What Singapore can learn from Europe By Tommy Koh

IT IS a sad reflection on human nature that when a region is faced with a crisis, it is often treated with disdain instead of sympathy. I recall that during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998, some of our European and American friends were extremely unkind and predicted that Asia would suffer a lost decade.

We must not do the same to Europe which has been faced with a serious financial and economic crisis since 2008. I have, therefore, decided to swim against the tide of anti-Europe sentiments.

I wish to highlight the fact that not all the countries of Europe are in crisis. Last year, of the 27 European Union countries, only three had a negative growth rate. In the 2010-2011 Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum, six EU countries were ranked among the 10 most competitive countries.

I wish to make the case that Singapore has much to learn from the successful countries of Europe. I will focus on four European countries whose populations are below 10 million – namely, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.


Inclusive growth

THE citizens of the world aspire to live in fair societies. One important aspect of fairness is the equitable distribution of income and wealth. This is the moral force behind the economic doctrine of inclusive growth. As a result of globalisation, technological change and domestic policies, many countries have become extremely unequal.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is a reflection of the American people’s sentiments against a growth model which over-rewards the top 1 per cent and under-rewards the remaining 99 per cent. The inequality in Singapore, as measured by the Gini coefficient, is even greater than that in America. Too great a gap between rich and poor undermines solidarity and social cohesion. It poses a threat to our harmony and our sense of nationhood.

Let us compare Singapore, on the one hand, and Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden on the other. Their per capita incomes in 2010 were as follows:

  • Singapore: S$59,813
  • Denmark: S$69,249(€42,500)
  • Finland: S$54,584 (€33,500)
  • Norway: S$105,096 (€64,500)
  • Sweden: S$60,613 (€37,200)

The Gini coefficient is used universally as a summary measure of income inequality. It is based upon the difference between the incomes of the top 20 per cent and the bottom 20 per cent. Zero represents total income equality and one represents total inequality. What are the Gini coefficients of the five countries? In 2010, they were as follows:

  • Singapore: 0.46
  • Denmark: 0.27
  • Finland: 0.25
  • Norway: 0.24
  • Sweden: 0.24

In order to get a better sense of the wages earned in the five countries by the bottom 20-30 per cent of the working population, I have chosen the cleaner and the bus driver. The average monthly wages of the cleaner and bus driver in the five countries are as follows:

  • Singapore
    Cleaner S$800     Bus driver S$1,800
  • Denmark
    Cleaner S$5,502  Bus driver S$6,193
  • Finland
    Cleaner S$2,085  Bus driver S$3,910
  • Norway
    Cleaner S$5,470  Bus driver S$6,260
  • Sweden
    Cleaner S$3,667   Bus driver S$4,480

A few observations are in order.
First, Singapore’s per capita income is roughly similar to those of Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

Second, the four Nordic countries are much more equitable than Singapore. This is reflected in their Gini coefficients as well as in the average monthly wages earned by the cleaner and the bus driver.

Third, some Nordic countries have a minimum wage and some, such as Denmark, do not. The minimum wage is, therefore, a means but not the only means to ensure that workers earn a living wage.

Fourth, the argument that the only way to raise the wages of our low-wage workers is through productivity increase is not persuasive. I would like to know, for example, how the two women who clean my office can be more productive than they already are in order to deserve higher wages? I would like to know how the Singapore bus driver can be more productive so that his income will approximate those of his Nordic counterparts?

The truth is that we pay these workers such low wages not primarily because their productivity is inherently low, but largely because they are competing against an unlimited supply of cheap foreign workers. Because cheap workers are so plentiful, they tend to be employed unproductively. In the Nordic countries, unskilled workers are relatively scarce and thus deployed more productively, with higher skills, mechanisation, and better organisation.

What is the solution? The solution is for the State to reduce the supply of cheap foreign workers or introduce a minimum wage or to target specific industries, such as the hospitality industry, for wage enhancement.


Higher fertility

ONE of our challenges is our low fertility rate. For a country’s population to remain stable, it needs a total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.14. Singapore’s current TFR is 1.2. Our population experts tell us that our population will begin to shrink by 2025. They have, therefore, argued that, to make up the deficit, we need to import foreigners to add to our population.

Importing foreigners is the second best solution. The best solution is to raise our TFR. On this point, our policymakers seem to have run out of ideas. The various incentive schemes, such as baby bonus, do not seem to be productive. It is time to look at our four European countries for inspiration. Their 2010 TFRs were as follows:

  • Denmark: 1.87
  • Finland: 1.87
  • Norway: 1.95
  • Sweden: 1.98

The four Nordic countries have TFRs which are close to the replacement level. This achievement seems extraordinary. They do not have the benefit of maids. There are over 200,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore. They also do not have grandparents who help with child-rearing. At the same time, they have very high participation of women in their workforces. In terms of availability of time and help for child-rearing, common sense would suggest that the TFR in Singapore should be higher than those in the Nordic countries. How do we explain this paradox?

Our population experts cannot explain this paradox. I will venture a hypothesis. I believe that the high TFR in the Nordic countries could be due to four factors: the availability of convenient, affordable and good childcare; good work-life balance; an excellent and relatively stress-free education system; and the relative absence of male chauvinism.

Let me say a few words on each of the four factors.

First, one of the missing links in Singapore is the inadequate supply of conveniently located, good quality and affordable childcare for infants and young children.

Second, the work-life balance in Singapore, especially for many young professionals such as lawyers, architects and teachers, is poor. Singaporeans work one of the longest hours in the developed world. They have little energy for life other than work and thus little time for meaningful family life.

The Government and our employers should reflect on whether the existing climate of encouraging or requiring our young professionals to work late into the night is necessary or desirable.

Third, sociologists like Paulin Straughan have pointed out that Singapore’s highly competitive and stressful education system is also a deterrent to working parents having more children. The Nordic countries, on the other hand, are famous for their high quality, egalitarian education which fulfils the children’s aspiration for a happy childhood. It is a paradox that Finland, with no streaming, no elite schools and no private tuition industry, is ranked as having the world’s best education system.

Fourth, it is significant that the developed countries with low TFRs include Japan, Korea, Italy and Spain, which have a high degree of male chauvinism. Is it possible that Singapore too has a high degree of male chauvinism? The women of Singapore are often blamed for not marrying and having children. Perhaps, the main problem is not our women but our men. Perhaps, what we also need is a mindset change on the part of our men towards the status and role of our women and the shared responsibilities of the husband and wife, and father and mother in domestic chores and child-rearing.


