(Title: The Nordic and French Method - A Solution or A New Can of Worms?)
This article is not to defend MOS Josephine Teo's arguments for the current HDB priority policies for families, which is distasteful, offensive and shows complete ignorance of the situations on the ground. If there is a population problem in Singapore to start with that justifies the current immigration policies by the PAP, why don't it start with trying to start a family easier by revamping or doing away with the scheme to put newlywed couples without children on the back priority queue in getting a HDB flat?
Donald Low wrote a brilliant critique on MOS Josephine Teo's comments to the Straits Times here
that Singapore cannot try to have it both ways regarding its approach to population issues.
However, there is a new potential debate that might arise out of this article - should Singapore adopt the methods of Nordic countries and the French to boost its population?
Whilst there should be policies in place to help to ease the course of living, such as tweaking of the policy on HDB pricing and lowering of the GST, ultimately, the we should be cautious and careful about tailoring social welfare policies directed specifically to boost its population, such as directed welfare spending. Should there be social safety nets such as social security and insurance? There should. However, I am concerned if policies such as the Nordic-style healthcare, paternity leaves or subsidised education or directed welfare spending to encourage reproduction and boost population are being proposed.
My concern is as such, while there should be a system of safety nets in place, Nordic style healthcare policies or targeted welfare spending might encourage or promote the proliferation of sexual promiscuity in our society. If the way healthcare is done Nordic style, would it encourage recklessness in sexual behavior, in the knowledge that abortions would be available, at low costs? Although at first glance, the issue might seem to be about one of abortion, the consequences of reckless sexuality extends beyond that of abortion. Sexual recklessness would also lead to the increase in the proliferation of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), broken marriages and lives. According to HealthResearchFunding.org, women who undergo abortion are 3x more likely to commit suicide and 10% for teenage girls. The research also indicates that there is an 81% increase in risk percentage of mental health issues for women who undergo abortion versus one that don't
The issue of population is a complex one. But it is one that should not come with solutions that carry with it new set of social problems like the population policies of the 1970s. Also, the government and policy makers must be aware that the social dynamics and values that affect the population statistics in the 1960s and 1970s and today are different. In the 1960s and 1970s, children are viewed as assets to be utilised for industries localised to the family unit such as agriculture. Also, there was a deemed need at that time for a male heir to carry on the family line. But today, with the influx of globalisation and a society more connected to the Western world, the values and worldview concerning sexuality, children and family is different too.
So what is needed are not "scientific" policies to promote population growth but rather what can policy makers do to protect, uphold and support families and the current social fabric? Or perhaps the way of incentivising population growth should change from dangling mere material carrots to encourage population growth to instead the address the non-tangible aspects as well?
But certainly, whatever policies that come through, it should avoid the mistakes of the 1970s - tempering with and belittling the sanctity of life through the promotion and legalisation of abortion and physical penalties on families that birth life into the world, or the inadvertent promotion of reckless sexuality through oversized carrots through the blanket health coverage in Nordic and French welfare systems as suggested in Donald Low's article (which to his credit, he admits that Singaporeans are not ready for and policy makers as such should work within these boundaries). This is not to say we should maintain the status quo of the current welfare system under the PAP, but rather policy makers on both sides of the aisle must be cautious about the inadvertent promotion of other values that tag along with a certain mode of welfare spending. So whilst there should be a system of social safety nets and insurance, it should not cover the costs of abortion without a valid and documented medical grounds (records should be audited regularly to ensure welfare money is not spent on abortions) and cover treatment for pregnancies unless proven through proper documentation that it occurred within the confines of a legal marriage.
This debate and discussion is certainly a complex one and this article certainly will not be able to provide all the answers. Nonetheless, I urge policy makers who have the urge to adopt the Nordic or French social welfare model to boost population growth to adopt it with caution, especially to potential social consequences due to the blanket coverage nature of these programs. Rather, population and social welfare policies should take care to ensure the preservation of the family unit to that of a marriage between one man and one woman and sexual relationships within such confines, the support of families and the preservation of the existing social fabric.