SG50: Joie De Vivre
I was pondering and then, fretting over my post for this week because there is really nothing particularly inspirational to write about and I am determined not to don that Doom Gloom hat, for once, on this brilliant day of sunshine with no chance of meatballs and distant clouds that, hopefully, shall lay their woes where they are.
A friend suggested I do the Sumiko Tan oven story which I have yet to read but, nah, that would be what we read in the Sunday Times, no? Or writing an ETF critique piece which I shall do sometime in the future before a heavy meal and most certainly before spending a day preparing material for that dratted bond seminar that I have been talking eternally about conducting.
So it came down to this SG50 Funpack mailer that I have just received that got me all bothered because I cannot find that confounded postcard that would entitle me to my funpack and it would be such a damper if I am to celebrate without the lovely pickings that are free unlike the SG50 water bottles that are going for 20 bucks at the petrol kiosks.
SG50 is something I have not contemplated on for this busy year and we are less than a month away now before the party kicks off.
50 years on and Singapore is still all about services as far as the economy is concerned, contributing 67% to total GDP with manufacturing just about 19% and construction at 5%.
SINGAPORE GDP BY INDUSTRY 1995-2015
Just look at what the cat dragged out from the old book pile. I must have nicked this some 2 decades ago from either my grandparents’ or my auntie’s troves even though it has British Red Cross Society neatly stamped inside the cover.
Well, 1953 was the year my late mother was born and perhaps that is sentimental enough.
Skimming through the first few chapters, I am astounded by some striking similarities I found.
Such as the population problems.
“The rapid increase of the population has imposed a severe strain on public utility services.”
And our current problem with transportation?
“The city becomes more crowded every day and encroaches upon the surrounding country. In the outskirts the expansion of the population overruns the supply of urban amenities and leads to slum conditions…. The Government has financed a series of major housing schemes. It has so far pledged over $100 millions in loans to the Singapore Improvement Trust, its housing agency, and by the end of 1953 was the owner of nearly 10,000 houses and flats.”
The population then was already 1.1 million, including Christmas and Cocos-Keeling Islands, which I have entirely forgotten about. But the beauty of the population then was that majority were within the ages of 0-10. The Baby Boomers! My mommy was one of the 0’s that year and they had about 31 thousand private cars that year compared to over half a million now which is pretty good going considering that there were 170,000 bicycles and tricycles then.
Over 40% of the population was employed but income tax was Higher with the tax rate peaking at 30%. There were just over 2 dozen banks then and I am pleased to see some familiar names in their midst especially Bank of China, Bank of East Asia, Bank of India and Indian Overseas Bank ! Our POSB was started in 1949.
Singapore succeeded as a free port in a vision conceived by Stamford Raffles not before it was destroyed by the Javanese about 400 years before that. And a mighty trade centre Singapore remains in the world today. 60 years down and some of our problems remain largely the same – land (housing), water and transport, thus, we still have the same things to complain about.
Strategically positioned as a financial centre now, Singapore is still in the trade business. Yes, a trading centre for money and global wealth and not rubber as it was 60 years ago. If I am not mistaken, financial/insurance services continue to be the fasting growing contributor to our GDP over the last 3 years, using information from the Singstats website. This is all within the grand scheme of emulating the Swiss model here in the far east and we can say we more than succeeded with inflation firmly in check like it was then.
What a life we have now, the golden years of joie de vivre where we do not need to pass Seats for Shop Assistants Ordinance to make it compulsory for shopkeepers to provide seats for their assistants!
The late Lee Kuan Yew had used this “golden period” analogy some years back.
“If there are no wars or oil crises, this golden period can stretch out over many years,’ he said… The key is having a good government which will get its policies right, to encourage economic growth… ‘Once you have growth, all problems can be managed. When you have no growth and you have unemployment and no jobs, then all problems become intractable,’he said.”
Our recent GDP numbers have fallen short it would seem, though nothing compared to the brief encounter we had with recession back in 2008 which was bulldozed back into shape with the opening of not 1 but 2 casinos.
Thus it is no wonder that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong brought up the necessity of paranoia for Singapore to retain her accomplishments.
Singapore’s accomplishments are “an entirely unnatural state of affairs, and one which we should count our blessings for – if not every day, at least (at) every election.”
The current strategy of fortifying our social and economic defenses has been good since last year for we have been able to weather market volatility so far. Yet there is also a need to search for a new elixir of growth for this matured economy that will not be dependent on just importing more people to boost the GDP, house prices and inflation.
Yes, they are trying hard with the start ups but the numbers pale to many other cities around the world where technopreneurs flock to besides the Silicon Valley.
So far, we have not turned out the Skypes and Ubers of the world and the top 10 funded tech start ups here have been non Singaporean companies with Lazada the biggest fish, a company imitating the likes of Amazon.
My suggestions? Financial innovations! Think outside the box.
Singapore can be the crowd sourcing centre for Asia.
Singapore can become the largest IPO market for human talent – yes, human talent such as football players who IPO themselves for $4 mio, to say less of football teams or cricket clubs. We can even start with those GEP kids!
Singapore can be the financial innovations hub, launching all sorts of new and wonderful indices such as the Tokyo Earthquake Index and the Cherry Blossoms Index, both of which exist, for anything and everything under the sun.
Who wants a Ferris wheel? Singapore can build a stairway to the stars/space (a tribute to the song) – not a new idea.
A controversial centre for euthanasia? Far out!
And, I cannot resist as usual, my old idea from over a decade back – the survival pill idea. A pill to replace food, useful for catastrophes and those hard times, which I happen to possess at home.
Of course, all this depends on the great leaders of the country so I will shut up now.
Face it, Singapore has fallen out of favour for the time being until the next growth story comes into play and a 3rd casino is unlikely to be an option.
For the first time in 5 years, USDSGD at 1.40 has become a potential reality and investing in Singapore has become a tough, although not impossible, sell.
By all means, look abroad and bank on India or Indonesia, if you like, or the next Alibaba from Africa, but celebrate the joie de vivre that 50 years have afforded us and the miracle of SG50. For the next big thing sometimes come from small beginnings, so don’t give up!
And a whimsical weekend to you too!