Embracing nature and sustainable development

SINGAPORE is probably Asia’s cleanest, greenest and most liveable city. Our air is healthy, our water is potable and our land is wholesome. In addition, we enjoy good public health and food safety. Visitors are astonished by the fact that, in spite of our high density, 47 per cent of our land is covered in greenery. In view of this, the reader will ask what can we learn from the four Nordic countries? I suggest three things.

First, people there love nature and their natural heritage. They seem to have an emotional, even a spiritual, relationship with nature. They love their forests, lakes and fjords. In contrast, most Singaporeans tend to have a more pragmatic relationship with nature. They apply a cost-benefit analysis to the destruction of a natural heritage. Pragmatism is one of our virtues. We should, however, be aware of the defects of our virtues. Not everything in life can be monetised.

Second, we can learn useful lessons from the way in which the Nordic countries have been able to reconcile economic competitiveness with a deep commitment to sustainable development. After the 1992 Earth Summit, each of them has established a national commission to mainstream sustainable development.

In the case of Finland, the Prime Minister chairs the National Commission on Sustainable Development. The result is that there is a national consensus in each of those countries to internalise the ethic of sustainable development into all aspects of life.

Third, at the micro-level, there are lessons in areas where Singapore has room for improvement – for example, in energy efficiency, the use of solar energy, the recycling of waste, the use of non-polluting buses, changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, etc.


Heritage, culture and the arts

IN THE past two decades, inspired by the 1989 Ong Teng Cheong report and Mr George Yeo’s leadership at the then Ministry of Information and the Arts, Singapore has undergone a paradigm shift in the areas of heritage, culture and the arts. The arts have blossomed. More and more Singaporeans are interested in knowing their history and preserving their heritage. The trend is, therefore, favourable. What can we learn from the Nordic countries?

First, we can learn the importance of giving all our children a good education in the arts. We have made good progress in recent years. The opening of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and the School of The Arts were important milestones.

We can strengthen arts education in our schools. We should consider starting courses in art history and museum studies at the undergraduate and graduate levels. This will help in the training of teachers, curators, dealers, collectors and museum administrators, all in short supply.

Second, we can emulate the achievements of the Nordic countries in respect of museums. They have an impressive range of museums with strong collections. They have been able to harness the benefit of public-private partnership. Their museum collections extend beyond their nations to the cultures of the world.

For example, the David Collection in Copenhagen is one of the world’s best collections of Islamic Art. The Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki has a very ambitious programming agenda, covering Western as well as Asian and African art.

Third, because of their ancient Viking past and current strength in shipping and other maritime industries, Denmark, Norway and Sweden have outstanding museums of maritime history.

Given the importance of maritime trade to Singapore’s past and present, it is puzzling that we do not have a museum of maritime history. I hope one day the historic Clifford Pier, which now houses a restaurant, will be the home of a world-class museum of maritime history. When that time comes, we can look to the Nordic countries for inspiration.

By Tommy Koh, For The Straits Times, May 19, 2012
The writer is chairman, Centre for International Law and Rector, Tembusu College, National University of Singapore.
By Invitation is a new column featuring leading thinkers and writers from Singapore and the region.


54 comments on “What Singapore can learn from Europe By Tommy Koh

  1. Everything in this article is explained properly, there is no error whatsoever, and all the suggestions made are auspicable and possible. Only thing not mentioned here which sets Singapore on another galaxy compared to Scandinavia is taxation and cost of everyday living (cars and millionaire condos aside): are singaporean willing to devolve 50% of their income to the state which in return will give a high level of welfare ? are they willing to pay a BigMac 15 sing dollar ?

  2. Karl says:

    You are comparing Oranges with Apples.

    Singapore’s Only Resources – People
    Sweden – Timber, minerals and land for agriculture
    Finland – Timber, minerals and land for agriculture
    Norway – natural gas, oil and fishing industry
    Denmark – Oil fields and fishing industry.

    Without the foreign companies, our people will have no income to speak of.

    instead of focusing on the “minimum wage” and the lofty idea of equality, perhaps it would be better off advocating for Singapore Government to create better local start up that will employ its own people instead of relying on foreign companies to employ our people. These foreign companies are only interested in profits, not the well being of our people.

    Until we are capable of sustaining our own economy, we need to rely on others to employ us,

  3. Laval says:

    The point about minimum wage is misleading: the Nordic countries (eg Denmark/Sweden) DO have a minimum wage, just that it’s not hard coded into the legislation. The Nordic countries traditionally operate a collective bargaining system, whereby wages and working conditions are determined by a system of collective action (ie Workers’ Unions bargaining with Employers’ Unions for a fair wage), and sympathetic affirmative action for uncooperative employers. The law then protects this system constitutionally and through Art 11 ECHR. Tellingly, the Nordic governments in implementing the EU Posted Workers’ Directive considered that this system effectively implemented the minimum wage floor as per Art 3(1).

    If we take this this idea to its logical conclusion, and accept that hard-coding a minimum wage is not the only way to raise the auntie cleaners wage past $800 (which I assume we all do want to), and recognise that Sg does have the NTUC as a workers’ union, then the question becomes what is NTUC doing?

    Interestingly the point made about social dumping (ie that the market for low-skilled labour is being flooded by an infinite supply of workers driving wages down) is the very reason the Nordic countries have such trade unions. The idea is that the logic of the market shouldn’t operate in labour; there should be an imposed (either through legislation or collective bargaining: importantly for Singapore there isn’t much difference except collective bargaining outcomes might be more nuanced) base standard.

  4. Ian C. says:

    I am a Singaporean living in Denmark, and thank you Prof. Tommy Koh for being a voice of sanity and elevating what a lot of us living here know and feel. Singaporeans miss having politicians with your heart in the right place.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Finally. An article that delves rightmost into the heart of the problem. Tommy Koh apparently understands what many of the establishment does not. not everything’s counted under dollars and cents. We are risking the ability to maintain a strong cultural core and the Singapore that we all know and love will disappear. By Penny pinching, you can’t help but feel that we are all cogs in a giant machine whose ultimate goal HR to put coins into the govt coffers. Anything else is secondary. The govt just does enough to make sure that you are able to survive.

  6. Gabor Nagy says:

    Only read Lesson #1. What “reducing the supply of cheap foreign labour” or “introduce minimum wage” would achieve is roughly these:

    – Singapore would lose all those industries where it wouldn’t be able to compete any more. Namely shipyards, manufacturing

    – the unskilled labour jobs would just disappear. If one is not educated, too bad for them, would not be allowed to work by legal decree. Is this good for those people? No, minimum wage would just hurt them more!

