Wednesday 20 February 2013

Perspectives on the Population White Paper

Help people see the big picture

THE Population White Paper is unpopular because its projections go against our natural instincts and sentiments ("Positives from the population debate" by Mr Viswa Sadasivan; last Friday).

To discuss it with rationality, we have to go deeper to find the true reasons that prompted its formulation.

One good source to revisit is the population projections by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in September 2011 ("Population will shrink without immigrants"; Sept 8, 2011). Its study showed how dire our demographic situation would become in future decades if there is insufficient intake of foreigners.

With hindsight, population planning should have been carried out in three stages.

In stage one, we should discuss our long-term population trends, in particular, how to prevent Singapore from becoming a "retirement village".

Five or six of the IPS' "middle-path" scenarios, and some extreme ones, could be used for comparison. These scenarios were derived based on different assumptions of new births and intake of foreigners.

Give more time for the people to digest and discuss these consequences caused by low fertility rate and the fast-ageing population.

A deeper understanding of these trends and implications would help us realise the need to allow our population to grow, including from more births.

In stage two, we could focus on two or three middle-path scenarios and compare their various implications on the workforce, public expenditure, taxation, housing, transport, land use, environment, water and energy requirements and so on.

We could then discuss which scenario would give us the most acceptable balance between benefits and costs in 20, 30, and 40 years' time, and see how much inconvenience we are willing to tolerate.

Policymakers would then decide on one or perhaps two scenarios to use for drafting the White Paper.

In stage three, we should discuss boosting births, building infrastructure, and improving the environment and quality of life, as well as tackling problems brought on by a larger population with more foreign-born people.

We should fine-tune the model if needed.

The Government could have done more to help people visualise our future demographic challenges, and assist them in organising the bits and pieces of information together to see the total picture.

I hope those who can see this big picture help the rest to see it.

Ng Ya Ken
ST Forum, 19 Feb 2013

Positives from the population debate

THE Government did the right thing by forcing us to address the critical issue of population planning. Then why did the debate create such a stir? There are three key reasons:

First, instead of being positioned as a paper for discussion, the Population White Paper came across as something that had already been decided. This sense of finality gave the impression that it was thrust upon us with little time to process the volume of information; that is, it was a fait accompli.

Second, the White Paper was based on the Government's logic and presented in a matter-of-fact tone that negated the possibility of other logic. This not only offended sensibilities but also discredited the Government's assertion that it does not have a "monopoly on wisdom".

Third, the process could have been more inclusive and deliberate, and seen to be so. The White Paper itself - with the consolidated arguments and conclusions of the Government - should have been discussed in a transparent manner with the people and stakeholders before being tabled in Parliament. This would have given the paper and its core arguments greater legitimacy.

What is important is that the discussion shows that Singaporeans do care; they do have clear viewpoints on what they want and are not comfortable with. If we were a nation of "quitters", this debate would not have mattered half as much.

That we are asking fundamental questions, and with conviction, is the best indication yet that we have matured significantly as a people.

The Government should be heartened by this and not feel threatened. Even if key recommendations are rejected by the people, it need not be seen as a rejection of the Government but a serious call for better listening and greater accountability.

There was a time when the people would accept without question what the Government said.

Today, the Government is expected to work harder at persuading, not just informing.

This will happen only if the Government listens with an open mind and truly believes that it does not have a monopoly on wisdom. This may translate to going more with what the people want - call it leap of faith, or political wisdom.

Going forward, with the population debate, we have an opportunity to build a collective reflex as a people, but only if we are prepared to set aside partisan views and act as Singaporeans.

Viswa Sadasivan
ST Forum, 15 Feb 2013

Why the White Paper must not fail

To derive an objective evaluation of the population White Paper, one must examine it from diverse angles, as it deals with many complex issues, not just on population and the economy but also our nation’s long-term survival.

A Government forecast last year showed that the ratio of citizens aged 20 to 64 (the working ages) to citizens aged 65 and above would decline from 6.3 in 2011 to 2.1 by 2030 without new citizens.

This would mean that citizens in 2030 would have to pay two or three times the taxes now. We must not let this demographic Achilles heel cause the collapse of the nation. We must expand our citizen numbers now by having more babies and accepting more new citizens.

Adopting an aggressive population planning parameter imposes tougher challenges on urban planners and planners for water, energy, other supplies and infrastructure. It forces the Government to work smarter and harder.

The Government could have chosen an easier but irresponsible way: To not disclose future demographic trends, or to release population projections without any policy plans.

The White Paper is not a wish list to please the public or the business sector. It spells out measures we must take, regardless of how unpopular they may be. It lets people know and discuss the challenges ahead.

Actually, it should be renamed the “White Paper on population survival beyond 2030”, as its ultimate success would be judged by its ability to prevent us from leaving behind an uncompetitive, listless population for our descendants beyond 2030.

From this angle, the White Paper must not fail.

Ng Ya Ken
TODAY, 18 Feb 2013

Cultivate core attributes behind Singapore's success

IN THE past fortnight, there has been much discussion about the Population White Paper. An important aspect was the Singapore core.

My family and I have lived in Singapore for nearly two years. From what I have seen, the issue is not about Singaporeans on one side and foreigners on the other.

The Singapore core is, for me, best described by three attributes that have made the country so successful in the past.

The first attribute is tolerance, particularly racial and religious tolerance.

Having lived in Europe, the United States and Africa, I find Singapore the most tolerant place of all. Except for New York and London, I know of no other place where race and religion are so well respected and even celebrated together. Such tolerance has helped Singapore become a truly global and colourful place.

The second attribute is meritocracy. Performance, hard work and skills generally pay off for those who possess or apply them.

People with talent can enter the best universities and take up top public-sector positions; their social backgrounds do not matter. This has resulted in strong and effective institutions.

The third attribute is team spirit. I refer particularly to members of the first generation after Singapore's independence, who showed the willingness to forgo individual benefits for the sake of a bigger common goal.

This team spirit and commitment to work together have been the foundation upon which to define one vision and find solutions accepted by most.

All three core attributes are being tested today. The rising cost of living, together with the prospect of becoming rich through the allocation of capital rather than labour, poses all kinds of challenges.

Also, Singaporeans are striving for even bigger goals than just economic prosperity.

This is a good thing but should not come at the expense of the core attributes.

It is worthwhile for everyone living here to be aware of these attributes and to always cultivate them together.

