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Can ‘exceptional’ but ageing Singapore break out of tradition to power the economy?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2018, 10:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2018, 10:02pm

Singapore, like Hong Kong, is facing a rapidly ageing population. To counter this demographic time bomb, and the disruption caused by new technologies, Singapore plans to raise its goods and services (GST) tax in the next decade.

The increased revenue is expected to support health care spending and education, and stimulate innovation in enterprises. Thinking outside traditional policymaking is required to make Singapore “exceptional” again, as former MP Inderjit Singh put it.

Raising income and consumption taxes is a traditional way of coping with an ageing society and economic slowdown. However, how governments or companies operate also has a role to play. If they are still traditional and haven’t caught up with global trends, how can it be ensured that key issues would be dealt with in a fresh way?

Another solution is the extension of working life and encouraging women to work, and work longer. With more elderly women in the world than men, the implications of some special policy for ageing or retired women should not be overlooked.

What skills does Singapore need for the future economy?

Education is also a good way to help people survive in an ageing society. Hi-tech and artificial intelligence now serve as economic engines but, in the current context, they are still future-oriented. Can independent courses in these areas be provided to school students, or as a training course to retired people who want to keep working?

Policies based on Singapore’s “exceptionalism” as a tiny city state helped its economy take off in the 1970s. However, in the context of a delicate globalisation marked by hi-tech progress and economic interdependency, but also more invisible trade barriers, could this “exceptionalism” save Singapore again?

In response to this delicate globalisation, a deeper regional integration seems to be the strategic choice of most countries. Other economies of a similar scale in terms of land area, like Hong Kong, are benefiting from the advantages provided by their back patron for development and prosperity. With the transition of power through the handover, Hong Kong does not need to worry about a lack of resources. It has room to play in terms of the economy or institutions. Amid this trend, will “exceptionalism” still be the only choice for Singapore?

Fiona Bassinger, Mong Kok