Monday, 20 September 2010

Continuing to save Singapore from Singaporeans - and Singaporeans from themselves

Barring the occasional flood on Orchard Road, Singapore is a well functioning city. The credit for the country's development must be shared between the country's obedient, hard working citizens and the efficient governments which have ruled the city-state since independence.
Having achieved First World status, contemporary Singaporeans have different aspirations from the previous generation. Specifically, Singapore's 'adulthood' adds greater impetus to the debate about a patriarchal state and the extent to which Singaporeans must be 'saved from themselves.'
Today's Singaporeans are better educated and wealthier than most people on this planet. As such, Singaporeans are arguably well equipped to tackle thorny social issues.
Surely, like any national government, Singapore's leaders must play a guiding role.
Take cigarettes; if governments' do not discourage the smoking habit the number of smokers would certainly be much higher. Or wearing seat belts and motorcycle helmets; both are mandated by law to save humans from their 'Death Instinct.'
Bread and butter issues like investing Central Provident Fund (CPF) moneys also come into play. Should individuals be encouraged to invest (their own) CPF cash into high risk mutual funds or equities in an attempt to keep pace with inflation or are such investments a recipe for retirement misery? Individual investors generally have a terrible investing track record and tend to purchase at market tops and sell at market lows.

The question takes on a slightly different tone when applied to seemingly mundane issues such as complimentary buses for Singaporean heartlanders to local casinos. Do citizens who comply with the law by paying the entry fee have the unhindered right to gamble away their hard earned cash (and generate employment for other Singaporeans)? Is the government right to restrict such inducements?
The subject becomes even more acute when a local university, Nanyang Technological University, drops 101 places following 'greater weight on research influence and teaching quality.'
Many suggest the real reason for the drop in rankings is the lack of academic freedom and teaching methods which possibly shy away from debating thorny subjects. Similar reservations were expressed by some Yale University academics about Yale's tie-up with the National University of Singapore (NUS) in order to establish a liberal arts college in the Republic. Perhaps that's why the liberal arts degrees will be issued by NUS and not Yale, despite the fact that the college will bear Yale's name.

Although Singapore's straight laced system served the city-state well historically, a newer and more open Singapore is being shaped by the next generation. Undoubtedly, the society's inherent social conservatism will remain a powerful force.
Even so, many current 'sacrosanct' beliefs will be sacrificed along the way. Especially when one considers that most Singaporeans polled in the 1990s would have laughed at the idea of Singapore becoming a thriving gambling hub in 2010!

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