Then the question of how many people will be living in Singapore by 2030 will become secondary.

Sebastian Langendorf
ST Forum, 19 Feb 2013

Taking a global view of population issue
The controversy over plans for a more crowded Singapore ignores global demographic trends and risks undermining the country's growth.
By Derwin Pereira, Published The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2013

THE thought of Singapore being inhabited by even a hypothetical 6.9 million people by 2030 has focused minds with a vengeance that is normally reserved for Toto or football match results. As in a lottery, there is a harrowing sense of winners and losers; as with football matches, visceral emotions have been brought into rough play.

But some of this angst would be eased if Singaporeans were to think of demographic change as inevitable. They have only to look at what is occurring elsewhere to place in perspective the choices which they will have to make if they want their country to survive and prosper.

This is hardly happening.

Demography is only one aspect of a Singaporean unwillingness to accept some of the international realities of life. Ironically, in spite of Singapore being a thoroughly globalised city-state, its economic success appears to have insulated its people from remembering what it means to be a part of the world. Singaporeans act as if bad things occur elsewhere; only good things take place, or are expected to happen, at home. Thus, difficult choices such as letting in more foreigners are relegated to other countries. Singapore, it appears, can get along just fine without having to make those choices.

What this mindset does is to arouse unhealthy expectations. A four-hour traffic jam in Jakarta and the political gridlock in America are the norm in those places. Indonesians and Americans get along with their lives as best as they can. But in Singapore, floods in Orchard Road turned into a natural disaster with an existential catastrophe looming behind them.

The feared flood of foreigners falls into the same category of national alarm. Why are 6.9 million people - if ever it comes to that number - unimaginable in Singapore if the public infrastructure can be revamped on time to meet demand, if immigrants can be integrated into society, and if multiracialism prevails? The assumption among those opposed to a larger Singapore is that substantial immigration will be fatal to a small country. But it is not space that matters; it is how space is allocated, how social interactions are lubricated, how people get used to more people that matter.

It is these demands that Singaporeans should address, as Hong Kong has done. Shying away from them is merely trying to postpone the inevitable.

Social systems that have confronted realities with foresight and planning have won. Those which find it difficult to do so are condemned to playing catch-up.

Consider the dangers of a shrinking working-age population in this context. The Rand Corporation, a United States-based think-tank which focuses on demography as a core international issue, notes that the world's working-age population, aged from 20 to 59, will grow by more than 25 per cent between 2010 and 2050. That is the good news.

The mixed news is that it will grow rapidly in some places but will shrink in others. In East Asia, which includes China, the number of working-age people will contract by nearly 25 per cent, from 938 million to 715 million. In South Asia, including India, by contrast, it will expand by more than an astonishing 50 per cent, from 833 million to 1.3 billion. In Central Africa, it will nearly triple - from 328 million to 943 million.

Such demographic shifts will have not only economic but also strategic results. A study published by the Rand Corp - Global Demographic Change and Its Implications for Military Power, by Martin Libicki, Howard Shatz and Julie Taylor - finds that the US, exclusively among the large affluent nations, will continue to witness modest increases in its working-age population because of replacement-level fertility rates and a likely return to "vigorous" levels of immigration.

In Europe and Japan, however, working-age populations are expected to fall by 10 per cent to 15 per cent by 2030, and 30 per cent to 40 per cent by 2050. Consequently, the US will contribute a larger percentage of the population of its Atlantic and Pacific alliances in the next four decades. The bottom line: the US will remain a healthy global player compared to Europe and Japan.

In Singapore, too, the focus should be on remaining healthy, as an economic entity that can be defended militarily. Common sense says that the proportion of the working-age population will be critical to the future of the country, particularly as its neighbours improve on their economic performance.

If higher birth rates, increased productivity and getting older people back into employment - all of which are legitimate targets in themselves - are insufficient to sustain the country's economic momentum, immigration must be seen as a necessary top-up of the population.

But if the attitude is to prevent or severely curtail immigration at all costs and then argue backwards to finding alternative solutions that might or might not work, the consequences could be calamitous.

Who would be responsible in 2030 for wrong choices made now? What, if anything, could be done then to get the country back on track?

The need of the hour is for Singaporeans to internationalise their minds. It is human nature to be parochial but enlightened self- interest demands a broader view of trends. Changing patterns of demography are an international phenomenon from which Singapore cannot hope to escape.

Nobody wants Singapore to change out of recognition because of foreigners arriving in hordes but the Singapore that we know and cherish will change out of recognition if low birth rates and lagging productivity undermine the economy and society.

The writer, a former Straits Times journalist, heads Pereira International, a Singapore-based political consulting firm.

Keeping the Malay-Muslim community as a potent core
By Abdul Halim Kader, Published The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2013

LEADERS and organisations from the Malay-Muslim community have yet to take a stand and to present their views on the White Paper on Population collectively.

But already there is an online buzz, with some focus and interest groups, and individuals expressing concern about the White Paper's impact on the community.

These online views are not necessarily representative of the entire community's sentiments.

In pondering over the White Paper, we will need to first remind ourselves that Singapore's society is based on social cohesion, unity, meritocracy and economic stability. As such, we should refrain from being emotional or be too quick to judge its contents.

Instead, we have an opportunity to give constructive and honest feedback rather than to cynically depict it as marginalising the Malay-Muslim minority.

Our leaders and organisations must take the lead in a concerted effort to improve the well-being of the whole community, and to ensure that everyone has a chance to attain greater success.

Even with our reduced numbers in the years ahead, the quality of the community can flourish and blossom to face the challenges of the future.

The most important challenge is: How to ensure that with the projected influx of foreigners and the anticipated economic uncertainties, Singaporeans are provided with the best jobs and the best homes. A way must also be found to ensure that the young remain rooted to Singapore.

So, while the exchanges on the White Paper have led to frank views and ideas - including a number from the Malay-Muslim community - the discourse must not give rise to divisions within Singapore society.

Since the White Paper is about charting a better future for all, the Malay-Muslim community will first need to acknowledge that despite its progress and achievements over the last three decades, it has not eradicated problem areas.

Dysfunctional families, drug abuse and juvenile delinquency remain tough challenges.

The Government has acknowledged the progress made in improving these problem areas. However, much work still needs to be done. We need to unite within the community to eradicate these problems and find effective sustainable solutions.

