A book review (or, rather, a book advertisement) that manages to be a concise overview of Singapore’s current political situation, put in the context of a transition between the success of the older model and the prospect of a newer, more open environment. Useful as an AQ resource, especially as an example of how to express large concepts in a clear and concise manner.
The Singapore consensus has been underpinned by the notion of vulnerability—that because of its small size, lack of natural resources, ethnic and religious diversity, and geographic location in a potentially volatile region, the city-sized nation is inherently and immutably vulnerable.
From this existentially anguished reality, a developmental belief system emerged. Its tenets include a strict academic meritocracy as the best way to sort talent; elite governance insulated from the short-termism and myopia of ordinary democratic pressures; the primacy of growth, delivered through a heavy dependence on foreign labour and capital; an acceptance of the need to equalise opportunities but not outcomes; and an indifference to inequality, as reflected in the state’s aversion to welfare.
The Singapore consensus made possible impressive socioeconomic development for much of the past fifty years, when demographic and economic conditions were also far more favorable. Yet today many Singaporeans are contesting it. At first glance this might seem odd: Singapore has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. But its economic success masks some uncomfortable truths about life in this city-state.
Income and wealth inequalities in Singapore are among the highest in the developed world, while the cost of living has spiraled in recent years. For many of its residents, the country’s impressive material achievements have not translated into higher levels of happiness or well-being. In various surveys, Singaporeans are found to work some of the longest hours in the developed world and are described as one of the world’s least happy peoples. Almost three-quarters are afraid to get sick because of perceived high healthcare costs while more than half indicate they would emigrate if given the chance.