[This was not a forum letter. But it might as well have been. It is not an original blackmail point. Many car-loving would-be parents have written in before threatening to withhold their sperm or eggs unless they get a car.
The tactic is so transparent. Let's see how this one does.]
April 27 2016
Last month, officials from the National Population and Talent Division, led by Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, went on study trips to Denmark and South Korea to understand how these countries dealt with their falling fertility rates.
The consensus is that we need a holistic approach that cultivates a more family-friendly society. Raising the fertility rate would require an equalising of the demands of childcare by enhancing paternity leave, promoting a more supportive work culture, providing adequate infantcare and fostering a shift in societal attitudes.
So here is a crazy idea to add to the mix: help families afford cars.
[If this is a crazy idea, there are lots of crazy people in Singapore. If there are enough of them, they are no longer crazy. Just a vocal minority.]
At first glance, this appears to run counter to the policy mantra of going "car-lite" in land-scarce Singapore. Such a "car-lite" culture promises to enhance Singapore's urban liveability based on a well-connected and efficient public transport infrastructure. Singaporeans would benefit from healthier, more cohesive, and grounded communities.
Yet, on another level, the idea of helping families afford cars does not seem so crazy when you consider that most people would intuitively agree that having a car significantly eases the experience of starting and raising a family.
[First logical fallacy. Assuming popular opinions as facts. Just because "most people" believe something does not make it truth. Otherwise we can simply decide on the veracity of the various religions by popular vote. The writer does concede that this conclusion or popular belief is arrived at "intuitively". ]
A car provides working couples with added time for parenting, and flexibility as they juggle work and family schedules.
For young families, this may mean the ability to pick up or drop off kids on their way to and from work, without having to expend more physical and emotional energies navigating an already overtaxed public transport system that has frequent breakdowns.
[As opposed to the zero stress that comes from driving, negotiating traffic jams, waking up earlier to send their kids to school, maintenance of the vehicle, repairs from accidents which were NOT your fault, worrying about ERP, parking, bus lanes, jay-walking pedestrians, clueless strays and wild animals. Yep. Driving is all joy. no pain.]
A car also provides a conducive means of family interaction and bonding.
After all, when people are stuck in a car, mobile yet immobile, where eye contact between driver and passengers is difficult, they are able to have sensible or sensitive conversations about relationships, responsibilities and decisions.
The car provides a quasi-private space cocooned from the hustle and bustle of urban life for parents and children to communicate, whether it is a serious conversation between parents, playful talk or parental guidance.
[It is sad when the only way for parents to bond with their children is to lock them in a tight space in the middle of a traffic jam.]
A car can facilitate the task of caring for children. For couples with newborns or toddlers, getting around without a car can be a laborious task, especially when a nappy change is needed, or when a mother urgently needs to breastfeed or store her breast milk.
[Right! We need cars to change diapers and breastfeed! God forbid we come up with nursing rooms or diaper-changing rooms, or family rooms. I wonder how parents without cars do all these things?]
Indeed, it is not uncommon to see such young parents on the MRT, where in addition to having to manage energetic toddlers, they also have to lug along a pram and a bag of baby accessories.
One can sway between admiration and anxiety for their safety as these parents attempt to travel up an escalator with an infant in their pram.
[So parents with cars do not have a pram and a baby bag when they negotiate escalators in shopping malls? Oh, they DRIVE up/down the escalator in their convenient little cars? If anything, having a car means having a bigger pram, with more accessories. ]
In short, more than just a chunk of metal that gets you from point A to point B, or a status symbol, the car is a multifunctional parenting tool.
[Take that sentence and repeat it in isolation, by itself. If that is true, parents without cars are Horrible Parents.]
Of course, parenting is never an easy task, and we should not expect it to be.
But if the objective is to create a family-friendly environment that encourages couples to have more children, then should we not consider more ways to support parents' everyday lives?
What form can this take?
We can leave that to our skilled technocrats, although one possibility might be a"family car" certificate of entitlement category for families with young children.
Whatever form it takes, such a policy will have its limitations. Helping families own cars may exacerbate inequalities within social classes as the ability to sustain car ownership is associated with certain socio-economic groups.
Crucially, it would send mixed messages about the Government's commitment to a "car-lite" Singapore.
But we need to be clear about means and ends here. After all, the Singapore Government is well-known for its non-ideological and pragmatic attitude towards policymaking.
Restricting car ownership through a series of policy instruments is a means towards an end of reducing congestion and promoting liveability.
Likewise, having a series of policies to ease car ownership for families is a means towards the larger imperative of supporting families and encouraging couples to have children to raise the country's fertility rates, and easing things for families, who are the basic building blocks of society.
One, how many cars do you think it would take to raise the TFR to 2.1? If a couple has no car now, but we give them one car (or help them get one car), will we get 2.1 children from them? Or just 1? Should we give them the car before they have kids, to encourage them to have kids, or do we give them AFTER they have one kid, cos they have proven themselves parents? Right. After it is. After all the car is not intended to be trysting place for young couples to get pregnant. Otherwise, I am sure it would have been mentioned above.
Two, how do we prevent people from having kids just to get a car? Actually, we can't, The whole point of the policy change is to "reward" or support parents by helping them get cars...
Here's a scenario.
A couple has a child and they don't have a car. They have decided NOT to get a car and have been able to cope. Meanwhile their neighbour asks, "so when are you getting a car? You're not? Why don't you get one, then I'll rent from you. Or you sell the car to me after that?"]
The writer is a research assistant and recent graduate of the Bachelor of Environmental Studies programme at the National University of Singapore.
[Already, the joke is that the marriage proposal in Singapore is, "So... you want to register for a HDB flat?""\
Now after the couple gets married, the parents can ask, "when are you getting a (Family) car?"]