Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cut ministers' pay, double public assistance

Who benefits from Singapore's impressive growth in GDP and its very high per capita GDP(PPP)?  In short, the rich and the powerful. The median income has stagnated. Income inequality increases. Cost of living soars.

The government revenue grows, the cabinet rewards itself, the President, and and the upper echelon of the civil service with phenomenal amounts of taxpayer money, while refusing to allocate the ample pool of taxpayer money to help the destitute, preaching the evil of public welfare, which the cabinet receives without shame.

The PM pays himself  S$4.23 millions annually ($11600 daily, assuming 365 work days; $16200 daily, assuming 261 work days, excluding Saturdays and Sundays). His pay is 8 times President Obama's.

The ceremonial President is paid $4.27 millions annually.

The cabinet of 21 ministers collectively pay themselves $63 millions annually. (source)

There are approximately 3000 destitute households on public assistance ($360 for a household of one, max $1150 for a household of five, monthly).  The maximum annual cost of public assistance is $41.4 millions (3000x1150x12), about 66% (two thirds) of ministerial salaries. Assuming an average payout of $750, the annual public assistance cost is $27 millions (3000x750x12), about 43% of the ministerial salaries.

In other words, if we, the people of Singapore, have the power  to cut the astronomical ministerial pay by 43%, we could painlessly double the assistance to the destitute.

It's the people's money, after all. And the government is the servant, not the master, of the people.

Would the people of Singapore rather see its taxes be used to relieve the plight of the poor, or to further enrich the avaricious PM, MM, SM, Ministers without portfolio (manipulating the trade union), and sundry ministers? Why don't we conduct an opinion poll?

For the economically minded, I quote Furry Brown Dog (here):

Putting Singapore’s GDP in perspective

Supporters of the ruling party and status quo are fond of citing Singapore’s GDP per capita, one of the highest in the world as evidence that its government has done well. Measuring economic success by GDP has many disadvantages as various other netizens have elaborated. I don’t intend to add to those, but in this post I will endeavour to show how this metric is flawed even without disputing that GXP (where ‘X’ refers to any of various national income accounting measures) measures the economic well-being a country’s people.

In 1959, when the PAP first took power in Singapore, Singapore’s GDP per capita (US$2186) in constant 1990 USD (hence adjusted for inflation and PPP) was second only to Hong Kong’s (US$3027) and Japan (US$3554) in East Asia.  In this respect, Singapore was already ahead of all the countries in East Asia including China and Taiwan, and South Korea. This did not change when Singapore split from Malaysia in 1965, GDP per capita at US$2667 was highest in the region excluding Hong Kong (US$4825)  and Japan (US$5934). These figures are a far cry from the nominal US$500 GDP per capita in 1959 often cited by PAP supporters which ignores both PPP and inflation adjustment. Fast forward to 2008, Singapore’s GDP per capita has overtaken Japan (which was mired for a decade and has yet to recover) but still trails Hong Kong.

Secondly, it is misleading to use GDP per capita when comparing between countries because Singapore only comprises of a single city whereas larger nations have rural areas and smaller towns. A fairer standard of measurement would instead be between cities rather than countries adjusted for purchasing power. This gives rise to the measurement of gross metropolitan product (GMP) per capita , PPP. This measurement compares between cities and towns instead of between countries where the relative poverty of rural inhabitants would distort the measure of GDP per capita. Because PPP involves a routine measurement of a country’s consumer price levels, data is much harder to come by compared to nominal GDP.

The latest data I could find dates back to 2005. Singapore’s GMP per capita PPP when measured against other cities worldwide ranks only at 53rd out of 100 (many other cities above belong to the same country), whilst not a bad showing is far from its spectacular perch of 9th ranking if one considers ranking by country only. This is certainly nothing to crow about.

Lastly, GDP (per capita) suffers from the fatal flaw as a economic indicator because it does not subtract profits earned in Singapore but which is remitted back to foreign shareholders and foreign investors. It also ignores incomes sent back by Singaporean corporations overseas. A more appropriate measure would be gross national product (GNP), which measures national income and profits held by Singaporean firms and residents (citizens + PRs) only. The latest figures for 2009, show that Singapore’s GNP for that year was S$182.536 bn, compared to its GDP of S$265.057bn. In other words, total income and profits for 2009 earned by Singapore residents and firms is only a mere 69% of GDP; the remaining 31% is repatriated overseas.

(more data and analysis here)

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