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My Response to David Pilling from the Financial Times

Screenshot 2015-04-11 15.41.30Screenshot 2015-04-11 15.43.24Screenshot 2015-04-11 15.45.48Screenshot 2015-04-11 16.10.36I have reproduced above  David Pilling’s article that I refer to in my last blog post “Perspiration without Inspiration. Singapore’s Role in the Asian Economic Boom.”

Below is the letter that I wrote to the FT in response and which they did not publish:

 26 February 2015

Letters Editor

The Financial Times

1 Southwark Bridge

London SE1 9HL

Dear Sir,

I refer to today’s article by David Pilling on Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy where several inaccuracies stand out

Pilling asserts that Singapore has a higher material standard of living than the UK, US and Norway. This is simply untrue. Even on GDP per capita, Norway’s is about twice Singapore’s. In any case, Singapore should be ranked against comparable cities and not countries. On the Brookings Global Metropolitan Monitor by comparison, which ranks cities by GDP per capita on a Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) basis, Singapore only comes 14th in the top 20 metropolitan areas. Macau is at the top and there are twelve North American cities above Singapore.

GDP per capita is also not a good measure. Singapore has a very high ratio of employed labour force to total population because almost 40% of the workforce are foreign workers. Singaporeans also work the longest hours of any developed country. On a GDP per hour worked we rank near the bottom of the OECD countries at a level that is only about 60% of the US.

Our distribution of income is also one of the most unequal in the world with a Gini coefficient of 46.3, significantly higher than the US and other developed countries. A UBS survey in 2011 found the purchasing power of Singapore’s workers’ wages to be well below that of many other Asian cities and around the same level as workers in Kuala Lumpur or Moscow.

Incomprehensibly, Pilling talks about LKY’s achievement “in conjuring a prosperous city state from an unpromising history and geography”. The Straits of Malacca have always been at the intersection of major global trade routes. As early as the 16th century the Portuguese said “Whoever is Lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.” In 2011 one-quarter of the world’s traded goods or about 35% of the world’s container trade and the major part of the Asian oil trade passed though the Malacca Straits. Historically It was Stamford Raffles not Lee Kuan Yew who spotted Singapore’s potential as the best harbour in the region and long before 1960 we were one of the top three busiest ports in the world.

Yours sincerely,

Kenneth Jeyaretnam

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