It is true that Singapore's leadership has benefited from the island's small size and population. Surely, it is easier to develop a small republic which can be easily controlled and policed.
However, there is more to the story than just size.
In an interesting article entitled, "Jamaica vs. Singapore" Josh Lerner points out the different paths taken by the two countries. Mr. Lerner is a professor of Investment Banking at Harvard Business School.
Comparing Singapore with Jamaica makes sense for many reasons. Both are small countries. Both had populations below five million at independence in 1962 (Jamaica) and 1965 (Singapore). The per capita incomes for Jamaica and Singapore were also similar at independence, USD 2,850 and USD 2,650 respectively.
A few other factors are mentioned by the author.
Both nations had a centrally located port, a tradition of British colonial rule, and governments with a strong capitalist orientation. (Jamaica, in addition, had plentiful natural resources and a robust tourist industry.)
In 2009, the disparities in wealth and standard of living are glaring. Singapore's per capita income is USD 56,000 while Jamaica's stands at USD 9,000. One can cite many other statistics to demonstrate the contrast between the two nations today.
The reasons for the divergent growth rates are many. The author suggests that Singapore's emphasis on education, heavy investment in infrastructure, an open and corruption free economy are key to Singapore's success.
Undoubtedly, all of the above played a part.
The rule of law and the resulting security of capital also played a pivotal role. Capital is a coward. It travels where it feels least afraid. Within the region, Singapore provides the most security.
Many fault the ruling People's Actions Party for their often harsh and draconian approach to development. Yes, it's now time to take a lighter touch in many areas. However, it was necessary to lay a solid foundation in the first few decades after Singapore's independence.
These days 'true blue' Singaporeans complain about a foreign invasion. The reason for the invasion is straightforward. Within Singapore's 'catchment' area, the city affords the best overall quality of life. Therefore, it is a magnet for many of the three billion Chinese and Indian (and the odd Pakistani!) citizens.
Historians and economists can dissect Singapore's policy making initiatives in the decades to come. However, it's always hard to argue with success.
As for Jamaica, its lack of relative success may simply be due to Bob Marley, Rastafarians and the ganja culture. Who needs the '5 Cs' when life's mysteries can be solved by one puff of magical smoke – ask any believer in the Church of Jah?!
Had I a Harvard degree perhaps my speculative observations will be taken more seriously.