A lot of people in Taiwan talk about how they want to be like Singapore. “Taiwan should be more like Singapore.” But the truth is, it’s much better to be Taiwanese than Singaporean, and Taiwan is better than Singapore for most people who live in either. An average person lives a higher-quality life in Taiwan than they do in Singapore.
At First Glance, Singapore Makes Way More Money Than Taiwan
Taiwan has 23mil people who, together, generate US$489bil each year. That’s a GDP per-capita of $21000 per Taiwanese person.
Singapore has 5mil people who, together, generate $295bil each year. That’s a GDP per-capita of $57000 per Singaporean person.
Let’s Make Another Comparison
A “good job” is a good place to start: Senior Software Engineer. It means having a masters degree in computer engineering and having a managerial capacity over a small team of other engineers. The average Senior Software Engineer in the USA makes US$100000 a year.
In Taiwan, the average Senior Software Engineer makes $28300 a year. That actually sounds about right, compared to the GDP per-capita of $21000/year: this above-average job pays 34% above the average.
In Singapore, the average Senior Software Engineer makes $42500 a year, which is far less than the GDP per-capita of $57000 a year. How is it possible for a senior software engineer to make that much less than “average”?
What We Think Is “Average” Is Not Actually Average
The way we report wealth discrepancies directly affects the way we perceive them.
Finding a GDP per capita is easy: divide the GDP by the number of people. But we live in the real world, where there are rich people and poor people and not everyone makes the same.
This is to say that, if you had 100 people making $10000/year. To make it look, on paper, that everyone’s “average income” is actually $20000/year, all you need is one additional person who makes a million dollars a year. One person making a billion dollars a year can completely offset the GDP per-capita compared to the true average wage for average workers.
The more wealth that is controlled by a small number of people, the more artificially-high the GDP per-capita will be.
This is the reason why a top computer engineer makes 25% less than the Singapore GDP per-capita while the Taiwanese counterpart makes 35% more than the Taiwan GDP per-capita: a smaller portion of Singapore’s population controls a larger amount of the wealth, compared to Taiwan. Proportionately, “average people” in Taiwan see a larger percentage of their country’s GDP distributed to them than Singapore’s “average people” do.
Now Let’s Talk About Living Expenses
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) ranks places according to how much fun it is to be a consumer there. Obviously, we’ll be focusing on Taiwan and Singapore. Everything from the cost of rent to the cost of raising a child gets taken into account. Let’s take a look at how Taiwan and Singapore stack up!
Taiwan’s CPI is 34.
Singapore’s CPI is 83. More than double Taiwan’s. Mostly because…
Taiwan’s rent index is 15.
Singapore’s rent index is 79. Five times Taiwan’s.
Taiwan’s grocery index is 59.
Singapore’s grocery index is 72.
Taiwan’s restaurant index is 28.
Singapore’s restaurant index is 57.
Keep in-mind, this is all for the same stuff of the same quality. The same-sized apartment, the same gallon of gas, the same bowl of noodles.
Remember The Software Engineer
In Singapore, he makes US$42000/year. His Taiwanese counterpart only makes $28000/year. The engineer in Singapore makes 50% more money than the Taiwanese engineer.
But his rent index is five times Taiwan’s and his overall index is more than double Taiwan’s.
When it’s all put together, while the Singaporean engineer may make 50% more than a Taiwanese engineer, the Singaporean engineer spends twice as much money as the Taiwanese person to live the same basic life.
In Taiwan, the GDP per-capita of $21000 is enough to live a relatively middle-class life.
In Singapore, a middle class life would cost double that – $42000 – which is less than the GDP per-capita of $57000.
But we know that the senior engineer in Taiwan, making $28000, must live a better-than-middle-class lifestyle because he makes 35% more than the GDP per-capita.
But the senior engineer in Singapore, making $42000, lives at exactly the line for a middle-class life, meaning the Taiwanese engineer lives a higher-quality life than the Singaporean does.
And It All Trickles Down
Taiwan’s minimum wage is US$8000/year. The average fresh-out-of-school graduate makes $10000/year. And our friend the engineer makes $28000/year. So $21000/year is actually about right when you think that the vast majority of the population falls somewhere between “minimum wage” and “senior engineer.” The GDP per capita is really close to an average salary.
Now compare it to Singapore, where the GDP per-capita is $57000/year. And where there is no overall minimum wage, so we’ll just say the minimum wage for a “cleaner” (think “street janitor”) is $8800/year, but the average cleaner actually makes $10200. It’s fun to note that the average cleaner in Singapore makes more money than a fresh college graduate makes in Taiwan.
But whereas Taiwan’s cheapest labor still makes 40% of Taiwan’s GDP per-capita, Singapore’s cheapest labor in Singapore makes only 15% of their GDP per-capita! Even our engineer buddy doesn’t come anywhere close to Singapore’s GDP per-capita, but Taiwan’s engineer sees 35% more than Taiwan’s GDP per-capita.
While a Singaporean office worker might make double what a Taiwanese office worker makes, a Taiwanese office worker can live middle class, while a Singaporean is left living lower-middle class.
Simply put, the rich people totally screw over the poor people in Singapore.
And Another Thing
The issues Singapore has with freedom of speech and political dissidence, general economic equality between the rich/poor, and the state of public services like health care or pensions are incomparable to Taiwan’s. Take a look at Singapore’s Wiki about their human rights issues. Now look at Taiwan’s.
That is on top of the fact that an average Taiwanese person makes close enough to the GDP per-capita, which is actually a living wage in Taiwan, unlike people in Singapore, who make nowhere near the GDP per-capita and are stuck living small while others live large.
For an average person, Taiwan beats Singapore across the board. Life is simply better for an average citizen of Taiwan than an average citizen of Singapore. Taiwan should have far less interest than it does in “being like Singapore.” Taiwan is doing better than Singapore, as a nation, in almost every way that matters.
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