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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Outside the gilded cage

Nota bene: blinkered, nationalistic lemmings should skip this post.



My post for National Day 2007:


Singapore success slung on scrapheap

Jim Pollard
The Sunday Times, The West Australian
July 29, 2007

Singapore, the modern city-state renowned for its authoritarian ways and conservative government, has a reputation for functional efficiency and capitalist success.

The smallest territorial member of ASEAN, at the southern end of the Malay peninsular, is often touted as one of Asia's great success stories — a gleaming city that emerged from the tropical swamps under a strict but wise autocrat, Lee Kuan Yee.

But a fascinating book by WA writer Rodney King looks deeper into the "Singapore Miracle" and reveals in his view that a lot of the city's supposed successes are, in fact, hot air.

Reports of Singapore being a dynamic commercial melting pot are, King says, simply the oft-repeated claims of a government that tolerates little dissent.

The city-state's leaders may, in reality, have actually stifled the sort of true entrepreneurial dynamism found in places such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taiwan, and even Bangkok.

King is a Perth journalist who lived in Singapore for some time and worked briefly on the Straits Times. Now back in WA, he has had a long-time interest in South-East Asia.

His book, The Singapore Miracle — Myth and Reality, casts doubt on the city state's claims of cutting-edge efficiency, global competitiveness, economic freedom and transparency.

Most Singaporeans are not as affluent as their government makes out, King says in his extensively documented 500-page tome.

"Books about Singapore usually praise its achievements or criticise its authoritarian rule," he said. "But few ever probe its widely publicised claims that it is a brilliant success that other countries should follow."

King argues that Singapore's workforce productivity is often mediocre and well below that of the West and Asian economies, such as Hong Kong.

"The country also displays endemic inefficiencies at both macro and micro-economic levels," he said. "The performance of the construction, financial and service sectors is second-rate, while Singapore Airlines does not deserve the top rankings it receives."

Singapore, he says, has "a dependent and underdeveloped economy." Multinational companies and state enterprises predominate, and the economy has "low entrepreneurial and innovative capacities and an undereducated workforce."

The city state's supposed affluence was also largely a myth.

"About 30 percent of the population still lives in poverty by Western standards," King said.

And Singapore's Housing Development Board, Central Provident Fund and state-run health schemes have severe short-comings. What Singapore has been good at, King says, is marketing itself.

"Singapore has brilliantly sold itself to the world as an amazing success story to attract investment and talent," he said."


The Singapore Miracle — Myth and Reality is on sale for AUD$49.90 plus GST. The book can be bought online at the Australian Online Bookshop.


(Pollard, Jim.  "Singapore success slung on scrapheap."  The Sunday Times, The West Australian 29 July 2007: 82.)

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And here is something from "the gloomiest man in rock" (they are actually playing his cover of Radiohead's "Creep" over the speakers now), Robert Smith, frontman of The Cure:


Smith is not motivated by money. As The Cure's manager, as well as their creative spine, he has a lot of offers come his way. The latest was a mobile phone sponsorship for looming dates in Singapore.

A swift personal email to the head of The Cure's record company in Singapore put an end to it.

"They are saying, "This is how we do it in Singapore' and I'm saying 'But The Cure don't do it that way and we're The Cure'," Smith says.


(Adams, Cameron.  "Pure Cure."  STM Entertainment 29 July 2007: 6.)

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In my book, there's no loyalty — only opportunity. You can quote me on that.

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