Thus, while it is understandable for the community to be concerned about a shrinking percentage of the Malay population here, the focus should really not be on dwindling numbers, but on levelling up capabilities within the community.

How can our community contribute and become more competitive to achieve more and make significant contributions to society? Strength does not necessarily come with numbers, but unity does.

We must continue to evolve, upgrade, participate, engage and be prepared to face future challenges.

It is essential not to whine about our circumstances but rise up to the occasion and focus on being relevant rather than being redundant.

This should be our focus: To unite as a community working with other communities to ensure the Singaporean Identity is embedded in our young, to continue to be a distinct "core" regardless of our percentage in the population, and being rooted in our faith and beliefs that make us who we are.

In responding to the White Paper, let us firmly keep faith in Singapore's system of meritocracy which ensures equal opportunity to excel for all.

The Malay-Muslim community, though small, should not have qualms about playing a significant role and contributing to society.

It is up to us to become the "cili padi" (a small but potent chilli and a favourite ingredient in local dishes) that packs a real punch in the recipe of Singapore's success - by playing a more significant role in the future of our economic and social development.

Beyond our community's particular concerns and what needs to be done, we should also be engaged in the general discourse on the White Paper, and contribute constructive ideas, say, on the foreign workforce we will need.

Many Singaporeans have questioned and even doubted the need for a large number. What is needed is a road map that prepares Singaporeans to face the next few decades, and our community must actively contribute to it.

The writer is the president of Taman Bacaan, a voluntary welfare organisation.

Anchor citizens' dialogue in central public space
By Rolf Ludwig Schoen, Published The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2013

SINGAPORE'S rain trees, sunlit CBD towers and tropical evening walks around and on the upper deck of the Marina Bay Sands hotel with its stunning views of the Gardens by the Bay and the big ships are always great.

But while the integrated resorts are welcomed as centrepieces of urban transformation, are these the ultimate meeting places for Singaporeans, a place for a growing community spirit? Is this the real heart of town?

The philosophy behind such projects in Hong Kong, Sydney and elsewhere has a touch of Las Vegas or Macau. It steers our aspiration in a wrong direction, with casinos, glamour and international luxury lifestyles. Such monumental settings have symbolic character, influencing the way we think and uncovering who we are.

In many ways, Singapore shares similar difficulties faced by most Western and developed Asian societies. Remarkably, the politicians and the intellectual elite are aware of the challenges and talk openly about these.

The Prime Minister introducing "Our Singapore Conversation" is therefore the right thing to do. This "major rethink of politics, directions and values" not only deals with the symptoms but also with the basics.

Energy conservation, better use of natural resources, more efficiency, better technical knowledge, better universities, more skilled and career-minded people, a higher birth rate - all of this is very important.

Recently, I was asked if it would be possible to have 6.9 million people living in Singapore in 2030 as foreseen by the Population White Paper. I have never experienced Singapore as too crowded and with too many buildings, so I don't see why this should cause any major problems.

Architects and town planners can find the right solutions and, despite many difficulties, I see this as a task about quantity. In Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Europe, I have seen much denser cities. Singapore is still in a better situation.

But we first have to question the predominant philosophy, the reason for present problems. For Singapore to prosper in years to come, it needs a stable society with a strong community spirit. How is the approach to career, success and money on the one hand and to fellow citizens and society on the other?

This requires a permanent and long-lasting dialogue. It is only worth it and believable when real changes with obvious and visible results are achieved. Singapore has to prove "we really mean it, we take action and go ahead".

The challenge in a bigger city with more people is to give them a well-arranged neighbourhood for living, where they have privacy and can feel at home, and where they willingly interact with their fellow citizens.

This is a much more sophisticated task about quality.

Visible structures throughout town have to offer different characteristics where you can generate a "home" feeling and identify yourself as well as with your neighbourhood and Singapore in general.

At stake is much more than "green, clean and safe" - it is social cohesion.

Every environment, especially a town, forms its inhabitants. It is like a didactic tool; it gives you orientation and tells you with thousands of images and signs what kind of game is on and who will be among the winners. We should not underestimate strong messages that come from the visual landscape. The main zeitgeist-philosophy of a glamorous illuminated city is like a permanent brainwash, weakening our relationship with traditional values. The impressive CBD skyline and exciting Marina Bay are icons defining Singapore's main messages.

Urban designers have to change priorities, as Singapore needs "Our Singapore plaza", a new central location like a Greek agora or a civic forum in the heart of the city.

It needs this public square for all citizens, a permanent location for Our Singapore Conversation, where the nation talks about social values, about "Hope, heart and home", and brings people together from all ethnic backgrounds. It will be where important celebrations take place, and politicians should consider this civic precinct as their communication platform.

This mixed-use project should have restaurants and shops but the prevailing motto is "We in Singapore". This is not a place where people get told what they have to do, but where they can participate, feel at home and enjoy being citizens of a remarkable commonwealth.

Here, "urban" stands for spiritual qualities which launch ideas, discussions and bring people together - a place of better understanding within the township.

The politicians and the designers don't have to look at Europe or the United States. As far I know, there is no outstanding model anywhere, whatever the experts say. This is new territory.

Singapore could literally form a real integrated resort for all citizens. The city can become a mecca for urban designers, town planners, architects and politicians. They can look at how the Lion City links its new attitude and city dialogue to public spaces, institutions and a plenitude of different events.

The city gets to develop more of its own personality and I don't see why this should negatively affect all other common objectives.

The writer is a German journalist and lecturer in urban design who has studied public-space projects around the world and takes part in Berlin's reconstruction.

Keep the global city-state going
By Asad Latif, Published The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2013

SINGAPORE is arguably the only truly global city-state. Each of its three roles - those of a city, a state, and a global entity - merges with the others to sustain the whole structure. The danger in the explosive population debate underway is that it could destroy this fundamental reality.

Singapore is unique in many ways. Unlike other global cities such as London, New York and Hong Kong, it has to defend itself from external threats. Unlike many other states, it is bereft of a rural heartland that can provide it with military manpower. And unlike the contemporary city-state of Monaco, which is secured economically in Europe, Singapore's very existence is tied to its being global. The Vatican City, the other city-state, is a seat of global ecclesiastical power, but it is neither an economic player nor is it threatened militarily.

Singapore thus has to combine the three functions of sovereign survival, economic viability and defensibility.

True, it enjoys certain advantages. As a city without a surrounding countryside, its development is not constrained by the uncontrollable influx of surplus agricultural labour seeking an urban life. Instead, the whole world is its economic hinterland.

