This might sound strange to most Singaporeans. For decades, everything Singapore was tied to its economy. Incredible growth, one of the four proud Asian Tigers / Dragons, an economy that weathered the Asian Financial Crisis and then a decade later a Lehman led version. Singapore has been an economist’s dream. Much credit has to be given to Dr. Goh Keng Swee and his many successors who kept the economy well oiled and running under all conditions. But there has to be more to us than that.
Singapore is Not Yet A Nation – LKY (2011)
This coming August 9th we will sing “One people, one nation, one Singapore”. Thousands of school going children recite the pledge in the morning that ends with “… progress for our Nation”. Yet, the founding father of modern Singapore has admitted that we are not yet a Nation. So then, what exactly is a Nation?
As much as a country is a geographical boundary of sovereign land, a nation is “a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory.” In short, the nation is the soul and a country merely a body. Does Singapore have a soul or are we just a well trained muscular body?
Singapore Releases Population Stats & Worries
The statistics we see are not surprising. Singaporeans now account for barely more than 60% of the population here. Our birth rates are poor, the population is aging and as sure as the sun rises from the east, the government is panicking that this body is not going to perform as well as it did in the past.
So fixated we are at ensuring the economy is kept running in top shape that we artificially compensate for the shrinking working population with foreigners. I have nothing against foreigners, but flooding your country with foreigners till it takes up nearly 40% of the population does little to help you build a nation.
This solution is a knee jerk reaction that is barely sustainable if we ever do harbor hopes of nation building. With the increase in foreigners, competition for education and jobs become tougher. Singaporeans begin to shirk from additional responsibilities such as kids to keep themselves small and lean in tighter and less stable situations. Birth rates fail to rise. And the entire vicious cycle goes on and on.
You know what is completely hilarious about the birth rates issue? We tried to fix it like all economists do – give monetary incentives. As much as I am trained in economics, I do not blindly follow everything in the book. With all that the government is throwing at this problem, they are actually making it worse in the long run.
Going Global, Going Away
Like many Singaporeans, I have thoughts of moving away from this cramp and crowded country. I would actually prefer to live here. In many ways, my education was made possible by this country and I do want to repay its goodwill. Yet, I feel squeezed out of here. I personally want to settle down and raise a family, if possible, within these borders. But at this point in time, you’ve to ask yourself – does it make sense to do it here?
The whole irony of this economic push is that many Singaporeans grew up to think and work efficiently. To find opportunities and be mobile. In a sense you can say we’ve accomplished what we set out to do and yet we are cutting ourselves in the process. Given the resources available to me, I would be better off settling overseas. My returns both tangible and intangible are likely to be better. Plus, I was already built to be quickly adaptable removing a massive barrier to migration.
Nations Last Longer, Not Economies
Ties that bind and last for long periods are not ties that are built on economic incentives. Such ties must be kept between a consistent group of people, allowing them to face bad times and good times together. In many ways, building a nation is similar to building a a relationship or a family. You want the hard times becomes the hard times will test your relationship. You can never know how strong your family is if all you ever shared were good times.
It is time for Singapore to stop trying to keep its economy primed at all cost. Let it fall a bit, let us drop the pace a little. We don’t have to be #1 in every metric we can find. Let the people slow down a little at work and start discovering the joy of neighborliness and raising a family. Let us be more human than machine.
Stop protecting the economy like an overprotective parent, let it fall naturally and let our citizens rise from it together. Not only would we build better ties, we would build better resilience, trust and confidence. Faith not only in the economy but also in our fellow countrymen.
For if we push harder and harder and sacrifice all to maintain GDP figures, we won’t ever be a nation. And just like a body without a soul, we won’t last.