by Brad Bowyer
In a recent article Joseph Nathan worried are we turning in to a metaphorical “Moulin Rouge” of Asia because of the breakdown of society, the loss of Confucian Values and less and less accountability being evidenced for our actions that is led by poor examples from the top?… but the way we are heading I think it could be worse than that.
The real Moulin Rouge opened in the Jardin de Paris on 6 October 1889 and its creator Joseph Oller had an aim to allow the very rich to come and ‘slum it’ in a fashionable district. There were champagne parties, exotic dancing, gambling and of course pleasures of the night where literally anything went with no accountability. People sometimes romanticise it but culturally it was hedonism on steroids and its only value was as a play place for the rich and famous.
There was also a Casino version of the Moulin Rouge in Las Vegas in the 1950’s that was initially successful as one of the first integrated resorts but folded quickly due to the rampant money laundering, skimming and other crimes that happened there. It was all about the money and the glitz and glamour could not save it.
Why do I bring both those other Moulin Rouges up?
Because if Singapore doesn’t reinvent itself in to something that the 21st Century and beyond needs we could end up as nothing more than a financial centre with a couple of, now expanding, casinos and a bucket load of restaurants, pubs and clubs for the rich to enjoy and play in but little else.
We now know access to much of our history has been limited and what we saw was rewritten for us and so we do nothing to maintain and build on our full and true 700 plus year cultural heritage and are stuck in the 1819,1965 politically expedient narrative.
Academia, public discourse and display are restricted to areas that support the prevailing story with many OB (Out-of-Bound) markers in place pushing a deification of the chosen and a conformity and limited point of view on to the richness and diversity that should be our true legacy.
While we build lots of glitz and glamour at the top end our Hawker Culture and food history as just one example falls away at the bottom beneath the weight of central kitchens, foreign food warmers/servers and a drive for centralised profits.
That centralisation drive extends to small businesses that continue to close under the weight of onerous rules and costs while we are economically dominated by Government-Linked Companies (GLCs), badly run by unqualified appointees rather than the best entrepreneurs and visionaries in our country because those people are from “outside” the system.
Although nominally the GLCs are in different business areas they follow the same pattern of investment, diversifying in to property, essential services of one kind or another in a captive local market with no competition and losing vast sums in poorly chosen overseas ventures where the real businessmen play. Sometimes we get lucky but more often than not they fail unless, as with Keppel, less than honourable practices keep them in the game.
And when we talk about SMART nation, innovation and creativity, we see little to none of it emerging from beneath a heavily biased education system and bureaucracy that massively favours one segment of the population and in reality only supports chosen members of it because power, control and a dynastic pecking order appear a higher priority than meritocratically supporting something new and original for the nation.
Under the shiny surface Singapore rots and with Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation Act (POFMA) it will only accelerate as we are cut off from our only escape in to the 21st century knowledge economy aside from getting up and going, which sadly many who can are likely to do.
First locally and then internationally effected tech companies, academic institutions, new media and all the trappings of “SMART” will withdraw and relocate where they are less likely to be “forced” in to the People’s Action Party’s way or stifled by other priorities than creating something new and better for all.
So with the death of small businesses, the dominance of deadweight GLCs and no innovation we will only have the over financialization and casinos left and we better pray they stay useful or, as has happened several times in its 700 year history, Singapore will once again recede in to a minor regional role and fade away while the rest of the world moves on.
We have a massive potential with the foundation that was built but instead of moving forward in an enlightened way for all we are being dragged back in to darkness to protect wealth and privilege of the few.
It may sound dramatic, but the signs and direction are there to see and so might that terrible future be if we don’t do anything to stop it.
This was first published on Mr Bowyer’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission