In Singapore, attitudes towards competition change

As any one who has emerged from the Singaporean education system would have been told, competition may be hard for the individual, but it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest and the greater good of the community. With foreigners moving onto Singapore’s shores to stimulate competition in local institutions, Singaporeans seem to be keen on chasing them away. It is really not anyone’s fault that foreigners are coming in. It has been the doing of the free market, where again, the fittest survive. Companies in Singapore are finding cheaper labour in the name of profit, so that Singapore can thrive economically in the global free market.

Why are Singaporeans beginning to look away from competition?

Competition has fueled the boons of the economy as early as the formative years of the nation. Singapore’s competitive electronics industry rose from dust. Through years of hard work by the toiling workers of this industry, it became a success that constitutes a large percent of the GDP even today.

In the past, people realized that hard work helped themselves. Today, people feel that less effort helps themselves instead. On an individual scale, our attitudes on competition appear to be changing. With expectations for standards of living and qualities of life rising at unprecedented paces, Singaporeans are expecting less for more. This trend is evident in forums both in the traditional and alternative media, where it is common to see requests for protectionalistic policies, which in this case, refers to policies that give them priorities over foreigners. On forums, for example, one netizen even prompted for non-citizens being exempted from ‘favoured’ industries like banking. And the possible reason behind the call for protectionistic measures? Singaporeans are beginning to see themselves as individuals instead of citizens, thereby thinking on the ‘individual’ scale. Because welcoming competition equates to welcoming hard work for themselves, perhaps as Singaporeans expect less for more, we are no longer welcoming competition. But then, ironically, some people don’t like competition because it makes them work harder and better.

The danger of shunning competition

While protectionalistic measures may shield us from competition, provide more rewards with less effort and indeed  raise standards of living, it constructs a surreal short-sighted image of success on the national scale. What affirmative actions do is that they disrupt the free markets of goods and labour, stifling competition and lowering the efficiencies of various industries. As other countries strive for greater economic competitiveness, we stagnate and fall behind the competition. A vicious negative feedback loop ensues, which slowly chips away our nation’s competitiveness on the global arena, making us less attractive for foreign investment. In other words, affirmative actions make us feel good and think that we’re moving forward, but in fact stagnate the progress of our country as a whole.

Yes, affirmative action may be a boon on the local scale, but it will be a cost on the national scale. Let’s draw the line between short term household interests and long term national interests. If we think ‘individual’, then affirmative actions are marvelous, but if we think ‘national’, then affirmative actions stagnate growth.

Mr Brian Tan, a director at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Singapore, lashed out rather insensitively at Singaporeans by generalizing that they are ‘lazy and weak’, pointing out that if the government introduces many protectionalistic measures in the private sector, then foreign companies wouldn’t want to move over to hire ‘lazy and weak’ Singaporeans, drawing furious rebuttals from netizens. As we come full circle, however, let’s strive to reflect and constantly improve ourselves.

But Singaporeans are not shunning competition altogether. While fighting for more rewards for less payback, we are aware that as we gain, someone, somewhere, and somehow, will lose. But what’s the matter, right? After all, in the words of British philosopher Bertrand Russell, isn’t life just a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim?

Meritocracy – Principles of governance (National Education Singapore)

Mr Brian Tan – Temasek Times


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