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What exactly is the Singapore core?

One of the main discussion points in the last month or so has been the topic of jobs or more accurately the good paying jobs that are going to people other than the local graduates. It goes without saying that this topic has raised passions and the government has been caught between a rock and a hard place. So, as anyone tracking Singapore’s media will notice, there have been a lot of noise in the mainstream media about how we can’t afford to shut ourselves to the outside world but at the same time the government will always preserve the “Singapore Core.”

While it’s good to see the government talking about preserving jobs for the local population, I believe that there is a bigger issue at stake, namely the fact that Singapore’s business model is stuck in the 1960s and while the talk about a “Singapore Core” may make an attractive soundbite, it’s never been actually defined.

On the superficial level, the talk of a Singapore Core simply means that local Singaporeans will get priority in looking for jobs. While the intention of the powers-that-be is to placate the population, one should ask why this discussion is even necessary in the first place.

In most places, its assumed that all things being equal, it’s the natives who have the upper hand in looking for employment. There’s no magic explanation for this. It’s simply easier to higher the guy who doesn’t require you to spend hours on end in an immigration office to fill out paper work to ensure he’s allowed to stay and work in the country.

Yet, the experiences of the local population don’t seem to reflect what should be obvious. The sentiment on the ground is such that expats who once felt like a treasured part of the community are now being made to feel like they are less than valued and one has to look what is the underlying issue.

In the age of unthinking populism, the answer has been that there are too many foreigners in Singapore “stealing” jobs from the local population and to placate the voting segment of the population, the government has started making hiring people from elsewhere a little less easy.

Unfortunately, I believe that the issue at stake is not one of immigration. Rather, it is one of economic structure. In many ways, Singapore is the Playboy centerfold for Western Economist. Unlike the rest of the post-colonial world, we embraced our colonial past and welcomed Western and Japanese multinationals.

In fairness, this strategy worked brilliantly. Singapore developed rapidly, and our people got used to working at “world-class” standards. A growing portion of young and bright people were recruited to work in world-class companies and were well paid for it.

However, there was never really was a “Singapore Core.” Our bright young things understood that the boss would ultimately be a Western or Japanese expatriate who had the vital task of supporting our economy by paying overpriced rents, drinking overpriced alcohol and patronizing overpriced prostitutes. We were not encouraged to venture out of Singapore (stay with family, don’t be a quitter and so on) and we were told by our Founding Father himself that Singapore simply didn’t have the economies of scale to produce anything world class.

In any other country, a “Core” essentially means the engine of wealth creation, which in most cases involved Small and Medium Enterprises. In the USA, there are several American cores, of which Silicon Valley is the most prominent. The “American Hero” is a kid who has a bright idea and succeeds in getting it off the ground. In Germany the “German Core” is the Mittelstand, or the small and medium enterprises that specializes in supplying small but crucial components to industries (in F&B, we think of the Rationale Combi-Ovens).

As far as Singapore’s government is concerned, this “Singapore Core” never really existed, which is unfortunate in as much as SME enterprises still employ the majority of people. As far as the Singapore Government is concerned, the sector that should be the “Singapore Core” is nothing more than an inconvenience that soaks up the best and brightest who don’t get hired by the multinationals or government linked companies. Let’s not forget that the closest that Singapore has ever gotten to a “Singapore Hero” was Sim Wong Hoo of Creative Technologies couldn’t raise funds in Singapore.

There is recognition that something has to be changed. There are noises being made about how we need to support home grown SME enterprises, particularly in the technology sector. However, as Covid-19 showed us, too many sectors still rely on good old-fashioned stuff. Any suggestion that foreign workers be housed in something other than a rat’s nest is met with resistance from the construction industry as cost increasing. Suggest that you can work from a caffe without going into the office and the real-estate industry gets on the defensive paying for editorials to remind us of the fun we have in the office.

We are not going to have a “Singapore Core” if we cling onto old fashioned economic models because too many of the “right” people have a stake in the status quo. If anything, we shouldn’t worry about not having a “Singapore Core” if we persist in holding onto these notions -there may not be a Singapore worth speaking about….

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be

 

 

 

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12 Responses to “What exactly is the Singapore core?”

  • xoxo:

    Dont say i leber said.
    Sinkapor CORE at workplaces has MORE NON-sgs nowadays?

    Are PRs same as SINGAPOREANS?
    IF NOT,why lump PRs with SGS under *LOCALS*?

