Debate | Learning to Grow Beyond the Middle-income Trap – Singapore as an Export Model?

SingaporeIn the initial paper ‘Learning to Grow’, the authors argue that a key challenge for middle-income countries is to avoid ‘the middle-income trap’. In this situation, economic growth has come to a halt and a country is unable to transition to the next level in part due to inadequacies in high-level human capital. Taking the example of Singapore as a country that has avoided the middle-income trap, the authors call for ‘a much closer alignment of policies for human capital and economic development’ and a ‘human capital focussed development strategy’. In his answer, Professor Gopinathan from the National University of Singapore, analyses some key conditions that were crucial for Singapore’s success and questions whether the model could be exported to other contexts.


Initial contribution:

Raymond Saner, Professor Titular at Basel University (Department of Economics and Management). He is also a Professor at Sciences Po, Paris  and at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW). He is the co-founder of the Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development (CSEND).
Lichia Saner Yiu, Co-founder and president of the Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development (CSEND), a Geneva based research and development organisation and visiting professor at National Chengchi University, Taipei.
Learning to Grow: A Human Capital-focused Development Strategy, with Lessons from Singapore

Reaction and Analysis:
S. Gopinathan, Adjunct Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore
A Response to R. Saner and L. Yiu’s Learning to Grow: A Human Capital-Focussed Development Strategy, with Lessons from Singapore

Download the whole debate (pdf)
We invite the initial authors and any interested readers to share their comments and views.



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5 réponses

  1. Mike dit :

    Excellent research and paper that will certainly help policymakers grapple with an enduring dilemma, i.e. the mid-income trap. Thank you for this insight professors Raymond and Lichia and for your contribution to development research.

  2. S. Wyss, President Basel Economists dit :

    Good research focuses on relevant questions, making the above paper worthwhile to read. Thanks to the authors.

  3. The middle income trap provides a fascinating and compelling view to the barriers that prevent developing countries from transitioning to an emerging economy. It makes me think that a fundamental change in development projects may be called for. Whereas development aid, both by countries and through international organizations and NGOs, is mostly oriented towards alleviating poverty, developing human capital and « elites » may be the way to go. Look what a good education of Gandhi and Ho Chi Minh brought to their countries….

  4. Erhard Friedberg dit :

    I read Learning to Grow: A Human Capital-focused Development Strategy, with Lessons from Singapore with great interest, and S. GOPINATHAN’s response is a great complement to the paper. I also agree with Prof. Saner’s and Dr. Yiu’s skepticism about the transferability of policy-models. But things can certainly be learned, and one of the most important seems to me to be the reluctance of Singapore to bet too early on university or tertiary education. The Sinagporean approach to higher education might have its drawbacks rightly pointed out by S. Gopinathan – too much of a purely instrumental view of education is not conducive to the creation of a versatile work-force well adjusted to the requirements of the knowledge economy. However, it has also its merits, as both Saner and Yiu as well as Gopinathan have shown. And these merits might be one of the lessons other development countries could profit from. And let me repeat again this is both an interesting and rewarding debate.
    Erhard Friedberg

  5. Bernard Hugonnier dit :

    At the time of the knowledge economy, increasing economic interdependence, the rapid expansion of emerging countries and the global move towards services oriented economies, contrary to what is generally thought the main production factor is not technology but human capital. Hence the importance for countries whishing to maintain their competitiveness and their market shares to invest in skills development.

    The analysis developed by Raymond Saner and Lichia Yiu of Singapore is in this regard very enlightening. For years, Singapore has reformed both its education and training sectors as well as its labor market. In so doing Singapore developed what the OECD is now calling a skills strategy, that is raising the general skills level, addressing the skills gaps, limiting the skills mismatch and the under utilisation of skills. It is interesting to note that this skills strategy that the OECD is recommending to all countries has been for a quite a while implemented in Singapore. The achievement of this policy, an unlikely economic success in view of the initial situation of the country, is reflected in the high performance of Singapore in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). It is also reflected in the high economic growth of the country and finally by the fact that, although a small developing country, Singapore is now producing, as noted by the authors, very high value-added products and services. This is why the article by R. Saner and Lichia Yiu is extremely interesting: it explains in detail the historical economic policy environment of Singapore as well the several components of the policies that lead Singapore to its present stage of development. Even if the authors conclude that not all countries can follow such an example, it remains that policywise Singapore could inspire the world and public authorities should read this debate.

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