By Chris Kuan
The journalist who use the phrase “sickman of Asia” on Singapore do not really know the term.
Every economy goes through peaks and troughs in cycles of growth and recession. Just because an economy is in the trough of slow growth or in recession does not mean that country is a “sickman”. To be a sickman, the woes of the economy must be long term and endemic with enough consequences that frayed society and political institutions. Even Japan cannot be accused of being the sickman of Asia despite two decades of slow growth and deflation.
Nevertheless, if we are indeed bothered by being considered as the “sickman of Asia”, my suggestion is to stop the vanity preening and assuming that there must be some kind of penis envy from other countries because we are number whatever up there in whatever rankings like PISA, most competitive country, most business friendly location etc, ad nauseam. The obsession is not only out of proportion but betrays a complete delusion of the path of economic development.
We have no god-given right to 6% plus growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) through every cycle of the nation’s history. Strong economic growth in the early phase sows the seeds of slower growth potential later as higher income growth exhausts the easiest and most obvious growth strategies.
We should be compared to the high-income countries of the Western hemisphere and Australasia, not to our low income neiighbours. Prof Tommy Koh’s article in the ST “Is Singapore the new sickman of Asia” provides the reason why calling Singapore that, is way off the mark.
Let us stop deluding ourselves and pine for the good old days of the economic catch-up phase.
3% is the long term growth potential, not 6% – it is the new normal as Mr. Tharman had said, even with the all rankings and advantages that Prof Koh wrote about that will stand us in good stead. It also means that slow growth and recessions will be more frequent – it comes with the territory of a high-income country. And most of all, 3% long-term growth potential will still mean that Singapore will continue to be wealthier just like Britain did and continue to long after she ceded her top position the late 19th century.
If the neighbours are catching up with their higher growth potential, we should be happy for them and glad for ourselves, and not think we continue to look down our noses at them.