategic need of the frontier gentry class to perpetuate their mercantile colonial interest in far flung corners of the world — by this period, the markets for British goods had opened up to such a degree areas, coupled with the vast resources of cheap monopolized raw materials that only large families could possibly perpetuate the idea of empire.

Britain’s empire was merely aided by the Industrial Revolution, which provided the tools of conquest, such as the repeating rifle, the railway, and the steamship. Such technological advantages would have amounted to nought had it not been for the frontier classes perceiving the strategic wisdom for large families to perpetuates their wealth in the colonies.

This should prompt us to ask – which came first. Big families or empire? Both in my opinion were necessary to sustain the idea of large families along with empire building. One cannot speak the language of empire without the automatic inclusion of large families anymore than you can talk about flight without wings.

Understand this! Empire is synonymous with the idea of space. We must not be coy or skittish about drawing these linkages. Only because space has the effect of altering our perception of goal setting – consider this. If you are just a salaried man. Your planning horizon is limited to only the moment you start work and end. The day you reach your run out date. The only thing that occupies your planning horizon is whether you can fit all the junk in your cubicle into the cardboard box. That’s it! But consider this. If by some improbability you manage to get your hands on a 99 year concession or lease of land. Then your planning horizon goes beyond just you and even has the capacity to overreach into the next generation. Hence the topic shifts to the child bearing.’

Do you deny writing all this?

A: No.

Q: Do you still believe in what you wrote?

A: Yes. Although I must say. I was much younger then and didn’t really understand the importance of being politically correct. If I wrote it today. I would probably phrase it differently. It’s always been very difficult for me to communicate with others – as I am autistic. People always take my words out of context by phrasing the meanings different from what I meant it to be. That is why I prefer to keep quiet these days.

Q: Let me understand this correctly. You draw the linkages between empire or space with the idea of opportunity that makes possible the idea of large families. So what you are in effect saying is for Singaporeans to be internally and deeply convinced of the benefits of child bearing. They too would have to emulate the colonialist?

A: I think this goes back to what I mentioned earlier. There is really only so much that can be expected from government inspired incentives to improve the motivation for natives to have more babies.

What I supposition attempts to suggest is the idea of creating the appropriate context to transform this motivation into a strategic priority at the level of the family. That is to say unless the head of the house is able to be convinced that it makes sense to start a family. Then I believe all attempts at trying to motivate him by other means will fail.

Q: I don’t wish to come across as presumptuous. But you have very cleverly avoided all mention of empire and colonial expansionism in your response. Can you please elaborate further in response specifically to these two ideas?

A: Empire and the genre of words that are associated with it is understandly these days considered repugnant and morally reprehensible. But I have always believed this simple explanation misleads terribly.

It seems we are content to harbor double standards when it comes to all discussion concerning empire and colonialism – for example, we remain inexplicably ambivalent about Google’s insidious marketing strategy to snoop on our browsing history to enable marketers to prompt us to buy stuff that we don’t need – in the same vein, when multinationals are conferred vast tracts of land concessions or mining rights in third world. Again we hardly seem capable of registering the similarities between the globalist and colonialist. Not even when some of these concessions are so large that it could even be said, it’s not unreasonable to say these multinationals are in fact indulging in not only the power and politics of the colonialist – but since their influence is so pervasive that these multinationals can even modulate our everyday behavior, responses and frame of thinking. Aren’t they actually establishing a form of fiefdom. Since they regularly plant flags in the head of people telling them how they should best live, work and play?

But what I consider highly hypocritical and even double standards is when I advocate that Singaporeans should go out into the world to improve their lot economically so that they don’t have to bear the ravages of globalization in the form of wage stagnation and the high associated cost of doing business – then everyone accuses me of promulgating an ultra right wing fascist ideology.

Q: One of the most disturbing aspects of your strategy to encourage Singaporeans to have more babies involves the idea of creating settler communities in far flung corners of world. Where these communities would be headed by Ostfrontiers. My understanding is these are agrarian based communities – is it right to say yours is a strategy that paints a fairytale image of Singaporeans working in farms in distant corners of the world. That idea as quaint as it may seem doesn’t sit very well with that other idea, Singapore is a land scarce country. As Philip Yeo put it succinctly, there is no agriculture in Singapore. How do you reconcile this hubris? Surely this is the reason why so many people believe you are mad.

A: When people choose to label me as a mad person. To me. It is an exercise in power. My hope is that we can at least agree on that. Whether one is attaching labels to an act, logic or just people who may think and see the world differently from them – all they are doing is attempting to assert power of a sort where they want everyone else to believe in their reality.

But let us look at the trek record of these so called sane people – all they seem to be doing is reinforcing failure by their lack imagination. Our lamentable birth rate speaks for itself and with Zika now in the equation as a mainstay it is likely to get worse.

So I would appreciate it if you don’t assign meaningless labels to me. By all means label what my suggested solutions as mad if you will. But to call me mad is in my opinion really uncalled for.

By the way I have asked you to do this before. Can you please structure your questions one at a time instead of giving out rhetorical statements with so many questions. Otherwise maybe I should be the one interviewing myself.

Q: I am sorry. I meant to ask how is possible for a country such as Singapore with no agriculture to assert itself in the world stage as a colonist and why specifically agriculture as the main thrust of your pioneering effort – why not banking or the service industry where we already have critical core competence and mass?