    – No families could employ maids any more because they would be too expensive (question: how many families in EU can afford maids? A: no one except the ultra-rich)

    – those nice eating-out culture would disappear, cheap hawkers would not be there any more. (As they are not there in minimum-wage and crazy regulation stricken Europe)

    – … probably a lot more retarded effects that I can’t even imagine now.

    These countries are prospering in Europe _DESPITE_ the minimum wages that exist there, which is frankly a miracle, and would prosper even more should they abolish it!

  7. Jake Wong says:

    great article – honest and enlightening.

  8. wingbliss says:

    This is the other side of the TRUTH:
    Source: Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2010: Wealth distribution pattern

    Norway has 60% owning majority of the wealth.

    **sghardtruth** sorry this source need further verification.

    Singapore born male is just a pathetic 25%, SingStat. I don’t see how Chavinism got anything to do with it. More than often Singapore men are oblivious, enjoy games and soccer and struggling to make ends meet.

  9. […] I'm sure you've already seen this… What Singapore can learn from Europe By Tommy Koh SG Hard Truth […]

  10. Nicholas Ho says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve always admired Prof Koh and his gentle manner in putting his points across.

  11. Ugly Truth says:

    Unfortunately, the powers at play, prefer higher profits to equality. As long as the balance between citizen acceptance (of situation) and huge profits are met, everything will be going as per their plan. TFR ? If the locals do not like the current situation, New Citizens will support the current situation as it gives them a better lifestyle as compared to their previous ones.

  12. vijay says:

    nice.singapore depend on foreigners cus of kinda professions foreigners bring in which mean to say singapore education system has failed to produce this kinda professional people, ultimately i can see link why singapore depend on foreigner.

  13. SS says:

    Hi, have been living in Sweden for sometime and these are aspects that we greatly appreciate. It’s a wonderful place. http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150409336547417.379807.533942416&type=3

  14. Shoyu Ramen Seafood Pasta says:

    Like what Karl said, I think it is unfair & unwise to make comparisons without first considering inherent differences in factor endowments.

    Singapore wishes to remain cost-competitive in a bid to attract investors, yet she aspires to be fair and inclusive, leaving no one behind. Recognising Singapore’s lack of natural resources, the way to mend the leaky bucket can’t simply be to impose a minumum wage – legally or tacitly. All else being constant, unemployment will only heighten, social problems exacerbated and long-term economic growth stymied.

    Singapore needs to discriminate the workforce, albeit indirectly. A enlightened society is one which values its own people – just because they are part of it. One pitfall of pragmatism or even technocracy is the “digitisation” of individuals. I call it “digitisation” because the value of people, in the eyes of policy maker, is often quite literally a numerical value.

    The Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme is a step in the right direction. Companies continue to enjoy affordable labour: wages kept low with an open labour market. The incentive to work is enhanced, avoiding the moral hazards associated with welfare systems. Furthermore, the take-home pay of only Singaporeans improves.

    I would suggest that the WIS Scheme be made more comprehensive – covering a greater portion of Singaporeans, and the supplements be made more significant. Most of the common qualms of become a welfare state are absent.

    Taxes, however, are expected to rise. But as a member of an inclusive society, I am willing to do my part for my fellow countrymen.

  15. Jloh says:

    No easy answer. As many support these thoughts, there are others questioning on the sustainment of this model where cost of living is a major consideration. How might we be able to have the cake and eat it, low cost of living, balanced life, still stay competitive.

  16. Uma Urs says:

    Taxation and unemployment benefits must also be compared. Can Singapore afford to have a higher taxation system, have stronger labour unions and pay unemployment benefits?

  17. kk68 says:

    Having read the comments here, i think some of us just want everything: ie having the lifestyle of others but not the costs. We all know that is not possible. Having a minimum wage comes about because of a strong union, not a puppet like NTUC. Enterprise bargaining works when the government is not involved as an interested party (refer to Pilots Union vs SIA). If industries have to be subsidised at the expense of workers, then the question to be asked is: is it even worth keeping?

    I am not sure why unskilled labour jobs would disappear. Just because you have a minimum wage does not mean you have a minimum education level. There will always be unskilled labour jobs. The only question is who would fill them? At this point, no Singaporeans would like them as it pays too little. But if you have a minimum wage, then maybe more Singaporeans would take up these jobs, thereby relieving the need for foreign workers.

    From my viewpoint, I think that there should be a cap on foreign workers, whether talented or not. Importing labour is not the answer. We should be looking at increasing wages so that there isn’t a drain of labour flowing out of Singapore.

    I agree with Tommy Koh in that we need a society that values families more than it values work. Right now, the immigration policy seems to be about making sure the economy works and not about making sure we have a better work-life balance.

  18. Nicholas Yong says:

    I really do hope that the govt as well as GICs understands what Mr Tommy Koh is saying.. Our focus of only profits, profits and more profits help us to ensure a certain level of efficiency but overdoing it kills the very reason why they are created in the first place.

    Smrt looking at only profits, may potentially drive people to cut corners and only look at short term goals.

    Govt entities should be looking to help local companies grow rather that compete against them. How many times have we heard of govt creating commercial entities to compete in the around crowded private sector. Just a few years ago, SLA admitted that it did want to renew it’s map license to street directory.com because it is starting it’s own map company… How do we compete against such tide ? How do we foster entrepreneurial spirit when the very country that encourages us to do so, completes against us at the initial signs of success.

    Another case in question is a couple who thought of an idea of bring neighbourhood food to the working population in orchard road. They were told that they need a permit ( i am ok with that) what happen next puzzles me. They authorities ask for the business proposal and after finding the proposal to have some merit, issues out a public auction to obtain license thus robbing the idea from the couple for it’s own benefit.

    Many SMEs would account that their biggest competitors are GICs over and above foreign MNCs. It does not help the fact that conservative ministries also have a preference for MNCs over local firms. The recently architecture design competition over Changi Terminal 4 shows just that. Despite the last min reversal of rules.. I doubt they will chose a Singaporean firm even if it is better coz perception that it not as good is already form before competition begins.

    If Singapore continues on this path, it will not only finds that it will continue to rely on foreign talent but also foreign companies and it’s very own citizens unable to grow in wages and a growing disgruntled group of people, from employees to business owners that will feel that it’s own government – a competitor rather than a collaborator.

