Singapore Has the Best Growth Record Over 50 Years

There are huge fears that in the future most people in the world will not get richer and many people will become unemployed and slide backwards into poverty. Many think that Denmark and Sweden are models for strengthening social safety nets to address these issues.

In 1965, Sweden was already the third highest per capita income in the world with $3006 per person. The USA was second in 1965 with $3665 per capita income. Oil-rich Kuwait was first. In 1965, Singapore had $516 per person which was around the level of Mexico, Panama and South Africa. Today, Singapore and Sweden are now roughly tied in per capita income. The USA has about 5% more per capita income. Over 54 years, Singapore out performed Sweden by 6 times and the USA by 7 times.

What Can Be Copied or Improved From Singapore?

Singapore has the most successful public housing program in the world. When Singapore attained self-government in 1959, only 9% of Singaporeans resided in public housing. Today, 80% of Singaporeans live in government-built apartments.

Five Secrets of Singapore Success

There are many studies of Singapore’s success. Jon S.T. Quah, Anti-Corruption Consultant, Singapore wrote his view of the five secrets for Singapore success. 1. Pragmatic leadership: Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy In his memoirs, Lee Kuan Yew emphasized the importance of good leadership when he wrote: My experience of developments in Asia has led me to conclude that we need good men to have good government. However good the system of government, bad leaders will bring harm to their people. […] The single decisive factor that made for Singapore’s development was the ability of its ministers and the high quality of the civil servants who supported them. In November 1993, Lee advised visiting African leaders to adopt a pragmatic approach in formulating economic policy rather than a dogmatic stance. Instead of following the then-politically correct approach of being anti-American and anti-multinational corporations (MNCs) in the 1960s and 1970s, Lee and Singapore went against the grain and “assiduously courted MNCs” because “they had the technology, know-how, techniques, expertise and the markets” and “it was a fast way of learning on the job working for them and with them”. This strategy of relying on the MNCs paid off as “they have been a powerful factor in Singapore’s growth”. Lee concluded that Singapore succeeded because it “rejected conventional wisdom when it did not accord with rational analysis and its own experience”

A good piano playing good music: an effective public bureaucracy

The second secret of Singapore’s success is that it has an effective public bureaucracy that works competently towards well-designed goals. Singapore World Bank government effectiveness score has been 100 percentile ranked for most years from the World Bank from 1996-2016

Sustaining clean government: keeping corruption at bay

Corruption was a serious problem in Singapore during the British colonial period because of the government’s lack of political will and the ineffective Anti-Corruption Branch. Corruption was rampant among civil servants because their low salaries, high inflation and inadequate supervision
by their superiors provided them with ample opportunities for corruption with a low probability of being caught.

Singapore revamped the anti-corruption agency and organization. They created a legal and professional system that did not tolerate corruption.

Nurturing the “best and brightest”: education and competitive compensation

They paid the top bureaucrats wages that were competitive with corporate executives. Top bureaucrats would be less tempted to take bribes and make backend deals that were not in the public interest.

Singapore has compensated for its absence of natural resources by investing heavily in education to enhance the skills of its population and to attract the “best and brightest” Singaporeans to join and remain in the
public bureaucracy and government by its policies of meritocracy and paying these citizens competitive salaries.

The PAP government views education as “a national investment” and has increased government expenditure on education by about 200 times from S$63.39m in 1959 to S$12,660m in 2016. Consequently, the enrolment in all educational institutions in Singapore has grown from 352,952 students in 1960 to 651,655 students in 2016, and the literacy rate has improved from 72.2 percent in 1970 to 97.0 percent in 2016.

Learning from other countries: the importance of policy diffusion

The object of looking abroad is not to copy but to learn under what circumstances and to what extent programmes effective elsewhere may also work here. The failures of other governments offer lessons about what not to do at far less political cost than making the same mistakes yourself. (Rose, 2005, p. 1).

There is the need to study what should not be done.

Beyond Singapore

There is also need to effectively experiment with possible variations on what could work. China used multiple special economic zones to have multiple regulation combinations undergo trial by competition. Failed areas were rapidly altered to copy more successful zones.

Singapore is not necessarily the most dynamic entrepreneurial environment. There are other models to look at for creating more vibrant and effective ways to create many hugely successful startups.

Neighborhoods Were Critical in Singapore

Recent research by the Stanford economist Raj Chetty and others have underlined what many urban professionals long suspected, that, in the quest for the design of inclusive and sustainable cities, the careful bottom-up design of neighborhoods matters a lot.

Poorly designed public housing in cities ranging from the infamous projects in the New York and the banlieues of Paris have created poverty ghettoes that intensify and amplify inequalities and fuel social unrest.

Housing estates are carefully designed with mixed-income housing, each having access to high-quality public transport and education, and the famous Singapore hawker centers where all income classes and ethnicities meet, socialize, play, and dine together on delicious and affordable food.

The smart use of urban density

From the very beginning, Singapore planners, constrained by the limited availability of land, chose to build up.

It is one of the densest cities in the world but scores amongst the highest in city livability rankings.

This has been done by carefully designing the height and proportion of buildings in relation to one another. Dr. Liu Thai Ker, the legendary Singaporean urban planner, compares this to a chess board where no two pieces are of the same height.

An Integrated Approach to Housing

In most countries, access to land for affordable housing is a critical constraint.

In Singapore in 1967, the Land Acquisition Act empowered the country to acquire land at low cost for public use.

Today, 90% of land is owned by the state as opposed to 49% in 1965. Great emphasis is placed on standardization and efficiencies in construction management.

For a time, Singapore used Merit stars to award contractors who performed consistently well. Every merit star earned would confer a 0.5% bidding preference when tenders were evaluated. They would be guaranteed to get contracts to build 1000 units per year for three years. Singapore switched to a serial tender system.

SOURCES- World Bank, Emerald Insight, Managing Construction Industry Development: Lessons from Singapore’s Experience

By Brian Wang,