Singapore Revisited

Stephen DeAngelis

August 29, 2006

My blog concerning Singapore’s Resilient Strategy has received more comments than most posts. One pundit, Nimble Books Publisher W. Frederick Zimmerman, decided Singapore’s is a fragile not a resilient strategy. He wrote:

Unfortunately for Singapore, it is a classic example of a single point of failure. I respect Steve D. & Enterra, but in the proliferated 21st Century, resilient assets must be distributed assets. Singapore, by definition, isn’t.

Zimmerman’s point apparently refers to Singapore’s small size and location — a geostrategic fact of life learned last year by New Orleans. As noted below, however, geographical location has good points as well as bad. My entire point was that Singapore is trying to expand into more economic sectors (beyond electronics and finance) in order to avoid setting itself up for an economic “single point” failure. The fact I was making a single point about Singapore’s strategy (that it was trying to diversify) opened me up to a fairer criticism offered by another reader. He wrote:

I refer to your blog’s most recently published article, “Singapore’s Resilient Strategy.” And while I find it an interesting point of view, as a Singaporean who was born, bred and grew up in the country, I feel your analysis is overly simplistic.

I don’t disagree that the analysis was simplistic. As noted above, I was making a single point about the importance of being connected to as many economic sectors as possible if a small state like Singapore wants to remain resilient. One only has to look at economies based on a single resource sector (be it agriculture or mining) to find an economy destined to remain a part of the Gap. Both critics latched on to my post’s hyperbolic closing paragraph:

No one can doubt that Singapore’s economic miracle has become permanent. Its resilient strategy is positioning Singapore for an emerging future rather than trying to get the country to cling only to those sectors that made it successful in the past, like electronics and finance. It jump started its strategy by importing world-class scientists, building world-class facilities, and ensuring that its standards are as high as any around the globe. It’s a great lesson in resiliency.

Do I believe that Singapore will remain a member of the Core? Yes. Do I believe that diversification is a good strategy? Yes. Does Singapore still face challenges adapting? Apparently so. This is what else the blog reader wrote to me:

You have failed to consider many important facts about the country’s economy, amongst many others:

a. Since the year 2000, the incomes of the bottom third of wage earners have actually fallen. The push towards a knowledge driven economy has resulted in a neglect of those who were equipped with skills to thrive in one driven by manufacturing and industries such as electronics. This ‘resilient strategy’ you speak of may be a good one, but it’s execution has fallen far short of perfect. It has failed to deliver economic welfare to a large section of the population. And as any corporate strategist should know, execution is everything, especially the execution of a change management project.

b. The country is now facing a very severe population problem. Last year, the country’s mothers gave birth to 36,000 babies, whereas it needs 50,000 to replace its population. This trend places a big question mark on the efficacy of this ‘resilient strategy’ when the country’s population is rapidly depleting itself. It also pays to take note that the same omniscient ruling party which has come up with this ‘resilient strategy’ is precisely the same party that placed penalties on families when they had their third child – it seems they are not so omniscient after all.

c. Many life science students in Singapore, having gone through their life science degrees – supposedly egged along by the government to herald the ‘age of biology’ – are finding it difficult to find a job. If the strategy you suggest is indeed as resilient as it is, then how do you account for this phenomenon?

There are many other intricacies and details about Singapore that you should consider, that would place a big question mark on your glowing analysis of Singapore’s Economy. In fact, a brief survey will demonstrate that making sweeping statements like No one can doubt that Singapore’s economic miracle has become permanent.” and “It’s a great lesson in resiliency.” will place a huge question mark on the credibility of your analytical and consultancy skills.

I suggest you research Singapore’s economy further, and reconsider the conclusions in your essay once again.

Tom and his web master Sean Meade offered their own comments on the post [“All hail Singapore“!] Another reader reminded me not to forget the importance of Singapore’s geographical location.

I greatly appreciate comments and criticism. As one can imagine, running a company and trying to keep current enough on world affairs so that I can meaningfully comment through a blog means that analysis will often be aimed at making a single point. When readers help broaden and deepen the discussion, it only gets better.