    End of the day, it is creating the very thing it needs for it’s own destruction. People not voting for them in the upcoming election.

  19. Markus says:

    did the author ever leave in any European country or read the history? Think he misses quite some points and rides on sterotypes even though he claims to swim against the tide…

  20. chinleng says:

    I think with each solution comes a price. http://www.cphpost.dk/news/national/good-news-bad-news-daycare-parents.

    “Families in Denmark may pay some of the lowest rates for child care, but they still pay some of the world’s highest taxes,” Hansen told Politiken.

    Are we prepared to pay a higher income tax? Will the foreign companies still invest here when we increase our corporate tax?


    Denmark 36.57–55.4 % (Income tax), 25% (VAT/GST)
    Finland 6.5–30% national, 16–21% municipal (Income tax), 23% (VAT/GST)
    Norway 0–47.8% (Income tax), 25% (VAT/GST)
    Sweden 0%–57% (Income tax), 25% (VAT/GST)

    Singapore 3.5%–20% (Income tax), 7% (GST)

  21. Wendiyesorno says:

    As an owner of an SME, I do not agree that local employers are hiring cheap foreign workers easily just to keep costs low. Reality is that it is not easy to hire foreign workers at an unskilled level as very minimal quota are given (this is not true however for skilled and high level FT). With the new policies by the govt in placed, a seemingly low waged foreign worker, say hired at $1,200 will still cost around $1,600. The real problem is that Singaporeans, born and bred here are used to the comfortable and good life, they do not want jobs that are perceived as unglamourous, bad or have no career prospects. For example, how many young Singaporean graduates or not, will take up a position as a cleaner? A bus driver? A manicurist? A janitor? Even waitressing is frowned upon.
    The problem is not just about simply paying more, even at $2,000, most young Singaporeans will still not want to be a toilet cleaner. It’s about the society as a whole. Housing has become unaffordable and impossible for a young Singaporean to aspire to own (as long as they are not married), even if they don’t get employed, they have no commitments to pay, nor bills to worry about as long as they are still fed by their parents! Very unlike the generations before us. The lacking in tenacity and drive in the younger generation of Singaporean need to be addressed.
    Looking towards FT from all levels may be a way to keep our economy growing, however, our infrastructure at its current capacity does not have the capability to sustain a healthy growth without local resentment. Tell me, 25k more passengers on our failing mrt system a day? Our roads can’t take many more cars. Our schools can’t handle that many more students. Our housing won’t be able to accomodate 20k more people a yr without drving prices even higher. Sound policies must first be in place to built up infrastructure so that Singaporeans can welcome FT where there is more than enough for us to share without feeling like we are disadvantaged.
    Finally, the most sound policy will really be to encourage increase in births in Singapore. Not easy but achievable. Most local couples choose not to have children or minimal children namely due to high cost, stress and time factor, as mentioned by writer. As a mother of 3, it costs me over $1,500per child a month, $4,500 in total just for kids expenses and tuition. How many couples can afford to have kids? Make it a wholistic education system, ease on academics and results, less pressure on parents and students. More subsidies in child care, maternity, pediatric care, benefits for parents, single or not. If Singaporean women are given a ticket to have a child (where most education, medical benefits are covered till 16yrs), not worrying about the cost of raising one without sacrificing career and income, by all means, we will procreate!

  22. Go Kick says:

    Great article. Very useful to compare countries with the most expensive social model in the World and Singapore. Next time, you can write an article saying how generous cleaners’ salary is by comparing with Sudan and Laos.

  23. Thanks for the thought provoking article. I lived in Denmark for almost 10 years and I can vouch for all what you have written. Can Singapore put into practice the good learnings?

  24. asgara says:

    Your admirable ideals are similar, i believe, to many who voted for the oppositions. As a Singaporean, I do not mind working hard for my country, as long as I know that we strive to end up in a better place (And no, the better place need not necessarily glitter in gold). I hope to be heartened, but when I look around me, even the latest generation of parents are too entrenched in economic and pragmatic pursuits, for themselves and their children, that I can’t help but sigh, and put my hopes away for now.

  25. octopi says:

    It is literally true to say that Singapore is a place that does not have natural resources. But imagine if Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore were one big country. Then Singapore would be a major city in a country which has plenty of natural resources. Singapore is a transportation hub, a financial hub and an admin hub for a region that is rich in natural resources. Practically speaking, it is in a part of the world that is rich in timber, palm oil, rubber, oil, gas, minerals. It’s not really true that it’s all in “another country” when that “other country” is 1 km away.

    Conversely, pretend that Stockholm were an independent country. Then you could pretend that Stockholm “does not have natural resources” and pretend that the rest of Sweden does not exist. Does that make sense?

    The other thing is that since Singapore were a maritime hub, it is almost as though all the natural resources were right at our doorstep. You stick your hand out and you can have all the raw material you want. Why do you think Japan wanted to conquer us 70 years ago?

    The problem with us is that we have to raise our wages. The big problem is that our costs have grown so high that our wages have to be so much higher than those of the countries around us, in order to keep up with our standard of living. The solution (even though this is very difficult to achieve) is to drive our cost of living all the way down into the ground so that we don’t always have to be competing with cheap labour: ie you can afford to pay all of us peanuts because our cost of living is low and we won’t suffer.

  26. sherry says:

    last point at the end – singapore has a maritime museum at Resorts world sentosa. a small one that i felt caters mainly to the tourists rather than focusing on educating and informing.

  27. David says:

    Interesting discussion but maybe everyone needs to be open minded and read between the lines:

    1. Singapore resources is not only people, it is a priceless advantage of a strategic location along trading routes – consider world class Singapore companies – Keppel, NOL, SIA, Sembawang Shipyard. This brings to mind – repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.

    2. Capitalism has always leverage on exploitation – so in the case of Singapore’s phenomenal growth in the past 30 years which groups were exploited? foreigners? MNCs? the rich? the poor?

    Anyway I wonder if everyone can see that Singapore Government is planning to make Singapore the Monarco of Asia, attracting millionaires here to take up residency (facebook founder, hong kong and china actors/actoress). While foreigners like me love living in Singapore because of the low taxes, security and safety. I wonder why local Singaporean’s are not sharing the same sentiment? rhetorical question but possibly because we drive up inflation in Singapore. The similiar case would be if all the rich Singaporeans buy up property and go shopping in Johor Bahru.

  28. Emm says:

    Your sentiments echoes how I have been feeling for a long time. I am sad that only a minority is able to see the big picture. I have long time given up on Singapore, her insatiable needs for the impossible in economy and the obscene education system makes me tear every time I come back to visit friends and families there.

