Psyched out of 'borrowing' people

A major debt is about to be shoved off the budget. My own humble budget, not the Singapore Budget. The end is nigh for my mortgage-paying days.

But into the sumptuous, sweet relief of no longer living on borrowed money dripped an astringent thought: Why didn't I leverage the apartment downpayment - I could have kept the mortgage and invested the spare cash to get more money?

Do we psych ourselves out of something with risk and shared ownership, even though there is a possible payoff, because of the powerful drive to shout from the rooftops, "This (leasehold) land is mine. Get out."

Take how uncomfortable some Singaporeans are at sharing their island home with foreigners.

A survey here found that while 94 per cent of respondents said they were comfortable working for a boss who is a Singapore-born Chinese, that number fell to 74 per cent for a boss who is a new citizen from China. There was a similar result for foreign-born Malays and Indians. The Institute of Policy Studies, which surveyed more than 4,000 Singapore residents in a study of race, language and religion here, released these findings recently.

Those born here are also less comfortable with new citizens in personal and social settings, even if they are of the same race, the survey found. Singapore-born Chinese have greater affinity to Singapore-born Malays and Indians compared with Chinese from China, The Straits Times reported of the findings.

There are very sticky and humid issues like competition for space, resources and jobs, and then there is the rude psych dimension. The plain I-don't-like-your-face-your-accent dimension. Some want Singapore all to themselves at whatever cost. Like I wanted my bird's-nest of an apartment all to myself, practically smacking the bank's hands off my title deeds with fistfuls of dollars. Do we psych ourselves out of leveraging borrowed people to get more economic growth?

The slower inflow of foreign workers - a policy partly accelerated by social pressures - has led to a manpower shortage and higher wage costs which, coupled with pricey rents, have forced some firms to shutter their doors, reported The Straits Times. Recent high-profile closures include hard-disk maker HGST Singapore, which let 530 staff go. Officials have warned of more possible shutdowns and retrenchments this year. Companies across the board face these challenges. Unit labour costs have risen every quarter over the year before for three straight years. Firms expect wage costs to jump another 20 per cent this year, as higher foreign worker levies kick in on July 1.

We have also started psyching ourselves out of leveraging super-rich borrowed people too.

Ten years ago, Singapore courted the world's wealthy, offering permanent residence to people with personal assets of at least $20 million, as long as they parked a certain amount here. That scheme was scrapped two years ago amid criticism over the number of wealthy immigrants.

The I-don't-like-that-your-face-your-accent-are-more-expensive-than-mine dimension.

I guess no matter how comfortably some have feathered their own nests, the psychological weight of seeing other people with nest eggs that are 20 or 40 or 60 million times bigger can sour the contentment they might feel about their own more modest success. And with critical mass, public discontent can transform into something with a punch when you add electoral voting power into the mix.

When I was surfing the Internet for mortgage-related tips, there were money websites chirping about what would put you in a good enough position to pay off the housing loan in full: if you were debt-free apart from the housing loan; if you had emergency savings; if you had put aside what you could for retirement. I felt wobbly even as I thought about how the retirement nest egg was looking not as big as it should be. However, I convinced myself that I was in an okay position and I wanted the bird - the title deeds - in hand, never mind the two compounded-interest retirement-fund birds in the bush.

It makes me wonder if some Singaporeans are victims of their own success, convincing themselves that they are in a good enough position to tell our borrowed people to go home. Does Singapore have a big enough nest egg to do whatever it prefers? When is it ever enough anyway. And even if we have reserve funds the size of the universe, does it mean we can throw eggs at people because we don't like the look of them?

We are paying tribute to the pioneer generation at the moment. They are made up of people from here and also from not-here. In another 50 years, think about what the post-pioneer generation possibly being honoured would look and sound like. Do they have to have their birth certificates stuck to their foreheads for easy inspection, to make sure they are Singapore-born, before we thank them for helping to build the nation? Or hey, some keyboard warriors believe they can tell from a single look at a blurry YouTube screenshot whether a person is from here or not-here - birth certificates be damned.

There is nothing wrong in feeling the anxious peck of deep psychological needs. Act on it, don't act on it, as long you are willing to pay the price for it if you do. Let the reason be a better one than I-don't-like-your-face-your-accent. Let us be better than that.

denise@sph.com.sg

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.