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The Singapore Miracle: Myth and Reality
Author: Rodney King
Publisher: Insight Press (Australia)
Australian Online Bookshop
The Singapore miracle has been sold as a great success story to the world. Singapore has been promoted as a highly competitive, cutting edge economy where efficiency reigns. The city state is ranked as one of the world’s most competitive, economically free and transparent countries and a world-class business venue.
Singapore is also seen as a developed and wealthy society that has delivered a secure and affluent lifestyle for its citizens equal to anything in the West. The island’s per capita income matches that of most Western countries and its housing, health and retirement schemes are widely praised.
Such claims are rigorously scrutinised by this book: how much are they myth and how much reality? Do they give Singapore the right to see itself as a role model for developing countries? Or is the Singapore model severely flawed? Could Singapore become another Japan? The Singapore Miracle, Myth and Reality considers all these questions.
Selling Singapore’s miracle to the locals is as important as promoting it to foreign capital and the international community. Singaporeans must be happy with their lot to make them more malleable.
They will more readily accept restrictions the Government imposes on them to please foreign capital. The PAP never tires of telling Singaporeans how much they have benefited from its rule, how much happier they are in their HDB units than in the kampongs and how poverty has all but disappeared.
The rivers of dubious statistics the PAP state generates to back its questionable claims have often been uncritically accepted by journalists and Western neo-cons and the now discredited “Asia Rising” theorists.
Both the myths and the statistics used to “prove” the Singapore Miracle are suspect. To what extent is the miracle a statistical mirage? If the statistics and myth-making used to promote this miracle are scraped away what is left? – A dependent and EIC-deficient economy, driven by MNC capital and expertise, with severe inequalities of wealth and income, high living and an often poorly paid workforce. Such truths about Singapore’s miracle are not widely known abroad.
Negative foreign comments about Singapore focus on its authoritarian nature, the ruthless persecution of political opponents, its compromised and “complaint” judiciary, its lack of press freedom and its less-than-free elections. But Singapore is still seen as an economic success story that has delivered high living standard to its citizens despite democratic shortcomings.
Apart from Singaporean political activist Chee Soon Juan, few writers have exposed the many shortcomings of Singapore’s economic miracle, and especially how little Singaporeans have gained from it.
Were more commentators to do so, Singapore would no longer be regarded as a model for national development. It would lose its iconic “brand name” status around the world, particularly among neo-conservatives and the globalisation lobby. An MNC outpost serviced by underpaid locals and ruled by a manipulative and over-paid political elite is not an inspiring development model.
Myth versus Reality
Unlike Singapore’s foreign friends, PAP leaders understand its real situation. Frantic government efforts to transform the country into an entrepreneurial, innovative, risk-taking society reflect this concern. However, such ends can only be achieved if the PAP state relinquishes much of its power over the economy and people.
While desperately trying to transform the economy, the PAP continues to deluge Singaporeans with assurances that everything is fine, using biased statistics to do this. Many Singaporeans see through such subterfuge, perceiving their society as one riven with privilege and inequality.
While the Government soothingly talks of cosmopolitans and heartlanders, Singaporeans name things differently. There is the “condo class” composed of highly-paid managers and professionals, at whose center are the country’s over-paid PAP rulers. And there is the “HDB class”, comprising the vast bulk of the population, battling along on incomes of S$1,500 to $2,000 a month and often less, living limited and intimidated lives under a watchful and repressive state.
Another major socio-economic division in Singapore is between the privileged MNC-SE sector, protected at the expense of a stunted, marginalized SME sector. SME resentment at this intensifies with every economic downturn. They know well that there is no level playing field for them when competing against the MNCs and Ses.
Besides growing inequality, Singapore is hollowing out economically and socially. It will remain dependent on foreign capital and talent despite endless “re-engineering” efforts to make it more competitive. Singapore is becoming a transient hotel-type society. State-led efforts to inculcate patriotism and a sense of community merely disguise this process.
Eventually the truth may emerge that Singapore cannot be transformed into the economy the PAP wants unless the Government is prepared to relinquish significant economic and political control.
The PAP cannot do this because it would undermine its rule and disrupt many powerful vested interests. However, without such reform Singapore is condemned to ongoing mediocrity. A vibrant MNC sector and huge national reserves will disguise this only for a while.
Nonetheless, a combination of internal and external factors could disrupt and tear apart Singapore’s carefully cultivated image as a competitive cutting-edge economy. Some scenarios have been outlines on how this could occur.
If conditions worsen, no amount of PAP spin, compliant ratings agencies or neo-con accolades will disguise Singapore’s growing problems. Only then will the myths that have sustained PAP’ Singapore for so long be exposed; and only then will Singapore become a deservedly discarded development model for developing countries. Then, the Singapore Miracle will finally be seen for what it is.
Book Review (The Nation):
Lion without teeth