Development for whom?

October 25, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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This website will carry a 7-part series of articles comprising of excerpts from Dr Chee Soon Juans latest book Your Future, My faith, Our Future. Heres Part III.

No one can deny that economic growth has taken place in Singapore. The material progress clearly evident has elevated the economic well-being of many Singaporeans. Observers would be remiss, however, to think that all this progress has flowed from the wells of PAP wisdom. It is often forgotten that under British rule, Singapore was already enjoying a standard of living unsurpassed in the region. In addition, until its decimation during the Japanese occupation, the colonial civil service was an efficiently functioning bureaucracy that was bequeathed to Singaporeans when self-governance finally came. And, despite all dogma, the truth is that Singapores development as an international trading centre (and hence its economy) began in 1819 with the arrival of Stamford Raffles and not in 1959 when the PAP came into power.

But is the GDP growth of the last few decades the only indication of how well Singapore has done? Lest we confuse economic growth with economic development, it is important to remember that the former is simply a measure of the change of the amount of production in economic activity. This is usually reflected in GDP growth figures. It tells us nothing about the extent to which the people who work for that change benefit from it, if they benefit at all. How the growth in wealth is distributed among the citizens and workers is not reflected in the GDP. Beyond the basic need for food and shelter, people work toward security, and thereafter, the means to fulfil their hopes and dreamsin a word, progress. Progress cannot benefit just the few who control economic production; in such a system, economic growth will remain skewed, and the masses will be forced to work harder and harder just to ensure that their basic needs are met. When progress for the majority, or even a segment of the society, is not ensured, economic development is arrested.

It is my contention that the direction in which the PAP is taking Singapore will ensure only growth, not development. From what I have described in this chapter, as well as in Chapter 2, it is clear that Singapores economic growth has been achieved at the expense of the development of the people. What is needed is an economic system that works for the people, not vice versa. For this to happen, we need an economy in which the people can participate, one that the people, both employers and employees, truly own. In others words, a democratic economy. In a capitalist system, autocratic governance can bring about material growth as efficiently as a democratic one. Singapore is proof. However, for growth to truly benefit the peoplefor there to be developmentdemocracy is indispensable. Material gain must have a collective social good. Gain for its own sake can be destructive to social processes and to the activities of a community. Social good can only come about when the people are not alienated from the decision-making process and when community bonds are strengthened instead of weakened. Therefore, democracy must perforce become the foundation on which economic production takes place.

Your Future, My Faith, Our Freedom is sold at Select Books (Tanglin Shopping Center), Kinokuniya Bookstore (Takashimaya Shopping Centre, Orchard Road) and the SDP office (1357A Serangoon Road, Singapore 328240).