I spotted this on my Facebook feed courtesy of an acquaintance or two who'd bought it. When Books Actually had a 20% sale, the now familiar cover prompted me to pick it up. After browsing through it, my interest was piqued and I was drawn in, hook, line and sinker.
This book really shifted my paradigm. Before reading, I was a rather ardent supporter of the PAP and its policies as they seemed rather well thought out and logical. I would cringe at the character assassinations made against them during elections and was pretty turned off my the strong language used against them partly due to the fact that the arguments against them weren't that strong to begin with. This book changed all that.
Hard Choices comprises a series of essays that are well thought out and refreshing to read. They provide a clear and viable alternative to the policies we currently have. These run the whole gamut from population, social security, housing, meritocracy and more.
To give a glimpse into the gem of a book, let me share some of what I've learnt. It turns out that we have an option beyond incessant population growth. The main reason for the rapid rise in numbers has been due to the government allowing large numbers of foreign labour into the country to ensure economic growth. This has hampered productivity as employers can find cheaper labour instead of cheaper methods of increasing output. In addition, it depresses wages of Singaporeans because the same employer would rather cheaper foreign labour than an equally qualified Singaporean. What the author proposes would be to halt the continued import of foreign labour which would result. For the rest of the argument, please do purchase the book. ;)
I would encourage every self-respecting Singaporean to read this. Haha, though I am probably hoping in vain seeing that most of my countrymen stare into screens instead of books on the commute. But this is a book that presents well reasoned arguments against current government policies. Perhaps even Members of Parliaments (MP), cabinet ministers and even the Prime Minister of our beloved country should read this, just for exposure's sake.
And if you're still not convinced of how awesome the book is, here is a short excerpt of one out of the five "Economic Myths of the Great Population Debate" as Chapter 3 is titled.
Myth #1: GDP growth, no matter how it is achieved, is an unambiguously good thing
There seems to be an implicit and unspoken assumption that Singapore must continue to grow at a certain rate, and that if the growth does not come from labour productivity increases, then it must come from labour force increases. This is poor economic reasoning. GDP growth per se does not improve individual well-being; it only does if it is driven by productivity improvements that raise workers' wages.
If labour productivity is not increasing, it means that whatever GDP growth we "achieve" comes from brute force (i.e., injection of more labour inputs). Not only does this not increase society's well-being, it actually reduces it. If the 3 per cent GDP growth that the government aims for is attained by a 3 per cent labour force increase, Singaporeans are no better off in per capita terms. Meanwhile, they have to contend with negative externalities such as more congestion and competition for public goods, depressed wages, inflation and higher asset prices, and dilution of national identity.