Economic Society of Singapore

The Singapore Economy: Confronting Challenges Anew

Economic Society of Singapore Annual Dinner 2013
In conjunction with the 5th Singapore Economic Review Conference 

“The Singapore Economy: Confronting Challenges Anew”

 

 

With Singapore’s Education Minister Heng Swee Keat as Guest-of-Honor and Speaker, the event held on August 6th, 2013, was attended by over 500 key policymakers, businessmen, bankers, professionals, academics and ESS members.

 

 

Opening Remarks by Professor Euston Quah, ESS, President
Please click here to download the Opening Remarks

 

Speech by Minister Heng Swee Keat
Please click here to download the speech

 

During this event, Mr. Heng said, “There must be implicit mutual trust between the public and its leaders and government, and the inclination for the public to support each other as a community and make personal sacrifices for the mutual good.” Apart from pursuing inclusive growth, Mr. Heng stressed building and maintaining strong macro-economic fundamentals and undertaking “pro-active restructuring” were essential in the face of “structural and cyclical challenges” both externally and domestically. On the perennial debate about “apparent tension” between growth and equity, he argued these are but “two sides of the same coin.”

“Growth needs equity, and equity needs growth. Left on its own, unfettered growth in a market economy can exact harsh penalties on so-called losers and can produce excessive inequality leading eventually to social breakdown,” said Mr. Heng, pointing out this happened in Brazil and Spain. He also cited Greece, where lack of growth resulted in under-funded social infrastructure.

In Singapore, the government has “historically come down on the side of both” with investments in housing, education and healthcare, not just improving the lot of Singaporeans but also supporting economic activities. He said, “Take housing, for instance. At the take off stage of any developing economy, property appreciates rapidly in value… We are one of the few, if not the only, country in the world where the wealth of a growing economy was widely shared among citizens from the beginning.”

Mr. Heng reiterated that at the core of inclusive growth was creating quality jobs as “the only sustainable way to grow the middle class.” He further emphasized, “What our children want to be in the future is very different from what we aspired to be when we were younger. As we constantly re-invent Singapore to make ourselves relevant to the global marketplace, we should create diverse career options for Singaporeans. In other words, our best social policy is a sound economic policy that creates opportunities in the labour market and in our education system.”

Externally, among the changes Singapore needs to respond to include China’s growing middle class, which potentially opens up diverse opportunities for economies in the region, the robust domestic demand from ASEAN countries, and Japan’s re-engagement with the region. “We have to deepen our linkages with the region and the world and position ourselves as the Global-Asia node. We can further expand services exports, particularly in sophisticated financial and business services,” he concluded.

 

Question and Answer Session
Moderator: Mr. Manu Bhaskaran, Vice President, Economic Society of Singapore

 

During a question-and-answer session, Mr Heng returned to the issue of trust in response to an audience member who cited studies indicating that where trust in public institutions is high, social trust is low.

 

Mr Heng pointed to the low crime rates here, which he believed was achieved, not by the deterrence of severe penalties, but by Singaporeans who cared for one another. He also pointed out that the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) project has progressed to forging understanding and trust between Singaporeans. On the OSC project, Mr Heng also noted many participants spoke about excessive stress in the education system.

 

While his ministry is looking at ways to address this, he warned, “We must guard against swinging to the other extreme. It must still be part of our Singaporean psyche to want to pursue excellence. This pursuit of excellence must be matched by a deep sense of care and responsibility towards others.” [TODAYS, 7 August 2013]

 

 

Winners of the MAS-ESS Essay Competition1st Prize: Rebecca Tan
2nd Prize: Chiu Chao Hao and Kenny Ng Jia Wei
3rd Prize: Sim Yuan An and Liew Kar Hui