Inequality in Singapore

Singapore is inequality on steroids, as you might expect from a high human capital, high information tech, growing financial center.

Seventeen percent of the population are millionaires, and that is not counting real estate wealth, which is substantial.

The H&M in the shopping district is closing, because the rent was doubled and it is being replaced by luxury retailers.

These days one sees very few Malays in the wealthier parts of the city center, contra my first visit in 1988.  It’s not about prejudice, rather it is segregation by price and income class.  One sees many more resident Westerners (and tourists) than native Malays in these parts of town.  (One even wonders if the Malays will eventually be priced out of the country altogether, and conversely the Chinese in Malaysia are arriving in Singapore in increasing numbers.)

Even a very modest car can cost over $100,000 to buy and license, and the total can easily approach $200,000.  The tax on imported cars — and they are all imported — is one hundred percent.  Housing prices are exorbitant.  Those are the main reasons why Singaporean private indebtedness is rising so rapidly.

It seems self-understood, within the Singaporean government, that growing inequality merits some kind of policy response.  In the meantime, the inflow of low-skilled labor is being restricted.  At what level of wealth is inequality no longer a moral or practical problem?

Arguably there is more envy of the rich in Singapore than in the United States.  The country is small, and luxury consumption is readily observable and indeed impossible to avoid every time you walk or drive through the heart of the country downtown.

It is noteworthy that Singapore’s recently constructed and now iconic building is on the top a swimming pool and on the bottom a casino.

This story is not over.


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