Isn’t life a bitch? No sooner than Singapore is ranked as the world’s most competitive nation by another think tank, the economy tanks. It’s the worst slump in at least 33 years, reports Bloomberg. And things are not going to get much better soon, the prime minister said the other day. It’s like the title of that book, When Bad Things Happen To Good People.
Singapore was on a roll when the global economy crashed. And now ships lie idle in the harbour while unemployment rears its ugly head. Ninety thousand jobs are likely to be lost, says a report, which is alarming for a city state as small as Singapore. (Population: 4.84 million; employed: 2.96 million.)
It makes you wonder where the axe is going to fall, the wolf will be at whose door, as you look out of the window at the multistoreys punctuating the skyline. The vertical architecture is characteristic of Singapore’s aspirations.
There is so much to be proud of. Even as the economy sinks, the Singapore math bill is moving through the statehouse in Utah, to teach Singapore maths to American schoolchildren, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Singapore wins third place in the World Schools Debating Championship in Athens, reports Channel NewsAsia.
US think tank hails Singapore
“To find global leaders, Asia is the place to look. Singapore tops all nations,” says the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington DC. Taking the overall top spot, Singapore ranked 12th in higher education, fifth in researchers, ninth in corporate R&D, third in government R&D, 22nd in scientific publications, fifth in venture capital and second in new firms. (See chart.) The US ranked ninth in higher education, sixth in researchers, sixth in corporate R&D, sixth in government R&D, fifth in scientific publications, sixth in venture capital and sixth in new firms. The think tank says in its report:
Singapore has made technological innovation almost a national obsession, putting in place a robust set of policies to lead the knowledge economy.
While others say the government plays too big a role in the Singapore economy, this one sings a different tune. The government’s spurring the technological progress of countries like Singapore and South Korea, it says, adding:
Overall, these trends suggest that absent concerted public sector efforts by the United States and Europe to boost innovation and competitiveness, that this century will not be the Atlantic century, but rather the Pacific century, or perhaps more accurately the Southeastern Asian century.
The report adds:
Perhaps not surprisingly, China comes in first in terms of progress, as they have aggressively promoted modernization and technology development. Singapore not only ranks at the top in overall score, but second in progress. But South Korea and Japan, two nations that experienced their rapid periods of growth at least a decade or two ago, continue to make rapid progress, significantly faster than both the United States and the EU-15.
Overall East Asia’s central challenge will be to transition in the next decade away from an export-led model of growth, much of it based on mercantilist policies like currency manipulation, to policies that spur innovation, IT use, and productivity growth through all sectors of their economy — not just a few select export industries.
And there lies the rub. Singapore cannot flourish without exports and the government has been promoting high-tech industries because Singapore cannot compete in cheap, labour-intensive sectors.
The global downturn has put a question mark over the future shape of the world economy. But one thing is certain.
For Singapore, the future can only be geeky.
So American schoolchildren will learn Singapore math.
And will Singapore pass the American human rights test? It did not get an A in the latest report card.
US State Department report on Singapore
The US State Department’s 2008 Human Rights Report says:
Singapore is a parliamentary republic in which the People's Action Party (PAP), in power since 1959, overwhelmingly dominates politics. The population was approximately 4.6 million, with foreign workers accounting for nearly one fifth of the total. Opposition parties exist, and the May 2006 parliamentary elections were generally fair and free of tampering; however, the PAP placed formidable obstacles in the path of political opponents. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government has broad powers to limit citizens' rights and to handicap political opposition, which it used. Caning is an allowable punishment for numerous offenses. The following human rights problems also were reported: preventive detention, executive influence over the judiciary, infringement of citizens' privacy rights, restriction of speech and press freedom and the practice of self-censorship by journalists, restriction of freedoms of assembly and association, limited restriction of freedom of religion, and some trafficking in persons…
Singapore will no doubt object to the report.
The Nobel Prize-winning Indian economist Amartya Sen was right when he told Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper that one should abandon the idea of perfect states. “You can breathe easily in Singapore in a way that you cannot in many countries in the world,” he added.