Self-interest points way to city states

RECENT predictions that Quebec may secede from the federation of Canada remind me of a talk last month in Singapore by George Yeo, the minister of information and health. He pointed to a new economic trend: the rise of city states coinciding with the gradual dismantling and/or reorganisation of nation states. His main point was that because of revolutionary changes in technology and communications, big may no longer be best.

Six months earlier, Allan Gottlieb, former Canadian ambassador to the United States, although bemoaning the trend, also pointed to the possible break-up of Canada and the future rise of city states or regional groupings acting in their own interests.

In this context, Quebec could well seek to align itself economically with eastern US states. And western Canadian provinces could break away to integrate more deeply with thriving US Pacific Coast states. In the latter case, the regional economic integration is already happening.

The fact that regional economic groupings are the wave of the future has been widely forecast but mainly on a large scale, as in the European Union or Nafta (the North American Free Trade Agreement). The re-emergence of thriving autonomous city regions is the new element in the debate that bears watching. Proponents see a new pattern of competition and economic co-operation not unlike Europe before nation states, with international organisations like the old Hanseatic League providing loose co-ordination.

Kazakhstan, Shanghai, the Baltics and the new Palestinian state are good illustrations of Mr Yeo's point that increasing competition for human talent and investment is taking place at city/region level. Nation states are breaking up economically. States with populations of less than 10 million now make up two- thirds of the UN. This does not mean large nation states will disappear; it simply means their powers to tax, deliver services and redistribute wealth are weakening.

The rapid urbanisation of vast areas of the global economy, whether in Mexico or Asia, also supports Mr Yeo's admittedly biased view that the era of city regions has arrived. He notes that China has divided itself administratively into nearly autonomous city regions of two million to 10 million people. Each must resolve problems of urban planning, housing, crime control, transportation, education, job creation and attracting investment.

If Mr Yeo is correct and technology is breaking up the world into city regions, then Asia in particular will be the place to watch. Unprecedented urbanisation involving more than two billion people is predicted with the surge of population from the countryside to cities.

Singapore, for all of its successes, is not a model for everyone. Its rigidities are not desirable or translatable in other parts of Asia or in Mexico. However, as a relatively new city state, it is extraordinarily useful to study.

Because of its small size, big port and lack of natural resources, Singapore had to adopt the Japanese-inspired export growth model. It built its own structures, however, in other key areas. No revenues are contributed to a central government; no subsidies are collected. It adopted something akin to a supply- side socialism in that it massively subsidises housing, education and health care. The poor and sick are helped but not unless they exhibit 'a sense of gratitude and commitment to help themselves'. Officials describe this as socialism structured to increase production, not consumption.

The welfare programmes that exist are channelled through the family, not a government bureaucracy. Its social security system, the Central Provident Fund - which amounts to a retirement account for every individual - is being copied in regions of China.

To avoid overlords, land concentration and other evils of the past, Singapore limits leaseholds to 30 years for industrial land and golf courses, and 99 years for housing.

Immigration is rigidly controlled - for every two babies born, Singapore allows in one migrant.

Crime is not tolerated; when it exists, punishments are harsh. In a bid to prevent problems with minorities, Singapore created Group Representation Constituencies under which political parties must field multi-racial slates in parliamentary elections. The result is a highly educated, low-crime, rigidly controlled and prosperous city state that works.

Expect more of them in Asia - and elsewhere, as even some older Western societies are exploring some of Singapore's production-oriented socialist programmes.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Finance Assistant - Part time - 9 month FTC

£20000 - £23250 Per Annum pro rata: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pro rata ...

Marketing Manager

£40 - 48k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Manager to join...

Market Risk Manager - Investment Banking - Mandarin Speaker

£45,000 - £65,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is a well-known APAC Corporate and...

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain