Is Singapore Insufficiently Tribalistic?


Commentary blogger and China Hawk Arthur Waldron writes:

I had a strong sense of trouble lurking beneath the surface when a Singaporean colleague recently wrote me about the growing numbers of Chinese from the People's Republic who are coming to Singapore. The reason: to fill jobs left vacant as native born Singaporeans continue to emigrate at what is perhaps the second highest rate in the world (an estimated 26.11 per thousand, second only to East Timor.)

This seems like a good time to revisit the United Nations fallacy–the idea that two or more political jurisdictions may be usefully compared along any dimension simply because those jurisdictions are each recognized as sovereign states. Singapore does, in fact, have a high emigration rate. Singapore is also the size of Chicago. Would it shock you to know that San Marino has a higher out-migration rate than Brazil?

And yet the comparison of utterly incomparable jurisdictions is not the silliest thing about this paragraph. PRC immigrants are not coming to "fill jobs" left vacant by footloose, disloyal Singaporeans. Singapore is a strong economy. It thus has the magical power to create new jobs, especially at the very top (engineers) and very bottom (domestic workers) of the spectrum. Singaporeans are becoming increasingly wealthy, the structure of consumer demand is changing, and native willingness to accept low-status jobs is steadily decreasing. Meanwhile, Singaporeans realize that the best universities in the world are outside the city-state, so they send their kids to schools abroad, where they often settle. The country has both a high emigration rate and one of the highest net migration rates in the world. Horrible, isn't it?

After relating a story about badly behaving Chinese immigrants in Singapore (which is itself over 70 percent Chinese, but is especially prejudiced against recent PRC immigrants), Waldron continues:

A looming internal problem would be solved, and a potential external disaster avoided, if that government would begin to democratize, and to allow its people to develop their talents–in Singapore, not abroad.

Let Singapore democratize, by all means, but it's completely bizarre to claim that the Singaporean government, which presides over one of the wealthiest societies in Asia, is preventing citizens from "developing their talents." Singapore is a cosmopolitan, educated society. Cosmopolitan, educated people are unlikely to cling to a single tiny plot of land for the entirety of their lives. If you have a quarrel with mobility, you have a quarrel with prosperity.

Hat Tip: Matt Zeitlin.