Singapore Most Expensive City in the World? Not So Fast, Says Finance Minister

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam says that cost-of-living reports, such as the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), don’t accurately reflect the lives of local residents, mostly just that of expats.

Shanmugaratnam places a lot of blame on the stronger Singapore dollar. And if you’re an expat getting paid in euros, he could have a point. As an expat getting paid in U.S. dollars? Not so much so. Moreover, I’m not easily convinced that anyone on an “expat package” would necessarily want to play the currency risk game in Singapore. Seems to me that’s a losing bet and has been since the financial crisis of 2007.

singpore merlion

The Finance Minister’s second point is that the prices of goods being measured don’t reflect the daily purchasing habits of ordinary Singaporeans. And on this point I wholly agree, especially when discussing food. Hawker centres still rule Singapore… and for good reason. The best food in town if you ask this (obviously biased) writer.

Shanmugaratnam went on to list a few of the items that were included in the EIU report’s theoretical basket, many of which were, well, laughable. Examples? Imported cheese, filet mignon, “Burberry-type raincoats”, four of the best seats at a theatre, and three-course dinners in high-end restaurants for four people. Sure, wealthy Singaporeans enjoy such luxury items—especially watches—but it’s perhaps not as frequent as this report suggests. And it definitely doesn’t reflect the day-to-day activities of the average Singaporean.

The speech gets polished off with a few non-inflammatory words about these reports not necessarily being “wrong” or “misguided”, and Shanmugaratnam is right. However, there’s also nothing wrong with describing something as “inaccurate” or “misleading”. Especially when it is.

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