However, city, state and globe merge almost completely in Singapore. Only by having a global function can Singapore remain true to its national idea, its purpose as a country.

Other places have an easier time. The countryside contours the national idea in England. Culture shapes French exceptionalism. Individualism defines American distinctiveness. Religion underwrites the self-definition of most Middle Eastern states. Ethnicity underpins the self-portrayal of Israel. Ideology endorses the self-justification of Cuba and North Korea.

Unlike those national ideas, which have grown indigenously and developed a largely autonomous momentum, being the global city-state means that Singapore always will have to be imagined at least partly from the outside, to be what the world obliges it to be. Even its political rationale as a multi-racial meritocracy depends on its continued success in beating the odds against its survival and success.

Population uproar

IT IS here that the population debate could be problematic.

Admittedly, the nationalistic fervour that has erupted has the potential of strengthening the Singapore polity. Citizens are taking ownership of the immigration issue, speaking out collectively and boldly, and suggesting alternative ways to keep the country demographically buoyant.

In an earlier phase of globalisation, there were fears that society would be divided between cosmopolitans - younger, well-educated and intensely-mobile Singaporeans who were at one with the times - and heartlanders whose age, lower educational and job skills, and a relative lack of proficiency in English would disadvantage them in the new economy.

Today, the population debate - which is ultimately about what Singapore should stand for as a country - is not between those categories of Singaporeans. Indeed, it transcends race, religion and even class. It is about a Singapore "Us" versus a putative "Them".

However, it is exactly here that there lurks a danger of the debate turning parochial - for Singapore's destiny lies in remaining the global city-state, open to talent as much as investment from abroad.

The urban theorist Sanjeev Sanyal, global strategist of the Deutsche Bank, visualises the globalised world as being made up of "interconnected nodes" that include "elite" global cities such as London, Singapore, Hong Kong and New York, and major national hubs such as Paris, Sydney, Frankfurt, Mumbai, Delhi, Boston and Seoul.

In a paper published in August 2011, Mr Sanyal singles out the emergence of Singapore as a major global node. He finds its success interesting because it established itself without enjoying the legacy of a large empire, as London had done, or the support of a large economy, as with New York and Tokyo. "Rather, it won its place by carefully building up a cluster of human capital through deliberate government policy", writes the Rhodes scholar, who is based here.

It is this far-sighted deliberativeness that could be strained as anti-foreigner sentiments come to the fore.

The globalist self-perception of Singapore as an open country is being undermined by a nativist suspicion of immigrants. Many of them are seen as encroaching into Singapore's economic space without possessing special skills to add to its economic depth. In other words, they are not a net gain for Singaporeans. So goes the complaint.

Many Singaporeans sceptical about greater immigration argue that they are not against competition per se: After all, independent Singapore has not survived for almost five decades without a combative streak of competitiveness among its citizens. However, whereas Singaporeans once competed with one another and the rest of the world for gains that accrued to Singaporeans as a whole, today they are competing with foreigners in their midst whose gains, by definition, are not Singapore's. So goes the new narrative.

Such feelings are exacerbated by anecdotal tales of immigrant employers preferring employees from their own national communities or by-passing Singaporean job applicants because they have national service liabilities.

Insidiously, immigrants who become citizens are suspected of tipping the electoral scales in favour of the ruling People's Action Party: They are likely to vote for it out of gratitude for having given them citizenship, and out of fear that a different party in power would act against their interests.

Conversely, those who oppose the ruling party's policies on other fronts view immigrants, including naturalised citizens, with suspicion, holding them guilty by association.

It is essential for national leaders to respond to these insecurities with empathy and patience, sieving fact from fiction and acting firmly against foreigners (like the allegedly discriminatory employers) who wish to tweak the Singapore system to their unfair advantage.

Anger is born out of pain and fear. The nativist fear of being "swamped" physically and metaphorically by foreigners must be addressed by strengthening the Singapore core formed by local- born and local-bred Singaporeans and augmented by naturalised citizens who have arrived here for good.

It is necessary to assuage Singaporeans' creeping fear of the world within Singapore, represented by foreigners. It would be a disaster if the re-imagining of Singapore, which appears to have found its chief expression in the population issue, were to ignore its reality as the global city-state.

The world is Singapore's destiny.

The writer, a former Straits Times journalist, is an associate fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. He came to Singapore in 1984 and is now a citizen.

Facebook generation shaking up govts with new assertive mood
By Amit Jain, Published The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2013

THE question may be provocative but what does the anti immigration rally at the Speakers' Corner last week have in common with the series of popular protests that have rattled the streets of Washington, Cairo, New Delhi and others in recent years? Is it completely unrelated or does the popular resentment against mass immigration and escalating cost of living here fit a pattern of popular disaffection around the world?

The rise of social media and the resulting empowerment of ordinary citizens to communicate freely and organise themselves swiftly is a phenomenon that appears to have something to do with it. I once argued in a commentary in 2004 that new media technology was about to change the way we think about representative democracy. This was before the likes of Facebook or Twitter had arrived. But in the light of recent trends in voting behaviour and public protests, that argument increasingly appears to be vindicated.

When a few "friends" on Facebook start sharing a compelling video or post, it does not take very long for it to become a "sensation". More often than not, this is an innocuous dance routine or a sticky music video that briefly takes popular culture by storm, but occasionally it stirs something more subliminal and can trigger human behaviour in unpredictable ways.

That is exactly what happened in the case of Mr Mohamed Bouazizi, the humble fruit vendor who, on Dec 17, 2011, set himself on fire in front of a Tunisian police station and set off a chain of events that led to the ouster of President Zine Al Abedine Ben Ali and inspired other anti-establishment revolutions in the region. Powered by social media, this new-found "citizen voice" has led to the violent overthrow of authoritarian regimes in the Arab world; mobilised public action against corruption and rape in India; and resulted in a dramatic erosion of the unwritten "social compact" that has tied citizens to their government here in Singapore.

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, citizens all over the world also appear to have lost a certain "fear" and deference to authority that hitherto kept governance systems stable - particularly in the non-Western world. This has been a change that has gone almost unnoticed.

The most vocal active participant in the worldwide protest movement phenomenon is the quintessential young working-age individual who desires a better future and is less tolerant of the paternalistic state that is at best failing to live up to its promises and at worst is both repressive and corrupt. It is also no coincidence that it is this very same individual who has perhaps suffered the sharpest sting of the financial crisis and is channelling some of that gripe on the social media network.

