The Singapore creation myth (#mythology, #Singapore, #travel)


This caption stand from the National Museum of Singapore summarizes neatly a variety of causal myths explaining Singapore’s growth and modernization. Is Singapore one of the world’s first (or at least few) planned economy success stories?

It’s really tempting to think so. But then you start reading a little deeper. For example, take the government’s HDB, Housing Development Board. They acknowledge in the museum propaganda that they first built cheap flats for the citizens, then decades later began building them with more amenities and other considerations. Why? If they have such a beautiful modern vision, couldn’t they have seen peoples demand for convenience and modern appliances?

The answer is simple– they were constrained by scarcity, like all economic actors, and had to make tradeoffs based on their political evaluation of what would be pragmatic.

Now if that is a necessary reality even the Singapore government faced, why did they need to be building the housing? Why couldn’t this be left to the market like any other product or service? Why wouldn’t the profit motive work here to provide more and better housing?

Notice also how population growth is concerned a problem from the standpoint of managing employment rates. Why? More people means more labor supply. It means more projects can be carried out, allowing for a greater division of labor and therefore more real wealth. It’s only a problem from the standpoint of a central planner trying to “balance” various political-economic goals that are competing for scarce resources.

This is the creation myth of modern Singapore– that somehow the government was responsible for Singapore’s economic success as a singular cause.

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