Singapore is a country, not a corporation.

*This appeared first appeared as a comment in the article “The Bind of Singapore” (

That won’t happen as Singapore is a country, not a corporation.

The government of the day has a moral obligation to help its citizens and uplift their lives. The makeup of the Singapore economy is much more diversified than what the author suggests. Singapore is fully plugged into the global trading system with trade as a primary driver. Financial services account for more than one-tenth of our GDP. The drive to diversify, strengthen other sectors and grow new emerging ones is an ongoing process to ensure that we do not put all our eggs in one basket. The government also has sufficient reserves to move Singaporeans into new sectors should such a catastrophic event occur which in all likelihood is almost close to impossible. Why? Simply, financial services is an intractable part of modern day life and an essential business activity that helps move global trade and facilitate transactions. Singapore is one of the leading financial centres in the world, not the only one. There are others. New York and London, for example. The big countries have a stake in the smooth functioning of the global financial system that is vital to their continued economic development and prosperity. The prominence of the financial sector is a result of government promotion and one that naturally sits well with Singapore’s strengths in education and literacy, an educated and internationally exposed workforce, our aspiration to develop a high-performing and dynamic economy that is able to provide high value-added jobs and one that does not require much land.

It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white as long as it is able to catch mice. In a similar vein, non-capital accumulation in indigenous assets is not a bugbear as long as we are able to tax these flows to add to our revenues and in the process, generate value-added jobs for Singaporeans in the financial sector.

As the author rightly acknowledged, the costs of doing business in Singapore is high due to our high land prices and rental costs which are inevitable given our limited land space. Our manpower costs are high too with an educated and highly mobile workforce. The cheap labour that the author is alluding to consists of workers in Singapore on work passes doing menial jobs that Singaporeans are unable to fill but are essential in moving business operations along. If Singapore-based businesses were only to compete on the cost dimension, they would have been weeded out by other lower cost competitors in the region and from China. Our businesses have evolved from just competing on cost alone in the 1960s and 70s (indigenous labour could be employed on low wages due to relative lack of sophistication in skills and education) to sustaining a competitive edge through design, knowledge work and value-added services.

Yes, we need to communicate more with our foreign workers, understand their needs more and make them feel that they are a part of the larger Singapore family and have a stake in our development and well-being.

Kelvin Loh

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