As disaffection becomes complaint and complaint begins to amplify, a slow simmering discontent takes a life of its own and sometimes boils over. The social media quickly becomes a noisy platform for airing grievances - real or perceived. At times like this, objectivity gets thrown out of the window. Even the mainstream media finds itself drawn on one side of the public opinion or the other. The Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States, the Anna Hazare anti- corruption movement in India, and the anti-Mubarak protests in Egypt all share this in common. And perhaps so does the anti-immigration protest in Singapore.

But what is most stunning is the speed at which this change in public behaviour has occurred - all in a matter of two years (maybe four, if one takes the 2009 post-election "green movement" protest in Iran as a starting line). It has taken everyone by surprise - none more so than those in power.

While some governments have responded by making concessions, others have resisted demands for change. Policy hacks and social scientists are still struggling to come to grips with the new assertive public mood. Maybe this is simply a passing trend which will go away as soon as the novelty of the new-found freedom of expression wears off and is replaced with concerns of instability and insecurity.

But it is also equally likely that a more assertive electorate has come to stay and governments will have to work on creating a new architecture of governance where their citizens find a permanent voice. This would be taking democracy beyond a mere once-in-five-years election exercise. It would mean giving civil society a decision-making role in public policy, allowing for more transparency and perhaps making bureaucracy much more responsive to public opinion and needs.

Most importantly, it will need a change of behaviour in political leadership that is yet reluctant to treat citizens as equal stakeholders in matters of governance. Every big change in mass media technology has eventually produced big changes in the world of politics. It happened with the arrival of radio. It happened with the dawn of live television and now with the arrival of social media, it may happen again.

The writer is a communications specialist and consultant. He won the 2004 Panos Global Knowledge Programme Award for his article Coup In A Ballot Box.

Can slower growth lead to a stronger nation?
Reducing Singapore's dependence on foreigners won't affect living standards if productivity and wages rise.
By Linda Lim, Published The Straits Times, 22 Feb 2013

THE current debate about Singapore's population policy seems to assume that fewer foreign workers and lower immigration levels will hurt economic growth and businesses - and thus Singaporeans as well.

Other affluent economies with low fertility, ageing demographics and small populations have managed to achieve continued if modest improvements in living standards without importing large numbers of foreign labour and talent. There is no reason why Singapore cannot do the same, by borrowing from technological and business process innovations that are already implemented elsewhere.

Higher productivity (more output per worker) can substitute for more workers in achieving a particular gross domestic product growth rate.

Lower aggregate growth is not just inevitable for a mature economy, given diminishing marginal returns to added inputs of labour and capital. It may also be desirable, when real income (discounting for inflation) and total well-being (reduced congestion, environmental degradation, income inequality, social unease) are considered.

Locals fuel the economy

ECONOMICALLY sustainable activities that may generate lower growth but employ a higher ratio of Singaporeans will also contribute to higher wage and domestic shares of GDP (Singapore's are currently among the lowest in the world). Simply put, a higher proportion of a given dollar of GDP will accrue to Singaporeans, so local living standards can be maintained or increased with slower growth.

Policy instruments to achieve this could include: investment incentives tied to the hiring and training of Singaporeans, and awarding work permits and employment passes only after a process ascertaining that there are no qualified Singaporeans for the jobs (standard practice in the United States).

Higher wages would encourage employers to improve productivity and attract more Singaporeans into particular jobs, giving both an incentive to invest in upgraded skills (since there will be a higher income payoff).

Businesses that cannot afford the higher wages would exit, releasing workers for those businesses that remain. A reduction in demand would alleviate any labour shortage. Fewer foreign workers would also ease pressures on the housing market and on commercial rents, so businesses may benefit from lower or more slowly rising rents even as they pay out higher wages.

Reduced foreign capital inflows to purchase property, and other investments, would mitigate asset inflation and Singdollar appreciation, thus helping to maintain cost competitiveness.

Higher wages with higher productivity together with moderating rents do not necessarily mean higher costs. But if they do, these are costs Singapore's consumers will have to pay. As consumers are also workers, their real incomes may increase with higher salaries, lower rents and mortgage payments. If those enjoying higher wages are Singaporeans (rather than foreigners with higher savings rates and remittance outflows), the multiplier impact of their local spending will be greater - their higher costs are other Singaporeans' higher income, most of which is spent in Singapore.

Better productivity, different mindsets

MANY high-income economies have trodden this path of increasing productivity before Singapore.

However, emulating their market-derived solutions requires mindset and values shifts among Singaporeans. Consider three sectors in Singapore that are labour-intensive, and usually considered low-wage, low-skilled and low-productivity jobs that "Singaporeans don't want to do".

First, the construction industry: in no other high-income country is this associated almost exclusively with foreign labour from neighbouring countries.

In the US, this is a high-wage, high-skill, capital-intensive industry employing mostly unionised native workers, with high safety standards, sophisticated equipment and processes. Construction workers earn at least twice the median national wage in the US state I live in; their hourly wage is probably three times higher.

Some Singaporeans would be willing to work in this sector if adequately compensated, while construction firms would employ them at high wages if productivity was sufficiently high.

Second is the food and beverage (F&B) industry. In even high-immigrant big cities and on the coasts of the US, most restaurant workers are Americans. They include students or mature individuals (mothers, retirees) working part-time for extra income or social interaction, as well as seasoned professionals for whom this is a full-time, long-term career. Skills in conversing, understanding customers, knowledge of the menu and wine list are required and rewarded, with tips that average 20 per cent of the bill and can be much higher. There is a strong monetary incentive to develop skills and even a personal brand, and aspiring job candidates often queue up for months and even bid (pay) for the privilege of waiting tables at expensive restaurants. In the kitchen, much food preparation has been automated and outsourced to specialist food services such as Sysco.

In Singapore, the use of temporary foreign workers and the standardised service charge has kept wages and upward mobility low, thus discouraging the participation of Singaporeans in this sector.

Third is the domestic service industry of household help, care for children, the elderly and disabled.

This is a heterogeneous sector, but nowhere in the rich world is the dominant mode of operation that of the individual maid bound to a single individual or household. Rather, professional services of house maintenance, cleaning, food preparation and delivery, child and elder care and transport are the norm, compensated at hourly rates many times the minimum wage. Many self-employed workers in this sector simultaneously serve multiple clients, some for many years at a stretch or to work part-time, while private enterprises employing such workers provide a range of customised services.