    I am disheartened that Singaporeans:
    1. are robbed of special bonds with their family,
    2. forced to highly depend on house help
    3. working too hard not because you love your work but to be able to keep up with the Joneses
    4. kids are deprived of play time and being just kids
    5. waged poor
    6. being judged at a very young age of their intelligence level
    7. OBSESSION WITH ‘O’LEVELS results even after completing higher Degrees and Doctorates

    😦 I could rattle on more, but then I will go crazy, and you don’t want that.

  29. julie haw says:

    Professor Koh has highlighted the good things in the societies mentioned. However, unless we can fix a motor and propel our island physically to another location and somehow compete in markets with similar cost structures, I would say these are ideals at most to approximate to. We are already the most expensive country in the neighbourhood to locate a business.

    I was watching a BBC interview with the Finnish minister of education and she was saying that although their average standards would be higher than most countries, their brightest are being pulled back because they do not have streaming and a scholar type system. Hence it is not flawless. The system we have here is based on Confucianism and that is linked.to our Asian cultural conditioning. I believe it would be hard to change.

    The cleaner lady who is drawing minimum wage will instill in her son the possibility of transcending their station in life if he worked real hard and became a scholar. Without that mechanism, the growth and push seen in North Asia and in Singapore in the last 50 years will not have been possible. Races or cultures who do not embrace this sort of mechanism often do not progress at the same speed.

    Professor Koh’s ideal world comes with too many assumptions. Changes in policies would be the easiest proposed, it is cultural attitudes and even fundamental beliefs of what life is all about, which would be the real issues here.

    Another big problem is the actual number of human beings we actually have to do the work in this country. Given the amount of economic activity here, please do tell us if there are enough cleaners to clean everything, even if Singaporeans are willing to do the work. Having chosen the path to have a more vibrant and busy city, can we really shrink the activity level now?

    The only choice I think that had been made hastily is letting so many foreigners in at the same time, creating a kind of ‘ghetto’ mentality as there are many problems of social assimilation now. However, I am not sure we could have done without new migrants just depending on Singaporeans to change their mind about having more kids, and not pushing them too hard, as they can always become cleaners who will draw more equitable salaries. That school of thought will be difficult to sell to say the least.

  30. James Das says:

    Ah…so may perspectives and alot to digest. At the end of it all, I suppose the value of any system is whether it is sensible. If it leaves a lingering sense of inclusiveness and fulfillment then perhaps its worth living in and sustaining such a system. When you get the inate feeling that you are being made use of, better leave for a equitable system. Otherwise we will keep rushing and rushing (might as well be called russhians) chasing that metaphor until battery goes flat. At the end of my days I dont want to look back at the KPI’s that I have helped achieve. I want to make sure that I have lived a sensible life, reminiscing the quality of my life, who I spent it with and what I was able to give, help, create and enjoy for I shall not walk this way anymore.

  31. Lee Vardeman says:

    The Occupy Wall Street protests demonstrators displayed lawless disregard for public and private property while demanding that the rest of society supply them their education, jobs, healthcare and retirement — the very epitome of the saying “the world owes me a living.” Wealth is not a communally-owned “resource” that needs to be equally distributed among the populace, it is a return of the efforts and risks assumed by an entrepreneur. The true responsibility and duty of any national government is to provide its citizens a safe place to engage in commerce, and that government should only demand enough tax to achieve that aim. When government uses its power of deadly force to take money away from someone who has earned it to benefit someone who did not, that is theft and should be recognized as such.

  32. Rank Tan says:

    The only person who makes sense here is Lee Vardeman.

  33. coldsilver says:

    The comments section baffles me. And I should have expected a good deal of defensive remarks. After all, social liberalism has a negative connotation in the States and parts of SEA.

    Let me address some key ideas some of these commentators have put forward. Yes, Singapore has no natural resources and comparing ourself to Norway, which has ample amounts of oil reserves, might be a stretch too far. But to say we are markedly different from the other Scandinavian countries because we are not resource-sufficient might not be completely true. If companies would have wanted to set up their headquarters in a country with cheap labour and minimal tax, then China, especially Hong Kong, would be the best place to be in. It’s after all, the up and coming emerging market. But companies still come to Singapore nonetheless and there should be another, more relevant reason. Companies want to start a business in Singapore because they want to have a presence in SEA, our labour force are generally well-educated and our transport system is best in the region. Research in pharmaceuticals or other fields are probably strong and it’ll be perfect to take advantage of that. There are of course many more reasons for that. To say that high taxes will lead to ultimate demise of industries as a whole is quite a joke. Sweden has a strong manufacturing and ship industry. Just look at Gothenburg! (Erricson/Volvo are all there).

    Let me turn the tables and say, if we keep our taxes extremely low, and keep our labour cost at a bare minimal, what incentive does a company has to increase its productivity? And if so, how can the workforce earn more to boost local consumption?

    The reason why we need so many new immigrants, is the quick and easy way to boost overall economic growth by cheapening labour costs and increasing the labour market. But that’s not a long term solution. Singapore is getting over crowded and the over used public transport system is a clear sign that we are close to the brink. Am I against immigrants? Of course not. But there are better ways of doing things. And one of them is to boost technology and increase productivity. What I feel is that the current climate of handling the economy, with the emphasis on low wages, is not encouraging that. And we’re not attracting the right companies. Its a vicious cycle.

    Well, Lee, I have to disagree with you. If the responsibility of any national government is to provide its citizens a safe place to engage in commerce, that I suppose you feel that North Korea is a reasonable nation then? I mean, it’s generally safe these recent years, and if it stops provoking south korea with those nasty bombs, south korea will not retaliate and i’ll be a perfect country! Perhaps a better example might be China? Very capitalist, but not very free. To me, equality matters and any government will have to strive to achieve that. It’s not a lofty idea. It’s the right thing to do! That’s why we vote our government in to take care of the people. Now, if you subscribe to the ‘equal opportunity’ conservative idea, than fair enough. But hopefully I could twitch you slightly more to the left.

