The Myth of Singapore's Lack of Resources
By The Legal Janitor on 09 Jul 2006 7:24 PM
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Anyone of my generation would recall the copious amounts of indoctrination being applied upon us in school. There is this particular piece of Malthusian absurdity which I would like to debunk today. It is called

"Singapore has no natural resources, and the only thing we have is people, therefore we must make full use of our human resource"
Some think that this is to justify treating human beings like numbers on a balance book. To me, the greater evil that this piece of propaganda has inflicted upon Singaporeans is the creation of a mistrust of capitalism, and an addictive reliance on government meddling in our everyday lives. It is time we discarded that myth that we lack natural resources, and realise that Singapore has never lacked natural resources. The fact is that throughout human history, there has ever only been one natural resource, and that is human ingenuity and creativity.

A lump of iron ore is just a thing lying in the ground. Without human hands to shape it, without human intelligence and ingenuity to put that iron to use, a lump of iron ore has no meaning, no purpose and no use. Crude oil pumped from the ground is just black goo. Prior to the invention of machines that use petroluem as fuel, crude oil had absolutely no value whatsoever, was not considered a "resource". The only reason why things in the ground and sea can be extracted, and refined, moulded and manipulated into things of value, is because humans have exercised their ingenuity and creativity into thinking up these processes.

Furthermore, evidence from economic history hardly justifies the idea that possessing mineral resources correlates with economic prosperity. A popular term for this phenomena amongst economists is "resource curse". A clear distinction must be made here: the assertion is not that all countries possessing mineral resources must be poor. Rather, it is those countries in which mineral resources have been wholly controlled and owned by the State which have remained poor, corrupt and inefficient. This contrast is neatly evidenced by comparing countries in sub-Saharan Africa with United States and Australia (the ownership of minerals discovered under the ground in Australia is generally vested in the Crown/the government, but the license permits to mine and exploit the minerals are awarded to independent commercial entities e.g. Rio Tinto or BHP Billiton).

In fact, I would argue that the primary reason why Singapore has prospered, is precisely because we do not have mineral resources. Given the command and control tendencies of the powers that be, Singapore is truly lucky and blessed that we are free from this resource curse. However, the way in which our natural human ingenuity has been managed certainly leaves much to be desired. Of course, by the metrics of test scores and international prizes, a small segment of our population has done well, but by the more amorphous measure of creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and wealth-creation, we have much less success to boast about.

The question is, given that we have ample amounts of the ONLY real natural resource numbers of people, which is the basis of the only real natural resource, why have we not fared better. The answer lies right in the beginning of this post: because we have all been grouped collectively into this thing called "human resource". The powers that be are trapped within a Malthusian mindset, and imprisoned by a deficient understanding of the origins of wealth. By managing people as numbers on a balance book, and using their control of the education system to value certain spheres of knowledge over others, they have distorted the free will that drives market processes, and have suppressed the one thing that makes "human resource" truly valuable: our natural human ingenuity.

This article has been cross-posted on The Legal Janitor.

Economic Growth, by Paul M. Romer: The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics: Library of Economics and Liberty
Natural Resources, by William J. Baumol and Sue Anne Batey Blackman: The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics: Library of Economics and Liberty
Julian Lincoln Simon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Growing Abundance of Natural Resources
Resource curse - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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688 words | Categories: Culture, Economy

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