The S’pore takeaway for Uncle Sam

Dear Mr Matt Miller,

I refer to your Washington Post article that was published by Straits Times on 5 May 2012.

The table below shows that it is not just Singapore that offers a hassle free, clean airport experience; a number of East Asian airports offer the same excellent experience.

Airports Council International
Airport Service Quality Awards 2011
World Airport Awards 2012
1 Incheon 1 Incheon
2 Singapore 2 Singapore
3 Beijing 3 Hong Kong
4 Hong Kong 4 Amsterdam
5 Nagoya 5 Beijing

The following table shows that it is not just Singapore that has low healthcare expenditure. East Asia in general has low healthcare expenditures compared to the West.

Economy World Bank 2010 healthcare as % of GDP UN Population Division 2010 % population between 25 and 64
Singapore 4 59
Hong Kong [1] 6.3 62.5
Taiwan [2] 6.6 59.8
Republic of Korea 6.9 57.8
Luxembourg 7.8 54.5
Australia 8.7 51.5
Finland 9 51.5
Ireland 9.2 52.6
Norway 9.5 51.3
Japan 9.5 50.8
Italy 9.5 52.5
Spain 9.5 55
Sweden 9.6 49.2
United Kingdom 9.6 50.6
New Zealand 10.1 50.2
Belgium 10.7 51.4
Austria 11 52.9
Canada 11.3 53.9
Denmark 11.4 51.1
Switzerland 11.5 53.6
Germany 11.6 52.3
France 11.9 49.8
Netherlands 11.9 52.8
United States 17.9 51

Not only that, the table also shows that economies with low healthcare expenditure tend to have a higher proportion of population aged between 25 and 64. Regressing healthcare expenditure on population between 25 and 64 yields a coefficient of -0.49 and a p-value of 0.0009. This shows an almost certain negative relationship between healthcare expenditure and population between 25 and 64.

So part of the reason why Singapore or East Asian healthcare expenditure tends to be lower than those of Western societies is because our populations comprise a higher proportion aged between 25 and 64, which is the most economically active group. In the case of Singapore, this is unsurprising considering that 20% of our population are foreign workers who contribute more to GDP and less to healthcare expenditure since they have to be young and healthy in the first place to get a job here. The US too can easily lower its healthcare expenditure as a percentage of GDP by simply importing 20% or 60 million young, healthy and economically productive foreign workers.

Instead of looking at what Singapore has delivered for its five million people, we can also look at what its five million people has delivered for Singapore. The government hasn’t always taken the long term view; the recent grow-at-all-cost approach isn’t a long term view. Singaporeans deliver goodness despite benevolent dictatorship.

Singapore’s embrace of global firms was due to Dr Albert Winsemius, the Dutch economist sent by the United Nations to help us industrialise. If GDP growth is matched by population growth, there will be no improvement in GDP per person. That is why GDP growth itself is seldom used to compare countries. It is per capita GDP that is used instead. The following table shows that other East Asian economies registered more impressive growth in real per capita GDP over the last five decades.

Economy Growth real per capita GDP from 1960 to 2009 (ppp) [3]
Equatorial Guinea 8.80%
China Version 1 6.90%
Taiwan 6.40%
Botswana 6.20%
Republic Korea 5.90%
Hong Kong 5.70%
Singapore 5.50%
China Version 2 5.10%
Thailand 4.80%
Malaysia 4.70%

The plan Mr Philip Yeo said we have is Dr Winsemius’ plan. Even the globally admired EDB was set up in accordance to Dr Winsemius’ plans.

The following table shows that the Singapore government isn’t the cleanest:

Transparency International 2011 rankings
1 New Zealand
2 Denmark
3 Finland
4 Sweden
5 Singapore

Neither is it the most exceptional.

Tim Geithner wouldn’t have had the opportunity to handle the Global Financial crisis if he wasn’t talent. He shows that talents don’t need million dollar salaries. If Tim Geithner’s approach to Wall Street reform is to cash in when he leaves, he might as well leave now and cash in now.