    People are not born with equal opportunities and I feel that any government needs to make sure that this is corrected. It’s not because the poor is working less. I’m sure our lowly-skilled labourers are working just as hard, if not more. But perhaps, they don’t have the opportunity to have private tuition like the rich or have the privilege to engage in extra curricular activity to ‘boost their cv’ because they need to work to earn extra income for their family. To me, it’s blatantly unfair that the rich gets richer with little gains if he earns that 1000 pounds more and the poor gets poorer; diminishing returns. And a progressive tax system should be in place to correct that. I think our people, and our politicians, like to say, where do we draw the line? Well, enough to support themselves. Enough to stop worrying about their kids and how to put food on the table. Enough to stop worrying about healthcare. Wouldn’t that need a ridiculous tax then! Hmm, it’s a progressive tax. So we’re taxing the wealthy that could easily afford that stash of cash. That’s how income tax is derived from anyway, just that the extent of which we might disagree on. And I’m sure that doesn’t drive away business. Canada seems fine the last I’ve checked. And Singapore has one of the country with the highest density of millionaires! Ultimately, it’s what you think might be the right thing to do. And hopefully, fingers crossed, a more empathetic one.

    Of course, we need to take into account of our surrounding economies and we need to make sure that we are still somewhat competitive. With a better environment for business, I’m sure we could charge a bit more tax as compared to, say Malaysia. But currently, we’re lower! 6% at that. Or maybe we could drive up revenue with at least some capital gain tax! There’s a lot we could do and to not even have a go at it because ‘where do we draw the line!!’ seems to me like a pointless argument. Somewhere. We need to start building any road somewhere.

    And finally, I think the point is missed if we start talking about a socialist state. This entire article didn’t mention anything about providing a socialist welfare system. So bringing in the tax issue in entirely out of context! He did mention improving the wages of the lowly skilled labourers through implementing a minimum wage scheme. But that has nothing to do with the tax system!! (And I would also like to propose the strengthening of unions. But I digress.)

    A great proportion of you still insist on a purely capitalistic meritocratic viewpoint here. It’s fine. Brought us all the way to the 21st century! But we now need to start questioning what’s the demerits to these virtues. This is why Tommy Koh brought up the idea of pragmatism and how has it failed to serve us. If meritocracy is one end of the spectrum, what’s the other end? Is it necessary a worse option?

  34. PS says:

    I agree with the government that we should not distort the market and instead, allow productivity (and free market principles) to drive the wages of low income earners up. However, the market was distorted in the first place because of the large influx of cheap foreign labour, no?

    Sound principles such as pragmatism and free market capitalism were crucial in our country’s progress to a position where every citizen are informed enough to think, rebut and even criticize openly. However, we will be in trouble if we do not learn to apply these principles in moderation and sound principles turn into dogma.

  35. ntuclink says:

    Hard truth typically is not so welcome in society.

    1. Singapore is dominated by MNC and Government link companies(most of them are property and service companies). No home grown companies volvo, no IKEA, no saab, no Nokia, No…..

    2. Big portion of rich people in Singapore accumulated their wealth out of Singapore. They just put their money here for low tax, good investment structure and safe deposit. Any increase of tax etc will push them away. This won’t happen in Norway or Sweden.

    3. Based on 1&2, there is little opportunities to startup and create wealth here. The jobs to maintain the wealth- all the service industry is better paid and better recognized in this society. Not mention lawyers or relationship managers, accounts pays better than engineers. All kind of agents make significant portion of workforce.

    4. All these countries do not spend big on defense, no two years military service which is waste of human resource. I wish I have peaceful European neighbors too.

    I wish the politician of this senior won’t be this idealistic and try to mislead me that Singapore can be any normal country!! If I really want to learn from others, I wish I learn from Israel, a country from nowhere and developing from the best weapon and the best Intel CPUs in the world!!!

  36. Edmund says:

    With our external economy, We have more jobs than what local Singaporeans need. That is good news but provided we locals are given priorities over better quality jobs (competitively) in recognition of we are Singaporeans.

    But with foreign workers, employers will go for ‘best values’. Even w quota and levy, as long as there are unlimited supply of foreign workers willing to take lower pay, end result will be suppression of wages for local.

    Therefore, we must not allow comparison and leakages by allowing foreign workers in all sectors.

    We should differentiate the domestic and external markets .. where domestic are home-based consumed by locals whilst external are products for export.

    For domestic market, local workers shall grow their salary with the growing economy (thus cleaners in Denmark is paid >$5K); but by allowing foreign workers, wages are suppressed and it ends up the speculators (property owners like foodcourt operators; shareholders like SMRT) who benefit from the margins …

    In other words, increasing COI with growing economy is inevitable; but it should be redistributed to workers, but not speculators.

    Taxi industry is protected; Imagine if we allow foreign drivers (like what happen to bus industry); increase in fare will likely go to fleet owners than the drivers. The 35% sudden in crease in base salary by SBS and SMRT is not coincidental; they could pay; they should pay BUT they didn’t until they are “pressured” to do so, after the foreign quota is reduced.

    For Nordic countries, I could imagine with the strong unions, local sectors are protected from infiltration and we ought to review our foreign worker quota policy.

    For external market, we must remain competitive (like in marine, shipbuilding sector) and we need more workers than our locals can provide; Thus the need for foreign workers ..

    This is what I mean a beautiful problem for Singaporeans when we have more jobs than what we need … identify relevant sectors best befitting for Singaporeans (domestic) with protection whilst allowing other sectors (external) with measured policy control (quota).

  37. David says:

    Prof Tommy Koh has a point. It is good that differing views are aired for public debate. It can only help to deepen our understanding of who we are and what kind of society we want to be. For those who believe Singapore does not have natural resources and therefore cannot fund more social services, I hope you read today’s Business Times front page.

    If you read between the lines, you will realise that we do have a pseudo ‘natural resource’ in the form of capital revenue or property revenue. These property revenue are largely HDB sales (the general public purchasing it with debt) and commercial and industrial sales, which are mostly 99-year leases or less. As such, every 99 years, we can replenish our reserves once over; therein lies the ‘renewable natural resource’ of Singapore. I see no reason why we should not judiciously use the returns from these reserves to fund more social services or reduce the income gap.

    The relevant authorities need to decide how much reserves is really enough for Singapore and boldly use the remainder for good of Singaporeans. We owe it to our fathers and ourselves to get this right. After all, a large proportion of Singapore’s reserves are actually citizen’s debt (HDB mortgage) in exchange.

  38. Edmund says:

    On Lesson 4, when we set our vision to be The Global City (as evident by the works of many Government agencies), we embrace ‘Worldly’ culture and values through importation of foreign events, activities, concert ‘generously’ without checking local adaptability and relevance .. end result .. salad bowl filled with all sorts of greens .. okay if we are like USA or China with strong cultural foundation with signature main-dish .. but for us, we only have this salad bowl and soon we don’t even know what we started with (Singapore Sling sauce with shreded coconut) ?

