Population White Paper Debate: 3 missing questions

It has been just a week since the White Paper on Population was launched, and it has already sparked heated debate in Parliament, and amongst the public and business community.

We have seen an amendment put forward to focus on the Singaporean core, as well as an alternative proposal from the Workers' Party that will slow down the population growth further. Meanwhile, the businesses are wringing their hands in despair. And there are two days of debate left to go.

While many issues have already been raised, to my mind, there needs to be an open discussion on three other aspects of Singapore's future.

Question 1: What is the population limit?

Some economists have criticised the paper for not putting a cap on how large the population can get. And it is still questionable what exactly the benefits of population growth are.

Conveniently, an article questioning the value of population-driven growth has also resurfaced online.

It is written by demographer Joseph Chamie, who dispels the notion that population growth always better for the economy. He calls it a "Ponzi scheme", no better than Bernie Madoff selling you false investments.

He argues that unbridled population growth becomes unsustainable, leading to more poverty, environmental degradation, and unequal distribution of wealth.

But the larger point made by him and other economists is that countries should strive for population stabilisation rather than indefinite growth.

So while the paper proposes slashing workforce growth by half from the historic rate, and alternative proposals call for it to be slashed further still to below 1 per cent a year, they do not provide a discussion on where it will end.

What the white paper and the debate could go further in addressing is whether these proposals lead to a stabilisation of the population, and if so, at what level that might be.

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