“The challenge with globalisation,” argues Ravi Menon — currently Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore — is not its overall effects but its distributional ones. “There are almost always some who lose,” he points out in an interview published in this issue of ETHOS. That the survival and success of Singapore depends on our economic vitality and relevance to world markets remains a given. The question is how best to improve the lot of those who are less able to benefit from the particular activities that sustain Singapore — a concern, Menon suggests, that has always been at the core of public policy.
The matter appears far from settled. As the world’s economies continue to struggle through the tumult of financial crisis, the adequacy of venerable social structures and long-held values are being called into question. A more diverse socioeconomic and demographic landscape and other rapidly evolving market realities could place fresh strain on Singapore’s cornerstone tripartite partnership between labour, government and business as well as on current provisions for healthcare and wages. Even Denmark — long considered a bastion of inclusive national development — has had to reflect on its basic social institutions, seeking to strengthen those that confer “whole-of-society” competitive advantages.
Some observers believe that Singapore needs to bolster its own institutions for consensus building and public engagement (a theme explored in the Oct 2011 issue of ETHOS), as a way to reduce blindspots in policymaking, and to galvanise broader participation in pursuit of shared public outcomes such as inclusive growth. Associate Professor Kenneth Paul Tan believes that recent efforts to foster greater engagement between the Government and the public have fallen short of expectations. He attributes this to ingrained assumptions and structural biases that have to be overcome before a more constructive relationship can develop. Management consultant and former civil servant Chng Hak-Peng outlines strategies which the private sector has found productive in trying to harness the enthusiasm — and even criticism — of their stakeholders. Centre for Governance and Leadership researcher Vernie Oliveiro suggests ways in which the Government could make the most of the complex and diverse decisionmaking ecology in which public policy now operates. In a similar vein, Premarani Somasundram argues that it no longer suffices for states to conduct diplomacy behind closed doors: the reception of foreign publics is now a factor in achieving national goals, even as the line between domestic and foreign policy continues to blur in an interconnected world.
That skews and limitations are inherent in human cognition and decision-making is a central theme of behavioural economics — a recent volume points out how insights from this relatively new discipline have informed policy design in Singapore. Another recent book, by University of Michigan scholar Aneel Karnani, calls into question the efficacy of prevailing strategies to fight poverty — including the notion that economic growth will readily trickle down to the poor. Instead, he advocates active government intervention to ensure that key services remain accessible to the poor, even as the public, private and civil sectors collaborate to address critical gaps in the market.
There are no ready-made solutions to the dilemma of globalisation, even if the contours of the challenges ahead have become better and more widely known, and hence more broadly contested. A pragmatic rather than dogmatic approach to policy should remain the gold standard in governance for some time to come, even if it could demand greater reserves of ingenuity, flexibility, compassion, and patience in the years ahead.
We have revised the visual presentation of ETHOS from this issue onwards, to provide a more attractive and effective layout, with better use of infographics, textual highlights, illustrations, and related information.
I hope you will find ETHOS an even better read, and look forward to any comments or suggestions you might have for the new format, or our editorial content.