    Is Singapore a home ? or Singapore the trading arena of World Exchange ??

  39. Sen says:

    Only Finland is in the Eurozone. And Sweden also went through a painful deflationary recession. Norway is out of the league because it has trade surplus due to oil resources. I just don’t know why people like to compare economies like this. Plus the weather is so different!

  40. Edmund says:

    On low fertility, having children is not a business like capital investment with yields in captial gain or dividends.

    Our parents and grandparents, without financial means, Government subsidies,maternity leaves nor childcare centres, still gave birth to easily 1/2-dozen kids .. something which we the current generation simply do not understand …

    To have children is an emotive instinct instead of a rational investment decision (with 10-month pregnancy, sleepless nights over night feeds, changing pampers, schooling, getting married, etc.), as if it was the latter, mankind would have become extinct a long time ago.

    But thanks to the way we are brought up with pragmatism and calculating ‘opportunity costs’ on everything we do, rational youngsters in pursuit of material ‘happiness’ certainly question the merit of having kids and question how much money the Government would ‘pay’ them for bearing the children for the country.

    My parents told me once that they raised us without any demand or expectation for a return. It is like a Nature’s calling when Sun brings warm and light to the world day-after-day without rewards.

    To raise TFR, we must look beyond quantitative means like more childcare centres (they are useful though).

    In our society, we must re-define ‘Success’ beyond competitive grades, as ‘success’ does not mean there must be losers to be laid as foundation to bringing out the winners … the last in class could still be a success in many ways as a good worker, a good father, a good friend and a good citizen … don’t let wealth and grades to segregate us like a matrix-class.

    My 85-year-old professor in Bei-Da (Peking University, renowned for humanity) once told me that professors in Beida live much longer than those from Tsinghwa Univeristy (renowned for science and technology) … main reason is they are not as ‘calculative’ and ‘rational’ as the Tsinghwa’s professors 🙂

  41. U_Kno_Who says:

    In the first place, How can you compare the living standards of Singapore and European nations.

    We are way off from them in terms of population density! As Karl(second comment) says, the only resource we have is Human resource and it is a huge factor !

    Did you intentionally miss out on the comparison of tax paid by Singaporeans Vs the Nordic nationals ?

    I find it so hard to agree with you on the salary standards..
    Most Importantly, I do not understand the concept of blaming foreigners for all the fall-sides Singapore has !

  42. Interesting comparison. Although Singapore is the only Southeast Asian nation that has managed to evolve from an emerging economy to a truly developed one in the past 2 decades, it still has to get some details right. Although it remains to be seen whether these Nordic countries will be able to sustain these economic conditions. The current crisis may well change things for good.

  43. ntuclink says:

    Looking at how Europe is evolving, I guess it is going to separate and their good days are numbered. Just like the old good days for Nokia- once to be the No.1 market cap company in Europe.

    All countries are filled with protectionism, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrants sentiments, maybe anti-government soon. Example is the ‘model’ country in Prof.Koh’s article:

    Denmark to re-impose border controls

    Similar things are happening for Finland and even France. “Close door” policy is not solution to their problem, neither for Singapore. Certainly I do not want to see Singapore like this one day.

  44. josbirken says:

    An excellent post, Mr Koh. Thank you for this.

    A small comment: in quoting and comparing the cleaners’ and bus drivers’ wages it would’ve been better to use nett wages. First, because I’m sure the cleaner and bus driver are more interested in what they actually take home at the end of the month, to pay the bills with. Second, and more importantly, tax rates differ wildly between the Nordic countries on the one hand, and Singapore on th’other. Comparing nett wages would avoid this enormous distortion.

  45. Kiam Wee says:

    Interesting discussion. I feel compelled to share two observations :

    1. If (as some readers commented) ‘human resource’ is the only precious resource we own, then, by law of scarcity, we should be seeing decent wage levels. Why is this not the case? Could it be due to the fact that we are artificially creating an abundant (and unchecked) supply of ‘human resource’ by importing workers, and in doing so, suppress local wages with no desirable long-term benefits in sight?

    2. It makes sense to compare ‘net income’ in Singapore with that in the Nordic countries. This should then be benchmarked against costs of living. For a even more holistic comparison, it would also be fair to see what citizens receive from the state in terms of social benefits (which come from taxation) such as healthcare insurance / subsidies, pension contributions and assistance for the needy….elements that form the basis of a dignified society which looks after the well being of its people.

  46. Thank you Prof Koh for the very thorough and provocative analysis of where Singapore is headed. I read an article in the Washington Post (Opinion) 2 May entitled ‘What Singapore can teach us’, and frankly I’m a bit confused about all the banter from Singaporeans about foreigners taking their jobs. I run a business in the F&B service sector and I know most Singaporeans are not inclined to work here because of irregular working hours and I suspect having to serve others – yet the government treats us just like any other industry when it comes to employing foreign workers (worse in fact when it comes to quota and min wages for S Pass holders). By law foreign S Pass holders get more than the going rate for Singaporeans in our industry. Yet the industry is reluctant to raise wages but would rather rely on more expensive foreigners to do the job? Why, because they (F&B SME s’) would prefer to maintain the status quo, foreigners work hard and get the job done with a smile! To a certain extent I can empathize with this ‘pragmatic’ approach particularly if you have to battle with the bureaucracy at MOM. I think if Singapore wants to maintain its position as a world class destination it needs to liberalise it’s approach to manpower planning and acknowledge that some non-traditional sectors such as F&B do need foreign workers, at least until the government manages to persuade more young Singaporeans (and their parents) that the hospitality industry does hold future as a career.

  47. Nyunt Khoo says:

    Some stated that Prof Koh compared apples and oranges and others stated that he compared Singapore and countries with different systems and backgrounds. What I saw, was his ideas and suggestions were very valuable like foods for human life, a similarity of fertilizers for the growth of apple and orange trees. We just need to pick up the right nutrients for our own benefits.

  48. Boon Wee says:

    I think Prof Koh’s points make a lot of sense and certainly warrant trying, particularly re the challenge of low wage workers and the relevance of productivity to their pay. I am a great admirer of Prof Koh and I can’t help but contrast his quiet eloquence with some of the noisy and illogical ‘wedlock’ type points coming from the next generation of our political leaders. I shudder at the thought that as we continue to embrace merit based leadership at the government level, this is the level that passes of as the next generation

  49. Berg says:

    Net income should be used, not gross. The taxes in Scandinavia are ridiculously high. PPP is a better measure. What’s the point of making $5000 when you can only spend half of that?

