Five facets that explain Singapore's success

Five facets that explain Singapore's success
Formula One (F1) Singtel Singapore Grand Prix 2013 gets underway at the Marina Bay Street Circuit on 20 September 2013, set against the backdrop of the Singapore skyline.

Many in Singapore understand the multiple ingredients behind the city- state's impressive ascent.

But how can we best present this complex recipe to outsiders, be they nations, firms or individuals, so that these audiences benefit from it?

In a recent Straits Times op-ed piece, Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, lists "seven pillars" that support the "soft power" that emanates from Singapore's striking achievement.

I suggest a framework that cuts Singapore's success into five facets.

The first is keen long-term vision. Singapore's leadership grew out of frustration with colonialism, World War II trauma and subsequent struggle - at times violent - for collective survival.

The overwhelming goal was to create a prospering, harmonious and secure community, on a par with the West, as quickly as possible. As minister Goh Keng Swee said: "We must strive continuously to achieve economic growth and should not be distracted by other goals." Concurrently, China under Mao Zedong pursued egalitarianism and remained poor.

The second is discipline.

No Olympian climbs onto the podium without having applied discipline for years in pursuit of a distant dream. Singapore demonstrated discipline by employing delayed gratification.

This involved hard work, saving and investing in physical, human and social capital to reap future benefits. Responsible fiscal policy built reserves and avoided off-loading debt onto later generations. The discipline of the market economy was embraced through international openness, competitive wage formation and a refusal to subsidise loss-making sunset industries.

A lean and meritocratic civil service imposed discipline by rewarding only for performance. Discipline was also inherent in the consistent application of the rule of law. In all: many disciplinary sticks but not without carrots as well.

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