In short, like the great man himself, Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore is slowly dying. The government is trying desperately to boost the birth rate with generous benefits, dating services and louche advertisements. And still the birth rate falls.
In the 1960s and 70s he worried about the Population Bomb and enacted stern population control policies. He encouraged sterilisation, urged Singaporeans to “Stop At Two”, and imposed harsh financial penalties for those who didn’t. By the late 80s, the government had panicked and changed its tune to “Have Three or More (if you can afford it)”. A future prime minister was already warning Singaporeans that “passively watch[ing] ourselves going extinct” threatened national survival.
It was too late. Singaporeans had acquired a taste for shopping and small families. Now their country’s future belongs to immigrants and workers from nearby China, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia. Singapore has to face the possibility of cashing in its chips.
Singapore’s woes may be of its own making but there is a lesson here for the rest of us. In a small nation, the impact of an ageing population is felt more keenly and more swiftly than in larger countries. Singapore has to face the possibility of cashing in its chips. But demographic trends are inexorable everywhere. When birthrates fall below replacement level, as they have throughout the developed world, migrants with very different cultural values replace the native-born.