There is very little I consider bad about Singapore. I can only think of gun ownership. It would be great if that was allowed. On the other hand, low-life crime is essentially unheard of, i.e. mugging, stealing, breaking and entering. There is still the aspect that citizens should have the power to defend themselves against the tyranny of the state. Singapore is far from that point. I’m not even sure it’s realistic to conjure up such a scenario as the country is too globalized for the leadership to adopt a North Korean style oppressive regime.
In the long run, the only clear disadvantage I found was that healthcare costs can be staggeringly high. You pay for your own healthcare via enforced savings. I wrote about the “CPF” earlier. In short, while in the West your monthly contributions to socialized healthcare ensure that Rashad gets stitched together again after Ali rammed a knife into his body and that the underclass gets proper treatment for all their alcohol- and drug-induced ailments, in Singapore there is a system in place that puts a fraction of your monthly income into an account that you can only dip into at certain occasions. This includes healthcare. If you get really sick and don’t have millions in the bank, you’re probably screwed, though. Well, in the US medical bankruptcies are not uncommon, and in Sweden you can die waiting for an operation, so I’m not sure Singapore is any worse in that regard.
There are various governmental programs that are supposed to help lower-income families with healthcare related expenses, but those are not nearly as comprehensive as their Western counterparts. I don’t think there is any kind of financial assistance available for people who are better off. As a consequence, even a middle-class family can experience some financial discomfort if a family member requires expensive treatment. Medical bankruptcy is a known phenomenon in Singapore.
Other issues are that the cost of living can be very high if you just have to have Western food. For instance, cheese is obscenely expensive by Western standards, with a markup that even at the low end easily reaches 500% compared to Western prices. On the other hand, local food is incredibly cheap (and quite fantastic), so I won’t even bother addressing this objection any further.
A bit more serious may be the issue of car ownership. In Singapore, the number of cars on the road is limited. You need to have a so-called “certificate of entitlement” (in the West, every millennial got one of those for free, it seems). Those certificates are distributed via an auction system, and due to the rather large income disparity in the country and the limited number of certificates, you nowadays need to be a bona fide baller to afford having a car, which might explain why you see so many expensive cars on the road. Also, that certificate is only valid for ten years.
Housing isn’t cheap, but if you’re not a skilled foreigner, you won’t even get into the country, so it’s moot to discuss that issue. For all practical purposes, housing is affordable. As a single white guy with an in-demand skillset you can easily pay rent for a small luxury apartment. On that note, last year I received a job offer, which I eventually turned down. Considering that income taxes are minuscule in Singapore, my disposable income after paying for rent for a small luxury studio apartment in a good location would have been higher than my European net income, i.e. the income before paying for any of my expenses. (Yes, I was offered a local contract, without a fancy expat package.) So, if you’re a foreigner, don’t even try to pull that argument.
Did you enjoy this article? Excellent! If you want to support what I am doing, then please consider buying my excellent books, the latest of which is Meditation Without Bullshit or donating to the upkeep of this site. If you want tailored advice, I am available for one-on-one consultation sessions.
17 thoughts on “Experiencing Singapore (8): Personal Downsides”
I find it interesting that you didn’t found the laws in Singapore too strict and wrote it down as a downside. I am not talking about the laws against chewing gum. But laws like the mandatory canning (for men only) for overstaying your visitors Visa in Singapore. The mere existence of such laws shows up a dark side to Singapore that is too dark for my taste. Which is why I didn’t went to live there when I had the chance. By the way, your opinion of Singapore then, had a lot to do with it too. For a moment, I thought you are like a metronome of opinions. But, that’s fine and I didn’t made my decision entirely off of what you said. But, I would like you to address the concern that I have that it is a soulless place with too many and too strict laws. Thanks.
I subscribe to the notion that Singapore is a rather soulless place, according to a notion that subscribes “soul” to the existence of a seedy underbelly and urban decay. For a single guy, I’d say it’s probably not the best place to be all-around, for instance if you like to party and get laid. Also, if you don’t end up marrying a local and have long-term ambitions such as owning property, raising children, or retiring, Singapore is probably the wrong place. I am perfectly fine with the strict laws as you know what you’re getting into. Caning for overstaying your visa — I think the threshold is 90 days, which just doesn’t happen by accident — is a deterrent to illegal immigration and as such a measure I welcome.
