Measuring capital gains

Is there any official data on the total income of individuals in Singapore, including salaries, wages, interest, dividends and capital gains from the sale of properties, shares and financial instruments? If not, how does the government determine the total income of individuals in Singapore for the purpose of measuring the true income and wealth distribution among the population?

This is my speech in Parliament on 11 March 2013 during the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Finance.

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It is common for high income earners to earn much more from capital gains and other investments than from their wages and salaries. In the United States, where income inequality is almost as high as Singapore’s, economist Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out that salaries and wages account for only about 9% of the income of the top 400 income earners; interest and dividends account for 16% and capital gains account for a sizeable 57% of their total income[1].

According to a reply from the Finance Minister to my parliamentary question on 14 November 2012, capital gains do not need to be reported in Singapore since they are not taxable.

This being the case, is there any official data on the total income of individuals in Singapore, including salaries, wages, interest, dividends and capital gains from the sale of properties, shares and financial instruments? If not, how does the government determine the total income of individuals in Singapore for the purpose of measuring the true income and wealth distribution among the population?

In the absence of mandatory reporting of capital gains, could the government explore ways to require simple but accurate ways to report and collect this data?

I think these are important metrics to measure. They could help policy-makers plan more effective and progressive redistributive policies for future budgets. These can in turn help to improve the well-being of Singaporeans, while balancing the need for Singapore to remain an attractive destination to work and invest.

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[1] Stiglitz, Joseph, 2012. “The price of inequality: How today’s divided society endangers our future”, p. 72.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.