Dateline: Singapore

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My wife Susanna and I are in the middle of a two week visit to Singapore.  This is an unusually long and delightfully leisurely visit compared with most of my overseas trips.  Because our youngest daughter lives and works here, we’ve come to see and experience her world as well as to share the creation care message in two conferences this week – which is why I’ve been able to experience and explore the city in a more relaxed manner than is usually possible.  These are some of my impressions after five days here – anecdotal, to be sure, but still valuable, I think.

In many ways, this island city-state is everybody’s dream location.  Certainly this is true for those whose lives involve overseas postings, whether they are from the government, corporation or nonprofit worlds.  People native to the region as well line up for work permits and jobs, and the wealth of the citizenry is legendary.  At a dinner two nights ago a Singaporean friend commented:  “A fundraiser that in Australia would net $300 would get $50,000 in Singapore – in one afternoon.”

Built on the tip of the Malay peninsula, the rainforest has been replaced by some of the most modern architecture in the world.  Gadgetry is ubiquitous, from phones and Ipads to high tech expressways with electronic toll systems that are activated only during periods of high congestion.  A superb mass transit system moves thousands of commuters from home to work and back with high efficiency and relatively low cost.  Most people live in high rise apartment complexes because of sheer population density, but even here crime is almost unheard of.  In the city that long ago banned chewing gum, it almost goes without saying that the cleanliness of the streets would make your mother proud.

There is a significant gap between rich and poor, as there is everywhere.  BMWs and Porsches share the highways with motorbikes and pickups filled with day-laborers  on their way home from a day of hard work in hot and humid weather.  These workers are on their way to tiny rooms which, though a far cry from the slums of Manila or Karachi, are certainly less comfortable than where I sit right now.  But still the people come, or try to, from every country in the region.  For many, Singapore at its worst is a paradise compared to the options they have at home.

As the world’s population continues to rise toward a peak of 8 to 12 billion or more within the next generation, Singapore seems to be the perfect example of how to handle lots of people while maintaining a high standard for quality of life.  With an astounding 18,235 people per sq mile, this is the most densely populated country in the world.  Given that a large percentage of the center of the island is reserved for water catchment, the practical density may well be double the posted figure.

Surely this is evidence that people like Cal Beisner and Wayne Grudem are right?

“Long term trends show that human beings will be able to live on the earth enjoying ever-increasing prosperity, and never exhausting its resources.”  Politics According to the Bible, p. 332 (see Living on a Finite Planet)

Beisner and Grudem could point to Singapore and argue that this isn’t even theory – Singapore has done it and there’s no reason the rest of us can’t follow their example.  [This point of view is known as Cornucopianism  – here’s some background information.]

Well, maybe.

Or maybe not.

It doesn’t take long for an observer to realize that the Singaporean miracle has grown out of a combination of unusual geography, a fortuitous if hard-working economy, and strait-jacket political policies that are among the most restrictive in the democratic world.  There can be only one Singapore.   And it would be safe to add that as amazing as it is, this miracle is more fragile than it appears.  It’s economic, ecological and political foundations are crumbling.  It would be surprising, to say the least, if the Singapore of 50 or 100 years from now was the same miraculous place it is today.

More on that in our next post.

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