You can read the full report here :[Link].
The ESC was tasked to look for strategies for "sustained economic growth". I thought the overaching goal should be to improve the economic well being of the vast majority of Singaporeans thereby raising their quality of life. While the 2 goals are not mutually exclusive, going for "growth" may not lead to any improvement in the quality of life - we saw that in the past decade when GDP growth was strong but a large segment of the populace did not enjoy the benefit of this growth.
If the ESC had been given what I see as the correct goal, the next step would be to study and understand the key economic problems faced by Singaporeans:
- Highest level of income inequality in the developed world.
- High cost of living.
- Structural unemployment and underemployment.
- Inability of a large number of workers to retire despite working the most number of hours in the world.
Without identifying the causes of the above problems, how do we know that we are not embarking on strategies that will worsen these problems? By focussing on growth rather than the economic well being of Singaporeans, the biggest economic challenges faced by ordinary Singaporeans may go unsolved in the coming decade. Singaporeans already have the 2nd highest stress level in the world[Link] and work the longest hours in the world according the last ILO Global Wages Report[Link] yet the burden of sustaining this economic growth again put on the shoulders of Singapore workers to retrain and be more productive (otherwise the ESC report says we will need more foreign workers!). Why not find strategies to reduce the cost of living so that Singaporeans are able to better compete in the global economy?
The ESC did not suggest any fundamental change to Singapore's export oriented model of growth so Singapore will again be depending on external demand which we have no control over. We had 3 sharp recessions in the past 12 years (Asian Crisis, post dot.com + 911+ SARS, subprime crisis) and before each of these crisis with had bubbles (Golden Age + Golden Period predictions) followed by a sharp painful declines. Despite the volatile nature of our economy, we don't have safety nets in place - no minimum wages, no unemployment insurance, no free public healthcare etc. and the increasing income gap causes a larger and larger segment of our population to be economically vulnerable to poverty and other downsides of this economic model.
The ESC composed mainly of ministers and business leaders with its pro-business goal recommended pro-business strategies that did not put ordinary Singaporeans and the problems faced by ordinary Singaporeans at the center of these strategies. We see the same old ideas rehashed because they are the same old strategies - strategies in which Singapore Inc rather than the interests of ordinary Singaporeans comes 1st. It is no different from the past 10 years and will lead to results for Singaporeans no better than what we have seen in the recent past.