Many offering child and elder-care services are personally dedicated to helping others, or are training for careers in teaching or nursing. Foreign workers in both this sector and F&B are usually new long-term immigrants, not temporary guest workers, so integration into the majority society is only a matter of time.

Improving wages, status

IN ALL three sectors, much higher wages would both attract more workers and encourage investments in higher productivity methods.

But there is also a mindset shift required, which is the social status and value collectively ascribed to such occupations.

In the US, social barriers are highly permeable and there is respect for hard work, enterprise and professionalism even in "blue collar" or manual service occupations, helped by the fact that they may pay better than many "white collar" jobs.

A social egalitarian ethic in Europe, and national group solidarity in Japan, both regions with limited income inequality, fulfil the same role. More money alone cannot compensate for lack of respect, which in Singapore is inordinately directed by and towards those with academically based credentials and professional achievement.

This analysis could be extended to many other occupations, such as highly compensated "skilled trades", and personal services (such as the beauty and wellness industry), which are particularly attractive to self-employed entrepreneurs.

Many solutions are possible but businesses will be motivated to innovate only if the easy alternative of importing low-skilled, low-wage foreign labour is restricted. Innovations could be accelerated by temporary public subsidies that would not cost more than the investments in the housing and transport infrastructure required to accommodate a larger population.

Slower growth, stronger nation

THE situation at the higher end of the labour market is more complex, given the global or regional role many companies fulfil from their Singapore base and the geographically mobile talent that they may require.

Employment passes should be flexibly awarded according to the need and value to the nation of a particular company. Businesses should professionalise human resource practices to maximise recruitment of Singaporeans, for example through school or university partnerships and campus recruitment efforts.

The bottom line is that Singapore can survive economically, even prosper, without further large increases in foreign labour and immigration. A reduction in both will also deliver compensating benefits, such as lower housing costs, higher domestic consumption, lower income inequality and a less congested, more environmentally friendly city whose residents may even be willing to have more children.

Businesses and people can adjust to slower labour growth as they do in other countries. The nation - which is more than its GDP - will be the stronger for it.

The writer, a Singaporean, is professor of strategy at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in the United States.

S'pore needs to face realities

PROFESSOR Linda Lim makes some good points in her commentary ("Can slower growth lead to a stronger nation?"; last Friday). However, one should keep in mind that academic theory does not always work out in practice.

For instance, few would dispute that several sectors here pay low wages and need to be restructured. Yet, one cannot ignore the implication of higher wages.

Wage increases can be absorbed by businesses in only two ways - they either accept lower profit margins, or pass on the increased costs to customers, leading to higher inflation.

While it is true that consumers are also workers and will benefit from higher incomes, in the real world, not all consumers will benefit from higher wages at the same time as their cost-of-living increases. Some may face reduced wages or, worse, unemployment. The trade-off between higher wages and inflation thus needs to be managed carefully.

One also needs to realise that as wages increase, employers will become more picky about hiring, leading to higher unemployment. This is what is happening in the United States and other Western nations.

I agree that mindsets about blue-collar jobs need to be changed for Singapore to truly call itself a developed country. However, this is a slow process involving cultural factors and cannot be mandated.

It will take time for a crane operator or plumber here to gain the same level of social acceptance as a bank relationship manager or lawyer.

It is thus unfair to expect small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) relying on blue-collar workers to restructure immediately.

Similarly, one should be realistic about foreign workers.

While there seems to be a general consensus that reducing foreign labour and fully utilising local workers, including senior citizens, is the way to go, one needs to recognise that Singapore is a sophisticated economy with a variety of businesses that demand varying levels of skills, which may not be available locally.

Take, for example, restaurant workers. While a local pool of Mandarin-speaking aunties and uncles may be a great fit for a Chinese restaurant in Bedok, would they be suitable for a hip tapas bar in Clarke Quay?

Finally, we need to accept that Singapore currently does not have the highly skilled labour force or globally competitive SMEs of Switzerland or Germany, nor do we have the large domestic markets of Indonesia or China.

Comparisons with such countries and their economic models are therefore pointless.

Singapore is, for the large part, a cost centre for multinational corporations and needs to be highly cost-competitive to attract such companies here and create high-value jobs that benefit all Singaporeans.

Bobby Jayaraman
ST Forum, 27 Feb 2013

Reframe the Great Population Conversation
By Simon Tay, Published TODAY, 21 Feb 2013

Controversy followed the Government’s White Paper on Population, from its introduction to the last day of Parliamentary debate, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed Parliament. Even after the clear Parliamentary majority in favour, that public debate continues, a fact Mr Lee welcomed. But from which departure point should the Great Population Conversation continue?

Last Saturday, an event was organised at the Speakers’ Corner to protest the 6.9 million population projection figure, which has become a lightning rod for many. The numbers who turned up sent a message of opposition and ire.

There are, however, other points from which to continue the discussion. Some of these will allow future policies to be more closely considered.


One starting point is to note the clarifications subsequently made to the 80-page White Paper. The speech by Mr Lee in Parliament gave a considerably different emphasis, stressing the aim to strike a balance rather than to maximise capacity. The Government also gave the assurance that 6.9 million is not set in stone and that future governments would look at the situation afresh.

Additionally, the Parliamentary motion was amended by a backbencher to re-emphasise issues of concern for many. These included encouraging Singaporeans to have children, the Government resolving infrastructure crunches and taking steps to ensure Singaporeans benefit from growth.

These reflect the Government’s concessions in part to public concerns. We can anticipate further adjustments to both the content and the manner in which the main issues are discussed. The upcoming Budget Debate and the ongoing National Conversation will no doubt pick up threads and key points.

Three aspects would bear particular attention and merit prompt action.


First, trust needs to be rebuilt. MPs and public voices alike have stressed that concerns over public transport, housing and cost of living must be addressed. Drawing up new plans and policies are a start, but the benefits have not been felt viscerally. Visible and immediate action are needed.

One step that has been taken is that the council reviewing public transport fares has been directed to look more deeply into the issue of affordability, especially for low-income earners, the disabled and polytechnic students.

If the resulting recommendations — the release of which has been postponed to May — are substantial, this can help temper the frustrations of commuters, who would be averse to the idea of paying more for what they perceive to be sub-par services.