The table below shows that the Singapore Airlines is not the best and that the best airlines tend to be East Asian:

Skytrax Best Airlines Award 2011
1 Qatar Airways
2 Singapore Airlines
3 Asiana Airlines
4 Cathay Pacific Airways
5 Thai Airways International

While our subways are gorgeous, the following table shows that our MRT isn’t always the best regarded and that our fellow East Asian economies have gorgeous subways too.

Year Best Metro Asia Pacific Best Metro
2011 Seoul Metro London Underground
2010 Singapore SMRT Copenhagen Metro
2009 Singapore SMRT Singapore SMRT
2008 Hong Kong MTR Copenhagen Metro

Furthermore, our trains are squeezy and break down easily nowadays so much so that MRT is now facing a public inquiry. Electronic Road Pricing is described by some as paying to get caught in a jam. Digital signs are a waste of tax payer’s money.

Singapore public housing is pricier than American private housing and should therefore be compared to American private housing instead. Virtual home ownership means Singaporeans don’t really own their homes but are merely leasing them from HDB for 99 years. High home ‘ownership’ also means high level of indebtedness and the emptying of our CPF retirement money to pay for housing. In recent years, rise in home prices have far outstripped government mortgage assistance.

The Marina Bay feat of engineering is really the work of external consultants and foreign expertise, as long as we can afford to pay the price.

Founding isn’t the right word to describe the legacies LKY and his colleagues, for Singapore was already prospering long before they arrived on the scene. Behind the so-called ‘giants of independence’ stood even greater giants who are collectively our Singapore pioneers.

It is not just Singapore that has huge surpluses; East Asian economies tend to have good surpluses too.

Country IMF average per capita current account surplus from 1980 to 2010 (US$)
Brunei Darussalam 7,138
Luxembourg 5,959
Qatar 3,460
Kuwait 3,415
Norway 3,344
Switzerland 2,913
Singapore 2,495
United Arab Emirates 1,609
Netherlands 1,214
Sweden 1,011
Hong Kong SAR 988
Libya 924
Trinidad and Tobago 789
Japan 780
Taiwan Province of China 630

Singapore’s exceptional performance need not necessarily be attributable to our government’s exceptional performance. Thus far, all that Singapore excelled in, our fellow East Asian Tiger economies have excelled in as well. Singapore is no more exceptional than what you’d expect of East Asian economies. There is no evidence that our government has significantly improved our lives beyond what could be achieved by East Asia.

It’s fashionable but ultimately wrong to say that Singapore catapulted from Third World to First. Singapore had already attained a middle income status in 1960 with a per capita GDP of $1,330 [4]. Post-war Singapore was never a backward fishing village waiting to be transformed by Lee Kuan Yew into a modern economy. The King of Thailand wouldn’t have sent 20 of his sons to a fishing village for education in the late nineteenth century. A fishing village could not have staged a manned air flight as early as 1911. Singapore was credited with the finest airport in the British Empire in the 1930s. LKY had already acknowledged in an Aug 1967 speech to American businessmen in Chicago that we were already a metropolis [5].

[1] Hong Kong 2010 healthcare expenditure as percentage of GDP obtained from Economist Intelligence Unit report “Side effects – Challenges facing healthcare in Asia” page 7

Hong Kong 2010 percentage population above 65 obtained from Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department

[2] Taiwan 2010 healthcare expenditure as percentage of GDP obtained from Taiwan Today, “Ma pledges increased health care spending”, 20 Jan 2012

Taiwan 2010 percentage population above 65 obtained from National Taiwan statistics website

[3] University of Pennsylvania Centre for International Comparisons

[4] Carl A. Trocki, Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control, Page 166

[5] Peter Wilson / Gavin Peebles, Economic growth and development in Singapore: past and future, Page 26


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