Monday, September 05, 2005

Social: Replacing family relations with money relations in a family

I was reading Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto today on the bus. Even though I am anti-Communist, one need not be one or a sympathizer of communists to read that book. Indeed it is well accepted as an academic manuscript which is being used by many disciplines as it contains some relevant and useful theories.

One of the Marx’s theories is that when capitalism takes over the society, family relations will be replaced by money relations between family members.

This can never be truer than in Singapore which is one of the purest forms of capitalist society in the world. Indeed for Singapore to be a capitalist society, it needs to have the following key features.

Firstly the whole population must fall into two distinct classes that is defined by ownership of factors of production i.e. land, labor and capital. The bourgeois is the class that owns these factors of production. The proletariats are the one who sells their labor to the bourgeois. In a quasi-capitalist or non-capitalist, there will be more than these two classes or a single class. In the past when Singapore pursued socialist policies at least there were a few classes namely, the rich class comprising those who owned the factors of production, the middle class whose high literacy allowed them to sell their labor at a higher rate and a working class who had to depend on selling their labor at nominal rates.

Secondly in a capitalist society the question of what to produce is determined by pure profits. Hence where there exists positive externalities for society at large in utilization of certain goods and services and where its also not profitable, such goods and services will not be produced at all or at necessary levels. Likewise as to the question of for whom to produce, its purely determined by the ability to pay by consumer.

Thirdly in a capitalist society, competition is purely through price or more often market power. This is chiefly through extensive advertising campaigns, mergers, acquisitions etc.

Though these three features are not the only features to consider Singapore to be a capitalist society, they are indeed the key features. Moreover nobody quite denies Singapore today is a capitalist society. It is something that even some are proud of.

However as Marx pointed out, family relations today in Singapore is indeed being replaced by money relations between family members. The decision making process with regards to family is more than often dictated by the consideration of money. For instance money plays a very significant role or the most significant role in the decision making process when couples consider going into relationships, couples consider getting married, couples consider having a baby, couples consider having an additional baby, couples break up, children face the obligations of looking after their parents especially when they are very sick etc etc.

Traditionally family relations dictated money relations in family and was influenced by considerations, filial piety, sense of dedication, sentiments, morals, ethics, values and emotions. Today instead money relations dictate and is influenced by estimations of opportunity costs and benefits. Therefore in the earlier case, even when family is impoverished or limited in its resources(as in earlier days of Singapore), it was able to meet its wants and there was a positive and sustainable growth in the family aided by the force of the engine of family relations. Likewise in the latter case, even when family is affluent and has more than limited resources, family is unable to meet its needs and naturally declines and deteriorates.

It is disturbing for me to see the social transformation in Singapore in the last two decades. Back in the 80s where I grow up as a child, I saw the beauty of family relations amongst families that lived in my HDB block. It established and motivated the continuity of at least one economic driver, the breadwinner, who served the economic interests of the whole family unit. Family relations also established and motivated the continuity of at least one social driver who oversaw the social demands of the family unit. Family relations was always the underlying factor that trigger rehabilitation intervention or relief efforts whenever some member in the unit requires some form of rehabilitation or relief assistance. The same family relations often over flowed to the extended family, neighbors and community hereby having a macro effect on them.

The 90s boom in Singapore promoted the growth of capitalism and gradually replaced family relations with money relations. This was accelerated by the society’s desire for material prosperity and perpetual quest for 5Cs. However this transformation was a sub-conscious one to which today Singaporeans are waking up to realize.

Since Singapore is at the cross roads of development sitting on the fence of an industrialized economy and facing the prospects of possibly growing into a developed economy or stagnating into a less developing economy, it still has time to put its house on order. Indeed it is still not too late to replaces the very forces, which eroded family relations and replaced it with money relations, such as secularism, westernization and capitalism with spirituality, culture, traditions and ethics.


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