This is a map of South East Asia. We ought to be familiar with it, we live in its backyard after all. We go for holidays in some, hire our domestic helpers from another, go to a few of these places for cheap deals and spend a nice weekend or two on the lovely beaches of many of these countries.
We do all these things because we have a stronger economy, a fact that we often take for granted. Take a look at the map and appreciate it a little. Big, resourceful nations all around us so statistically and logically speaking..why should we be the stronger economy?
Many have sarcastically labelled us “Singapore Inc.”. Fine, so if we were a business, would we have been projected to become successful in 1965? We had no money, no resource , no customers, no value. Whatever wealth this nation had was in the hand of the top 1%.
Back then it was the Philippines and Sri Lanka that were the economic darlings of the day. Success was theirs, not ours.
What we did have, was a leadership whom believed there was only one way out of poverty: and that is not to be poor.
So we organised ourselves as a multiracial meritocracy and through all means possible, proceeded to accomplish one singular task – create jobs for Singaporeans.
That task hasn’t changed. Pull out any policy, you will see the underlying interest is to preserve and grow jobs for Singaporeans. It is sometimes called “economic growth”, because that’s how jobs get created. Economic growth provides the nation with capital, resource, customers, value and people – the very things that this island didn’t have in 1965.
Economic growth gives us options. We can fund social welfare programs, subsidise hospital bills, buy more trains, build more roads and rails, invent technologies for water independence, keep income taxes low and social transfers high.
With strong growth, we start to attract people from the rest of South East Asia and all over the globe. Americans and Europeans don’t come here for an exotic third world experience. No, Singapore is more expensive to live in than some of their countries. Only those who can add value to our economy can afford to be here.
Others from around the region come here to work as waiters, domestic helpers and construction workers. The dollar is stronger and despite the small pay, ours is still a better option they any other they have.
People come here because we are exceptional. If we were not, they would take their activity somewhere else. If there was no economy here then how can we afford to care for Singaporeans? Even GIC and Temasek relies on Singapore’s success in order to churn a profit (which is ploughed back into our GDP by the way).
Critics accuse us of being capitalists, of being profit chasers. They accuse our trade unions of “collaborating with businesses”. I think we should wear that as a badge of honour. Why should we apologise for being obsessed with economic growth if the purpose is for the betterment of our citizens?
Even the bottom percentile of our society has access to welfare, food, education and opportunities. There is no need yet for citizens go abroad and sell our services to send money back home.
Middle class Singaporeans have opportunities to do business, to upgrade…to do whatever they please to improve their position because this island is a hive of economic activity. The top percentile chose to come to this no-nonsense country for its safety, security and stability.
All this is possible because there are jobs and jobs are the best form of welfare a country can provide for its citizens. One doesn’t have to look far to see a manifestation of this success, just peer out the window wherever you are.
We are socialists in capitalists clothing and we should be proud of that.