Writing for ST today (24 Jul), Dr Parag Khanna who is said to be a “leading global strategy advisor, world traveler, and best-selling author”, as well as the Founder & Managing Partner of his own advisory firm FutureMap, he argued that openness to talent is vital to Singapore’s ambition to become a Smart Nation.

That requires a more holistic view of immigration that recognises a shared patriotism between local and imported talent, he said.

In his article, he opined that even though Singapore’s students are world-beaters in math, science, reading and problem-solving, the number is insufficient to “staff all the roles Singapore plays as a global economic hub”.

“Singapore has always remained open to the most qualified professionals and should continue to attract those who contribute to its commercial strength, and invest in hiring, training and elevating Singaporeans,” he wrote.

However, he also noted that the move to slow down immigration in recent years has “damaged Singaporean businesses that depend on foreign labour”. He named businesses like hospitality, food and beverage, healthcare and others.

“Hotels need more cleaners, restaurants need more waiters, and hospitals need more doctors and nurses,” he added. “The service sector clearly cannot be automated by robots as quickly as portrayed in sci-fi movies.”

India set to overtake China in population size

He thinks that the next generation of Singaporeans should “reflect Asia’s changing economic and social complexion”.

In this regard, he said, “It has been an article of faith that Singapore has maintained a particular racial balance that is three-quarters Chinese.”

“But should this be an iron-clad principle adhered to rigidly or can there be alterations in the demographic mix?” he asked.

“After all, of Asia’s nearly 5 billion residents, 3.5 billion are not Chinese, with India alone set to overtake China in population size in the coming decade and most Asian countries having younger median age population as well.”

While acknowledging that Singapore “will continue to be majority-Chinese long into the future”, Dr Khanna advocates that Singapore should be allowed to “grow in the other directions shaping Asia’s future”.

He also argued for a flexible entrepreneur visa programme that gives foreigners 4 to 5 years to establish themselves in Singapore. The programme could also be a “pathway to permanent residency and citizenship”, he said.

Dr Khanna: Singapore can fit 8 million people or more by 2030

Dr Khanna is no stranger to controversy. In Nov 2013, right after the public protest against the 6.9 million Population White Paper erupted, he spoke at the Straits Times Global Outlook Forum telling everyone that Singapore can, in fact, fit 8 million or more people by 2030.

“There is a much more physically devolved Singapore in which the towns play a much stronger role, in which there’s much more local economic activity and vibrancy, in which everyone is not cramping down into Orchard or CBD every single day. And that Singapore can most certainly accommodate a couple million more people.”

And in a follow-up interview the next month in Dec 2013, he continued to advocate having a population of 8 million or more in Singapore. His point, he said, was that “the Singapore of 2030 is not the same as the Singapore of today”.

“It’s not the same technologically, culturally, demographically. So people who revolt at the number, they’re not taking into account these changes, and the broader strategic economic context of a very open economy in a competitive world,” he said.

Looking at the Government’s future plans, Singapore will be highly decentralised, with people working in the same place they live, rather than travelling downtown. He cited the future development of Tampines, Jurong West and Woodlands as examples. “It is a city that could accommodate more people without congestion, if it’s done right,” he said.

At the time, many netizens, understandably, were unhappy with his proposal of 8 million or more, and attacked him online. He merely replied that some people “are not learning from these conversations”. “They need to care more and debate more, and not attack more every time they hear a number like eight million,” he said.

When the journalist pointed out that the Government was addressing public unhappiness about the 6.9 million figure, Dr Khanna replied, “That was their (Govt’s) mistake. I have no sympathy for that.”

While he strongly believes in public consultation, “I do not believe that it’s the job of a government to perpetually react to whatever (public’s) sentiments and whims that are emerging and then be handicapped in making strategy by those whims”.

“Governments which do that (will) fail,” he added.

Over-rated thinker

On his personal website, Dr Khanna listed himself as the Founder & Managing Partner of FutureMap, a data and scenario based strategic advisory firm. He described himself as “the international bestselling author of six books, has traveled to most of the countries of the world, and holds a PhD from the London School of Economics”.

However, The New Republic founded in 1914 as a journal of opinion which champions progressive ideas and challenges popular opinion, considers Dr Khanna as one of the most “over-rated thinkers”. This is what it said about Dr Khanna:

Parag Khanna’s online bio is the Platonic ideal of puffed-up nonsense. Khanna is described as a “leading geo-strategist,” “an accomplished adventurer,” and “an active and advanced tennis player.”

We further learn that he speaks five foreign languages, has traveled in more than 100 countries, and “has climbed numerous 20,000-foot plus peaks.” What’s more, he’s “a frequent speaker at international conferences” who briefs “corporations on global trends, systemic risks and emerging market strategies.” He has hosted an MTV show, was the first video blogger at ForeignPolicy.com, and directs something called the “Hybrid Reality Institute.”

His recent book is actually called How to Run the World. It is a self-congratulatory anthology of clichés and platitudes—the life of the mind, Davos-style.”

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