World city or regional backwater?

World city or regional backwater?
Peter Schwartz is a global leader in futurist thinking and business strategy. He works with business and government leaders to develop alternative scenarios and strategies to deal with an uncertain future.

Singapore of 2065 could be a world capital of gleaming towers, creative talent, power, influence and wealth; the most important centre of a region of peace and prosperity; and an inspiration to those who dream of what it takes to build a better society.

Or by 2065, Singapore could be mostly faded glory, not a bad place to be, but one with a better history than future.

There is a third possibility of a slowly growing developed city - but that would still lead the city-state into a slow but inexorable decline: Think of a graceful old age with declining prospects.

Where is Singapore headed? What are the trends that will shape its possibilities? What should Singapore aspire to in the next 50 years?

As a futurist with a three- decade-long association with Singapore, I have had the rare privilege of periodic conversations with its first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, sharing perspectives on where the world is headed.

Singapore's success owes greatly to his leadership, making him one of the greatest political and economic leaders of the 20th century. He died in March, and the challenge will be sustaining his legacy. I have also served on various agencies in the city-state.

I would say Singapore has been moving in the right direction, keeping itself open to talent and driving innovation. The question is whether that can be sustained.

At independence in 1965, security, stability and prosperity were the main aspirations. For the future, Singapore needs to have dreams of its future that can keep the talent coming.For those dreams to be real, they have to gel with the driving forces and the ethos that shape the times today, as they did during independence.

So what will determine if Singapore becomes a world city or declines into a backwater? What forces shape its future? Some are beyond Singapore's control, like the global balance of power and regional stability. Others - like the quality of governance or the ability to exploit new knowledge - are within Singapore's control.

Long-term forces

There are a few long-term, predictable forces. The population cannot grow by very much. If the country builds upwards, or downwards or even a bit outwards, it might add another million or so, mostly immigrants and mostly the young. Today's population will inevitably be older.

Even if many remain healthy, vigorous and stay in the workforce much longer, many will be so old by mid-century that dependency will increase substantially. By 2065, Singapore has to be ready to manage a very old, infirm population and invite in young immigrants to help support that ageing population.

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