An even bolder step would be for the Government to mandate a freeze on transport fares until service problems are resolved. This is neither token populism nor quasi-nationalisation; it would be a small but real way to show that the Government means well and can deliver better.


A second measure concerns the Government’s pledge to maintain a Singaporean core.

How to do this without pandering to anti-foreigner sentiments will be a difficult balancing act. Ours has been, and still is, a very open society, so even a ratcheted tightening will be felt.

Companies, both local and foreign, who require foreigners in different sectors and with different skill sets should speak up more. Only then can citizens see that the Government is serving to moderate commercial interests, rather than opening the gates to the maximum.

A first step would be to remove “foreign talent” from the official lexicon — simply call them foreign workers. A second step is to bring some scrutiny to employment practices. The process should not be cumbersome but neither should it be fully online and automatic.

Government agencies should ask employers to verify in writing that they have tried to hire a Singaporean before a work permit for a foreigner is issued.

More, since there is talk and the perception that some MNC chieftains favour their own nationalities, larger corporations should report their employee balance in nationality (as well as gender and age) as part of their commitment to diversity and to Singapore as their base. No law or penalties are needed; just good faith and transparency.


On its part, the Government needs to more visibly recognise the talents of Singaporeans and promote national champions, especially those outside government and government-linked companies. Take our small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

As the cost of business goes up and foreign worker permits are reduced, there is a perception that SMEs are being squeezed out. It is economic logic that some should relocate but it is critically important how this is approached.

It is one thing to be assisted in this transition, as a Singaporean champion growing abroad while keeping key operations at home. It is another thing entirely to feel orphaned and driven out of one’s own house.

The Budget must look at providing ways to lower the cost of business and support the transformation of SMEs, with the aim of supporting the growth of Singaporean champions.

Another dimension of giving attention to the Singaporean core can be signalled with measures to assure that the elderly in Singapore are provided safety nets against illness and hardship, as well as incentives to keep working and renewing their skills. Again, the Budget can set the tone here.


There is a third factor that should emerge, and this is involves seeing Singapore in a regional and global context. Ours is not the only society to age. Singapore is not the first to look at how to continue to develop even after achieving a high level of growth.

How do other countries approach the issues of growth, an ageing population and social mixture? How do individuals elsewhere deal with the pressures of work and family life, and how do their societies and governments support them to make the right choices?

In the debate so far, a bewildering array of analogies has been thrown up, from the Scandinavians and Swiss to Japan, Dubai and Bhutan. But a rational and more comprehensive analysis is lacking.

Perhaps Singapore is different.

Yet the goals of our people — for quality of life and social safety nets — are human needs that many others feel. Even our policy goals, like being a global financial and business hub, merit comparisons.

To supplement the ongoing national conversation, a dialogue with international perspectives is needed.

The possibilities of cooperation across borders also need consideration. The recently announced high-speed railway link with Malaysia, for example, can potentially ease concerns about overcrowding in Singapore. But sensitivities must be managed and win-win solutions offered.

Lessons from elsewhere can be learnt and adapted. There is no easy, single model to emulate. There will be dilemmas and hard choices.

Mr Lee is right to say that while the debate is over, a conversation can begin. But conversation must be reframed, if it is to avoid becoming merely an altercation among the deaf.

In time, those against the White Paper should temper emotion and suspicion with informed consideration, while the Government must rebuild trust and truly consult.

Only then can we — Singaporean and others with real stakes here — truly think ahead about what is best for the future.

Simon Tay is Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and teaches international law at the National University of Singapore.

Economists’ commentary on White Paper sparks wide discussion
Commentary questions some tenets of White Paper, tackles issue of a denser population
By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 23 Feb 2013

Two commentaries published in the past fortnight questioning some tenets of the Population White Paper have spurred rigorous discussion on the number of foreign workers Singapore requires going forward, whether a denser population is better, and if enough help is being given to companies to restructure.

On Feb 8, four economists, all Vice-Presidents of the Economic Society of Singapore, posted a commentary on the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) website tackling what they described as “four myths” that have surfaced in the White Paper debate.

The economists — Mr Donald Low, Mr Yeoh Lam Keong, Associate Professor Tan Kim Song and Mr Manu Bhaskaran — disputed contentions which stated that Singapore requires “sufficiently large” injections of foreign labour to prevent businesses from shutting down or shipping out and Singaporean workers from being laid off, and that larger populations create significant benefits for cities, among others.

The authors, who penned the commentary in their personal capacities, argued instead that low labour costs encourage companies to “persist with low value-added production and discourages them from upgrading and improving their business processes”. They added that tighter foreign worker policies will cause businesses that cannot adapt to exit the market, but this will free up “labour and capital resources for the growing, more productive parts of the economy”.

Economists TODAY approached agreed with their comments, and proposed revisiting fundamentals needed for future economic growth and greater focus on building local talent.

Tackling the issue of whether denser populations create more economic benefits for cities, the four Economic Society of Singapore economists wrote that this applies only to certain industries — those that require highly-skilled knowledge workers whose concentration generates innovation. They noted that the White Paper projected increases in the labour force to serve lower-skilled industries, which they felt explained why the Government did not use the “agglomeration effects” argument for increasing the population and density of Singapore.

A critical-thinking mass of local talent needed

Agreeing with the economists’ argument that tightening the supply of foreign workers would mean firms would either have to adapt or move out, Spire Research and Consulting Chief Executive Leon Perera nevertheless felt that there would be no wholesale exit for such companies. Some businesses would stay to meet domestic market demand, but with different cost structures and business models, he added.

Noting that labour costs in many traditional “source” countries like China are also on the rise, Singapore Management University economics Associate Professor Davin Chor said it could become uneconomical to bring in unskilled foreign labour in future; the best way is to restructure and invest in technologies to raise worker productivity.

Addressing the prospect that workers may get laid off and lack the skills to move to other industries, the four Vice-Presidents of the Economic Society of Singapore argued in their commentary that “the economically sound answer” is not to artificially prop up employment, but for the State to directly help the workers whose livelihoods are affected — through unemployment protection, higher wage subsidies through Workfare, skills retraining and upgrading programmes, and one-off social transfers.

“Public policy should be aimed at helping workers and local firms cope with economic restructuring, not at helping uncompetitive firms that rely on cheap foreign labour stay afloat,” they added.

