Lessons about dynamic change for Finland from Singapore

Your correspondent has worked in Singapore for a total of 4 years, during two stints 30 and 10 years ago. A recent brief revisit to Singapore has show  that the pace of development has not slowed, as this small country expands by reclaiming land and aggressively building offices, shops and homes for its residents and visitors.

New buildings have multiplied, many of which are 30 stories high. Several of the old landmarks have been renovated and redesigned. Well maintained parks, walkways through jungle areas and beautiful airy promenades along the river banks have all been built over the last 10 years, while the MTR metro system now reaches almost every corner of the city island.

The abundance of new high quality hotels is amazing. Landmark buildings such as Marina Bay Sands (pictured) still leave most people wondering how this can be accomplished anywhere in the world!

Affordable but high-class. Large swathes of affordable housing is made available to Singaporeans by the government’s Housing Development Board. Modern homes are available in apartment blocks at fair prices for ordinary folk, via leases which last 99 years. People must finance their home through savings as well as their personal pension funds, which the government run in a-cost efficient manner in the Central Provident Fund (CPF).

These buildings will almost certainly be renovated, or torn down and replaced with new ones after 30 to 40 years. The owners will be offered new homes with better and modern facilities, normally with some small extra funding. Locals grumble about moving, but they receive a clear quality improvement, along with good access to public transport, schools and healthcare.

Drop-outs not tolerated. All the above comes at a price – good basic services and affordable housing are provided in return for work and compliance with the rule of law in Singapore.

The social safety net is provided for the very young and the very old, but for the workers, present and future, there is an obligation to get an education and find work. The young are encouraged to study seriously at home and abroad, with generous scholarships available for those who really work hard. There is little or no support for those who choose to drop out and live off society.

Singapore has remained stable for decades and has adjusted to the self-imposed discipline that is expected of its residents. A few demand greater rights for a political opposition, but this remains muted because the majority lives rather comfortably.

Five lessons. The Singaporeans look at the Nordics taxpayers and draw their own conclusions:

  1. Have Nordic workers been forced to support the long-term unemployed or those folk who have decided to drop out of the job market and who make little effort to rejoin it?
  2. If you do not pay taxes, but are able to work, then does not that mean you expect others to give you a free ride?
  3. Have trade unions usurped democratic power and forced rigid labor constraints on the economy, thereby hi-jacking the economy and making it less dynamic than Singapore?
  4. Have the Nordics have been anaesthetized (put to sleep) by self-serving politicians? Men and women who should have known better, but, like the trade unions, are primarily interested in preserving their vested interests.
  5. Do wealthy business owners want to keep more the coins in their own pockets by buying favors, protection and legislation from the politicians?

Whatever your political inclination, Singapore offers a many interesting solutions that should be taken seriously for the future. Even after 100 years of independence, Finland lives in a global world and cannot just sit around and wait for gold coins to fall in our laps from the sky.

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