For someone who cares about privacy you seem to like it when the cameras are watching your every move? I’d however, understand it if you said that it is a need to have such security systems in place to keep a place secure in todays age. I largely take your point on what you said above though. Its interesting to see different opinions.
I’m all for mass surveillance if it is utilized in the right way. For instance, in Germany CCTV tapes are often withheld as it would interfere with the personality rights of the criminals the footage shows. I am not kidding.
I don’t have much experience with Germany. I am of the opinion that there is only a thin blue line between mass surveillance done right and downright oppression. Singapore seem to have a hang of it for now though.
For your point though, every small safe place from Monaco to Singapore has surveillance camera systems that are a lot prevalent but the side of government oppression is not anywhere to be seen.
Many petty crimes in Singapore have been resolved thanks to the pervasiveness of CCTVs. People know it’s close to impossible to get away with committing them so they don’t. Do we have the balance struck right? I’m not sure, but Singaporeans have gotten so used to, and comfortable with, the concept of government paternalism that CCTV surveillance doesn’t bother them. Many probably even welcome it. The sentiment that “if you don’t intend to do anything wrong you have nothing to be afraid of” is quite strong here.
Its a matter who defines the wrong that everybody is not afraid to commit. To that, there are many places like in China that has just as much as CCTV cameras but they are hellholes. Its pure chance that Singapore hasn’t fallen to that level.
So, if you don’t mind losing your right to privacy, would you mind to send me all your credit card details, pictures of you preferably naked including that of your friends and husband/boyfriend/Aaron, login passwords and all that crap so that I can publish it in the most damning and profitable way possible. You surely don’t do anything wrong so it won’t matter now would it?
No offense though, all anti-privacy arguments are dumb. Regardless of whether you are doing something wrong or not. I don’t know why Aaron switches sides like a metronome though. Its highly confusing. Singapore as I see it is a militarised, soulless shithole for command capitalism. (not real capitalism) Nothing more.
I am waiting for the Thais to build their canal that will allow ships to bypass Singapore which will let that soulless shithole show its real color.
It is a thin blue line between a secure country (CCTV cameras) and a oppressive regime. (CCTV cameras)
“The sentiment that “if you don’t intend to do anything wrong you have nothing to be afraid of” is quite strong here.”
So they trust a state that doesn’t trust them. That says a lot about both the state and its citizens.
The government doesn’t trust the dregs of society. If everybody would take a piss in the elevator, deal drugs, or vandalize, you couldn’t run a society at all. The law-abiding citizens trust that the state takes care of the problems of society so that they can go about their day and be productive.
Let’s take this one step further.
There are three reasons you don’t do stupid shit.
1. You are aware and afraid of the consequences, i.e. financial or physical punishment.
2. You believe it is wrong for religious reasons
3. You know it is wrong because over the long term such behaviour has a net negative effect on society.
What’s the least effective approach?
Obviously Nr 1. You remove the negative incentive and people start doing shit.
Next is 2. Religious beliefs and fear of an unpleasant life after death are a strong motivator, hard to prove incorrect and hard to destroy in terms of how much people adhere to it.
Best is Nr. 3 and it’s also the hardest to establish. It requires long term thinking in terms of education and it asks for a high commitment on individual upbringing/parenting/education.
In other words: What does it tell you about the moral values and norms of a society if you need sensors to prevent pissing in a damn elevator?
I just hope it’s a short term solution and that education will take care of such behaviour within 2-3 generations, otherwise Singapore has a problem.
The problem is that there is a small fraction or, in some places like Berlin, a large fraction which does not care about the long-term viability of society and which likewise does not have a strong moral compass. Instead, they are not much above the level of feral animals, which is evident in their actions. If you have too many of such people, you cannot control society anymore. In Singapore, the dregs of society are simply being kept in check. In places like Berlin, they run rampant and get their pockets stuffed with welfare benefits, courtesy of the taxpayer.
“So they trust a state that doesn’t trust them.”
This line packs a punch. Thanks for that.