The four economists recognised population policies go beyond economics. “Economics is not, and should not be, the only lens through which we examine, analyse and debate our country’s population policies,” they wrote. “But when we do apply economics analysis, we should try to get it right.”

The second commentary that has generated discussion, written by Bloomberg columnist William Pesek and published on Feb 15, was roundly criticised by academics.

In his column, Mr Pesek wrote: “Singapore’s addiction to population growth sends a simple and disconcerting message: The country has run out of ideas to increase economic vitality, aside from encouraging people to procreate or immigrate. Ponzi demography, indeed.”

Assoc Prof Chor was among those who took issue with the column, saying that almost all sufficiently developed countries with an ageing profile have had to augment their populations. “To say that procreation policies and immigration are a Ponzi scheme misses the point. These policies are needed if developed countries are to sustain the strength of their labour force. The key instead lies in the degree to which such policies are pursued”, which is the bone of contention in the public furore over the White Paper, he said.

SIM University Assoc Prof Randolph Tan added that Singapore’s situation is a result of a decision made some time ago to take advantage of economic growth like other countries have done, “but which in our case stretches our physical limitations”. This is different from a Ponzi scheme, where increasing amounts of resources have to be pumped in to fuel returns to earlier amounts expended and to keep the scheme alive, he said.

Singapore: Home or hotel?
By Geh Min, Published The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2013

THE heated debate over the Population White Paper arose partly from unease over a future projected population of 6.9 million.

But a more important underlying issue needs to be aired too: What is Singapore to its citizens, including its leaders? Is it home, hotel or a corporation like an economic entity?

Without a shared sense of home, we will not achieve social cohesion in our compact city-state.

It will then not matter whether we have five, six or seven million people. Life will be stressful and even intolerable.

Our founding fathers had a vision to link people and place - Home Ownership for Everyone.

But have we expanded this sense of ownership beyond our own doorsteps? We have some way still to go, given the recurrent apathy and anti-social behaviour such as littering.

Increasing signs of the Not In My Backyard (Nimby) syndrome and road rage imply the expanded sense of ownership is selfishly rather than socially motivated.

Still, more educated and articulate Singaporeans with a strong sense of national identity are speaking up. They want to make a difference and can be frustrated by the lack of avenues for doing so.

The debates over Chek Jawa, the Railway Corridor and Bukit Brown exemplify this trend, and should be viewed positively, as a sign of growing nationhood.

Social and spatial justice

IN A country as land-scarce as ours, spatial justice is as important as social justice in creating a level playing field in jobs and educational opportunities.

The Government's public housing policy, for example, strives for spatial justice. The People's Action Party's early policy of acquiring land at low rates to be redeveloped for low-cost housing put vast tracts of land - and housing units - within reach of the masses, serving spatial justice.

Beyond housing is a need to equitably allocate land for transport and other essential amenities for industry and investment, and for nature and recreation. Maintaining a good balance is challenging.

In Singapore, the state is by far the biggest land owner, thanks to the Land Acquisition Act, which gives the state wide powers of acquisition. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is both the arbiter and implementer of land use: the trustee that acts for the people.

How should the URA determine use of land?

Property and environmental lawyer Joseph Chun argues that the concept of the Public Trust Doctrine might be useful here. He said: "When applied to the state, it draws a distinction between ordinary land generally owned by the state as a corporate entity as though it were a private landowner; and public trust land held by the state as the sovereign as though it were a trustee for specific purposes in the common interest of the public."

This distinction - the state as corporate landowner and as trustee landowner - is crucial. To be fair to the Government, it has indeed been a wise steward in maintaining this difficult balance. Environmentalists such as myself will argue that one failure is the disproportionate number of private golf courses allowed here - they consume huge land tracts when only a small minority benefit.

But can a future government continue to be a wise steward for our increasingly scarce land? There is no systematic use of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) to measure the impact of any development plan. Nor is there requisite information about what most Singaporeans want when it comes to land use.

Particularly worrying is the proposal in the White Paper to build infrastructure and amenities well in advance of a 6.9 million population. The notion of building "ahead of demand" might sound appealing to those jostling for space on crowded trains today.

But do we really need to set aside valuable land and taxpayers' money to provide for this hypothetical increase?

When land becomes scarcer and population density increases further, how will the state maintain the precarious balance between land use for the public good and private developments and amenities affordable only for the affluent? Even expanding our roads and highways could be a form of spatial injustice as cars are one of the least efficient and most inequitable forms of transport in a land-challenged country.

Consider, for example, the lack of proper housing amenities for foreign workers. These construction workers, cleaners and domestic workers contribute enormously to making Singapore "clean and green" and creating a "quality living environment". Yet, until recently, little thought seems to have been given to providing them with decent housing or recreational amenities.

A sense of continuity

WHEN physical landscapes change, something is lost irrevocably. A sense of continuity is essential to general well-being.

A rapidly changing society like Singapore needs to conserve as much of its natural and man-made heritage as possible, to preserve shared memories and to keep familiar landmarks.

For instance, the strong reactions over landmarks such as the Railway Line and Bukit Brown suggest that Singaporeans have a growing need for visible and palpable connections to a shared past.

A rapidly changing landscape might be a developer's dream and provide entertainment for transients and tourists, but it is a stressful nightmare for those who choose to make Singapore home.

Mr Chan Chun Sing, the Acting Minister for Social and Family Development, said recently that while "it is important to preserve Singapore's heritage, this has to be balanced against the need for redevelopment" as this "adds new buildings and new areas, which in turn allows future generations to create new memories".

He noted that since previous generations gave up some of their memories for us to be where we are today, "it is also incumbent on us to pay it forward".

But memories are not a commodity to be bartered or traded. The value of heritage is that subsequent generations can add fresh layers to treasured memories to enrich the narrative further - not trade old memories for new ones.

Heritage and national values cannot be transmitted by textbooks and political rhetoric alone. A society is defined as much by what we choose to preserve or destroy as by what we create.

A society that places no visible value on continuity will create future generations who are adrift on market forces rather than one anchored by a shared nationhood to country and fellow countrymen.

How will such a place produce people who are prepared to invest emotionally, to stay long term, to start a family and to make sacrifices to defend their country? It would be much easier to trade one country for another.

Singapore has evolved from a nation by chance to nationhood by choice. Let us not deteriorate into a city-state of convenience: a hotel rather than a home.

The writer is a consultant ophthalmologist and immediate past president of the Nature Society.

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