A: Let me just say this first. As I genuinely want to keep the atmosphere nice and polite. I happen to have a lot of admiration for Mr Philip Yeo. I think he is a top drawer bureaucrat with a proven record in cracking hard nuts. But when it comes to his assessment that Singapore has no agriculture – that should not have been the primary reason for policy planners to shift their focus away from building core competencies on that area.

On the contrary, it is precisely why we have no agriculture – that is why we should have pursued building up linchpin knowledge to dominate this field instead of relegating to zero priority.

As even agrarian based societies such as American with it’s endless hectarage of wheat and barley belts to the South don’t nearly produce enough to feed Americans. Every two thirds of seed oil that is marketed in the US is grown elsewhere. Every metric ton of wheat and barley sold in the US has at least a two thirds component from elsewhere. Even the Cocoa content of Orea biscuits that you regularly munch on, not a single gram is grown and harvested in America.

Now if you want to verify all these figures then please write in to the websites of Cargill to Archer Daniel Midlands.

The point I am trying to get across is you don’t really need a lot of space to control an industry. Look the seventeen century sea fairing Portuguese navigators were not a naval super power – but they perceived the disproportionate strategic importance of having good cartographers to navigate the high seas. Hence they were able to carve a niche in the global trade that lasted nearly three hundred years. They were really so good at what they did that even the Dutch mercantile guilds in Amsterdam were only prepared to underwrite the risk of trade and commerce providing the ships that regularly plied the treacherous spice route had a Portuguese navigator on board.

My point is you don’t need to control the length and breadth of the commercial food supply chain to be able to thrive as a small nation in agriculture. As most of the food that we regularly grow and consume these days is conceived by people who run around in lab coats tweaking stuff in test tubes and Petri dishes.

To your other question. Concerning why agriculture and not the service industry. The answer is simply because that’s really the inception point. It really starts from there. Every single modern city that we know of today came about directly as a consequence of agriculture. Amsterdam, Cairo even Los Angeles. In Africa the fertile plains that run from the Cote De Noire right across it’s vast breath to the Mozambique Indian Ocean are all held together by agricultural nodes and hubs. The eighteen century Prairie settlers who opened up the red indian infested West were not coffee cognoscenti’s. That came much later. They were all farmers.

And most importantly they all had large families as that was the only way to perpetuate their landowning centric economy.

So robust is the nexus between agriculture and wealth creation that even when Hitler invaded Russia and occupied the fertile steepes of the Ukraine. The idea of the übermensch was not a hotelier, real estate developer. In the nazi interpretation of lebensraum – the super man was a farmer.

Q: I am sorry to interrupt. But once again please why specifically farming and how does that feed into the idea of large families.

A: I was building up to that point. Till you rudely interrupted me. The rationale is space or land is at it’s lowest historical entry point when it’s agriculture gazetted land – now if you look at Aljunied, it’s a metropolis today like Simei, but that was not always the case. It was once a kampung and what sustained that economy was essentially farming – so the whole idea of people running around with pitch forks and bailing hay may seem fairytale quaint to you today. But my point is that is really the social and cultural context that is required to attract the rugged individual in the form of the frontier man.

Now throw out the idea of agriculture and you also by default emasculate the frontier man thereby diminishing the aperture of opportunity and inadvertently creating a society of salaried men.

The problem with salaried men is they don’t have any incentive to have large families.

Q: What would your imagery of a Singaporean diaspora resemble. The picture remains fuzzy to me.

A: This idea is not new – not at all. It is redolent in certain cultures more perhaps than in others. Take the case of the Germans. Words are very powerful linkages to the chronology of history and how a community once responded to the challenges of their times. In the case of the Germans, they even have a word to describe this diaspora or exodus – Auslandsdeutsche.

Many people mistakenly only think Germans featured in South America especially in Brazil and Argentina at the end of the WW2 due to Peron’s patronage and amnesty of war crimes – but it’s a trend that started maybe a hundred years before WW2 during the early 1800 when droves of Germans migrated to South America because life in Germany didn’t hold out much in terms of opportunities and promise.

My point is it’s conceivable when we speak about how to improve our baby birthrates – at some point in the discussion, there has to be at least a sensible understanding very little can be done to improve the situation within Singapore.

You know I have a Chingay tree that grows on my land. It’s not an ordinary tree. The histroy of this tree is the retelling of a very sad story – one day when I saw it being cut to pieces by some housing developer in Singapore who probably didn’t know enough to care. He must have woke up one day and said, this tree is the way and took a chainsaw to it.

I remembered gathering the seeds of this tree crying while the policeman tried to chase me away. But I just ignore them all. I remember it as a very painful experience and I went about extracting the seeds from the hard pods with what I can only describe as great sadness. As I have always loved trees. And it’s not unusual for me on my rare off days to travel great distances just to visit them. Besides a mature Chingay is so very rare in Singapore.

For many years I kept the seeds in a tin box.

I spent many years trying to figure out where in Singapore I could plant these seeds. But the places were always always not right.

Today a baby Chingay tree grows on my land from one of those seeds.

I think my answer is metaphorical only because this is really how I see the problem and solution and if you don’t mind. I much prefer not to elaborate further.

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