(Running notes from the second Future of Europe Summit in Andorra)
After much talk of China and India and the European Union (see these previous posts), earlier today I moderated a panel about city-states and small states -- which, in the definition given by one of the panelists, Lino Briguglio, director of the Islands and Small States Institute in Malta, are those with a population of 1.5 million people or smaller (although sometimes countries like Norway and Denmark and Switzerland are included). Many do very well economically, says Briguglio. Singapore for example has a per capita that competes well with the US and Europe, and many Caribbean states, the Mauritius and Seychelles also are doing well. The best performing countries in Africa are the small ones. Small states also play significant roles in major global issues -- for example, in the discussions on the Law of the Sea (Malta), on climate change (the Pacific islands), on international security (Norway).
One of the questions to the panel is: do city-states and high-growth small state have an edge in the international competition for talent? Tan Chin Nam, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of information, communication and the arts of Singapore, answers by rushing through a discussion of Singapore's history. At independence in 1965, unemployment was at 50%, per capita income at 200 USD. So initially Singapore played the card of cheap labor, moving fast up the ladder towards a capital-intensive, then a knowledge-intensive, and now what he calls "a creative experience economy". Per capita income is now at 30'000 USD. This transformation, he stresses, was a continuous process, based on a notion of dynamic governance: adaptive, able to respond to global forces. "We do not view Singapore as small. We are unlimited. We are a global city". He calls it "World.Singapore", where the dot represents osmosis. This dynamic governance, he claims, has allowed Singapore to attract multi-national investments.
How does Singapore look at brainpower? In 1997, the Ministry of Labor introduced a new paradigm: that of Singaporeans as strategic resource: "everyone is a talent, has the potential to grow". The ministry was renamed "of Manpower". "Every year, we can produce 45'000 babies. If we cannot produce enough ourselves, we will borrow other people's babies" through immigration, he said, "that's the way we look at manpower". This has also requested a revamp of the education system.
To attract talent and allow the expression of brainpower, Singapore has tried to create an ecosystem, an attractive environment (clean, green, livable). "In the past, we were left-brain oriented: science, tech, engineering; as we move to a creative society, we need to leverage the right side of the brain, too, creating an ecosystem that's not only hardware but also software: cultural development, museums, arts, the city is becoming more exciting, an economy with a sizzling performance". I ask Tan if Singapore goes proactively after specific talent, and indeed, they do, trying to lure US and European researchers for example by targeting them individually, the same way their economic development office seeks out foreign investment.
Juli Minoves is the spokesperson of the Andorran government, and he stresses how historically "small states are at the core of creativity" -- think of the Greek cities, the Italian Renaissance. He describes the strengths (including multilingualism) and weaknesses of Andorra. Key weakness: access. Andorra doesn't have an airport, you've to fly to Toulouse in France or Barcelona in Spain, and it's a three hours drive from either one. "It's important that we create an easier access", he says, talking of an airport, either in the country (but flat land is a rarity) or on nearby Spanish territory. Also, Andorra hired architect Frank Gehry to build a landmark museum of peace.
It's striking to hear Minoves and Tan: the first is all about step-by-step and consensus; Tan is all about bold, paradigm-shifting moves. The difference between a democratic small state and a more autocratic city-state. But it's also a testament of Singapore's tri-partite spirit, stresses Tan: the government-business-workers triangulations that allow for example to make wage cuts acceptable in times of crisis, to be compensated when growth returns.
(Thx Ed Girardet for sharing your notes of this session)