There has been great emphasis on what is ailing Singapore's economy in the past several months. Much of it has centred around the declining productivity of our workforce.
Professor Huang Yasheng from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) weighed in on this issue when he was recently invited to deliver a lecture at the Civil Service College here. In his presentation, Professor Huang gave his insights on how Singapore can go about tackling the productivity problem (see report below).
A professor of political economy and international management, the MIT don has written extensively on the Chinese economy and he also runs a programme at the Institute to train entrepreneurs in management.
In his address Professor Huang made the point that the top-down approach of running the economy in Singapore through GLCs was causing much of the lag in productivity in our economy.
This was because GLCs are largely staffed and led by civil service technocrats who lack the entrepreneurial and innovative drive seen in the private sector.
Much of what Professor Huang said confirms what Dr Chee Soon Juan has been saying all these years in his various books.
Prof Huang: The new game is not about high averages, but outliers. Nor is it about size, but nimbleness. "This idea that size gives you advantage is an extraordinarily strange view. Was Microsoft a big company in 1975? Was Google a big company in 1998?"
Dr Chee: In the US, it is the smaller companies that are more nimble and able to adapt to changes in technology. IBM, the once mighty giant in the industry, is now struggling to keep up with smaller companies like Microsoft and Apple. (Dare To Change, 1994)
Prof Huang: But growing up in the big shadow of state intervention has dwarfed the entrepreneurial culture here. The 'orderly' environment here dulls the incentive to think out of the box. Everything is very well organised. Entrepreneurship typically happens in a more chaotic environment.
Dr Chee: Such a system inevitably produces workers who may perform competently when society is well organised and structured but when spontaneity and creativity is of the essence, find it difficult to exercise an independent unfettered...Conformity has come second nature to the people. (Your Future, My faith, Our Freedom, 2001)
Prof Huang: Even Singapore's top-down education system gets in the way. "While producing excellent maths scores, it is not producing diversity in ideas and unconventional ways of solving problems."
Dr Chee: ...Singapore's educational system has emphasized rote learning and has graded students almost entirely on their perfomance in their year-end examinations...this form of schooling deprives society of entrepreneurial minds, resulting in the school curricular. (Dare To Change, 1994)
Prof Huang: The private sector is the best way to grow the economy. It has the most productive, most innovative and entrepreneurial culture. The state-owned enterprise system doesn't give you that.'
Dr Chee: With world markets becoming more diverse and integrative, private enterprises are better poised to capitalise on business opportunities than state-controlled companies. (A Nation Cheated, 2007)
It seems that the PAP Government simply refuses to make the necessary reforms to ensure that our economy develops in a sustainable way that benefits all segments of society, not just the clique that surrounds it.
But the problems are just beginning to surface and there is absolutely no indication that the ruling party is willing to make the hard but necessary decisions to steer our economy on to the right path. Such an approach will continue to be a drag on the nation's progress.
Also read: Time to rethink the Temasek model (Straits Times)