    Debt levels should be included. Personal debt in Norway is pretty high, I live in Norway and nobody really saves any money. Also population growth in Norway is mainly driven by immigrants, not babies, unfortunately.

    Minimum wages distort the free market. A minimum wage does not guarantee a high quality of living.

    In the end, and I can only speak for Norway, this was a very poor country before oil was discovered. So that it as you will. When the oil runs out, well, you can probably predict the rest.

  50. Guest says:

    The problem with Singapore is that Singaporeans think criticism equates critical thinking; and that these critics would rather partake in xxxx mutual opinion xxx than criticise each other. Fifty-five comments and nobody questions the validity of these unsourced statistics?

    The given “per capita incomes” are not per capita incomes—they are nominal GDPs per capita—and they are not the same. More importantly, comparing nations by nominal GDP is ineffective as it does not take into account the differences in costs of living between countries. When measured by purchasing power parity, Singapore is far wealthier per capita than Denmark, Finland and Sweden, and still wealthier than Norway, even with its vast oil and gas reserves.
    Not only this, but the author’s understanding of the calculation of the Gini coefficient is wrong. It is a ratio. It is not “based upon the difference between the incomes of the top 20 per cent and the bottom 20 per cent.”

    But Singaporeans, who are always far too eager to blame government policy for one thing or another, will rally behind blog posts like this exactly because it allows them to blame government policy. Never mind that it’s flawed. Just as long as everyone gets each other off.

  51. Walter Mueller says:

    Dear Ambassador,

    many years ago you wrote an article that in the wake of times and events likely has been forgotten but i still remember to this date. You compared the net worth of the EU with the United States and you warned that the European Union is much better in financial shape to withstand any type of crisis compare to the United States. In today’s U.S media dominated environment the public is too often, too quick to hit the panic button when it comes to a perception of crisis. And it is a political suitable fact to shift the blame on the others (i.e. the Europeans) in hope to deflect from serious issues that the U.K and the United States face, so i am happy to see a contrarian perspective of the propaganda driven market panic is present. I hope other equal balanced opinions will prevail.

    This brings me to the bulk of my commentary to your article: First, small is beautiful but history is a teacher and Second, the need for a balanced growth. Singapore like the example to eloquantly stated is comparable to the smaller EU states and that small-is-powerful (but not just beautiful)-should be the driving decisionmaking processes for the future of generation. Myself, an now somewaht 29 year resident of Singapore (only to get the PR a few years ago) chosen this place because it provides the stability and peace that many countries in Asia still lack. Reliability, taken for granted must be maintained. Singapore’s advantage should also not taken for granted. The age for being average (George Friedman) is over. Being exceptional is the key. If history is a teacher the smaller countries are sustainable, the much quoted Switzerland is, so are the rest of the smaller EU states. So therefore maintaining the principles set out 47 years ago must be maintained. Singaporean society should not be fooled into the latest financial experiments that had disasterous consequences for the global economy. Not everything that comes out of the U.S (or the EU, or China, or etc.) is gold.

    Second, balanced growth. The recent election are expressions of frustrations and the blame game. Singaporeans still have not yet embraced the cohesive state of affairs yet. Too much effort is been given on cultural sensitivities which oddly enough, if one reads some of the academic writings on the subject suggests that the cohesion amongst the Singaporean minorities is better than the Singaporean majority. The amount of hate that emerges in the public domain that includes hate towards foreigners, immigrants, the ang-moh’s, etc. etc. are concerning. With the income gap increases a balanced social model should be considered. A 30-year old mainland Chinese driving a Ferrari killing a few people in the process is maybe tragic but hits the raw nerve amongst many Singaporean less fortunate. I give an example, i am single income head of a family of six. 2 boys are Singaporean, one will hopefully do his NS soon, the 4 others are born overseas since we are one of these global families spread out all over the planet. Singapore is home for us. My social and business center of gravity is Singpaore. Not so for the ICA since we had a battle for 5 years to get the kids settled in Singapore. It seems a 10 year old and 8 year old Indonesian/EU passport holder represents a serious administrative dilemma. I came to Singapore in 1988 and only 5 years ago got my PR, despite been here for that long. Not a biggy, but nevertheless. My wife does not, neither have the smaller kids been given their papers hence the state contributes to our family schooling in different places. On the other hand, i live surrounded with Indians who are bankers, have no foothold in Singapore other than wrecking up the property prices. Why the personalized example. Balanced growth of small country policies such as Singapore hit the nerve of the current and future electorate and without doubt influence the average middle class, self-styled enterpreueur and average joe blow who doesnt have the fortune of a Brazilian facebook playboy. Therefore the balance growth of communities that contribute to the bottom line in Singapore does not just include the banker, the facebook playboy billionaire which is in fact obscenely weatlhy and in no balance to reality, or wanna-be schumacher ferrari driver. It requires a good foundation of middle class contributors to the collective wealth.

  52. I have always maintained based on anecdotal evidence that our top civil servants are reactive. Let me explain. We have an Asian-based hierarchical system headed by Ministers. I perceive at least two major flaws with our system – one, don’t rock the boat; two, the credit goes to Ministers and so let him tell us what to do. I call it the “Yes Minister” syndrome.
    The world has become complex and our policy makers are suffering from a drought of ideas. And I also suspect that the government is afraid to go beyoind a self-imposed OB markers. These heads have not learnt the art of risk taking. They are afraid to fail. At the same time, the public is unforgiving which is an ingrained trait in Singaporeans. Adding to these, the old regime and archaic thinking are still entrenched deeply in our policy making process. We have not moved from a sieged mentality to a new paradigm – we have social & religious cracks, we are a small nation and we cannot make mistakes, no one owe us a living blah blah blah. Frankly, we are weary of these.
    How long ago was it when we saw any innovative ideas in Singapore? We have become a nation of recyclers. We are in same dire straits as the films in the cinemas – old ideas like avengers etc from the 60s to 80s and nothing new to offer. Examples include ERP, COE, COV, etc. Is there no scholar or think tank that can break through old paradigms? or do we wait for our remnants to fade before our creative juices gush. That would be too late and suicidal. Change does not wait in Singapore’s journey.

  53. […] What Singapore can learn from Europe By Tommy Koh Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in .PM Lee Hsien Loong, About Politic, Policies, Singapore. […]

  54. SporeSilver says:

    Gave a reply at my blog.

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