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  • TUMASIK Patriot:

    A Singapore CORE is when you dissect an Apple and find the seeds to Plant…

    any other Core is Rotten since it is SEEDLESS and No Planting is NEEDED…

    Just Buy it Eat it and Throw it away…and go Laughing to the Bank…

    As for the TRU-CORE??? I don’t KNOW leh!!! Take a Bite and find out for yourself if the Apple has seeds or seedless…

    The Top buy seedless and the bottom have to live with the seed and the agony of having seeds…

    LEEgalise ABORTION and Remove the seeded apples and BUY seedless ONES!!!

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  • A lie is a lie is a lie:

    Theyve been lying to us for decades.
    Dont you all get it?
    A sg core?
    Yet they keep flooding our tiny country with all manner if aliens.
    Stop believing their daily bullshitting !

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  • PAP CLOSE DOWN:

    Spore core = Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian?

    Don’t blame foreigners, the govt and employers allowed foreigners to work here.

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  • Tulan:

    Stop referring to LKY as founding father!

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  • The core is:

    The core is ….i think actually finance. The rest side kicks .

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  • Harder Truths:

    Tang Li

    Your definition of ‘core’ is not referring to the citizens themselves, but the machinery that supports your definition of production and capitalism. By your definition the FT is a core producer. In fact, extending this definition, they are they real core f $G at this point in time.

    You then claim that we should adopt this definition of yours to ‘save’ $inkapore from bad times. In other words, accept the FT as our masters and our saviours.

    Well, 61% agree with you, but then you seem to be on th ewrong forum if so. Plus, you have been reading too much of the Old Dead Despot’s work.

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  • The core is:

    The core is ….i think actually finance and property. The rest side kicks .

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  • PAP mandate strong:

    Mr Tang,
    Business ; there will be success and failure. Up and downs and restructuring. Cannot be a smooth ride all the way.

    What about Malaysia ? Last time proton kick start by Dr M , close shop in the end.
    Then MAS airline also facing similar possible scenarios.

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  • PAP mandate strong:

    Space X before current success , how many rockets kaput , go up in smoke and flames ? Sure more than 10 ….

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  • blueview:

    The “Singapore Core.” – started from the pioneer generation that build up Singapore after the British and Malaysia have abandoned us.

    Both the British and Malaysia deeply and genuinely felt that there is no way Singapore can survive..TOTALLY NO WAY. They assumed Singapore will return to being the trading port & fishing village & native Singaporeans will just live poor. It is also assumed that the immigrants from 1800s, 1900 to 1970s may decide to just pack their bags and return to their original countries just like what the British did.

    PS: Native means people who have roots only in Singapore not in any other countries. So this group is mostly Malays.

    BUT, a miracle happened through the GOOD PAP governance and here we are as a developed, ultra, ultra, super RICH much loved tiny country.

    Now the Singapore Core is just the offsprings of the pioneer generation’s highly spirited fighters who totally loved Singapore regardless of whether they are natives or immigrants from the 1800s and early 1900s. These immigrants absolutely LOVED Singapore so much so they stayed back after the British and Malaysia have washed their hands off us. Stayed back to fight for Singapore’s survival and success. Many sacrifices were made which no foreigners can understand.

    My family’s generations are from the 1800s and early 1900s so I know steel-deep in my heart what the bl*ody the he*l “Singapore Core” means which today no foreigners, none, nada that we have today have it in their hearts as a rock solid, true, blue, heartfelt, genuine love for Singapore as what this SG core feels.

    So, there you go Tang Li – the definition and meaning of Singapore Core. It is not just 2 words but a whole multi-generational complex set of various emotions, sacrifices, love, honour and duty towards this tiny red dot which we call Singapore from the 4 races that build it. Go and analyse the various national songs, our pledges and national wordings we have come up with in the last 60 years. It’s all in there.

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  • blueview:

    Tang Li – you and everyone is enjoying Singapore today is because of what our pioneer generations and the subsequent generations did so please have a deeper understanding of Singapore.

    If Singapore wasn’t what is was today, would you have even lifted your ass to board onto an airplane and come here? The same for all the bl*ody Foreigners who are enjoying their bl*dy golden lives in Spore after stealing the Singapore Core lunches and dinners given away loosely and freely by the current sh*tty P*P.

    Be grateful and thankful!!!

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