Inflation (een-flay-shun) / the fact that a char kway teow costs $4 now but $0.50 in your grandparents’ days.

The recent consumer price and inflation figures were surprisingly low considering the sudden tightening of foreign labour and consequent rising production costs, but these have simply yet to be passed on to consumers. MAS’ predicts an average (core and all-items) inflation of 2-3% this year.

I think we should be wary of using a fixed basket of goods (CPI) to determine changing price levels in a time of accelerating production and mercurial consumption habits. That said, I am glad kopitiam conversations have moved on from xenophobic and anti-xenophobic exasperations to bitching about how expensive and unproductive local hires are.

Prices that Never Go Down

While rising prices have been mitigated by and until recently, the liberal immigration policy and frequent top-down interventions, productivity growth has been slow relative to our first-world competitors. The notoriously long working (and studying) hours are a significant push factor in our country’s brain drain.

To avoid passing rising labor costs on to consumers, firms either absorb them by reducing profits or increase their productivity. Ideally, of course, everyone could be uber productive. Leverage the information or creative economy, and be just one human with a laptop changing the world and making bank with a laptop in a Starbucks. But we still lack a culture of entrepreneurial courage and a competitive marketplace of ideas.

Lack of a Voice in the Singapore Workforce

One of the common critiques of the Singaporean workforce is its ‘speech impediment’.

Effective communication is not a core competency of the Singaporean. The communication problem might be because the way language is acquired by students to overcome exams, rather.

It is important to move away from quantified qualifications (“i got full marks! i win at life!”) to qualified quantifications (“what does that even mean?”). The shift towards teaching students how to learn not what to learn, should be emphasized.

A More Unruly and Adventurous Populace

For a sustainable future, we need a more unruly and adventurous populace to some extent.

It isn’t dissenting voices, but the slow speed of assuaging anxieties or implementing suggestions that lead to waste and confusion.

The adoption of social media for politicians to communicate directly with the electorate, and viral marketing are good examples of how informational monopolies are being broken down and value is created by communicative skills and technology which can enable an environment where information can be rapidly dispersed, assimilated and combated.

Like money, knowledge is susceptible to inflation, it is worth more now than in the future — up till a year  ago, we had no idea that there existed a 10th planet in the solar system, who knows, 10 years down the round, we may realize that Pluto is no longer a planet.

Increasing automation will undoubtedly see productivity gains in the coming years, but some believe the benefits will largely accrue to the small portion of the population that has the right skills and knowledge to work with and control technology, especially those that speak binary. I don’t think this should necessarily be an academic and educational concern alone, the workforce is rife with talent that can set rather than simply take prices – once they’ve discovered their voices.

Shift Towards a Knowledge-Based Economy

It is time for the Knowledge-Based Economy to yield to a new type of skills-based economy – skills that ensure we aren’t displaced by the increasing automation necessary for productivity gains.

To that end, the Labour Movement has been encouraging companies to invest in training for workers to acquire new skills, upgrade their skills or increasing their productivity through multi-tasking, and in so doing, helping to increase their wages sustainably.

With that in mind, people should be given the ability to rapidly acquire, manipulate and present information.