Why Singapore is struggling to reinvent itself

A general view of the Central Business District of Singapore and the Merlion, illuminated with a projection during the iLight Marina Bay on March 23. © Getty Images

« Why Singapore is struggling to reinvent itself » by William Pesek, 11/07/2017, Nikkei Asian Review

Roots of today`s problems were visible in the city-state over 20 years ago.

There is a hot new industry in Singapore: Kremlinology.

Paul Krugman once compared the city-state to the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the Nobel laureate had a point. He was not referring to communism or to mass killings, of course — but the art of observing, deducing and obsessing over a secretive organization is again consuming the nation of 5.5 million people. The subject of the latest intrigue is a bizarre spat within the family at the core of Singapore’s astounding success and the row is fueling an unprecedented scandal that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says could dent the nation’s squeaky-clean image.

 As far as Singapore’s budding Kremlinologists can tell, the tiff concerns the estate of Lee Kuan Yew, who died in 2015. Some of Lee’s children accuse their brother, the current prime minister, of preserving a family home that Singapore’s founding father wanted demolished. They took to social media to air the dirty laundry of a family that long maintained a facade of having none. Many are asking what is really going on and what the first family brawling means for the trajectory of Singapore’s top-down political and economic system.

The echoes of Krugman’s 1994 critique are impossible to miss. His over-the-top comparison was this: Lee Kuan Yew’s model of appropriating domestic savings, championing state-linked companies and steering the workforce into moderate-paying jobs “would have done Stalin proud,” but would ultimately prove unsustainable. The fallout from that unsustainability is now the biggest challenge facing the younger Lee. Efforts to recalibrate the engines of growth away from demographics to greater productivity and innovation are not doing Singaporeans proud.

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