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Economic insights for everyday life


 Do people shop more when it's sunny? How do people spend in their silver years?

Three National University of Singapore (NUS) professors have launched Kiasunomics 2, a light-hearted read that answers these questions and more. Co-authored by Distinguished Professor Sumit Agarwal and Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon from NUS Business School, and  Sing Tien Foo from the NUS School of Design and Environment, the book sheds light on how Singaporeans make economic decisions in everyday life.

It is a sequel to Kiasunomics, which was first published in 2017 and was a finalist at the Singapore Book Awards 2018. Kiasunomics 2 continues the story of the protagonist, taxi driver Teng and his family members, as they encounter different issues ranging from ride-hailing apps to housing.

Professor Sing, Head of the Department of Real Estate at the NUS School of Design and Environment, shared, "We hope to share our research findings using stories familiar in our daily life, such as housing purchase decisions, choosing the bus or the MRT in travelling, and how neighbours interact and create networks. The findings are written in a light-hearted and simple way, supplemented with lively comics to make economic concepts less daunting to people on the street."

Associate Professor Ang, who teaches marketing, added, "We try to make our research and those of our colleagues accessible to the society so that Singaporeans understand that there is a science to how we respond, learn the benefits and downfalls of such behaviours so that they can make smarter decisions for themselves and for the nation. Some of the research findings affirm what people think occurs; while others reveal surprising behaviours and the reasons underlying such actions."

One research study covered in the book was on housing and social mobility. Studying different income groups' and their children's housing options (e.g. a Housing & Development Board (HDB) flat vs a condominium), researchers found that the lower-income group is moving up in social mobility, the higher-income group stayed where they are, while the middle-income group moved back to HDB flats because of subsidised rates. This promoted more mingling between the two income groups and in a way, reduced the gap between them.

"You can see how public policy can actually reduce income inequality in a country, using housing policy as an example," said Professor Sumit Agarwal, Low Tuck Kwong Distinguished Professor at NUS Business School.

The study on social mobility was one of many mentioned during the book launch on 1 October. Streamed live on NUS Business School's Facebook and LinkedIn pages, the event also saw Guest-of-Honour Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Transport, and Ms Lorna Tan, Head of Financial Planning Literacy, DBS Bank, join the three authors in a panel discussion.

The event was jointly organised by NUS Business School and World Scientific Publishing, and supported by National Library Board.

Minister Ong, who wrote a foreword for Kiasunomics 2, spoke at the launch of the importance of good working relationships between the public and private sectors and academia. He felt that most government institutions were willing to share data so that researchers could understand the problems faced by Singaporeans, but researchers "need to be thick-skinned enough to ask".

Another topic mentioned during the discussion was e-payment and disruptions in the financial industry. Ms Lorna Tan said that the last few months had witnessed the acceleration of IT adoption. "Moving forward, the next disruptor I foresee will be fintech tools that allow the average Singaporean, or every Singaporean, to be empowered to do self-directed financial planning," said Ms Tan, citing the DBS NAV Planner as an example of a digital advisory tool.

In the future, the three authors hope to publish Kiasunomics 3 and also have plans to launch a podcast series based on the books.

Published by World Scientific Publishing, Kiasunomics 2, which retails at $28 (paperback) and $58 (hardback), can be found in major bookstores in Singapore, such as Popular, Kinokuniya, Times Bookstores and World Scientific Publishing's online store.

Proceeds of the royalties go towards bursaries and scholarships for NUS students.

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