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,

27 thoughts on “Singapore Has the Best Growth Record Over 50 Years”

  1. Warren,

    once again you try to take any chance you have to blame something on the “enemy” you created to fill the emptiness of your existence and – once again (again) – you horrendously miss the point and mix up various pieces of information, providing no utility to whoever might read your comments.

    Just for your knowledge, this is the ideology (a terrible word, if you ask me, but that is what it is) that animated Lee Kuan Yew’s Action Party in Singapore and that paired with almost flawless execution has yielded such praiseworthy result, have a read at it yourself and see if you notice any similarity with anything you’re frequently talking about:

  2. yeah, it confuses for almost everyone who thinks towering slums. Like those who think “public school” in the UK means public school when it really means private school.

  3. Sorry, but reading the article, it sounds like Singapore is a socialist topia. Public housing for everyone

    Yo Brian!

    THIRD instance I have found where your article just confuses Americans reading it!

    ‘Public Housing’ in Singapore does not mean the SAME as it does in America. Big vocabulary disconnect that is confusing people.

    As I outlined here:

  4. What works in a small area may not scale up.

    Yup. Same applies to population density over land area, too. Something the Euroweenies and most urban-dwelling Libtards in the US simply do not understand.

  5. only 9% of Singaporeans resided in public housing, Today, 80% of Singaporeans live in government-built apartments


    In US social policy terminology ‘public housing’ does not just mean ‘government-built apartments’ but government ran rental apartments…which have created such total horrors like Cabrini Green (administered by the Chicago Housing Authority). Hallway rapes and shootings are an hourly occurrance in ‘The Projects’ as they are called. Gangs fight over entire floors for territory. Why? Because they are ran by Libtards who are hired by Libtards in vast bureaucracies set up by libtards in the Federal, State and Local legislatures, that’s why.

    There are no Libtards in Singapore. Also, in Singapore, people have mandatory savings accounts that they use for health care and for down payments to buy these government built apartment homes.

    Thus, Singapore’s ‘public housing’ is a totally different concept that isn’t explained in this article of yours. Therefore most Americans reading it will think it is something very different…and not pleasant.

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

    UK had the same thing when they built the New Towns. Both laws wouldn’t survive constitutional challenge in the US because they violate the Takings Clause.

    “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

  6. Most need controlled housing because they cannot afford to buy. It’s difficult to get by if you don’t want a couple of roommates.

    Median Income SGD $4,437/Monthly
    Average Income SGD $5,596/Monthly
    Monthly rent for 85 m2 (900 Sqft) EXPENSIVE area   SGD $3,216
    Monthly rent for 85 m2 (900 Sqft) NORMAL area      SGD $2,559

  7. Except in the USA where education is seen as indoctrination to make children liberal, atheist and gay. Shut them schools down.

  8. I have always wondered where these leaders learned their corrupt crafts from. And then I remembered that most colonial governments were themselves corrupted and anti-Democratic.

  9. Are you sure about this? There are a few very rich Caribbean Islands that would disagree like: Bermuda, Caymans, Aruba, and Barbados.

  10. Singapore had three good things going for it. One: location, location, location. Two: A great harbor. Three: A hard nose pragmatist as leader.

  11. Sorry, but reading the article, it sounds like Singapore is a socialist topia. Public housing for everyone, great bureaucrats, lots of government spending for education. Look at Germany and France, public hosuing is where the ghettos were created (Plattenbauten in Germany, Banlieues in France). Why? Because you let in millions of unqualified immigrants and support them with welfare. Singapore has strong antipathy towards public welfare. You can’t game the system like in Germany, where you can live from welfare for the rest of your life. Singapore has strict rules and extremely hard punishment for minor offences and also the death penalty for drug dealing.

    If you believe that paying high wages to beaurocrats is a solution to anything, you must be crazy. Just look at Italy, Germany of France. Government employees have wonderful privileges and pensions but that’s about it. These countries are ruining themselves as we speak. No more progress, no more will to grow, just more regulation and high taxes.

    Singapore had a great leader that embraced free markets, low regulation and low taxes. Moreover he had strict rules. But he also created a great pension system that is based on a government fund buying stocks and bonds. Singaporeans hhave to invest their own money into this fund however. Still Singapore is a role model for free markets, voucher-based education and strict rules for the inhabitants, it’s not a role model for socialism.

  12. actually, they don’t require more than a passport from many countries including the Philippines.

  13. Singapore was successful in turning from a shanty town into what it is because there was pretty much a single man in charge and, unlike thousands of other people in the world, who were mostly leaders in name only, he was willing and able to place the public weal above his own personal aggrandizement.

    In other words, he was willing to do what the freely available surfeit of information available on economics and financial development said to do, rather than line his own pockets and try to further secure himself and his dynasty.

    He was able to do it because he was able to create a very strong rule of law. Rule of law is pretty much the common denominator among all countries that are successful over the long haul (being successful only because of oil or some other natural resource, or even casinos, doesn’t count).

    Of course, looking at just how strong that rule of law was (and is) there are many, including myself, who wouldn’t be able to choose it for themselves without some severe misgivings. The optimist in me hopes that it is possible to get there without being quite so draconian.

    Is it repeatable? How many places are ever likely to have a leader or leaders that are essentially incorruptible, smart, and pretty ruthless, and a populace so miserable and dis-empowered they will accept a very strong rule of law (i.e. extremely harsh, but fair or impartial) imposed upon them?

  14. What works in a small area may not scale up.

    Seems to me like Singapore’s got an emphasis on what works best over what feels good. Our government seems to be going to the ‘this feels good, results aren’t important’ model of governance… which will not give good results long-term.

  15. yeah, SG is a very unique hybrid, and really shouldn’t be a model for other countries in terms of governance. Just because they are successful doesn’t mean other countries can or should adopt the same approach, especially given the US which is a continent.

  16. Uhhhh “Trumpism” seems to be the antithesis of “industry over people.” Industry wants wave after wave of cheap foreign labor and zero tariffs

  17. At least the housing situation sounds quite socialist and the government’s overall role seems large. Seems the antithesis of neoliberalism or Trumpist industry-over-citizens attitude.

  18. It sounds to me like D Drake and Jean Baptiste are saying exactly the same thing, but in disagreement somehow.

  19. Don’t ride too far afield on your favorite hobby horse.

    They nurtured the “best and brightest” not “worst and stupidest” in government and society. It’s no secret a good education is more correlated with good outcomes than magical thinking.

  20. And a lack of pity-driven, feel good politics.

    Rewarding industriousness and competency in government and society in general, instead of quotas and grievances , is key for keeping a country sane and developing.

    The real equality of opportunity and mobility is to allow the brightest to go as far as they can, from wherever they come and whomever they are, not prop up those who can’t above their natural reach and intention, to fix some imaginary (or real but old) grievances.

  21. Success in part because every bit of land has value, there isn’t a hinterland. I’m also guessing immigrating requires more more skills than stepping across the border.

  22. Singapore is successful because it is comprised of the most industrious of overseas Chinese brought up with English common law system with emphasis on objective rule of law. This is a very rare combination not to be found in much of the rest of the world.

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