Crazy Not-So-Rich Asians: An Eyes Wide Open Approach To Canada's Plans To Do Business In Singapore

Since the Canadian cinema release of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ back in August, we’ve been Singapore mad. The stunning scenery and rich depiction of the country are enough to leave anyone wanting a taste. And, the headlines at the moment only further our desire for a taste of Asia. It’s now no secret that Singapore is home to around 183,737 millionaires, 1000 of whom we would consider ‘crazy rich.’ That makes this the country with the most millionaires in the world. Not bad going with a population of just 5,791,901.

Whether we have the film to thank or not, statistics also show that the amount of millionaires here has grown by 11.2 percent in the past year. As if that weren’t enough, financial assets now make up 55 percent of the gross household wealth. That pits Singapore against Switzerland, which currently has the world’s most prosperous per capita economy. It should come as no surprise, then, that the world is just now sitting up and taking notice of this overlooked economy.

In fact, hype here is so intense right now that many Canadian companies are considering this as a gateway into Asia. This plan makes sense when you think that, wealth aside, Singapore currently ranks second for ease of doing business by the World Bank. To put that into perspective, consider that Canada comes in at 114. To top it all, Singapore’s corporate tax rate is set at 17%. That’s as well as all manner of incentives for businesses owners and startups. As such, this seems like the ideal ‘first base’ for a slice of the Asian market.

But, all these high figures and fancy claims leave some of us asking whether Singapore can really be all we’re setting it up as right now. After all, history has shown that the areas with the highest level of wealth also often suffer from severe issues of inequality. Take cities like New York and London as an example. In both cases, the poor struggle more as the rich gain more wealth. In areas like this, one wrong turn can lead you into poverty you would never expect to see in our affluent cities. The fact is that, often, someone pays for extreme wealth like this.

So, perhaps we should ask the poverty question before putting a Canadian foot in the Singapore market. Poverty mightn’t appear on the big screen in our latest blockbuster, but does that mean it’s non-existent? A look into the issue reveals not. Admittedly, problems here aren’t the worst you’ll see in the world. In fact, efforts from organizations like the Housing and Development Board, are providing affordable housing for all, as can be seen from these hdb Tampines properties. The issue is, perhaps, the ‘crazy rich’ image doesn’t quite cover the reality. What’s more, the sheer amount of millionaires in this condensed space makes the wealth gap here all the more extreme.

A look into the facts shows that 10-14% of Singaporeans face severe financial problems. According to the economist, Professor Donaldson, even meeting basic needs is an issue, with hunger an ongoing problem. Despite affordable housing schemes, there are also many hidden faces who struggle with unmet social needs, such as the elderly and disabled. While there are financial aid schemes in place, these often only equate to around $1,900 a month for an entire family. That’s somewhat shocking for a country which claims to have no poverty problem of any kind. Indeed, the modern picture of Singapore leaves no room for starving citizens.

Perhaps most worrying of all at the moment is the poverty troubles for Singapore’s young. Those between the ages of 15 and 34 are the second most impacted by these issues. Within this bracket, at least 5% are thought to be unemployed. Even those who are in jobs often have to enter at low levels due to a lack of minimum wage.

Admittedly, these are issues which plague any number of countries in the world. They certainly don’t overshadow the fact that wealth in Singapore is growing at astounding rates. But, they are worth bearing in mind, especially as Canadian businesses consider setting up base here. Poverty issues here have remained invisible for far too long, and these people need our attention.

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But, does all this mean that the focus on Singapore’s wealth right now is a bad thing? It would be easy to read these figures and assume that films like ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ will be bad news for those involved. The reality, though, is quite different. If figures are anything to go by, Singapore’s wealth look set to increase by nearly 4.7 percent per annum over the next five years. What’s more, an increased focus on these poverty problems ensures the chances that money will go to the right places. Estimates aside, though, there are some verifiable and visible benefits to Singapore’s increased attention right now:

Financial aid has always been a problem

While it’s easy to point the figure at Singapore for its poverty issues, a lack of financial aid is partially to blame. Compared to other countries, Singapore receives very little help from powers like the U.S. Any funding which does come from overseas often focuses on economy and trade rather than issues of poverty. But, with even Canadian companies now considering Singapore as a base, that could soon change. As the country becomes more financially viable, there’s more chance that outside sources will place their money here. That alone could make a huge difference.

Increased attention could lead to increased tourism

Companies aside, the increased attention could also lead to a boost in tourism. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ certainly shows just how much beauty this country has to offer. As a result, people who had never considered this as a vacation destination may change their minds. That could bring no end of money into the country, which can then trickle down into those invisible areas. At least, that’s the hope if we open our eyes to the issues of inequality here.

The job solution

At the very least, this attention can help those in poverty by creating many entry-level jobs. That should go some way towards improving the somewhat rampant issues of employment. An increased need for shop workers and restaurant staff alone would open up positions perfect for young starters. With Canadian companies thinking about moving in, this could even introduce some higher-paid positions for those with some experience. With a little hope, Canada will be able to lead the way for business growth here which could change these problems for the foreseeable.

So, is this all to say that the portrayal of Singapore thus far has been incorrect? Not at all. You don’t get this much wealth in a country without seeing some level of luxury. The high rise buildings and stunning locations in this destination are enough to make your hairs stand on end. Bear in mind that ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ was set in Singapore itself, so the destinations are true to form. Singapore’s creative architecture mixed with its stunning scenery set this apart as an area well worth our time. One thing’s sure; you wouldn’t mistake this country for any other. Don’t think, either, that you have to get stuck in that city life. There are plenty of stunning countryside sites, such as the Kranji countryside in the northwestern corner.

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Whatever way you view it, Singapore is a country to watch. As long, of course, as you keep your eyes wide open while you do so.