As I wandered disapprovingly through the shiny modern streets of Singapore, I realised that my reaction was identical to when I was in KL just over a year ago when I was muttering about how soul-less it had all become and how much it had lost its way.
But my reaction has started to sit uncomfortably with me especially following the events of Myanmar. Sure there are things that can be improved such as a stronger social safety net, a lower Gini coefficient (singapore comes in around 45 or so) and a bit more liberalisation but given the history and cultural background of the region, Singapore’s mix of free market discipline and benign state paternalism may well be the most achievable template. The city is safe, orderly, prosperous and amazingly free from pollution and gridlock. From its statistics, its people are healthy, literate and have a low birthrate (a measure of middle class individualism and complacency).
Sure, Singapore with its shopping centres and plethora of global brands and franchises as well as a maturing market in niche high-culture activities is beginning to look and feel very much like an Asianised western city (ie imagine a sydney with 70 percent Asians and little crime) but I can’t help but think that is the inevitable trend of development. When people become free of war and grinding poverty, they invariably want what the west have and take for granted.
A few years ago, the idea of the entire world resembling singapore would have felt like a dystopia but now, I can think of fewer better outcomes.