If former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew were in charge of Singapore today, he would introduce a baby bonus equal to two years of the average Singaporean’s salary.
This is not to boost the country’s abysmal total fertility rate of 1.2. Rather, Mr Lee would do it to “prove that super-sized monetary incentives would only have a marginal effect on fertility rates”.
Writing in his new book, One Man’s View Of The World, Mr Lee makes clear he would offer this huge baby bonus for at least a year.
The experiment will “prove beyond any doubt that our low birth rates have nothing to do with economic or financial factors, such as high cost of living or lack of government help for parents”, he says.
Instead, it is due to transformed lifestyles and mindsets which the Government is relatively powerless against, he argues in the 400-page book that is due to be launched today.
Declining fertility is the biggest threat to Singapore’s survival, he says.
But, Mr Lee adds: “I cannot solve the problem, and I have given up. I have given the job to another generation of leaders. Hopefully, they or their successors will eventually find a way out.”
In a chapter on Singapore, he also says the suggestion that the “Stop at Two” population campaign of the 1970s played a part in bringing fertility rates down is “absurd”.
Rather, falling fertility is a global phenomenon due primarily to women’s emancipation and participation in the workplace, he says.
The chapter on Singapore is one of 11 in the new book, which focuses largely on foreign affairs.
Mr Lee covers regions including the Middle East and superpowers such as the United States and China, as well as issues like the future of the global economy and climate change.
He also writes candidly about his past encounters with world leaders and impressions of countries, but the bulk of the book looks forwards as he sizes up these countries’ strengths, weaknesses and chances of success.
In the Singapore chapter, Mr Lee also reflects on the historic 2011 General Election, young Singaporeans’ desire for a two-party system, and Workers’ Party MP Chen Show Mao.
He returns to the issue of low fertility often, pointing to it as the reason Japan, a country he once considered “peerless”, is now on what he calls a “stroll into mediocrity”.
The demographic changes in Singapore and Japan are similar, he notes; the difference lies in the unwillingness of the Japanese to “shade (the) problem with immigrants” like Singapore has done.
It is this intransigence about accepting foreigners and the deeply ingrained idea that the Japanese race must be kept “pure” that makes their continued decline inevitable, he says.
“If I were a young Japanese and I could speak English, I would probably choose to emigrate,” he concludes bluntly.
Mr Lee’s new book was written with the research and editorial assistance of a team of Straits Times journalists. They are managing editor Han Fook Kwang, deputy editor Zuraidah Ibrahim, Opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong and political reporter Elgin Toh.
Also in the team was a civil servant seconded to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Mr Shashi Jayakumar.
Mr Lee is due to launch the book officially today at the Istana. About 20,000 copies will be on sale at $39.90 (including GST) at leading bookstores from 5pm today.
– By Rachel Chang
The Straits Times Published on Aug 06, 2013